Preservation Chicago recognizes the need for Misericordia’s extraordinary housing and services. We strongly support this important work, and we believe it is possible to both meet the high demand for Misericordia housing and repurpose the historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club building at 1925 W. Thome Avenue in the West Ridge neighborhood of Chicago.
We encourage the City of Chicago to work with Misericordia to achieve a zoning density and site plan that can accommodate housing for at least 150 Misericordia clients, while keeping the historic building intact either for adaptive reuse by Misericordia or to sell to a preservation-minded developer. PLEASE sign our petition today to support this approach that allows for the housing units so desperately needed by Misericordia’s clients while also saving an important historic Chicago asset.
Misericordia desires to build additional housing units to accommodate individuals with developmental disabilities. Their current plan provides 150 new units, but it has a waitlist of more than 300 individuals. By allowing a higher-density zoning on existing Misericordia land as well as the Chicago Town & Tennis Club 3.5-acre site, Misericordia could build more than the 150 units currently planned on the parking lot and partially offset its $7.5 million purchase price for the historic club by selling the building to a private developer. The historic building occupies only a small area of the 3.5 acre site.
Misericordia has applied for a demolition permit for the Chicago Town & Tennis Club. Because the building is orange-rated on the Chicago Historic Resource Survey (indicating its high level of historic significance), a 90-day demolition hold has been placed on the permit application. The delay will expire in March 2020 at which time a demolition permit will be released.
The Chicago Town & Tennis Club was designed by architect George W. Maher in 1924. George W. Maher is an important Chicago architect and was a contemporary of legendary architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. The historic building and extensive gardens were constructed in the Tudor revival style and modeled on the Wimbledon tennis club in England. After it became the Unity Church, the historic building was carefully and comprehensively restored in 2002 by Vinci-Hamp Architects which converted the dining room into its magnificent sanctuary and other rooms into an art gallery and a social hall.
The historic building retains much of its original character including its vaulted ceilings and grand ceilings, stained glass, decorative tile, and ornamental plasterwork. On the exterior of the building, its high gables, half-timbering, slate roof and decorative brickwork all remain including the original stone carvings depicting a pair of tennis rackets. The building is orange-rated per the Chicago Historic Resources Survey which confirms its important architectural significance to the West Ridge community and Chicago.
In addition to the proposal to change zoning density to accommodate more units of housing on Misericordia’s property, some other options include:
Option 1. A land swap with the Chicago Park District and the adjacent Emmerson Park. Misericordia would receive vacant land to build the addition residential units and the Chicago Park District would receive the Chicago Town and Tennis Club/Unity Church building. The historic building would become the new Emmerson Park Field House and provide much needed services to the West Ridge Community that the Chicago Park District’s current modest shed building cannot support. The Chicago Park District could include the historic building on its list of event spaces throughout Chicago that are able to be rented for weddings and other celebrations. This is an important amenity for the wider Chicago community and one which generates significant income for the Chicago Park District to support operations. Other than the need to provide elevator ADA access to the second floor, the historic building is in excellent condition. This use could be quickly implemented as it has been successfully hosting events and celebrations for decades as Unity Church.
Option 2. If Misericordia wishes to retain the historic building, in addition to using the building for its program delivery, the nonprofit could host weddings and events to generate additional revenues to support their mission and operations. Misericordia residents with developmental disabilities could gain valuable work experience though employment during these events. Lastly, this use would serve to better integrate the Misericordia and West Ridge communities.
Option 3. Misericordia could donate the building to the Chicago Park District. The historic building could be moved a few hundred feet to the adjacent Emerson Park, a Chicago Park District park. Although logistically the most complicated, such a donation could provide a substantial benefit to the wider West Ridge community and also divert a great deal of materials from ending up in landfills. A larger facility would be a substantial community asset. The saved cost of demolition could be used to offset a portion of the cost to move the historic building.
Historic preservation is about saving historic places and meeting the needs of the people in the community. This does not have to be an either/or decision. With some creative thinking and planning, Misericordia can grow its facilities to serve more clients, and Chicago’s incredible historic built environment can live on for another 100 years for people to enjoy.