“Chicago’s last standing Phyllis Wheatley Home, which offered shelter and resources to young Black women moving north during the Great Migration, is at risk of being ordered demolished in less than two months. The three-story building at 5128 S. Michigan Ave. was built in 1896.
“From 1915 to 1967, the Phyllis Wheatley Association — named after the enslaved woman who was the first published Black poet in the United States — operated a settlement home there. Up to 22 young Black women lived there at a time as they sought employment in Chicago and got acquainted with their new city.
“The 125-year-old structure must have its roof and rear wall replaced, owner Ariajo ‘JoAnn’ Tate said. She’s owned the home for three decades, raising her family there while running the nonprofit Training and Educational Resources for Children, which she founded in the ’90s.
“Though the facade and the first floor are salvageable — along with its cherry wood paneling and wall-mounted buffet chests dating to the Wheatley Home’s operation — the basement and top floors must be gutted and rehabbed.
“Tate estimates it will cost $700,000-$1 million to make the necessary repairs. It will take another $2 million or so to execute Tate’s vision for the space, she said. She would move back into the home, which would also host her rebooted nonprofit with programs for Black economic empowerment and community-building.
“As she lives with one of her children in the suburbs, she’s working with local preservation organizations to secure grant funding. She plans to roll out a fundraiser on social media in early February.
“But a Circuit Court hearing for the vacant building is scheduled for March 16. At that, a judge may issue a demolition order, said Mimi Simon, a Department of Buildings spokesperson.
“With the court hearing just weeks away, there’s a lot of heavy lifting to be done to ensure the building will escape the bulldozer — let alone transform it into a community center honoring the work of the women who ran the settlement home.
“Joi Weathers is a third-generation Bronzeville resident, currently receiving medical treatment in Baltimore. After visiting the Wheatley Home for her blog and connecting with Tate in late 2019, Weathers began raising awareness about the site’s significance.
“About a month ago, she organized a petition to save the home. It’s since gained more than 700 signatures, but ‘a petition is not going to sway the city,’ Weathers said.
“Preserving ‘a tangible place that holds the heritage and spirit of Black women’ is a must, Weathers said — particularly as a hot housing market stokes fears of gentrification and the erasure of Black history in the former Black Belt.
“‘Hearing Dr. Tate and her story, I remembered how emotional my father was when the Palm Tavern closed, the Checkerboard Lounge — you just get tired of seeing everybody so lost and not understanding what is at stake,’ Weathers said.
“What’s at stake is an opportunity for Chicagoans to continue learning from a place where Black women invested in each other for decades, researchers said.
“’People viscerally respond to being in the place, or touching the thing that somebody else touched,’ she said. ‘When that’s gone, sometimes you can feel like that connection is broken.'”(Evans, Block Club Chicago, 1/29/21)
Preservation Chicago has been working with urgency to generate stakeholder support and emergency funding prior to the March 16 Building Court date. Additionally, Preservation Chicago recommended the Phyllis Wheatley Home as a suggestion for Chicago Landmark Designation on January 26 at the Program Committee hearing of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.
Demolition Court Looms For Chicago’s Last Phyllis Wheatley Home, Which Sheltered Black Women During The Great Migration; Researchers and residents are calling for the preservation of “a tangible place that holds the heritage and spirit of Black women” as the building’s owner — and its longtime resident — seeks funding to restore her crumbling home, Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago, 1/29/21