“The prevailing image of Chicago public housing is that of blocks of big, grim brick-and-concrete towers. It didn’t start out that way, though.
“The first public housing developments, built under CHA Executive Director Elizabeth Wood, were humane, nicely designed, low- and mid-rise dwellings and townhomes with gardens and open space.
“For instance, the former Jane Addams Homes opened on Taylor Street in the Little Italy neighborhood in 1938 with a pool, a fountain and a play area where children could climb on giant Art Deco limestone animal sculptures designed by Chicago’s noted modernist artist and designer Edgar Miller.
“Most of all that is gone now, wiped away under the CHA’s Plan for Transformation, right along with much of the city’s old-school public housing.
“Most — but not all. A surviving portion of the Addams Homes at Taylor and Ada streets is slated to open next year as the National Public Housing Museum. And as part of the reactivated buildings, those limestone animal sculptures — now undergoing a $300,000 restoration — will return to their old home.
“‘The animals were important,’ said National Public Housing Museum Executive Director Lisa Yun Lee. ‘[They] were kind of the guardian angels of the space.’
“The Addams Homes, along with the still-surviving Julia C. Lathrop Homes on the North Side and the Southeast Side’s Trumbull Park Homes, were the city’s first public housing units.
“At each development, children’s playgrounds were important. The broad play area at Addams featured the Animal Court, with Miller’s large whimsical sculptures of various animals, including a buffalo, a lion, sheep, a bear and a bull.
“Pitted and worn from 70 years of play and Chicago weather, the animal sculptures were put in storage 16 years ago, awaiting restoration funding, Lee said. A grant from the Alphawood Foundation finally got the project started.
“Andrzej Dajnowski, founder of Conservation of Sculpture and Objects Studio, is handling the job. Among other work, his shop is responsible for last year’s refresh of the famed bronze lions outside the Art Institute of Chicago.
“Dajnowski said the animal sculpture restoration includes resculpting missing and worn parts and the equally painstaking task of making sure the colors of the fixes and the original portions match.
“What we do will last for years to come,” he said.
Lee said the sculptures should be ready for their return by summer. (Bey, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/9/23)