The Washington Park National Bank Building 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 with the historic Washington Park National Bank name chiseled into the limestone entablature. Unfortunately, the Washington Park National Bank Building has no landmark protections against demolition.
The four-story Neo-Classical bank building was an anchor building in the once bustling commercial district along 63rd Street. This district contained many great entertainment venues, hotels, ballrooms and was a center of the South Side. 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 and fell into disrepair.
Now is the time to adaptively reuse the Washington Park National Bank Building. Woodlawn and this once prominent commercial corridor is again experiencing reinvestment. The nearby Grand Ballroom was beautifully restored, originally known as the Cinderella Ballroom at 6351 S. Cottage Grove Avenue by architects Lowenburg + Lowenburg in 1923. 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 where it was praised as “an inspiring example of how historical preservation can spark positive redevelopment and reuse.”
The Cook County Land Bank Authority acquired the Washington Park National Bank in a recent tax sale auction. According to records from the Cook County Clerk’s Office, the property had accumulated more than $500,000 in unpaid taxes since 1996. The prior ownership was the Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church and the Woodlawn Community Development Corporation. Community Development Corporation and the church (until recently known as the Christ Apostolic Church), are both affiliated with Reverend Leon Finney. (Belanger, South Side Weekly, 12/20/17)
The Cook County Land Bank Authority was created in 2013 by the Cook County Government to spur development by obtaining, refurbishing, and selling off vacant, abandoned, or tax-delinquent properties across the city. Under the leadership of executive director Rob Rose, the Cook County Land Bank Authority partnered with Metropolitan Planning Council to facilitate a three-part community-led redevelopment process of the Washington Park National Bank Building to get community input into how the building should be repurposed. The input from these public meetings will help to inform the Request for Proposals (RFP) that is expected to be released by the City of Chicago in April 2017.
“As we went through this process, I did not want to sit down with a small group of developers, and come up with a plan,” said Rose. “What we want to do is initiate a community-led process. For me, this just makes sense. Woodlawn has a certain history, and this corner is a very important corner. We’ve got to get this right, and it takes all of us to make that happen.” (Belanger, South Side Weekly, 12/20/17)
Preservation Chicago applauds the Cook County Land Bank Authority and the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) for coordinating and facilitating this workshop to solicit resident input for 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 building. It is it essential for the long-term reinvestment and prosperity of this commercial district that this historic building be preserved and redeveloped.
Preservation Chicago was alarmed by MPC’s decision to also include two demolition options in the materials distributed during the first workshop. Demolition should absolutely not be an option considered for this historic building. The Woodlawn community is strong and resilient, but has suffered through decades of disinvestment and 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 to towards activating a vacant lot, not destroying a community landmark and anchor.