These are Chicago’s 7 most endangered places: Preservation Chicago’s annual list includes a Washington Park greystone that housed Black women during the Great Migration, and the lakefront, which faces “multiple threats.”
By Dennis Rodkin in Crain’s Chicago Business
February 24, 2021
“A dilapidated greystone in Washington Park that for half the 20th century provided housing and support for Black women coming to Chicago during the Great Migration is one of the most endangered places in the city, according to a preservation group.
“Now privately owned and facing a court order for demolition, the three-story building at 5128 S. Michigan Ave. was a Phyllis Wheatley House, named for the enslaved 18th-century American poet.
“In several northern cities, Black women who wanted to support women moving up from the South operated Wheatley Houses, including from 1915 to 1967, the Michigan Avenue greystone.
“‘This is the rarest of the rare,’ said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, which has the Phyllis Wheatley House on its 2021 Chicago 7 list of the city’s most threatened places, released today.
“So much related to women’s history and African Americans’ history has been lost to demolition,’ Miller told Crain’s. ‘This building is a piece of African American women’s history that we shouldn’t lose.’ The house is pictured at the top of this article.
“Also on the group’s endangered list this year are a rundown retail and apartment building designed by a Prairie School architect who later moved to Australia to design that nation’s capital city, an empty Masonic lodge in South Chicago, lakefront parks, Catholic churches and historical manufacturing districts.
“The Michigan Avenue greystone’s owner of the past three decades has moved out because of the home’s poor condition, Block Club Chicago reported in January, and is trying to raise money for restoration but has a March 16 court hearing where a judge could issue a demolition order.
“‘This important historical building shouldn’t be demolished,’ Miller said. ‘We want to help save it.’
These are the other sites on the list:
“The Cornell Store & Flats was built in about 1909, combining storefront retail with upstairs apartments in a Prairie Style design by Walter Burley Griffin. A few years after designing the building, which included a central light court to brighten the interiors, Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, both former employees of Frank Lloyd Wright, moved to Australia to design the nation’s capital city, Canberra.
“When the structure was built, its section of 75th Street was a thriving retail corridor, but later construction of railroad and street viaducts isolated it from foot traffic, and decades of disinvestment in South Side neighborhoods contributed to its decline into a decaying shell. Preservation Chicago would like to see it repurposed, perhaps as part of a new station for the Metra Electric line, Miller said.
“A once-grand Masonic temple in the South Chicago neighborhood, empty for at least a decade, is for sale at $750,000, according to Miller. The colossal building, red brick with tall concrete columns, on 91st Street would make a great hub for neighborhood redevelopment as part of Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South/West initiative, he said.
“The rest of the entries on Preservation Chicago’s 2021 list are not individual structures but “thematic,” as Miller calls them. They reflect larger, citywide issues such as the Archdiocese of Chicago’s ongoing shutdowns and combinations of Catholic churches.
“Our Lady of Lourdes, pictured above, is one of two churches in Uptown that will merge later this year, and, according to Block Club Chicago, no new use has been announced for Our Lady of Lourdes, on Ashland Avenue, and its grotto, designed as a replica of the original in Lourdes, France.
“Rapid change in the West Loop, which in the past few years has been the city’s hottest neighborhood for new developments of both residential and commercial real estate, threatens to wipe out the area’s history as a manufacturing district, according to Preservation Chicago.
“Among the recent or pending losses are towering grain silos on Carroll Avenue, part of a milli
ng complex that dates to 1897 and represents Chicago’s heyday as the nation’s stacker of wheat. Another, pictured above, is a building that now houses a tire store but was built in 1902 for a window glass company. Both have been bought in recent years by developers who plan to replace them with taller buildings.
“Chicago’s most precious amenity, its lakefront, faces “multiple threats to the sanctity of these cherished public lands,” according to Preservation Chicago’s press materials. The threats include a plan to remap Lake Shore Drive on the Near North Side around Oak Street and changing traffic patterns to accommodate the planned Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park.
“The photo shows the vast empty lakefront acreage known as South Works, the former site of steel production that has foiled several redevelopment attempts in recent years.
“Preservation Chicago wants the city to work toward obtaining national park designation for the entire lakefront.” (Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 2/24/21)