Leave the Seat Empty: 6607 South Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive

 Leave the Seat Empty consists of photos taken of buildings in Chicago in between the time a demolition permit is issued and the time the wrecking crews come.

The vast majority of the city's demolitions are vernacular residential buildings in areas that are either seeing immense new investment or immense ongoing disinvestment. In most cases, the doomed buildings are not deemed architecturally or culturally notable enough for proactive preservation efforts to succeed, where such efforts exist. They are most frequently replaced by new single family homes, or by empty land. These patterns aren't universal among demolitions, but are common outcomes of Chicago's current legal and market environment around land use, building vacancy, and new construction.

Despite its international reputation as a destination for architecture tourism, Chicago's policies around building demolitions often fail to protect historic structures. There are no easy answers to the question of which buildings should remain standing under which circumstances, but residents lack easy access to information about upcoming demolitions, leaving them unable to campaign effectively against demolitions they might oppose. I seek to document many of Chicago's doomed buildings in their final days, often with green demo fencing already up, and be present to acknowledge their disappearance.


6607 South Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive

Permit issued 07/26/2022 


On February 1st, 2023, Pastor Corey Brooks came down from “the roof”, a set of shipping containers with tents set up on top. In the 6600 block of King Drive, the encampment was a publicity stunt of sorts for a capital campaign by Pastor Brooks and Project H.O.O.D., the philanthropic arm of the New Beginnings Church that he leads. Carefully choreographed for a national Fox and Friends morning show audience, his departure from the roof marked the end of 345 days that Pastor Brooks spent living in a tent over the preceding two years, more than 200 of those days consecutively during the first year of the campaign. The mission was to fund a new community center here at 66th & King, with sports facilities, job training, therapy, and more.

Brooks, whose church is situated just south of the Parkway Gardens housing complex that looms large in national narratives of violence in Chicago, has been a locally controversial figure. He has spent several years publicly reframing his ministry through his conservative personal politics, gaining a national platform by criticizing the Black Lives Matter movement, refusing to apply for public dollars to help build the community center, and taking a strong position that personal destiny is a matter of personal effort. While staying in the tent, he received visits from the likes of disgraced former Illinois governor and current right-wing fringe figure Rod Blagojevich and donations from the likes of Ken Griffin, the billionaire who funded a successful campaign to defeat a political pathway to progressive income tax in Illinois before loudly declaring he would move himself and his business to Florida. A multi-million-dollar gift was announced from the McCormick Foundation on February 1st of this year, which Pastor Brooks declared as grounds to finally move off the roof and back into indoor lodgings.

Pastor Brooks’ campaign for the “Leadership and Economic Opportunity Center“ began with land purchases just under two decades ago. New Beginnings Church bought up a midcentury motel where the shipping containers now stand and closed it down on the grounds that it attracted crime. At the time, Pastor Brooks embarked on his first tent stay to draw media attention to what he saw as the neighborhood’s problems, living for 94 days on the former motel’s roof. The building was torn down shortly after. The church also purchased the building you see here, 6607 S. King, A vernacular storefront structure about a century old.


This small building had housed a multitude of businesses over the years as the neighborhood of Woodlawn changed around it, and slowly the neighbors to either side fell to neglect. That was all long before New Beginnings Church made their purchase. The church opened a nonprofit secondhand clothing store inside for a couple years, and created a gathering space on one side to be used for church events, but always had bigger plans in mind for the site. The 85,000 square foot community center would stand, in part, on this land. Project H.O.O.D. held a groundbreaking ceremony for the center in 2022, and this building was permitted for demolition the same month that Ken Griffin’s $5 million gift to the organization was announced. Work is expected to begin in earnest on the new structure soon.

Pastor Brooks remains a pariah of sorts, depending on who you ask. Project H.O.O.D.’s work is multifaceted, ranging from violence interruption to vocational training, and you’ll often find that people endorse one part of their mission while qualifying support for the organization as a whole because of Pastor Brooks’ public presence. He has been very comfortable leaning into Fox News and other conservative media, to be a contrarian among his peers, and has fundraised quite successfully off that reputation. At the same time, he’s built a very active and large congregation and become one of the city’s most influential church leaders. New Beginnings Church is just over twenty years old, but it is quickly approaching the size and influence of long-established south side churches like Apostolic Church of God, Fellowship Missionary Baptist, and Salem Baptist.