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Thieves Steal Bronze Lettering Off Historic Temple

(CBS)

(CBS)

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OAK PARK, Ill. (CBS) Fifty-eight of the 72 bronze letters that adorned the east and west entrances of the landmark Unity Temple in west suburban Oak Park were stolen last week.

The lettering that speaks of the worship of God and service to men were stolen sometime between 10 p.m. Sept. 28 and 9 a.m. Sept. 29 from the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed church at 875 Lake St. The letters were pried off the face of the building, officials said.

“People find it really very sad,” said Emily Roth, executive director of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation. “It feels like a violation.”

The foundation had just celebrated the completion of a $500,000 roof replacement.

“It’s sad that this follows such a joyful occasion,” said Roth.

The words spelled the phrase “For the worship of God and the service of man,” the building’s theme, Roth said.

Neither police nor church officials have a solid estimate of the value of the solid bronze letters, which are over 100 years old, but their worth could be thousands of dollars.

“I really don’t know what the weight and price might be,” said Detective Sgt. Art Borchers.

The value is more than monetary.

“The person who took them probably doesn’t value them as much as we do,” said Roth.

She said the letters were likely stolen for their scrap metal resale value. Scrap metal, such as bronze and copper, are often stolen to feed drug habits, police have said.

Church members are trying to understand the theft.

“The world’s hurting right now. I guess people out there are desperate,” Allen McVey said.

Borchers would not give details on this incident but said detectives are investigating and looking to talk with possible suspects.

This was the second vandalism at Unity Temple this year. Between July 22-27, three 12-inch copper letters were ripped from the Unity Temple sign. Spray paint was then used to deface the sign.

One block west of Unity Temple on Lake Street, Calvary Memorial Church was victimized three times within three weeks in August and September by a thief who stole more than $5,000 worth of copper downspout.

Roth said Unity Temple officials are “in the really early stages” of figuring out what to do about replacing the letters.”

“We plan to talk to several metal artisans about what it would cost to recreate them,” she said.

That will include the possibility of choosing “others ways” to replace the letters with less costly and less theft-prone non-solid brass or non-brass letters.

While she doesn’t hold out much hope the letters will be recovered, Roth asked anyone with any knowledge of the letters to step forward.

“We urge anyone in contact with the person trying to sell them to let us or the police know,” said Roth.

Call Unity Temple Foundation at (708) 383-8873; or Oak Park police at (708) 386-3800.

- -Contributing: CBS 2′s Kristyn Hartman, and Pioneer Press, via the Sun-Times Media Wire