Block Club Chicago: How The Rosenwald Apartments Became ‘A City Within A City’ (Chicago 7 2007)

“Nothing is the same at the apartment building where Mary Buford raised her family. The original entrance to her old building inside of the Rosenwald Apartments is gone, replaced by an office. The once-neglected courtyards on the side of the building are flush with grass and a rainbow of florals. In her first visit back in decades, Buford was quietly impressed at what has become of the complex.

“To understand how special the Rosenwald was, you have to go back to the construction of the building.

“It started as a bold idea from the mind of retail scion Julius Rosenwald to provide safe, affordable housing to the hundreds of Black residents locked out of the American dream by limited economic opportunities, redlining and restrictive housing covenants.

“The former Sears, Roebuck & Company owner had long been a champion of equal rights, serving on the city’s race relations commission in the wake of the 1919 Race Riots while building public schools and providing college scholarships for Black students across the country.

“Inspired by a tour of city housing projects in Vienna, the philanthropist endeavored to build a courtyard garden-style development with serene communal areas and apartment units bathed in sunlight.

“The result was a cluster of five-story art moderne buildings featuring arts and crafts brickwork designed by award-winning architect Ernest Grunsfeld Jr., Rosenwald’s nephew.

“When the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments opened in 1929 — three years before Rosenwald’s death — the $3 million “city within a city” was roundly praised by residents and the press for its modern design, chic amenities and details like the parquet floors that graced the community room.

“The complex spanned an entire city block from 46th to 47th streets between Michigan and Wabash avenues and contained 421 one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments with ground-floor retail.

“Elevators were a luxury back then, so residents would have to get used to walking up as many as five flights of stairs, but the rooms were airy, spacious and modern, and the development boasted a garden and fountain. (Nesbitt Golden, Block Club Chicago, 3/18/24)

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago


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