Bluebeam Blog: Restoring Chicago’s Architectural, Cultural Heritage in Bronzeville

“Bronzeville is an often-overlooked part of Chicago, a city defined by its neighborhoods and known for its architecture.

“Situated on the Near South Side, Bronzeville’s social and architectural history was first established in the late 19th century as a mix of mansions and row houses. Despite remnants of those days, Bronzeville’s dominant identity formed in the early 20th century as the ‘Black Metropolis.’ With a significant population boom driven by the Great Migration of southern Blacks to northern states, this corner of Chicago became its epicenter of Black social, cultural and economic life.

“Decline set in with the Great Depression and was further exacerbated by urban renewal efforts beginning after World War II. Today, Bronzeville’s architectural landscape is a mix of lost buildings, some replaced by new icons, other buildings left decaying, renovated buildings serving new roles in the community and fragments waiting to be revitalized.

“While many Bronzeville buildings were brought down, others remain important sites in the neighborhood. There are nine landmarked structures in the historical district, one of which is the Chicago Bee Building, designed by Z. Erol Smith and completed in 1931. The Art Deco-style building was built as a mixed-use building commissioned by Black lawyer and entrepreneur Anthony Overton, the founder of the Chicago Bee newspaper.

“The Bee had its headquarters there, along with other businesses owned by Overton and other Black entrepreneurs, while the top floor of the three-story building was residential. The building is known for its green terra cotta exterior of the top two floors and the intricate details across the facade. It was vacant for several years before the city bought it. The Bee Building was renovated in 1996 and now serves the community as a branch of the Chicago Library.

“Unity Hall is one of the neighborhood’s older buildings. It was built in 1887 as the Lakeside Club, a social club serving the local Jewish community. Architect L. B. Dixon designed it in the Queen Anne style, with rows of arched windows and a pressed brick exterior. The building changed hands in 1917, when it was renamed Unity Hall by Oscar Stanton De Priest, the first Black alderman in Chicago. De Priest used it as the home of a political organization he founded, the People’s Movement Club.

“Despite being protected as a landmark, there was concern that the building’s neglect would ultimately result in its demolition. In 2012, Preservation Chicago added Unity Hall to its ‘Chicago 7’ list of most threatened buildings in the city. Miller explained the organization’s work on behalf of Unity Hall, ‘We were fearful that the building could be in structural danger. You just don’t want these structures to be vacant too long. We definitely encourage that these types of buildings be re-engaged and reused as soon as possible.’ In 2014, the building was approved for development as student housing. As part of the renovation project, its facade has been restored to its original design.” (Silverman, Built, The Bluebeam Blog, 9/14/23)

Read the full story at The Bluebeam Blog

Restoring Chicago’s Architectural, Cultural Heritage in Bronzeville; The neighborhood on the Near South Side has undergone many transformations over the past century; Elisa Silverman, Built, The Bluebeam Blog, 9/14/23


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