By Linda Cain, CBG Editor
Daniel Ivankovich is known by several names:
Dr. Daniel Ivankovich (a.k.a. The Bone Doc), M.D. Orthopedic Surgeon
Chicago Slim, blues guitarist and leader of the Chicago Blues All-Stars
Right Reverend Dr. D, his blues DJ handle
CNN Hero and recipient of many other awards and honors, for his charitable work.
And now Dr. Ivankovich can add another title to the list:
Owner, Preston Bradley Center
The, six-story structure is a National Historic Register building, a former church and community center, located at 941 W. Lawrence Ave. (east of Sheridan Rd.) in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Dr. Dan (yet another moniker) bought the building for $2 million in October 2022 and has big plans for the space to serve the community and beyond. When you’re a nearly 7-foot-tall former college basketball star, and a larger than life bone surgeon who dresses like a biker and plays the blues, you aren’t known for making small plans. It will cost much more money and time to rehab the Bradley Center and bring it up to code; Ivankovich plans to do it in stages so that the church, its soup kitchen, homeless shelter and social service providers can move back in as soon as possible.
The building will also be home to Dr. Dan and wife Dr. Karla Ivankovich’s nonprofit OnePatient Global Health Initiative, which offers medical services to Chicago’s poor communities. The couple’s musical nonprofit, Chicago Blues Society, will also be housed there to provide music lessons for underserved kids, along with free medical services, health clinics and more services to low-income musicians. They have already reached out to blues educator Fernando Jones to teach children’s workshops and they hope to host blues in the schools programs during the day for public school students. Other nonprofits will be welcomed there as well.
And when the spacious theater isn’t being used for church services, it will rock with the sounds of secular music, especially blues. “The Uptown Square Historic District project, has revitalized its historic entertainment district, that runs along Lawrence Avenue. There’s the Green Mill, The Riviera Theatre, The Aragon Ballroom. So we can host a variety of shows once we figure out the market. Maybe world music and jazz would go over well, too. But blues for sure. Blues is historic and legendary and so is the Preston Bradley Center,” Ivankovich declared.
“We’d love to have a blues mural painted on the walls and house a blues museum, too, where we could display photos, art, memorabilia and show documentaries,” he noted.
The Bradley Center interior measures 50,000 square feet and includes a theater with two balconies that can seat 1,300. There are three other smaller rooms with stages, too, plus art gallery and office spaces. The 1926 landmark building is an architectural gem, designed by architect J.E.O. Skidmore, a theater designer, who made it look less like a church and more like a 1920s entertainment venue. The large theater where church services were held is highlighted by a stunning two-story mural framed by a wooden arch on the back wall behind the stage. The 1959 painting, by Louis Grell, depicts Jesus standing in a field with his arms outstretched and surrounded by people of different races and classes, from farmers to doctors.
Rev. Preston Bradley founded The People’s Church in 1926, a Unitarian Universalist faith with a congregation of 4,000. He was a well-known radio preacher with an audience of 5 million and author of popular books with titles like: Meditations and My Daily Strength and Power from Right Thinking.
Like Dr. Ivankovich, Rev. Bradley wore many hats and supported a variety of worthy causes. Bradley served on the board of the Chicago Public Library for over 25 years. Preston Bradley Hall, the stunning domed room filled with stained glass ceilings, in the Chicago Cultural Center was named in his honor.
Bradley also served on the boards of the Illinois State Teachers College and Normal School. He founded a conservation group, was charter member of the Chicago Human Relations Commission as well as a trustee of the Municipal Art League. He was also granted many honorary degrees.
Since its inception 96 years ago, the progressive The People’s Church has served as a sanctuary for the downtrodden. But the past few decades saw declining membership, while the funds to maintain and repair the huge building dwindled. The covid pandemic made things even worse and the city closed the building due to code violations last June. The building was put up for sale in 2020 with the caveat that prospective buyers could enjoy a price under the appraised value if they kept the building open as a community center. It was an offer that Dr. Ivankovich couldn’t resist.
Photo: Lee Ann Flynn/Sweet Music Chica
Chicago blues fans who have seen the imposing, almost 7-foot tall, flashy garbed guitarist perform with his band the Chicago Blues All-Stars, at clubs like Buddy Guy’s Legends, Kingston Mines or Rosa’s, most likely have no idea what Chicago Slim does for his day job.
Dr. Daniel Ivankovich is an orthopedic surgeon who operates several not-for-profit clinics that serve Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods. He also has been known to volunteer for humanitarian work outside of the country, such as in 2010 after Haiti’s devastating earthquake when he was airlifted and lowered into the hardest hit area to see what broken bodies he could repair. But he wasn’t always a man of heroic proportions.
How the good doctor got to where he is today is a blues song in itself; Ivankovich’s story is the tale of a talented athlete with great promise and big dreams that were dashed in a moment of career-ending pain, when his knee was badly damaged and torn.
As a star athlete at Northwestern University who could no longer play basketball, Ivankovich went from hero to zero. He needed to reinvent himself and learn how to overcome this shattering defeat. And blues music helped it happen.
While wandering the campus, pondering his future, the 17-year-old happened upon the school radio station, WNUR 89.3 FM www.wnur.org . As it so happened, the music director was looking for a host for the overnight blues show. And Ivankovich was a blues fan, who had just began to play blues guitar.
“Basketball was taken away, and the blues slowly became available. That blues show was a saving grace for me. I found a crutch called music.” And The Right Reverend, Doctor D. was born. His Sunday night 7 p.m -12 midnight WNUR show, Out of the Blue, was so successful, it went on to become syndicated in more than 60 markets across the country. His career in radio, and the blues, was launched.
Photo: Lee Ann Flynn/Sweet Music Chica
After six years as a radio broadcaster and producer, both here and in New York, (not to mention evenings spent performing in blues clubs and jamming with legends like Otis Rush, Magic Slim, and Buddy Guy), Ivankovich enrolled in NU’s Feinberg School of Medicine. After an internship at Cook County Hospital, the med student knew what he wanted to do – serve the poor. In 2010, he and spouse Dr. Karla Ivankovich launched OnePatient Global Health Initiative. Dr. Ivankovich continues to combine his passion for music and medicine with his work to help the underprivileged, and to make the most of his hectic schedule.
For years he was in search of a building and neighborhood that could facilitate his missions to serve the poor and support the arts, especially Chicago blues music. When the venerable B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted Street went up for sale pre-Covid in 2018, Dr. Dan made numerous offers to purchase the dilapidated building that was a sweet home to blues music in Chicago for decades. He came close to buying it, prepared to spend the big bucks to preserve, rehab and bring the building up to code. But then the pandemic shut everything down in March 2020. Meanwhile the busy surgeon decided to pass on becoming a bar owner during uncertain times. B.L.U.E.S. has been shuttered ever since and the building is still on the market, with a hefty price tag, considering its prime location just south of Wrigleyville.
Dr. Ivankovich continued his search for a building that could serve both the community along with his dual missions of medicine and music. And he found it in Uptown, a neighborhood next to the Edgewater community where he was raised. Dr. Dan is now the second owner of the Preston Bradley Center, home for nearly a century to the currently shuttered The People’s Church. And thanks to the good doctor, his wife and many volunteers, plus some much needed grant funding, The People’s flock will once again congregate and worship, the doors will swing open to welcome the needy, and music will fill the air.