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July 15, 2004
It may surprise you to learn that "Old St. Pat's" who sponsors this block party is an active church - in fact, Old St. Pat's (700 West Adams Street) is the oldest publically used building in Chicago, dedicated on Christmas Day, 1856 and having survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1870. Additionally, St. Pat's was the first building in Chicago to be designated a historic landmark (1964). Its parish was founded in 1846 is the oldest English-speaking parish in the city.
Amazingly, St. Pat's registered membership was down to only four families in 1983. Recent highway construction in the area and the decline of downtown living space had seen most of the local population move to other areas in the city. When Reverand John Wall became pastor of the church in late 1983, he outlined a plan he called "a church for the marketplace", with a particular emphasis on reaching out towards youth and young adults in their 20's and 30's - the type of people who would go on to become the foundation for the church as it approached the 21st century. Today the church has thousands of active members.
One of the programs that Rev. Wall created was the idea for the World's Largest Block Party, which was designed to serve both as a fundraiser for the church and its programs, as well as to attract awareness of the church - and more than 5,000 people showed up to the first one, in 1985. 20 years later, the World's Largest Block Party has become one of the city's favorite summertime celebrations, where thousands come for two nights in July for great bands, good company, and of course, some drinks (yes, soda and water are available) and food, and a good time.
While I do not go to Old St. Pat's WLBP every year, it is a great way to spend a summer evening. A couple square blocks south of the entrance at West Madison & Des Plaines are cordoned off, people are fairly well behaved, and there's even some door prizes given away - among other things, a trip to Ireland and a year's free rent. However, you do need to be the legal drinking age (21) to enjoy this block party, and they do check IDs carefully. Whether you're new to the city or just passing through, the World's Largest Block Party is a fun way to meet some new people and have a good time in the city after dark.
2004 dates: July 16 & 17, 5pm-10:30pm
$35 advance/$40 at door, includes five drink tickets
From journal The Secret Lives of Chicago
December 21, 2001
From journal The non-trite Chicago Guide