“In January 2020, developer Leon Walker was eager to start a project that could have heralded a turnaround for the Woodlawn community on the South Side. He was anxious to close on a deal for a decrepit but well-located old bank building at the southwest corner of 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.
“The veteran developer, with many successes on the South Side, said people who wanted the old building saved were unrealistic. The property remained in the hands of the Cook County Land Bank Authority, whose mission is to encourage development of difficult properties, especially in poor areas.
“Eleanor Gorski took over as executive director of the land bank last year and took a fresh look at the property. An architect and former staff member at Chicago’s Planning Department, Gorski kept in touch with Walker because the land bank felt he had submitted the best proposal when it advertised the property’s sale. She used the pandemic pause to urge Walker to think anew.
“I wanted the whole building preserved. The numbers just didn’t allow it. And yet, it’s such an iconic structure in the neighborhood,’ Gorski said.
“The numbers penciled out for that old friend of disparate views: the compromise. Walker has agreed to preserve the building’s limestone façade and its once elegant windows and entrances. Behind the five-story façade would be new construction, about 75,000 square feet, for offices Walker wants to market to neighborhood entrepreneurs.
“Walker has retained bKL Architecture for the new plan, which will be shown to the community later this month. Feedback there could change things. But Gorski said if all goes well, she hopes the land bank’s board can approve the property’s sale in June. She and Walker said the price is yet to be settled. Construction could start late this year and be done in 2024, Walker said.
“Architectural enthusiasts and many in the area had wanted the neoclassical design from 1924 to be saved. It was originally the Washington Park National Bank. In its prime, it projected class and stability at a neighborhood crossroads, like the bank buildings of yore in other parts of Chicago. But this bank, like many others, had trouble in the Depression and eventually disappeared. As the neighborhood declined, so did the building.
“It’s been empty for years. Its skylit atrium caved in long ago. Those who have been through the ruins describe it as like a setting for a dystopian movie. The group Preservation Chicago has researched the building’s history and placed it on its ‘most endangered’ lists.
“He would replace the old atrium with wider floors for offices geared to today’s demand. The building’s original offices were off narrow corridors built around the atrium in a C shape. You could imagine them having a dentist, lawyer or insurance agent long ago. A consultant’s report for the land bank in 2018 concluded the façade was sound and salvageable.
“His swing toward preservation is a change of heart, yes, but possibly good for a neighborhood’s soul.” (Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/2/22)
Read the full story at Chicago Sun-Times
Developer adapts, and an investment in Woodlawn gets new life, Reconsidering plans during COVID-19’s business lull, Leon Walker of DL3 Realty has agreed to a new building that would preserve a distinguished facade, David Roeder, Chicago Sun-Times, 5/2/22
“Dystopian” Woodlawn bank to be preserved, restored; Developer of century-old building to keep facade intact; The Read Deal, 5/3/22
Land Bank, DL3 Realty Still Negotiating Sale Of Washington Park National Bank Building; The Land Bank accepted DL3’s proposal in March 2019. Once the sale is finalized, the developer aims demolish the nearly century-old building and replace it with a new one. Maxwell Evans, Block Club Chicago, 1/21/2020
Washington Park National Bank, A Preservation Chicago 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered
Plans to demolish historic Woodlawn bank building irks some area residents, Carlos Ballesteros, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/31/19
Historic Washington Park National Bank building facing demolition in Woodlawn; The Cook County Land Bank Authority voted for redevelopment over adaptive reuse, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 3/15/19
Planned demolition of deteriorated South Side landmark sparks outcry, Mary Mitchell, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/23/19
A Woodlawn landmark set for demolition, Candidates and preservationists rally to save crumbling Washington Park National Bank building, Erick Johnson, The Chicago Crusader, 3/29/19
Cook County Land Bank To Demolish Structurally Sound 1924 Washington Park Bank Building Despite Promises, Community Input & Options To Save It, Woodlawn Works, The Beachwood Reporter, 3/20/19
Washington Park National Bank: Landmarks Illinois 2019 Most Endangered Historic Places