WIN: Logan Square Boys and Girls Club/ Former Temple Beth-El Will Be Adaptively Reused

Logan Square Boys and Girls Club/former Temple-Beth El Building, 3228 W. Palmer Street, Edward Steinborn, 1923. Photo Credit: Google Maps Street View

A preservation-sensitive redevelopment plan is moving forward for the former Logan Square Boys and Girls Club/former Temple-Beth El Building. Located just west of Palmer Square at 3228 W. Palmer Street, the building was constructed in 1923. The yellow brick building has arched windows and limestone detail, including a two-story limestone entry archway, decorative column capitals, and a limestone entablature with the words “Knowledge, Service, Truth” carved in both English and Hebrew.
The redevelopment will create 14 apartments within the historic synagogue building envelope. The development team is comprised of Campbell Coyle Real Estate, New Era Chicago and Ranquist Development Group. The redevelopment plan calls for the demolition of a smaller 1950’s-era school religious school building to the rear of the site to make room for a parking lot. However, the limestone doorway and a portion of the school building brick exterior wall will be disassembled and rebuilt to visually screen the parking area. The corner parcel is currently a playground and will become a pocket park open to the neighborhood.

The current development plan was presented to the community at recent meeting and enjoyed an enthusiastic response from neighbors. Longtime neighbor Chris Holden told Block Club Chicago, “when I first heard that [the building] was going to be sold, I was terrified it was going to be knocked down. I’m very supportive [of the project]. Compared to what could happen. …. If [Ald.] Scott [Waguespack] wasn’t such a great alderman and didn’t work so well with us, and with Logan Square Preservation, there could’ve been a zoning change here. It could’ve been torn down, and it could’ve been something a lot taller. They could’ve taken away all of the green space.” (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 2/14/19)

Christopher Dillon of Campbell Coyle Real Estate said his team is planning to preserve and restore the building’s original architecture, including its terrazzo floors and plaster detailing. “These aren’t going to be vanilla, standard apartment units. We’re really trying to play up the fact that this is a historic building. The reality is you’re going to have to reinvest in a property like this. We’re viewing this as a reinvestment. This is going to be part of a portfolio we hope to own for a long time.” (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 2/14/19)

Concern for the building first surfaced in spring 2018 when the Logan Square Boys and Girls Club announced plans to close the Logan Square location and sell the building. The initial redevelopment plans quickly emerged which included demolition and new construction. The building was passed over by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, so it would not be subject to a 90-Day Demolition Delay in the event that a demolition permit was applied for.

When the threat first emerged, Andrew Schneider, president of Logan Square Preservation, said in a written statement. “Our primary concern going forward is and has been that this important piece of neighborhood history, both the memory of the Jewish community here and the longtime commitment of the Boys & Girls club not be needlessly erased by the loss of the buildings on that corner,” (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 5/10/18)

Preservation Chicago, Logan Square Preservation, and community members began an advocacy campaign on behalf the historic building. During this period, Preservation Chicago was in regular contact with all decision-makers including the alderman, the alderman’s office, the sellers, the developers, Logan Square Preservation and community members to help push the development towards a preservation-sensitive outcome.

32nd Ward Alderman Scott Waguespack was highly responsive and held a community meeting. Soon afterward, Alderman Waguespack introduced a rezoning ordinance for the property to make it “more consistent with the prevailing residential zoning” according to Paul Sajovec, Chief of Staff for Alderman Waguespack. This zoning change gave the alderman and neighbors an important voice to help shape the character of the redevelopment.

The success of this development can be credited to a creative development team, a responsive alderman, persistent preservation advocacy efforts, and an actively involved community with an empowered voice. Preservation Chicago applauds Alderman Waguespack, the development team, Logan Square Preservation, and the many active community members who helped shape this development.

Alderman Waguespack called it “a fabulous project”. Preservation Chicago couldn’t agree more. (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 2/14/19)

The Logan Square Boys & Girls Club moved into the building in 1955 and played an important role for generations of Logan Square residents. While the building will be saved, the loss of the Boys & Girls Club will felt by the Logan Square community. As part of the citywide network, the Logan Square location offered a wide-range of, activities, services, and after-school programming. Reasons cited by the Boys & Girls Club for the decision to close the location included the challenge to raise funds for necessary and expensive maintenance and the changing demographics in a community where there are fewer at-risk children and families.

“This is one of the gems [in] our community,” said longtime volunteer Rosita De La Rosa. “You don’t find places like [the Boys & Girls Club] anymore. They’re all dying.” (Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 5/10/18)

The Temple-Beth El building was designed by architect Edward Steinborn in 1923 and included a sanctuary and social hall. To raise the necessary construction funds during the “Roaring Twenties,” the congregation borrowed against the property. Then in 1929, the stock market crash and resulting Great Depression pushed the congregation into financial insolvency and by “1932, with no options remaining, the temple defaulted on its mortgage and the property was foreclosed. Nevertheless, the synagogue community remained resilient in the face of great difficulty; dues collection was maintained and social and religious programming continued to be offered on a tentative basis at the Palmer Square facility. Throughout the early 1930s, membership dues were constant at $10 per year—roughly 25 cents per week.” (Temple Beth-El History Project Website)

The building was purchased by another Jewish organization with plans to use the building for an education center. While plans were being finalized, the Temple Beth-El congregation continued to use the building. “During this time, the temple became a locus of social activity in Logan Square with dances, parties and cultural events. Then in 1937, the Beth-El Sisterhood undertook a daring effort and was successful in buying back the building and property. The sisterhood was charged with the management and administration and the Beth-El community was immensely indebted to the shrewd resourcefulness and courage of these remarkable women.” (Temple Beth-El History Project Website)

Additional Reading:
Historic Logan Square Boys & Girls Club Building Saved, Will Be Apartments and A Pocket Park; It’s a win for preservationists who fought to save the century-old building from demolition. Mina Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 2/4/19

Logan Square Boys & Girls Club To Leave Historic Location By End Of Summer, Leaving Building’s Future In Doubt, Mina Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 5/10/18

Temple Beth-El History Project Website, Survival and Revival in the 1930’s

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