WIN: Von Humboldt School Adaptive Reuse Moving Forward (Chicago 7 2014)

Alexander von Humboldt Elementary School, 2622 W. Hirsch Avenue, 1896 Building, W. August Fiedler. Historic Photo Credit: Bill Latoza / ChicagoHistoricSchools.com
Alexander von Humboldt Elementary School Ornamental Detail, 2622 W. Hirsch Avenue. Photo Credit: James Iska / ChicagoHistoricSchools.com

Alexander von Humboldt Elementary School served as a community Chicago Public School for over 130 years before being closed in 2013, along with 48 other CPS buildings. Located at 2622 W. Hirsch Avenue in Humboldt Park, this historic school building will be adaptively reused as affordable teacher housing. The developer is RBH Group based in Newark, New Jersey with support from Chicago-based IFF.

The plans for the adaptive reuse have shifted over the past few years, but the current plan envisions a dedicated mixed-use “Teachers Village” consisting of approximately 84 rental apartments with shared community spaces and new retail to support shops and cafes.

The financing for the development reportedly includes New Market Tax Credits which require a 20 percent affordable set aside and Historic Tax Credits which require oversight and conformance with the Department of the Interior’s Standards for Historic Preservation.

Alexander von Humboldt Elementary School was designed by highly regarded Chicago architect John J. Flanders in 1884 after he was appointed as the official Chicago Public School architect. The original school building was designed by Flanders in 1884 and built in the Italianate style with decorative brickwork and unglazed red terra cotta details. At the original front façade, the terra cotta elements include panels that read “Erected 1884” and “Von Humboldt School.” Due to the strong population growth in Humboldt Park in the 1890s, a second building was added to the campus in 1895 by W. August Fiedler with Italian Renaissance style that strongly resembles other Fiedler Chicago school designs such as Augustus Burley School and Richard Yates Schools. A third addition was designed by Arthur Hussander in 1910 who sought to reinforce the style of the original buildings.

“As part of the CPS Historic Schools Initiative, the structure received a major renovation in 2008. Undertaken by Bauer Latoza Studio, the ambitious project resulted in a sensitive renovation that repaired and re-pointed the masonry, re-created the missing terra cotta and stone detailing, and replaced the windows with ones that matched the original designs.” (Chicago Historic Schools, 9/20/13)

Preservation Chicago applauds developers RBH Group and IFF for this creative adaptive reuse project that will provide necessary housing for Chicago school teachers in a great historic school building. This is an excellent example of how adaptive reuse can reinvigorate historic structures. It also demonstrates how the inherent authenticity of historic structures can result in more interesting, unique, desirable and ultimately successful finished projects than comparable new construction.

Additional Reading:
Vacant Since Mass School Closings, Von Humboldt Still On Track To Become Apartment Complex Geared Toward Teachers; The project, first proposed in 2016, would transform the shuttered school into a mixed-use development, where teachers can live, eat, shop and take classes, Mina Bloom, Block Club Chicago, 1/17/19

Alexander von Humboldt Elementary School, 2622 West Hirsch Avenue, Historical profile by Julia S. Bachrach and Bill Latoza, Chicago Historic Schools Blog, 9/20/13

VON HUMBOLDT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL; New Life for a Historic School, Development Planning Partners

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