At night, when Marie Moore is driving west along 95th Street near California Avenue, she looks up at the 25-foot spire atop Little Company of Mary Hospital and the concrete statue of the Virgin Mary standing aglow in a nearby alcove.
"It sounds corny, but it's a beacon," said Moore. "Even when you're flying over the area into Midway (Airport), you can see the tower, which is shaped like a cross."
After more than eight decades, the 10-story building in Evergreen Park is expected to be demolished later this year. Only partially occupied now, it once held the maternal-child unit. In October, a comprehensive women's center opened in a new building, and a 50,000-square-foot renovation project is under way in two other pavilions.
Moore has lived in south suburban Evergreen Park all her life. She's part of a preservation team that is working to integrate many of the religious artifacts from the old tower into the new buildings.
"Our family grew up on stories of Little Company of Mary," said Moore, a nurse administrator at the hospital. "I was a candy striper in high school, and I wanted to go to nursing school here, too, but that was the year the program closed. So I went to school on the North Side and came back and worked in pediatrics for years."
Moore's mother was a graduate of the nursing school. She worked in the delivery room during World War II. When Moore's father came home from the war, her parents married and had five children. Each was born at the hospital. Moore, the youngest, arrived in 1953. Now, several family members work there with her.
When the Sisters of the Little Company of Mary had the tower built in 1929, it was the beginning of the Depression, and Evergreen Park was hardly a bedroom community. The tower began as a modest, five-story building with the nursery, along with labor and delivery on the fifth floor.
But in the 1950s, during the post-WWII baby boom, the community grew, and so did the building. Five floors were added, pediatrics moved to the ninth floor and the maternal-child unit moved to the seventh and eight floors.
Since 1990, whenever a baby is born at the hospital, Brahms' Lullaby plays over the public address system in the common areas of the building.
"Patients can hear it outside their rooms," Moore said. "It was felt that the birth of a baby was something joyful and, no matter what you were going through, it picked up your spirits."
She said that when the team started to identify the artifacts to be saved, the first item on everyone's list was the statue of Mary.
"The only people who ever get a close view of her are the men in engineering who go up there to change the lights," Moore said. "We thought (the statue) would be weathered, and we weren't sure if it could survive being moved. But right now the condition looks good, and we're hoping they will be able to move it."
Kevin Rehder, project manager at the hospital, said that if the statue can be moved, it's not clear where it will be reinstalled. He said the statue was donated in 1951 by a resident of Chicago's Beverly neighborhood who worked as a clerk in the hospital and, as the story goes, used her life savings to pay for it.
Other artifacts include paintings and religious symbols that were cut into the stone of the building's facade and duplicated around the first five stories. The insets are a heart pierced by a sword, representing the Maternal Heart of Mary; an open Bible with the Greek letters alpha and omega; a "chi-rho" symbol, the superimposed Greek letters P and X, which are the first two letters of the Greek word for "Christ"; and a cross passing through a crown, a Christian symbol often interpreted as the reward of heaven after a tough life.
Other items include the old main entrance, which had a portico made of granite. When you walked underneath and looked up, there were engravings and religious motifs, including a depiction of the Holy Spirit. On the roof is a copper cross.
Rehder said there is a first-floor hallway in the new building, called a Heritage Walk, that has alcoves where some of the artifacts will be installed.
Moore said the committee is working to save as much as possible.
"According to the architectural plans, there's an 8-by-10 copper receptacle inside the original cornerstone of the building," Moore said. "We want to see what's in it. There's a rich history here, and we don't want to lose track of our history."