CHICAGO (CBS) — After years of prayers and appeals by parishioners and preservationists, the Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago has called in the wrecking crews this morning to begin demolition of the historic St. James Church in Bronzeville.

WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports the lights inside the church were blazing as demolition crews arrived early Wednesday in a downpour to begin tearing down the church.

Members of the congregation had appealed to the archdiocese, and even the Vatican, to save the 133-year-old church, but church officials deemed it unsafe to keep open, and too expensive to renovate.

Preservation Chicago president Ward Miller, who is a member of the St. James congregation, called Joliet limestone church “uniquely Chicago.”

“It’s the same kind of material that’s used on the old Water Tower, and the old pumping station on Michigan Avenue, and it’s also seen on Holy Name Cathedral,” he said. “This same architect designed Holy Name Cathedral in 1874, and then this one just after that, being completed in 1879-1880.”

The building has been closed for years, surrounded by protective scaffolding, and the congregation has been using a nearby community center for services, after the archdiocese deemed the church unsafe.

The archdiocese plans to build a smaller church nearby.

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