“It’s been two years since Chicago native Angela Ford purchased the historic mansion once owned by the late journalist and organizer Lu Palmer in Bronzeville. The mansion at 3654 S. King Drive had sat vacant for over a decade before Ford purchased it in May 2021. Ford’s efforts to turn it into a museum and community space have surmounted some obstacles, but securing funding remains a challenge.
“Ford is the founder and executive director of The Obsidian Collection, a national nonprofit and hub for Black journalists, content creators, media outlets and archivists. The nonprofit preserves and shares images from Black legacy newspapers and Black photographers for future generations.
“Ford has her sights set on turning the 135-year-old, 12,000-square-foot Lu Palmer mansion into a museum, library, archive, and more. Additionally, the mansion will be used as a meeting space for community members to host events and gather together. Obsidian will also store its vast archive collection in the space.
“Though Ford closed on the home two years ago, making her vision for the historic mansion a reality has been arduous, she said. Ford needed City Council approval for a zoning change to operate as a museum because the mansion is in a residential area. But that process took two years, which Ford said was stalled by former 4th Ward alder Sophia King. She added that securing additional financing for the building was impossible without the proper zoning permits.
“Ford told The TRiiBE that when she approached King in 2020 about her plans to purchase the mansion, King told her she’d support the zoning change. But then, in December 2020, King introduced a proposed ordinance restricting museums from operating out of homes in residential neighborhoods.
“King’s proposal was met with disapproval by Ford and preservationists. If approved, it also would have hindered plans from community members who are working on launching Black museums and preservation projects, including the Muddy Waters MOJO Museum, Emmett Till and Mamie Till Mobley House, Phyllis Wheatley Club and Home and the Elijah Muhammad House.
“‘The ordinance would have been so detrimental and damaging,’ said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. Miller was one of many stakeholders who opposed King’s ordinance in 2021.
“‘I do believe in my heart of hearts that some of these institutions would be open now, if it hadn’t been for that automatic hurdle, which I think the effects of that are still being felt,’ Miller said.” (Hill, The Triibe, 6/19/23)
Preservation Chicago strongly supports Angela Ford and The Obsidian Collection’s effort to adaptively reuse the Palmer Mansion for a nonprofit digital archive for photographs, video and documents to focus on making Black history more available and accessible. This is an incredibly exciting plan Despite a series of exasperating delays and obstructions, we continue to do everything we can to support this effort.
Preservation Chicago had been concerned about the deteriorating condition of the Justice D. Harry Hammer Mansion/Lutrelle ‘Lu’ & Jorja Palmer Mansion for years. To help raise awareness and to pressure stakeholders, it became a Chicago 7 Most Endangered in 2019. We have played an active role working with community organizations, local leaders, and decision-makers to help bring about a preservation-sensitive outcome for this building.
Additionally, Preservation Chicago played a decisive leadership role in the effort to reject a proposed house museum ban that would have a catastrophic impact on Chicago’s Black House Museums and cultural arts across the city.
- Can Lu Palmer’s mansion become a community hub and museum on the South Side? Tonia Hill, The Triibe, 6/19/23
- Bronzeville’s Obsidian Collection Nears Finish Line As It Goes For City Council Approval; The $3.8 million project would be home to a digital archive center and co-working hub inside the historical Lu and Jorja Palmer mansion on King Drive, Jamie Nesbitt Golden, Block Club Chicago, 2/1/23
- Justice D. Harry Hammer Mansion/Lutrelle ‘Lu’ & Jorja Palmer Mansion, a Preservation Chicago 2019 Chicago 7 Most Endangered