THREATENED: Justice D. Harry Hammer / Lu & Jorja Palmer Mansion

Address: 3654-3656 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (originally called Grand Boulevard, then South Park Way)
Architects: William Wilson Clay, Wheelock & Clay
Date: 1885
Style: Queen Anne/Romanesque
Neighborhood: Bronzeville/Douglas Community

The Hammer/Palmer Mansion was constructed between 1885 and 1888 for Justice D. Harry Hammer. Designed by noted architect William Wilson Clay (1849-1926) and his firm of Wheelock & Clay, in the Queen Anne style. William Clay, and his various firms of Wheelock & Clay (1876-1886), Clay & Dutton (1886-1888), Beers, Clay, & Dutton (1888-1894) and with his own firm from 1894 onward, were notable for their grand-scale houses and mansions. He primarily designed in the Romanesque Revival or Richardsonian style, as well as the Queen Anne style, the two most modern and popular styles of the late 19th century.

Clay and his firms designed many notable mansions on the Near South Side, Kenwood and Hyde Park communities, as well as along such streets as Prairie and Michigan Avenues in the neighborhood we now call Bronzeville. In addition, the firm designed historically significant tall structures, or “skyscrapers”, such as the 14-story Medinah Building of 1893 in the Loop (a precursor to Medinah Temple and the Medinah Athletic Club) and the 11-story Lakota Hotel at 3001 S. Michigan Avenue of 1892. These have both been demolished. Also, the design of the Diamond Match Company Building for the Columbian Exposition/Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. Several of Clay’s mansions still stand on the Southside, Near North Side, and the Gold Coast. However, much of their work has been lost.

More recently the Hammer/Palmer Mansion was the home from 1976 to 2004 of the noted African American activist, reporter, writer, and ‘godfather of Chicago black political activism’ Lutrelle ‘Lu’ F. Palmer II (1922-2004) and his wife Jorja English Palmer. The mansion has been vacant in recent years while under the ownership of Wilcar, LLC, with real estate magnate Elzie Higginbottom and members of the English family. The structure has fallen into a state of disrepair and there is danger that it will become a victim of demolition by neglect. Instead we hope it is saved, restored and made part of a larger Chicago Landmark District to include all of the buildings and their facades fronting this stretch of King Drive and nearby adjacent streets of Bronzeville.

The Hammer House faces the threat of demolition by neglect. The house has been vacant for a number of years. It is in need of repair. Given the size of the house and the necessary investment the property requires, Preservation Chicago is concerned that the house will continue to deteriorate and accumulate building violations. This would give the owner and the City an excuse to demolish this important Bronzeville building and erase another part of Bronzeville history.

Preservation Chicago strongly advocates for the preservation and restoration of the Hammer/Palmer Mansion. This property needs immediate repairs and investment. This building should be landmarked, either as an individual landmark or as part of a broad King Drive/Grand Boulevard Chicago Landmark District, or both. The house is clearly landmark-eligible, both from an architectural standpoint, and from the standpoint of cultural history. Its original owner, D. Harry Hammer, and its longtime owners Lu & Jorja English Palmer as they were significant residents of this historic community. The Palmers were active and noteworthy in Chicago’s African American cultural and political community, and were essential to the election of Harold Washington as mayor of Chicago. This house deserves to be saved, restored, and landmarked.



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