THREATENED: Potential Insensitive Redevelopment of Jefferson Park Firehouse

Jefferson Park Firehouse, 4835 N. Lipps Avenue, Historic Photo Credit: Northwest Chicago Historical Society

After sitting vacant for five years, an adaptive reuse is planned for the Jefferson Park Firehouse. Located at 4835 N. Lipps Avenue at the corner of Ainslie Street, this is one of the city’s oldest surviving firehouse buildings. Built in 1906, the two story brick building had elegant beaux-arts detailing including strong horizontal base elements, a decorative cornice and a projecting triangular pediment. The cornice detail and pediment has been lost, but rebuilding it as close to the original design should be part of any redevelopment plan.

If the required zoning change is approved, Ambrosia Homes plans to purchase the building from the City of Chicago and convert it to a micro-brewery with apartments above. The project is estimated to cost $2.4 million. Two new floors would be added to the structure and the upper three floors would become nine rental apartments.

The ground floor would be occupied as a second location by Lake Effect Brewing Company. Lake Effect Brewing has become a popular neighborhood fixture since opening at 4727 W. Montrose in 2011. Their Jefferson Park firehouse location would include a tasting room and a new outdoor sidewalk patio space.

45th Ward Alderman John Arena has conducted public meetings regarding the proposal and has voiced his support for the project.

Preservation Chicago and the Northwest Chicago Historical Society support that adaptive reuse of this early Chicago firehouse, but strongly urge Alderman Arena to insist that the development team take greater care to return lost historic elements to the building. The current rendering fails to accomplish this.
The second floor of the existing historic firehouse should not be demolished and replaced by new construction.
Window openings on the upper floors should alight to follow the historic building below on primary elevations. The “black-eye” punched internal balconies should not be permitted. In this case, exterior balconies are preferable to internal balconies. It would be preferable to have balconies on side and rear elevations.
The cornice, triangular pediment and corner elements should be rebuilt on the original second floor roofline as closely as possible to the original design based upon the historic photographs.
The rebuilt cornice should be at the second floor roofline, with the new floors set back 10 feet from the cornice line. This would allow for exterior patio space on the roof as well as protecting and respecting the historic structure.

The following is an alternative design approach that might solve many of the challenges within the site and allow for more of the community priorities to be met. Perhaps the historic second floor could be occupied by Lake Effect Brewery for overflow seating, private parties, and community meetings, similar to the highly successful second floor space occupied by Revolution Brewery in Logan Square. This would also create a greater separation between the brewery and the residential units above. The new residential floor plate could be set-back 10 feet from the cornice line. By hanging balconies on the exterior of the new façade, the square footage lost by a smaller residential tower footprint would be made up for by returning the enclosed balconies to interior space. This would potentially require an additional story, but provide greater respect for the historic building and allow more flexibility for the developer. Additionally, a 16-story residential project is underway in close proximity, so the additional height does not seem to be a significant issue so long as its interaction with the historic building is sensitive.

Additional Reading

Brewery, apartments proposed for oldest firehouse building in Jefferson Park, Jay Koziarz, Chicago Curbed, February 28, 2018

Lake Effect Brewing unveils taproom plans for 112-year-old Jefferson Park firehouse, Jay Koziarz, Chicago Curbed, March 9, 2018

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