HUMBOLDT PARK — For decades, Casa Puertorriqueña has served as the “heart” of Humboldt Park’s Puerto Rican community, hosting everything from charity events to weekly senior citizen bingo.
But now the beloved community center is in danger of closing.
The organization behind the community center (and the annual Puerto Rican parade), the Puerto Rican Parade Committee, recently put the building at 1237 N. California Ave. up for sale, according to Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th), whose ward includes the site.
Locals fear a developer will swoop in and buy the building in the gentrifying neighborhood.
“If this house is lost, this community will be lost,” said Daniel Aviles, lifelong Humboldt Park resident.
“There won’t be a Latin community here. Those flags will go down,” he said, referring to the iconic Puerto Rican flags at the mouth of Paseo Boricua. “The fest will probably get lost. That’s it. That’s the end of that.”
The 42-year-old, who does groundskeeping work for the organization, is among many locals fighting to keep Casa Puertorriqueña open.
Maldonado himself is planning to introduce a zoning change in City Council Wednesday that would essentially block developers from razing the building and constructing a development that’s out of line with the community. The alderman posted a video of himself talking about the building on his Facebook page.
In the video, Maldonado said he was “very concerned” about the future of the community center.
“I am ready and have prepared a zoning ordinance this coming Wednesday so we can down-zone the property to the manufacturing level,” the alderman said in the video. He couldn’t be reached for further comment Tuesday afternoon.
On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of senior citizens were at the community center for weekly bingo. Many of them have been coming to Casa Puertorriqueña to play the game for years, some for decades.
When asked about the building going up for sale, Blanca Colon, 77, said: “We’re not going to have a place to go to play bingo. And you know, this is therapy for the seniors. … We need this therapy to keep our mind younger.”
That opinion was shared by Ana Rosa, the one operating the bingo machine.
“If we lose this bingo, I don’t know what we’ll do,” Rosa said. “It’s important to us. Sometimes we have more than 50 or 60 people here.”
Exactly why the organization put the building up for sale is unclear. Several folks with knowledge of the organization pointed to financial troubles. According to Univision, which was first to report on the building troubles, Angel “Tito” Medina, president of the organization, resigned amidst the controversy.
Medina was reached, but declined to comment, deferring all questions to his lawyers.