“”Two tenants of the Swift Mansion say they and seven neighbors had been embroiled in an eviction dispute in the days before a massive fire swept through the historic building, prompting an arson investigation.
“The fire broke out Sunday morning and tore through the roof of the granite, castle-like, Richardsonian Romanesque building at 4500 S. Michigan Ave., which dates back to 1892. No was hurt in the fire, according to the Chicago Fire Department.
“The extent of the damage was not immediately known, although Monday’s light showed massive damage to the roof and upper structure. How the fire started is still under investigation, but a preliminary probe showed it began in a rear stairwell and was the ‘result of human action,’ fire officials said. Arson investigators were on the case, the department said.
“Sun-Times architecture critic Lee Bey said the city’s Department of Buildings is conducting a structural report to determine if the damage is bad enough to order the home demolished.
“The building was once home to a funeral home and then the Chicago Urban League before becoming the headquarters of the Perkins’ nonprofit Inner City Youth and Adult Foundation, which helped people coming out of state prison find jobs. At one point, men looking to re-establish their lives lived in the historic mansion.
“The home was originally a gift to Helen Swift Morris and her new husband Edward Morris, the children of two rival meatpacking giants. Edward Morris was head of Morris & Company, which later merged with Swift & Company and Armour & Company to form a meatpacking goliath. Swift’s founder, Gustavus Franklin Swift, gifted the home to the couple.
“The home was built in the run-up to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, when the South Side saw a huge building boom, according to a 1977 nomination for the building to be listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
“‘The Swift Mansion is built of grey granite laid up in rustic face with alternative wide and narrow stones cut true and square,’ according to the nomination. ‘The overall design is heavily influenced by the work of H.H. Richardson and is devoid of classically derived ornament.’ The interior features meticulously carved woodwork that seems to cover every surface.
“Ward Miller with Preservation Chicago said it’s sad to see this damage, because there’s so much history within the mansion.
“‘It was built by Gustavus Swift of the Swift Meatpacking Company, as a gift to his daughter and future son-in-law. The son-in-law eventually brought together Swift and Company and Armour and Company to make Chicago and those two companies a true force,’ Miller said. Preservation Chicago is hoping those renovations can continue so the building can be salvaged from the fire.
“‘This building is a cornerstone of the Bronzeville community. It’s so important to the history of the Urban League. It’s so important the history of meatpacking in Chicago. It’s on so many different levels. This building needs to be reconstructed. It needs a patron saint to come forward, and to make those repairs,’ Miller said.” (Kawash, ABC7 Eyewitness News Chicago, 12/43/23)
While there is significant damage to the roof and attic, much of the first and second floors remain intact. This important Chicago historic building should not be demolished. The Swift Mansion should be stabilized and renovated.
A Chicago Landmark Designation is challenging at this time given the fire, but the City of Chicago should use its resources to assist the stabilization and renovation process. Preservation Chicago has been in contact with many stakeholders to advocate for a good outcome including the owner, alderwoman, city staff, and the Chicago Urban League.
We will continue to defend the building against demolition and advocate for its restoration and eventual Chicago Landmark Designation.
Swift Mansion Tenants Say Owners Illegally Evicted Them Before Massive Fire; Nine people had been living at the historical mansion, where the second floor had been converted into a single-room occupancy building, two tenants said. Officials are investigating the Sunday fire as arson, Jamie Nesbitt Golden, Block Club Chicago, 11/29/23
Gutted by fire, the fate of Bronzeville’s historic Swift Mansion remains in limbo; The fire is under investigation, but the 131-year-old home’s survival could rest with the results of a structural report now being prepared by city building inspectors, Lee Bey, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/4/23
Tenants say they were illegally evicted days before Swift Mansion fire; The owner planned to renovate the top two floors to create space to house migrants, according to a lawsuit. But a blaze broke out in a back stairwell before the work could begin, tenants and owners say, David Struett, Chicago Sun-Times, 12/4/23
Swift Mansion, Built In 1892, Badly Damaged In Grand Boulevard Fire; The home was built as a wedding gift for the daughter of Gustavus Swift, the founder of the Swift & Company meatpacking company, Shamus Toomey, Block Club Chicago, 11/29/23