BRONZEVILLE — Neighbors are in a race against the wrecking ball to save a building that has links both to Bronzeville’s cultural past and the city of Chicago’s history as a commercial hub.
Nearly 200 people have signed a petition to stop the demolition of the 110-year-old Boston Store Stable at 4340 S. Vernon Ave., which is slated to be razed and replaced by townhomes, according to Bernard Loyd, a Bronzeville resident and member of the ad hoc Save the Stable team.
“We object to the demolition. This building really embodies the history and culture of our community like no other,” said Loyd.
With a demolition permit issued in late October, the situation is urgent, he said.
Designed by the famed architecture firm Holabird and Roche, the three-story brick building is the sole survivor of what was once a network of warehouses/stables used by the Boston Store (a onetime rival to Marshall Field’s) to move goods throughout the city. (Click here for Chicago Patterns deep dive into the structure’s origins.)
Ties to Chicago’s architectural and mercantile history, along with a rare brick paver alley, should have been enough to earn the stable at least an orange (ie, “significant”) rating in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, but didn’t, Loyd said.
“The city fell down on that,” he said.
Of equal importance, Loyd said, is the stable’s later use as the home of the “Black Elks” — the Improved Benevolent Protective Order of Elks of the World.
“There was a white Elks organization, but they wouldn’t accept black Americans, so they created their own. It was the largest black fraternal organization in the nation,” said Loyd.
Longtime residents recall performances by B.B. King and other artists at the Elks Lodge, which was part of a once thriving entertainment, social and political scene.
“Look at 43rd Street now and it looks bombed out and blighted. But 50, 60, 70 years ago it was the heart of the Black Metropolis. The stable is the only building on the south side of 43rd Street that remains from that era. In addition to what the building itself embodies … it is very much a testament of the story of the South Side,” said Loyd.
As such, the stable provides a vital bridge between present day, the mid-1900s and Chicago’s post-fire rise to global prominence.
The Save our Stable petition, directed at Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), calls for a 90-day moratorium on demolition in order to give neighbors time to identify alternate buyers for the building, which also includes a pair of adjacent vacant parcels.
Yet according to Ald. Dowell, neighbors have already had years to address concerns about the building’s future.
“The building has been in demolition court since 2015 with no one coming to court nor my office with a plan to purchase and rehabilitate the property,” Ald. Dowell told Block Club via email.
The building, most recently owned by the Temple of the African Community, has been abandoned for over a decade, racking up numerous code violations and sparking constant nuisance complaints from neighbors, ranging from suspected drug activity to rats to fly dumping to storing of stolen property, Dowell said.
“In addition, the building is structurally compromised and seriously dilapidated,” she said.
Dowell defended her record of preservation in the ward, saying she has “worked diligently to preserve the cultural touchstones in my community” — rehabilitating the Rosenwald Court Apartments, bringing the Gospel Museum to the fire-ravaged Pilgrim Baptist Church and landmarking Ebenezer Baptist Church and DuSable High School, among other projects.
“Bronzeville continues to have many historical assets which continue to tell the story of Bronzeville’s great past and attract visitors to our neighborhood,” Dowell said.
After years of neglect, the new owners of the stable have a “credible plan to bring this property back to productive use,” the alderman said.
Public records show the building was purchased in June 2018 by a buyer listed as Red Van Construction. Representatives for the company could not be identified.
The Save our Stable group is pressing Dowell for a decision regarding the call for a moratorium on Monday, at which point, according to Loyd, the team will reconvene to determine next steps.
Loyd himself is the founder of Urban Juncture, a firm he started 15 years ago to help revitalize neighborhoods like Bronzeville. The company’s initiatives in the area include Boxville, Bronzeville Cookin’ and restoration of The Forum, a historic performance and gathering space.
Urban Juncture’s hands are full, he said, but he and his staff would lend their expertise to facilitate a deal with any individual or organization interested in preserving the stable.
Potential uses include residential (either apartments or condos), a community center, or some mix of the two, Loyd said.
Dowell said she is working with the building’s owners and preservation organizations to identify a buyer “with a demonstrated history of bringing long-vacant building back to occupancy.”
At the same time, she added, “I will not allow this property to sit and remain idle any longer while there is a viable plan on the table to develop it into needed housing.”
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