WIN: Mecca Flats Historic Fragments Discovered During Excavation Work!

The campaign to save the Mecca Flats was one of the Chicago’s earliest examples of a preservation effort to save an important historic building from demolition and perhaps one of the first community efforts to oppose what would later be referred to as Urban Renewal. The 15-year preservation effort to save the Mecca Flats lasted from 1937 until 1952 when it was demolished. This was significantly earlier than the effort to save Adler & Sullivan’s Garrick Theater which was demolished in 1961 and efforts to save Adler & Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange Building which was demolished 1972.

Built in 1892 as a hotel for visitors to the World’s Columbian Exposition , the Mecca Flats building was designed by architects Willoughby J. Edbrooke and Franklin Pierce Burnham . The apartments circled two open interior atriums covered by glass skylights and open courtyards. Mecca Flats became a vibrant hub for the African-American community and inspired the poem by author Gwendolyn Brooks “In Mecca Flats” the early jazz pianist Jimmy Blythe’s “Mecca Flat Blues” in 1924 and “Lovin’ Been Here And Gone To The Mecca Flat” in 1926.

It’s true that new construction replacement buildings generally fail to match the quality of the demolished original building, however in the case of Mecca Flats, it was replaced S. R. Crown Hall at Illinois Institute of Technology, Mies Van der Rohe’s legendary modernist masterpiece.

In July 2018 while construction workers were digging a trench for maintenance on the mechanical plumbing system situated on the southwest corner of Crown Hall, they discovered intact tile flooring from the Mecca Flats and other artifacts. The bright and vibrant colors of the patterned floor tile include blues, oranges and browns which help to add a color palate to a historic building known primarily through black and white photos.

The construction work was temporarily suspended and local historians and urban archaeologists were assembled to uncover and excavate a significant portion of the remnants. These artifacts will be preserved, and a selection will be installed on site at the Graham Resource Center, an architectural library in Crown Hall, in a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Mecca Flats.

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