AI rendering of a domed church.

Disclaimer: while there are references to true events and people in this story, the majority of these events and characters are heavily fictionalized. Do not trust any of this as a factual source. The drawing above is AI-generated.

Chapter 1: Gus Antoniou

It’s 1997, and your name is Gus. Pretty sweet name, right? Well, technically it’s Konstantinos Antoniou, but you prefer Gus. Besides the cool name, you are the co-owner of G&D Excavating Inc, and you just purchased St. Stephen’s Church. Of all the potential buyers, the city chose you. No one should own this building but you. Things are looking up for you, and you don’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

It’s 1999. You’re being sued by the city. Apparently, your development project for the church is taking too long. “Shows what they know,” you mutter. You turn back to your dozens of design documents. Strewn across all of them is the word “facade,” sometimes highlighted, sometimes in red pen. You notice a few clean documents and grab your highlighter. After a few seconds, they look like the rest. Satisfied, you continue planning.

It’s 2000. You finished. That dusty, old church with constant trespassing is nothing compared to your masterpiece. Everyone will see this building and remember the man who designed it—Gus Antoniou. Briefcase in hand, you open the doors to the alderman’s office.

Why doesn’t she look more excited?

Zoning laws. It took you so long that they wrote new zoning laws. You look up at your home desk covered in documents, and your jaw clenches. Blueprints and legislation turn to shreds as your hands do what your words can’t. Three years of hard work turns to nothing because one person said “no.”

Chapter 2: Linda Neal

It’s 2000. You pick up the phone and begin dialing. It’s not a number you’ve dialed before, but it’s one you’ll be dialing a lot more. “Hello, Mr. Antoniou? My name is Linda Neal, and I’d like to help you with your project for St. Stephen’s Church.”

Members of the 5600 Block Blackstone Homeowner’s Group wait excitedly around you. Placing the phone on the base, you announce, “He’s willing to work with us.”

You grant the group their moment to cheer and applaud before bringing them back to Earth. “This is just the beginning. I’ll send out an email after scheduling the meeting with the alderman and Gus. We have a long road ahead of us.”

These are the people that matter. These 50 homeowners are the ones that will feel every shockwave as Gus fundamentally changes their neighborhood. You need to protect them—and yourself—from whatever comes next. No one should own this building but you all.

It’s 2001. After countless meetings, you finally free Gus from the clutches of zoning law, all while enforcing your 46-page requirements for the building. Gus will make this condo an asset to the neighborhood, and you’ll make sure of it.

It’s 2003. Gus is slow, and you don’t know much about him, but he’s consistent. While you wait for the condo plans to be finalized, you fall back on your academic roots. All you know about this church is that ever since you moved here, college students constantly sneak in, doing god knows what. Before the small, black congregation that left in 1992, St. Stephen’s was the Tenth Church of Christ, Scientist.

Built in 1917, the Tenth Church of Christ, Scientist takes after the First, both in name and design. A footnote mentions the First Church of Christ, Scientist is also called the Mother Church. You imagine a mother, sharing their name with their child. More than letters and sounds, that name carries dreams and aspirations. It carries trauma and pain. Most of all, it carries hope. And to see that child you poured everything into fall from grace hurts more than death itself. The church is no longer what it once was, and all of that hope suddenly vanishes. Pausing for a moment, you laugh to yourself. That must be one disappointed mother.

It’s 2005. Gus finished a flawless design. The covered parking garage with 26 spaces perfectly complement the 12 enormous units. This asset—this $18 million asset—encapsulates everything you hoped for. All you need now are signatures from the building’s next door neighbors. Reaching for the phone, you dial anxiously. “Hi, Dr. Smith? I was wondering if you had a chance to read over the new design plan for the church. You have? Then, why wait? We’re all excited for you to sign off on the project.” Your smile fades and seconds turn to hours as the Smiths present their case.

You hang up the phone and rush back to the design. The Smiths are right, the parking garage covers their first floor window. No big deal, we can just move it down a bit, you panic. But you can’t. The weak foundation and basement flooding mean putting the building deeper into the ground risks the whole thing sinking. Your dream for this neighborhood would sink into the ground, and the Smiths won’t let it rise above 13 years of failed attempts to reclaim this old building. Do they really prefer college kids constantly trespassing through their backyard with cans of spray paint over one, measly window being covered?

This fight isn’t over.

Chapter 3: Robert Mandel

It’s 2007. You’re 61. You’re too old for this. Gus won’t stop creating ridiculous plans for his little church project. It was cute at first, but 10 years later, you’ve seen him do nothing but harm to himself and everyone involved in the project. Now the lender decides to back out, and you hope Gus will come to his senses.

But he doesn’t. He never does. Everything you’ve tried fails to shut down his tunnel vision. You take a deep breath. Be patient. Everything will sort itself out, you convince yourself. You swallow your anger, saving it for another day.

It’s 2008. The recession takes its toll on the business. While you’re busy dealing with this mess, Gus still finds time to go over the church project. Does he not see what’s going on? People’s lives are at risk. At this pace, his actions could end up killing someone. There’s only one way to stop someone like that. You pick up the phone and call an old friend.

“Patrick, I need your help.”

Most people wouldn’t understand, but Patrick would. He always does, even in situations like this. Gus’ death will be an unfortunate one, but it’s a necessary evil, and you’re the only one willing to make it happen. Unsurprisingly, the plan was simple. Once Patrick finds the hitman, you’ll give him the instructions, weapon, and the advance on the $5000 bounty.

It’s 2009. Everything should have gone to plan. You should be at Gus’ funeral right now. You made sure to take care of everything. Everything except Patrick, who turned you at the first opportunity. Now you’re in court, wishing you had done the job yourself. Your lawyer tries to get you to say you’re sorry for what you did, but you’re not sorry for trying to off Gus. The only thing you’re sorry about is getting caught.

Chapter 4: Frank Kladis

It’s 2009. Working for Western Springs National Bank and Trust hasn’t always been the most exciting job, but today was quite the spectacle. The company just acquired this gorgeous, old church. You’ve always been a bit enamored by historical buildings, even if they do have graffiti on the roof. You chuckle at the thought of college students somehow climbing walls just to spray the word “Welcome.”

Apparently, it was acquired from a guy named Gus. Strange dude, but he seemed passionate about what he was doing. He really cared about keeping the facade clean, which he did pretty well.

As much as you respect Gus’ effort, you knew his plan was doomed to fail. Massive buildings like this old church are meant to be managed by corporations—large ones with plenty of people and power. No one should own this building but Western Springs.

With the bad housing market and crazy building restrictions, you can’t imagine much happening to the church, but you know it’ll stay with the company. It’ll be part of the $182 million asset portfolio long after you retire.

It’s 2011. City regulators are shutting down Western Springs. You sit at your desk stunned for a few hours before packing up your things. As a lawyer, you never really needed Western Springs, but they were a good client—probably your favorite client. Doesn’t matter though, does it? Everything that was once Western Springs’ is now Heartland Bank’s.

Chapter 5: John Liu

It’s 2016. You’re trying to finalize the purchase of this run-down, old church on Blackstone, but the people sitting around you keep going on about some silly legal battle they just finished up. They drone on about some Konstantinos Antoniou person who used to own properties that Heartland acquired a few years ago. He was living there even though he wasn’t supposed to—it really wasn’t his anymore. The story seems incomprehensible because they keep mentioning a Konstantina Antoniou, and you ask who they’re talking about. “Are they the same person?” Apparently not. His sick mother was staying with him, he just takes after his mother in name. A child that shares a name with its mother must carry so much aspiration and trauma and hope, but this child fell from grace. After an eternity, the story finally ends.

Heartland hasn’t been able to do anything with the church in five years, but that’s just business. Those who can, do, and those who can’t, don’t. As one of the biggest citybuilders in China, if anyone can, it’s you. No one should own this building but you. For that exact reason, you acquired St. Stephen’s before finishing the Shiloh Baptist Church transformation. You know that’s gonna be done in no time, so you might as well prepare for the next project.

It’s 2019. Shiloh Baptist has finally been converted into 13 townhouses. You try to convince yourself that it was easy, and that St. Stephen’s will be no different, but you hesitate. You hesitate because you know it was hard. You hesitate because no project has stressed you more than the six year endeavor of transforming Shiloh Baptist. You hesitate because somehow remodeling this church was harder than building 600 acre metropolises outside of Beijing. You hesitate because you don’t know if you’re ready to try this again.

Despite your hesitations, Heartland still makes no signs of progress on the church, so why should you? You’ve just proven that you can make this happen, so why push for progress? Maybe it’s time to take a break. There will be a sign that lets you know when to come back, and you know that won’t be for a while. Might as well leave St. Stephen’s to the college kids for now. They seem to be running it just fine.

Chapter 6: Max Eddy

It’s 2022. You’re sitting on your couch when your phone vibrates. Opening Facebook, you see an invitation from a friend you haven’t spoken to in months to watch a movie you abhor. You scroll through the invite list, searching for a familiar name, but you hit the bottom. You glance back and forth between your phone and the current episode of InkMaster before tapping “Yes.”

Thankfully, everyone—including the host—dislikes the movie. The room erupts into side conversations and jokes at the movie’s expense. You start talking to some guy named Ronik about fun things to do in Hyde Park, and you mention climbing to the roof of an abandoned Scientology church on Blackstone. Upon hearing this, he whips out a notebook and starts writing. You frantically scan the room, checking if it’s too late to join a different conversation—

“Do you have Discord?” he asks. “I want to ask you more about the church, but only once I’ve done a bit more research.”

At least he didn’t ask for your phone number. Out of courtesy, you tell him your username. He stashes the notebook in his bag like nothing happened and starts chatting with the people around you.

A few days go by, and you’re watching InkMaster again when ding. You open Discord to see a friend request from Ronik. Yay, you groan. You accept, and he immediately sends you a Google Drive link. After briefly considering sending the link through a virus scanner, you click anyways. The blank screen slowly loads 20 pages on the history of St. Stephen’s church. You skim through the document, in shock of the ridiculous stories surrounding this old church. Your phone vibrates—another Discord notification.

ronikb: would it be okay if i asked you a few questions about your experience at the church?

meddy3: only if you explain all that research to me

ronikb: deal. btw, it was a christian science church, not scientology

Headphones in, camera on, you walk him through everything you remember the night you went to the church. Fences just short enough and boarded-up windows just loose enough let you get in through the back. Holes in the ground and loose wires in the ceiling never let you rest. Onlookers and passers-by kept you crouching in the shadows.

Ronik’s terrified expression snaps you back to reality. You’re talking to a historian, not an adventurer. Wimp.

He asks if there was still any Christian art or iconography, and while you remember a few quotes on the walls and some old books, there really isn’t much. Instead, the new art in the space goes far beyond Christianity. Stenciled translations of Buddhist ideologies sit next to simple renditions of the Red Crewmate from Among Us. Almost none of the graffiti overlaps. Artists respect that they don’t own the space they are using.

Far above the main chamber sat the church’s iconic dome, with plenty of ladders to help you get there. Once you reach the roof, a spray-painted sign on the front of the church welcomes you. Sixty feet above the ground, nature is still reclaiming the building, with countless plants growing directly from the roof. The view was worth the dizzying heights, but you can’t stay up there forever.

Back inside the church, a little exploring leads you to old youth group materials, a broken organ, and toilets obliterated by falling debris. Each room is an unlabeled museum full of clues. Wide-eyed, Ronik asks if you can bring him some pictures to study. Maybe next time.


  1. Accidental Transfer of 5640 S Blackstone to Girlfriend by Antoniou

  2. Christian Science Center Complex

  3. Development Hyde Park Style: The St. Stephen’s Fiasco

  4. The Dilapidated St. Stephen’s Church in Hyde Park Continues to Await its Fate

  5. Heartland Bank & Tr. Co. v. Antoniou

  6. Hyde Park Church Languishes After Decade of Disuse

  7. Man Gets 11 1/2 Years in Plot to Kill Business Partner

  8. Mysterious Chicago Property: St. Stephen’s Church

  9. New Owner for St. Stephen’s, Which Defied Redevelopment for 20 Years

  10. Restoring a Church is Harder Than Building a City in China, Developer Finds

  11. A Sacred Ruin: Inside a Vacant, but Architecturally-Significant Hyde Park Church

  12. Townhouses Listed at Long-Vacant Kenwood Church

  13. United States v Mandel

  14. WBEZ Chicago: What’s That Building? The Tenth Church of Christ, Scientist: A former church in Hyde Park commands attention

  15. Western Springs National Bank fails; Heartland Bank takes it over

  16. Wikipedia Page on the St Stephen’s Church

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