Saturday, February 4, 2012

Yet another loss

Photographing on the far South Side of Chicago the other day, I heard the report of a building collapse not too far away. In my younger days I would have made a beeline for the incident, especially equipped with my camera gear. Today, a bit older, wiser, and perhaps a little lazier, I avoided the area as the radio reports suggested I do.

I had a picture in my mind's eye about the building. I imagined it being your typical Chicago two or three story brick storefront, abandoned and boarded up like thousands of others in this city. Four passersby were injured in the accident and thankfully I believe they are all on the road to recovery. Reports later said that that the city had issued an immediate demolition order to prevent further injury. As these things go, I forgot about the incident until this morning when I saw this post from Lee Bay's excellent Chicago architecture blog.

It turns out the building was not your typical brick storefront but a very fine example of Chicago's dwindling collection of lavish terra cotta commercial buildings. It had indeed been abandoned for years and as you can see from a photograph on Lee Bay's post, proof of the neglect (and the inevitability of nature taking over when people let go), there was a small tree growing on the roof.

It also turns out that the building was on Preservation Chicago's orange list of endangered buildings.

Now it is off the list.

You might ask who was the deadbeat landlord who allowed such a beautiful building to get to that condition? It was the none other than the City of Chicago. The city took over the building, hoping to find a buyer about ten years ago in an attempt to revitalize the area. There were no takers and you see the result.

The building was at 79th and Halsted, a once flourishing intersection in the neighborhood of Auburn-Gresham. I wrote about that neighborhood a couple times on this blog, once about the renegade priest Father Michael Pflager, the pastor of St. Sabina Parish. Another post was about St. Therese of the Infant Jesus Church, known to its parishioners as Little Flower. That church closed and the building was purchased by another congregation and is now the Greater Mount Hebron Baptist Church.

As I pointed out in that post, the neighborhood which is predominantly African American, is also by and large middle class, struggling to be sure in this economy, but far from destitute.

We can point our fingers all we want but this unfortunate incident is just another example of the reality of once vibrant commercial streets all over the city. I wish I had a practical suggestion about how to change that, let alone a solution, but alas I don't.

If I did I'd run for mayor, or better still, king.


Pete said...

My grandfather used to work in that building, during the 1930s. He sold advertising for the Auburn Parker community newspaper.

Joe Murphy said...

I was very sad to hear about the demise of that great old building. All that beautiful terra cotta - what a loss. As a kid I drank plenty of chocolate shakes sitting at the counter in Walgreens. Even in my college days I stopped into Walgreens at least twice a week. My dentist had his office upstairs. For more about great places in the 79th & Halsted that thrived during the 50s, read "Echoes In The Gangway." Joe Murphy