After a lengthy public process that generated three proposals for the Washington Park National Bank Building, the Cook County Land Bank Authority chose to select the only proposal that did not include reuse and renovation of the historic building. Despite learning the night prior about the Cook County Land Bank Authority meeting where the vote would be conducted, Preservation Chicago widely publicized the meeting and attended to present an impassioned defense of the historic building during the public testimony before the Cook County Land Bank Board of Directors.
Preservation Chicago calls on Cook County Land Bank Authority Executive Director Rob Rose and the Cook County Land Bank Authority Board of Directors to reconsider and reopen the decision regarding the redevelopment of this historic building. The Washington Park National Bank Building is an important neighborhood anchor on a commercial corridor that has seen the tragic loss of many important buildings. It is essential for the long-term reinvestment and prosperity of this commercial district that this historic building be preserved and redeveloped.
Prior to winning the run-off election in April 2019, 20 th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor declared her opposition to tearing the building down and told the Chicago Crusader that she would not approve the demolition if she wins the 20 th Ward Aldermanic election runoff. “They need to be transparent. I’m going to bring the city and the community back to the table,” Taylor said. (Johnson, The Chicago Crusader, 3/29/19)
In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Taylor said, “It’s unfair that communities on the South Side do not get to preserve historic buildings like they do on the North Side.” (Ballesteros, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/31/19)
A demolition permit could be issued any day. Due to the endangered status of the building, Landmarks Illinois included the Washington Park National Bank on its 2019 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list. In its building description, Landmarks Illinois included many compelling reasons to support adaptive reuse of the building including the significant value of federal historic tax credit funding.
“The budget shown for rehabilitation of the Washington Park National Bank was competitive with that for new construction: if the building successfully receives a National Register listing (it was determined eligible by the State Historic Preservation Office in March 2018), federal historic tax credits could be utilized. Other prominent buildings in the area, such as the former Cinderella Ballroom (now Grand Ballroom) and former Strand Hotel (now Strand Apartments) have recently been successfully rehabilitated and reused, the Strand most notably with historic tax credits.” (Landmarks Illinois , 2019)
The Cook County Land Bank Authority’s decision also has created significant local disappointment. Following is a transcript of the letter written to the Cook County Land Bank Authority from Michal Safar, President of the Hyde Park Historical Society on March 29, 2019.
Robert Rose, Executive Director
Cook County Land Bank Authority
69 W. Washington St. Suite 2938
Chicago, IL 60602
Dear Mr. Rose:
We are writing you to express our deep concern and disappointment over the Cook County Land Bank’s recent decision to demolish the Washington Park Bank Building. We feel this is a clear dismissal of Woodlawn’s history and an ominous signal that current residents will be excluded from Woodlawn’s future.
On Friday, March 15, the Cook County Land Bank reviewed three fully-vetted proposals for redeveloping the Washington Park Bank building at the SW corner of 63rd St and Cottage Grove Ave. Two of these proposals called for reuse of the historic bank building; the third proposal was from DL3 Real Estate and it specified demolition.
Leon Walker of DL3 has persistently predicted that the future of the Woodlawn neighborhood will either be ‘displacement’ or ‘revitalization’. He has said he stands for revitalization. But DL3’s proposal to demolish the bank building, and your decision to accept that proposal, invite displacement, both of historic buildings and of current residents.
There are only a few buildings left in Woodlawn that embody the racial power and vitality the neighborhood’s history stands for. Tearing down another one is an unnecessary injury to Woodlawn’s history and to its current residents. It is universally understood that people construct their personal and social identities in dialogue with the buildings that surround their daily lives. The people who now live in Woodlawn will understand this message from the Land Bank – ‘You and your community’s history are disposable.’ And the community will ask – ‘Why are you going to displace us and our history, and who are you going to ‘revitalize’ the neighborhood for?’
The Hyde Park Historical Society is deeply disappointed in this decision and we are calling on the Land Bank to reverse its decision and select one of the proposals that would re-use the bank building. The community clearly chose re-use at the conclusion of the community planning process conducted last year by the Metropolitan Planning Council. Both Jeanette Taylor and Nicole Johnson, candidates in the 20th ward run-off election, have said they do not approve demolition and would not sign the demolition permit.
The Land Bank chose the demolition/displacement of this important piece of Woodlawn’s history over its restoration/revitalization. We ask you to reconsider your decision. We ask you to lead the community in a true revitalization of Woodlawn.
Thank you for your consideration,
Michal Safar, President
Hyde Park Historical Society
Cc: Dijana Cuvalo, Eleanor Gorski, David Reifman, City of Chicago, Department of Planning and Development (DPD), Bureau of Planning, Historic Preservation and Sustainability
Chicago Sun Times
Hyde Park Herald
Located at 6300 S. Cottage Grove, the Washington Park National Bank was constructed in 1924 by architect Albert Schwartz. The building’s elegant Bedford Indiana limestone façade includes Corinthian pilasters, a projecting cornice and decorative parapet. The historic Washington Park National Bank name is chiseled into the limestone entablature. Unfortunately, the Washington Park National Bank Building has no Chicago Landmark protection against demolition, and it was overlooked by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS), with no orange rating to offer any demolition delay protection. The demolition permit could be issued at any time.
Demolition should not be an option considered for this historic building. The Woodlawn community is strong and resilient, but it has suffered through decades of disinvestment, bad policies, demolition and the vacant lots that follow. The community is burdened by too many empty lots already, and any new construction ideas should be directed toward activating a vacant lot and not destroying a neglected yet important community landmark and anchor.
The four-story Neoclassical bank building was an anchor building in the once-bustling 63rd Street commercial district. This district was a center of the South Side with many great entertainment venues, hotels and ballrooms. The area was a prominent hub for Jazz-era clubs, and all forms of entertainment and shopping flourished into the 1960s. After the community suffered a period of extended decline and disinvestment, the Washington Park National Bank Building was mothballed, fell into disrepair and has been vacant for more than a decade.
Now is the time to adaptively reuse the Washington Park National Bank Building. Woodlawn and this once- prominent commercial corridor are again experiencing reinvestment. The nearby Grand Ballroom at 6351 S. Cottage Grove Avenue by architects Lowenburg + Lowenburg from 1923 recently underwent a beautiful restoration.
Additionally, the long-vacant former Strand Hotel across the street was adaptively reused as a residential apartment building with street-level retail and art gallery. The Strand Hotel received a Landmark Illinois preservation award which praised it as “an inspiring example of how historical preservation can spark positive redevelopment and reuse.”