WIN: Illegal Construction in Humboldt Park Demolished!

The cinderblock shell of an illegal building in Humboldt Park, obscuring the landmarked Receptory and Stable building, prior to demolition. Photo credit: Patty Wetli / WTTW News

“An unauthorized structure meant to be an addition to the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture will be razed next week after persistent outcry from neighbors and preservationists opposing the construction.

“Work on the 4,000-square-foot cinder-block archives and storage facility next to the museum, 3015 W. Division St., began in 2022 without proper city permits and approvals.

“The controversial, partially built center will be demolished after a permit with the Department of Buildings was filed last week, according to city permit data. The permit calls to ‘wreck and remove’ the structure erected without a permit, though the foundation and footings will remain.

“‘The building walls will be removed, leaving the site in a temporary condition for the future development of an outdoor plaza for gatherings and exhibitions,’ museum officials said in the notice. ‘These upcoming site improvements are in design, and more details on the proposed concept will be shared with the community once available.’

“The demolition is a ‘giant step in the right direction’ said neighbor Kurt Gippert, who has been vocal in his opposition to the unsanctioned construction. Gippert and his wife started a petition two years ago calling for the demolition of the structure on public land and for more community transparency. The petition received over 2,000 signatures.

“Billy Ocasio, formerly Humboldt Park’s alderman and now the museum’s executive director, previously shielded key details about building the archive center and repeatedly misrepresented the project to city and state officials, according to a damning 16-page report by a Preservation Chicago

“Ocasio apologized to neighbors at a community meeting last year that announced the demolition and told them he is ‘looking to move forward.’

“‘We made a mistake. We were caught,’ Ocasio previously said, stumbling on his words. ‘You guys called us on it.’ (Parrella-Aureli, Block Club Chicago, 2/21/24)

“The solution also included the retention of the foundation of the illegal building, for possible use for future programming. In addition, Ocasio said he would pursue suggestions made by Preservation Chicago to top off the museum’s courtyard with a glass roof and remove the tent currently used as an event space.

“‘We’re here to help and we want to be your partner,’ said Ward Miller, executive of Preservation Chicago, who declared himself ‘very pleased with the outcome.’ (Wetli, WTTW Chicago, 10/4/23)

“The new archives center will be moved to 2533 and 2537 W. Division St., said Alexis Smyser-De Leon, director of policy for Fuentes. The move has been well received by neighbors, who have said the center will inject more life to the Paseo Boricua corridor.

“The Humboldt Park receptory and stables, where the museum sits, is a Park District-owned building that was built in 1895 for horses and as storage for wagons and landscaping tools. The turreted 1890s building, which was also the office of renowned landscape architect and then-Park Superintendent Jens Jensen, was designated a Chicago landmark in 2008. (Parrella-Aureli, Block Club Chicago, 2/21/24)

Preservation Chicago is thrilled with this outcome. We played a central role in helping to amplify and document this illegal construction. We worked closely with neighborhood partners including Humboldt Park resident Kurt Gippert who launched the petition, and like-minded organizations including Juanita Irizarry, executive director of Friends of the Parks.

Ward Miller meet with leadership from the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture and their design team to help them try to find a workable way forward. Many of these creative alternative ideas were incorporated and were presented at the public meeting as the path moving forward. These ideas included the demolition of the partially built cinder-block structure and using the concrete pad as a sculpture garden, create a glass-enclosed courtyard, inspired by the Three-Arts Club, in the historic structure to allow for year-round programing and to eliminate current white tent, and relocating the archive building and use to a nearby location beyond the greenspace of Humboldt Park.

We appreciate Billy Ocasio’s gracious recognition and gratitude to Ward Miller and Preservation Chicago during the public meeting for playing such a helpful role in finding a way to forward.

Read the full story at Block Club Chicago



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