“There used to be a teacher’s desk in each classroom at the old Elizabeth Peabody public school building on Augusta Boulevard in Noble Square. Now each one has a kitchen island.
“The Peabody school, one of dozens of Chicago Public Schools buildings shut down in 2013, is getting a second life as apartments at the hands of a company that has converted two other closed school buildings.
“In the rehab, Buffalo Grove-based Svigos Asset Management is creating one apartment in each former classroom and the principal’s office. Rents for the one- and two-bedroom apartments, some with ground-level outdoor spaces and indoor parking, run from $3,000 to $4,200, said Nick Vittore, Svigos’ vice president of real estate.
“‘Some of the things we’re obsessed with now, like high ceilings and big windows for lots of light, were obsessions for the people who built these schools in the 19th century,’ Vittore said.
“Fourteen-foot ceilings and tall windows were necessities in 1894, for daylighting classrooms and keeping sooty furnace smoke up above students’ heads. Now they’re part of what keeps the apartments feeling bright and spacious.
“The historical features of the Peabody School Apartments don’t end there. Svigos has restored or re-created transom windows, wainscoting and handsome old cabinetry throughout the 40,000-square-foot building. Outside, they’ve replicated a wrought iron fence design that was common to Chicago schools in the 1890s but had been removed by the time Peabody closed.
“Authenticity, Vittore said, is a guiding principle. In one apartment, he noted that the laundry room door is a standard pre-hung item that the developer gets for $225, while the main interior door is a hefty wood original, refinished.
“‘That one cost us about $1,500,’ Vittore said, ‘but we would do it again. It’s part of preserving the historic character of these buildings.’
“Svigos has a portfolio of about 250 apartments, mostly on the city’s North Side, including 81 in a trio of former CPS schools. In 2017, the firm completed conversion of the former Mulligan School on Sheffield Avenue in Lincoln Park into 24 apartments. In 2019, Svigos reopened the former Motley School (aka Near North Elementary) as 36 apartments.
“Reminders of the Peabody School’s previous incarnation are everywhere in the nearly finished project. They include an old cafeteria table that was refinished and now stands beneath a pergola on the rooftop deck and chalkboards in every apartment. Some are less obvious. Look closely at the refinished original maple flooring, and a series of screw holes might be visible. The screws were used for fixing old desks in place.” (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business, 8/23/22)
“The Elizabeth Peabody Public School Building is a handsomely-designed and detailed public school building, a significant building type in the context of Chicago history. With its crisp geometric forms, paired with boldly-contrasting red pressed brick and stone walls, it exemplifies Chicago architecture of the 1890s, embracing both tradition and innovation in design. The building has finely-detailed and crafted ornament in stone, molded brick, terra cotta and decorative metal, reflecting the late Victorian love of detail in architecture.
“The building was an early design by W. August Fiedler as newly-appointed Architect to the Chicago Board of Education. During Fiedler’s tenure, the Board Architect position became an integral part of the Board of Education staff with greater professional support on design matters made readily available to the Board through Fiedler and his fellow architects.
“The Peabody Public School Building occupies several lots on the north side of west Augusta Boulevard in Chicago’s West Town community area on the Near Northwest Side of Chicago. The school was built in response to the growth of the area’s primarily Polish and German immigrant population. Thousands of immigrant families arrived in the area during the turn of the nineteenth century, and West Town became home to the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw. Peabody relieved older, over-crowded schools and gave the neighborhood a new educational ‘landmark’ which would serve Chicago school children for roughly 120 years.” (Peabody School Landmark Designation Report)
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