HUMBOLDT PARK — Humboldt Park neighbors may have noticed demolition of La Casa Puertorriqueña, Humboldt Park’s beloved Puerto Rican community center, stopped the same day it began.
That’s because the city’s Department of Public Health found “possible” asbestos in the building, according to department spokesman Andrew Buchanan.
Buchanan said the project is on hold until the developer —Hispanic Housing Development Corporation — follows the proper procedures to remove the asbestos.
Paul Roldan, president of Hispanic Housing, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The fate of La Casa Puertorriqueña has been a hot-button issue since last summer, when the building’s previous owner, the Puerto Rican Parade Committee of Chicago, was essentially forced to sell the building after a series of financial missteps that sent the organization to bankruptcy court.
Many, including State Sen. Iris Martinez, have been fighting to save La Casa Puertorriqueña, long considered the heart of the Puerto Rican community in Humboldt Park.
Martinez alleges there was a behind-the-scenes plan to save the community center and build affordable housing around it — and that Hispanic Housing was on board. The state lawmaker said it came as a total surprise then when the wrecking ball hit the building last Tuesday at Hispanic Housing’s request.
“He’s deceitful. He lied to the community,” Martinez previously said of Roldan with Hispanic Housing.
Roldan’s plan is to tear down the existing building at 1237 N. California Ave. and build an affordable housing complex with apartments geared toward seniors and families. The developer has never said publicly he would save the community center. In fact, he was quoted in the Tribune as saying, “it’s an “iconic location. It’s not an iconic building.”
Martinez and Miguel Vazquez, who is on the board of trustees of the new Puerto Rican parade oversight group, called a sparsely-attended press conference earlier this week in front of the community center to denounce Roldan and Hispanic Housing for destroying the Puerto Rican community’s “icon.”
As the event was wrapping up, Martinez told Block Club she and others involved in the fight to save La Casa want to put pressure on Hispanic Housing, but she admitted there’s not much that can be done now that demolition has started.
“At this point, the damage has been done,” Martinez said.
“The community was let down, was lied to. … some of the other community groups that were part of this are sitting back and saying, ‘Oh well Hispanic Housing has done all of this.’ No, Hispanic Housing made a commitment.”
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