LOSS: The Wrecking Ball Is Response To Preservation Chicago’s Written Offer for $1.5 Million to Move Chicago Town and Tennis and Petition with 3,000 Signatures (Chicago 7 2020)

The Demolition of Chicago Town and Tennis Club/Unity Church, 1925, George W. Maher and Son, 1925 W. Thome Avenue. Photo Credit: Joe Ward / Block Club Chicago

Link to T witter video of Demolition of Chicago Town and Tennis Club/Unity Church, 1925, George W. Maher and Son, 1925 W. Thome Avenue. Photo Credit: Joe Ward / Block Club Chicago

Link to petition to Save Chicago Town and Tennis Club / Unity Church

It is with great sadness to inform you that after an extensive advocacy campaign to save the historic building, the Chicago Town and Tennis Club / Unity Church has been demolished. With its loss, the hope for a new fieldhouse for the children of Emmerson Park has been extinguished.

It is deeply disappointing that decision makers failed to take the necessary steps to avoid squandering this extraordinary win-win opportunity.

A community meeting was held on June 17, 2020, ten weeks prior to the August 31, 2020 deadline to have the building removed from the site. Prior to the community meeting, an offer to move the building and the petition (with over 3,000 signatures) and comments were presented to the decision makers.

The written offer to cover the $1.5 million cost of physically moving the historic building into Emmerson Park to create a joint fieldhouse and community center was presented by one of Chicago’s most successful immigrant and refugee support nonprofit organizations in cooperation with Preservation Chicago.

Misericordia could have saved the $250,000 demolition cost and the Chicago Park District could have gained a first-class $20 million fieldhouse for free.

For literally “ten cents on the dollar” the children of West Ridge could have the amazing fieldhouse they deserve.

The response to this incredible offer came the following morning when local media posted video of a demolition excavator chewing into the side of the historic building.

Link to Chicago Town and Tennis Club / Unity Church demolition Video

In this plan, all parties would have benefited. It is heartbreaking that this process and time frame was cut short. The rush to demolition is especially perplexing as the demolition of the historic building was completed in only a few days and the building permit for Misericordia’s new construction is not likely to be issued until September.

It is with deep gratitude that we express our thanks to all of the supporters of the petition to Save Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church. The petition generated over 3,000 signatures and served to powerfully inject the voice of the community into this process.

The plan proposed by Preservation Chicago in close cooperation with neighborhood preservation partners including Neighbors for Emmerson Park, Rogers Park/West Ridge Historical Society, The Edgewater Historical Society and Landmarks Illinois was both creative and intuitive, audacious and obvious, and ultimately a workable plan. A special thanks to Amy Brennan for all of her extraordinary community outreach efforts and Bob Remer of the Edgewater Historical Society.

The building in question was the Chicago Town and Tennis Club / Unity Church, a lovely, beautifully-renovated, historic 1920s-era tennis clubhouse with vaulted ceilings, slate roof, and grand spaces by the great architect George Maher.

The 3.1 acre Unity Church site and building had been purchased by Misericordia to build new housing for disabled individuals. Misericordia had no use for the historic building, so an agreement was reached between the City of Chicago and Misericordia , that if a qualified entity could be secured by June 17, 2020, this qualified entity would have until August 31, 2020 to move the building off the site. Misericordia would give the building away to the qualified entity and they would avoid $250,000 in demolition costs.

Emmerson Park is adjacent to the Chicago Town and Tennis Club grounds. The current fieldhouse is little more than a modified “comfort station” or public restroom building and as result, the children of Emmerson Park have suffered for decades.

New Chicago Park District fieldhouses can cost upwards of $15 million. Even minor renovations to fieldhouses can cost over $1 million.

As recently as May 20, 2020, Chicago Department of Planning and Development announced the funding for four more park projects. We strongly support park reinvestment projects but urged the Chicago Park District not leave out Emmerson Park!

  • Brighton Park, $50 million to support a new Chicago Park District headquarters and park space
  • Clarendon Park, $13 million to support renovations to Clarendon Park fieldhouse
  • Williams Park, $6 million to support a new Williams Park fieldhouse.
  • Blackhawk Park, $3 million to support renovations to the Blackhawk Park fieldhouse.
  • Avondale Park, $2.9 million to support renovations to the Avondale Park fieldhouse.
  • Kosciusko Park $1.8 million to support renovations to the Kosciusko Park fieldhouse.
  • Revere Park $1.5 million to support renovations to the Revere Park fieldhouse.
  • Chopin Park, $700,000 to support renovations to Chopin Park fieldhouse.

Preservation Chicago received multiple quotes which confirmed the cost to move the historic building 250 feet into Emmerson Park and install it on a new foundation was $1.1 million. The additional $400,000 would have covered miscellaneous improvement costs. But all of these costs would have be paid for by a sponsoring organization so that the Chicago Park District would have gained a beautiful grand fieldhouse at no cost.

Between March and June 2020, Preservation Chicago conducted an extensive advocacy and fundraising campaign. Despite the formidable challenges presented by the pandemic and unrest, approximately $250,000 in pledges were secured.

The fundraising breakthrough came when one of Chicago’s most successful immigrant support nonprofit organizations offered to cover the $1.5 million costs for moving and restoring the historic building into Emmerson Park in order to create a joint fieldhouse and community center.

Thank you to all you signed this petition and took the moment to make your voice heard. Many of the petition comments are truly inspirational. Here are a handful of the inspiring comments that your fellow supporters added to the petition.

“I would love to see this building preserved. I support this great idea.”

“A phenomenal building with significant history. Deserves to be saved. And this plan offers a brilliant solution.”

“A beautiful and much less expensive way to serve this diverse community!”

“My daughter did summer camp at Emmerson almost 15 years ago. The building is woefully inadequate and we stopped going there as she got bigger because of the lack of space. Seems like a no brainer to seriously explore this option.”

“Beautiful building which qualifies for landmark status and a cost effective way to save it? Makes sense to me!”

“I’m a Chicagoan, and love the beauty of our old buildings. This would be a wonderful boon for the kids. Save the $$$, save the building, build the future on the foundation of the past!”

“Preserving history preserves the identity of a place, its past shaping its future. This is a remarkable plan to recycle a building, reduce expenditures, and reuse an historically significant building while benefiting city tax payers and most importantly children.”

“It would be criminal to do anything BUT move this building for a mere $1.5 million to be used as s fieldhouse. We’re watching. What will you do?”

“It is a beautiful historic building and can be useful for years to come. The style and craftsmanship of this building adds to the cultural richness and value of our neighborhood and should be preserved.”

“The building is precious and can and should be saved.”

“This is more than a building- it is a part of our cultural identity. It MUST be saved”

“This is a beautiful building and must be repurposed. Please do not tear down part of our architectural history.”

“Preserving structures such as the Chicago Town & Tennis Club/Unity Church maintains a legacy that if lost can never be restored.”

“This building is unique, has a pedigree, and could be easily incorporated into a wide variety of adaptive re-uses. I would move my bookstore there immediately!”

“We need to preserve the rich history of Chicago and not drown in modern boring architecture devoid of details and personality. This is the last of these grand ladies in Chicago and is a beautiful landmark.”

“There is a magical quality about this building. While attending Unity, I was always taken in by the beauty of the room and building.”

“Purchased in a very distressed condition by Unity, the Town & Tennis Club’s building was first renovated with the hard work of dozens of congregants. Over Unity’s 24 years there, over 300 people donated substantial time and effort to renewing this unique building, and the church spent about $425,000 on varied upgrades and ongoing fixes. It was inspired by a desire to look exactly like Wimbledon, the masonry work alone a wonderful job, plus a Vermont slate roof & copper gutters (all repaired and partly replaced over ten years), and set in its own park with over an acre of gardens. So yes, it would be great if one of the proposed ways to keep the building in use works out. Thanks for bringing the building to the attention of those in the preservation community!”

Additional reading
Preservationists Race to Save Historic West Ridge Building, Nick Blumberg, WTTW Chicago Tonight, 16/11/20

Misericordia Tears Down West Ridge Building, Ending Fight To Save 1920s Tennis Club; 

A last-ditch effort to save the building fell short just the night before demolition began, Joe Ward, Block Club Chicago, 6/18/20.

Petition to Save Chicago Town and Tennis Club/ Unity Church

Read the full Chicago Town and Tennis Club reuse options in the Chicago 7 2020 write-up 

Ward Miller Interviewed on WTTW Chicago Tonight regarding efforts to save Chicago Town and Tennis/ Unity Church. Image Credit: WTTW Chicago Tonight

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