After 43 years in business, a beloved Chicago legacy business has been closed and the iconic historic building that housed it has been demolished. Plans to sell and close the Heartland first emerged in fall 2018 and the demolition permit was issued on April 15, 2019. “What was once a community anchor and forum for progressive politics on Chicago’s North Side is now a corner lot full of debris and bricks.” (Shepard, WBEZ, 5/3/19)
When it became clear that saving the building from demolition was not a possibility, Preservation Chicago shifted efforts towards salvage and reuse. Our efforts included outreach to decision-makers including the outgoing 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore’s office and encouraging developer Sam Goldman to save as much of the historic Sullivanesque terra cotta ornament as possible. Goldman was open to the concept of terra cotta reuse and engaged the highly regarded historic salvage expert Jimmy Nuter from American Vintage Reclamation who worked with hand tools to carefully free the terra cotta ornament ahead of the demolition excavator.
All four main terra cotta cartouches were successfully salvaged and can be incorporated into the new building’s façade design. Additionally, nearly all of the decorative terra cotta window and parapet elements were successfully salvaged and can be reused. Approximately 1,500 painted bricks were also saved. Now that much of the historic Sullivanesque terra cotta ornament has been saved, Preservation Chicago encourages developer Sam Goldman to make the decision to incorporate all of the salvaged material into to the new building design.
In addition to the Heartland Café restaurant with it focus on local grown, organic and vegetarian food, it also housed a theatre studio, a music venue, a newsstand and general store. Heartland Café emerged as an unofficial community center for Rogers Park and was often referred to as a neighborhood institution. Its history included visits by many Chicago politicians including President Barak Obama and Mayor Harold Washington. “Co-founders Katy Hogan and Michael James opened the restaurant in 1976 with the idea of creating community through sharing all those things: food, entertainment and exchange of ideas.” (Shepard, WBEZ, 5/3/19)
Tom Rosenfeld, current owner of the Heartland Café who made the decision to sell the building, told the Chicago Tribune, “We can’t function like a normal restaurant. We’re just spread out all over this building in all these small spaces. The amount of footsteps needed means we’re always needing more staff, and it’s a competitive industry. It’s like swimming with an anchor around your neck.” (Chu, Chicago Tribune, 9/6/18)
While the building’s unique layout does make for less efficiency, perhaps part of the charm, character and success of the restaurant over the past 40 plus years has been due to the building’s unique layout, multiple uses and appearance.
It is interesting to note that The Heartland Cafe was listed for sale both as a development site and as an active restaurant. However, due to the high-density TOD zoning, it’s hard to conceive of any market-driven outcome other than demolition. Located adjacent to the Morse Avenue ‘L’ station, the underlying Transit Oriented Development (TOD) zoning was a significant factor in the decision by the owner to sell the building and for the buyer to demolish it. The historic building was a single-story, 9,600 square foot building. The Read Deal reported that the new owner plans to build a 54,000-square-foot building and is seeking “to rezone the property to make way for a six-story, mixed-use building with 60 residences, 3,800-square-feet of commercial space and 31 parking spaces.” (Ward, Real Deal, 4/16/19)
49th Ward Alderman-elect Maria Hadden will be scheduling community meetings regarding the new development.
A fond goodbye to the Heartland Café, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, 5/1/19
Investor buys former Heartland Cafe in Rogers Park for mixed-use project;The Goldman family bought the shuttered restaurant with plans to turn it into a 6-story building, Joe Ward, The Real Deal, 4/16/19
The Heartland Café Survived for Four Decades by Making Itself a Community Hub Remembering the Rogers Park diner, where Obama spoke in 2004, in all its ragtag glory, Edward McCelland, Chicago Magazine, 12/13/18