WIN: Despite Continued Aldermanic Delays, Obsidian Collection Purchases Palmer Mansion for House Museum Zoning Use

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“On April 22, Angela Ford of The Obsidian Collection closed on a $1.25 million loan to become new owner of Bronzeville’s long vacant, historic Lu Palmer Mansion.

“The nonprofit seeks to establish a museum, library and archive within the 12,000-square-foot building once owned by the late famed journalist and his wife. It also wants to offer community meeting space for rent and modest retail, such as coffee and T-shirts.

“Ford is free under Chicago ordinance to do the former. But she has become frustrated trying to obtain from the alderman the zoning change needed for the latter. Ford complains the alderman stopped responding to her ever-more-urgent requests for help as she sought to close a loan that was predicated on the zoning change.

“The mansion at 3654-3656 S. King Drive is in the 4th Ward of Ald. Sophia King, who earlier this year sparked controversy with her proposed “House Museums” ordinance that failed.

“‘We’re still being blocked,’ Ford alleged. ‘I reached out to her before we went under contract. She told me in a Zoom call in November she would tentatively support it as long as we make sure there’s community support. Well, we’ve gotten the community support, and still, nothing.’

“The nonprofit met with the Greater King Drive Block Club representing its block to present the project. The block club gave its support, sending the alderman a letter urging approval.

“‘As you know, the building has sat vacant for more than a decade, to the chagrin of residents on the block,’ wrote Delmarie Cobb, a resident and the block club president. ‘Given the African American history of the block, we believe The Obsidian Collection is a perfect fit. While we did express our concerns about a former art gallery that became an events space on the block, we believe Ms. Ford’s business model will not depend on attracting hundreds of rowdy visitors to her location.”

“King responds that the Lu Palmer Mansion amendment has nothing to do with the ‘House Museums’ controversy, and Obsidian Collection is naïve about how long the process takes.

“Founded in 2017, The Obsidian Collection grew out of a visit by Ford to the Chicago Defender, looking for an article on her grandmother, Edna McClain Murray. Murray came to Chicago from Oklahoma in the Great Migration in 1936, settling in what was then the Black Belt. In the ’50s, she operated a charm school at 63rd Street & Dorchester Avenue, now called Woodlawn, and was frequently covered by the Chicago Defender.

“Discovering 110 years of newspapers and photographs inaccessible to the public and yet to be archived, Ford, of Washington Park, who has run her own real estate consulting and property management firm for 20 years, and a related nonprofit, began the journey to organize a national archive of digitized images of African-American history, arts and culture. What started with the Defender has expanded to include the Black press nationwide, private nonprofit collectors, Black photographers, and other individuals.

“‘When we talk community support, who are we talking about? My family’s been in Bronzeville since 1936. We’ve never left the community,’ Ford complained. ‘It’s just crazy when there’s no other pathway for a small business owner except through the alderman’s approval. It shouldn’t be this difficult trying to just invest in your community.’

The Lutrelle ‘Lu’ Palmer and Jorja English Palmer Mansion has been on Preservation Chicago’s ‘Chicago 7 Most Endangered’ list. Built in 1888 for Justice D. Harry Hammer, it was bought in 1976 by the renowned community organizing couple.

“‘People keep saying ‘Congrats,” Ford said. ‘I’m like, ‘On what? I’m still dealing with the alderman.’ There’s no celebration until I know how we’re going to pay this back. I’m fighting to preserve this building. It would be nice if the alderman would support it.'”

Read the full story at the Chicago Sun-Times

Obsidian Collection buys Lu Palmer Mansion at $1.25 M, now needs zoning change; On April 22, Angela Ford of The Obsidian Collection closed on a $1.25 million loan to become new owner of Bronzeville’s historic Lu Palmer Mansion. Ford is free to establish a museum there but needs a zoning change from the alderman to rent space or otherwise make money, Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/17/21

Successful petition to Reject the Proposed House Museum Ban Ordinance with 32,677 signatures. Photo Credit: City of Chicago / Ward Miller

THANK YOU to the nearly 33 thousand individuals who signed the petition to reject the proposed House Museum Ban ordinance. This petition by Preservation Chicago, our media outreach campaign, and advocacy effort in partnership with community organizations throughout Chicago played an important role in helping to defeat an ordinance that would have been devastating for dozens of house museums and cultural centers across Chicago.

In less than one week, the speed and magnitude of signatures helped thrust the proposed House Museum Ban ordinance out of the shadows and into the spotlight. This story seized the attention of Chicago and beyond. Many unknown details were revealed through the outstanding reporting of many Chicago reporters in over two dozen articles.

Preservation Chicago presented the petition along with a formal comment in opposition to the proposed house ban ordinance at the Zoning Committee of the Chicago City Council on March 23, 2021. Final petition totals were 1,488 pages of signatures and 35 pages of comments. Due to the advocacy effort and widespread opposition, the ordinance was withdrawn from a vote shortly before the hearing begin.

While the immediate danger has passed, the inspiring, diverse coalition of organizations and individuals that organized to resist the proposed ordinance will remain vigilant in the event that it resurfaces. We applaud every individual and organization that played a role in helping to oppose this legislation.

We strongly oppose any legislative maneuvers that seek to make more difficult the establishment of Chicago neighborhood house museums. In fact, we strongly encourage additional support to help nurture them.

Now is the time to recognize, honor and protect the many important contributions of African-Americans and traditionally underrepresented communities to Chicago. House museums are powerful vehicles for protecting the history and telling the stories of those who have come before us. House museums amplify the voices of those who have not been heard. It is essential that these voices be heard.

Read more at:

Alderman’s bid to restrict ‘house museums’ draws outrage from emerging tourism sector; An ordinance introduced by Ald. Sophia King (4th) to restrict “house museums” in residential neighborhoods has drawn outrage from a small but passionate community of existing or planned operators of such museums — including projects honoring Black history icons Emmett Till, Phyllis Wheatley, Lu Palmer and Muddy Waters, Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times, Mar 17, 2021

An alderman’s bid to restrict house museums is withdrawn — and should stay that way; What troubles us: Ald. Sophia King’s proposal is a solution in search of a problem, Chicago Sun-Times Editorial, Mar 24, 2021.

Alderman withdraws ordinance that would have restricted ‘house museums’; The decision by Ald. Sophia King (4th) was announced at the start of Tuesday’s meeting of the Chicago City Council’s Committee on Zoning, Landmarks and Building Standards, 
Maudlyne Ihejirika, Chicago Sun-Times, Mar 23, 2021 

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