“A former woman’s shelter in Garfield Park has been designated a Chicago landmark following a City Council vote Wednesday. The Wolfson Building, 2678 W. Washington Blvd, was given final landmark approval Wednesday following a months-long preservation effort.
“‘All of us working in the community helped to get this done,’ Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said in August. ‘I’m so elated that the history of the building is being honored and celebrated.’
“The Wolfson Building’s history as a sanctuary for at-risk women and children made the building an ideal candidate for landmark status, supporters said.
“Max Chavez, director of research and special projects at Preservation Chicago, previously said too much of the West Side’s history has already been erased and the building’s significance for women of color should be honored.
“‘This is an opportunity to reverse that course, keeping standing a building that tells a story of how, in their moment of need, women in Chicago, particularly women of color, were able to find a place of support and aid, of life-saving healthcare, and of safety,’ Chavez said in a statement to the landmark commission. ‘Women’s history, especially that of health care or reproductive care, is very much an underrepresented narrative.'” (Arline, Block Club Chicago, 12/13/23)
“A decaying 19th-century Washington Boulevard estate that for part of the 20th century was a haven for single mothers and other struggling women will be restored by a buyer who swept in after the previous owner applied for a demolition permit.
“The site, half an acre at 2678 W. Washington Blvd. that holds the red brick, turreted mansion and a coach house, both built in the 1880s and a dormitory added in the 1920s, sold Oct. 26 for $1.175 million. It had not been actively listed for sale, but Karen Biazar, a North Clybourn Group agent who represented the seller, said it was being prepped for market when the buyer made an offer.
“Interest in saving the buildings was galvanized by Debbie Mercer, a retired Oak Park schoolteacher who is now an amateur architectural historian. Earlier this year, she unearthed the buildings’ forgotten use for unwed mothers, their infants and other women with health care needs from 1923 to the mid-1970s. It later operated as a place where unmarried women received pregnancy care.
“‘This property was a beacon of hope for women in difficult circumstances at a time when few such beacons existed,’ Mercer told Crain’s in an email after the sale.
“‘This is a big victory for the West Side and a big victory for women’s history in Chicago,’ said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, which had also advocated for saving the buildings.
“Daniela Pagani, the Real Broker agent who represented the buyers, said she was not authorized to divulge their plans other than to say ‘my clients’ intention is to preserve this beautiful landmark.’ Biazar, who worked for the seller and thus cannot speak on behalf of the buyer, said she learned during the transaction that ‘they plan to honor its history.’
“The seller, identified in county and state public records as Guillermo Meza-Ortega, did not respond to a request for comment. A legal entity he heads bought the property in April 2022 for $299,000, according to the Cook County Clerk’s Office. He appears to have collected over $800,000 in profit from a year and a half of ownership.
“‘This is a win for everyone,’ Biazar said, although she could not comment on the specific dollar figures.
The main house and coach house were built sometime before 1888 for Fred and Mary Morgan. Fred Morgan’s ‘experiments with rubber,’ according to his 1921 obituary in the Chicago Tribune, led him to manufacturing bicycle tires at a time when ‘bicycles held the place the automobile does today.’ He co-founded the firm Morgan & Wright, which later, as United States Tire, became an industry leader.
“In 1923, the Chicago Home for Convalescent Women & Children bought the property from Mary Morgan. This group added the dormitory building, which, according to Mercer’s research, was designed by Holabird & Roche, the architecture firm behind Chicago’s City Hall-County Building and other landmark structures. The group later reorganized as the Florence Crittenton Anchorage and lasted until about 1973.
“The buildings are testament to ‘a time in our country when out-of-wedlock births were considered so shameful that women were often hidden away in homes such as the one on Washington Boulevard,’ Jenny Spinner, an English professor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, wrote in a letter to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Spinner wrote that she was one of a pair of twin girls born to an unwed mother from North Dakota who stayed in the Crittenton facility for four months before giving birth at the Illinois Masonic Medical Center, and put her twins up for adoption before returning home and keeping it all secret.
“‘This house is part of a national story of women and pregnancy,’ Spinner wrote.” (Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business)
Preservation Chicago launched a rapid response advocacy campaign to try to save the Wolfson Building at 2678 W. Washington Blvd in East Garfield Park from demolition. Extensive research by Preservation Chicago revealed the building’s fascinating and important history. Proactive community organizing and stakeholder outreach galvanized the support necessary to allow the Preliminary Landmark Designation to advance.
West Side Women’s Shelter Building Named A Chicago Landmark, Saving It From Wrecking Ball; Garfield Park’s Wolfson Building was once a save haven for single women and mothers, particularly women of color. Advocates fought to preserve its history, Trey Arline, Block Club Chicago, 12/13/23
Landmarks commission has a chance to help save historic West Side mansion; The landmarks commission’s vote could set the stage for preserving a handsome late 19th Century building in a neighborhood that has lost too many vintage structures over the past 50 years; Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, 8/1/20
131-Year-Old West Side Women’s Shelter Building Gets Early Landmark Approval; Historic preservationists lobbied to landmark the Victorian property, citing its importance as a safe haven for single women of color for its time, Trey Arline, Block Club Chicago, 8/10/23