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Preservationists To Look For Buyer For Historic Tennis Club In Path Of Misericordia’s Expansion

The renowned charity wants to expand its campus, but preservationists didn't want the Chicago Town & Tennis Club building lost to history.

The south-facing facade of the former tennis club building at 1925 W. Thome Ave.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to say preservationists will seek a buyer for the historic structure.

WEST RIDGE — Misericordia’s plan to expand its West Ridge housing campus has received the support of Ald. Andre Vasquez — after the group said it would allow preservationists to find a buyer for a historic building on the site.

The Chicago-based Catholic charity has been working to expand its campus that provides housing for those with developmental disabilities. In 2018, Misericordia bought the adjacent former Chicago Town & Tennis Club facility, and later announced plans to raze the nearly 100-year-old building to make way for new housing.

That plan did not sit well with some neighbors and preservationists. Misericordia’s plans to demolish the building and make way for special needs housing was hotly debated at a neighborhood meeting. Last week, the tennis club building was added to the list of the “most endangered” Chicago buildings.

Now, Misericordia is seeking a solution that would work for preservationists and the nonprofit. The charity is allowing preservation groups to find a buyer who would potentially relocate the building, while moving forward with plans to develop the site into group housing, according to Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th). Should the preservationists not find a buyer in a given timeframe, Misericordia would likely move forward with plans to demolish the structure, according to the alderman.

Credit: Alex V. Hernandez/Block Club Chicago
Andre Vasquez at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., on April 2, 2019.

Home to a former tennis club, the building at 1925 W. Thome Ave. has three acres of surrounding grounds, including a large parking lot behind the building. Misericordia’s original plan called for razing the site and building 16 single-family-style homes for its clients.

After Misericordia agreed to the possibility of finding a buyer, Vasquez signaled that the plan has his support. Misericordia has also agreed to forgo the conversion of Thome Avenue into a private street, a move that rankled some residents of a nearby condo building.

“We are extremely grateful to the neighbors who provided feedback, and to Misericordia staff for their willingness to address neighbor concerns,” Vazquez said in an email to constituents.

It is unclear what a new owner of the tennis club building would mean for Misericordia’s building plans. A representative for the nonprofit did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The former Chicago Town and Tennis Club, 1925 W. Thome Ave., was built in 1925 by noted architect firm George W. Maher and Son.

In early January, Misericordia publicly announced plans to expand its West Ridge housing campus. Seeking to alleviate some of its 300-family-strong waiting list, the group proposed redeveloping the tennis club land into a cluster of group homes meant to house about 150 residents.

Misericordia said it sought to find alternative uses for the tennis club building, but its historic nature makes it dangerous for the group’s clients and too expensive to retrofit. Instead, Misericordia filed a demolition permit for the building.

Because the tennis club is is rated “orange” in the city’s historical survey, the demolition permit was given an automatic 90-day delay. Orange properties are considered “potentially” historically significant, and the delay allows city officials to determine if demolition of the structure is appropriate.

Misericordia agreed to a second 90-day delay of the demolition permit to allow more time to find a work-around for the tennis club building.

Built in 1925, the Chicago Town and Tennis Club building was designed by noted architecture firm George W. Maher & Son.

The tennis club building was constructed in a Tudor revival style, and was modeled off the Wimbledon tennis club in England.

The building served as home to the tennis club until the 1940s. It later housed an Elks Club and sat vacant for much of the 1980s, until the Unity Church bought the building. Unity Church then sold the building to Misericordia for $7.5 million.

Misericordia’s efforts to demolish the building have caused preservationists to rally to save the building. Preservation Chicago has listed the tennis club building as one of the city’s seven most-endangered buildings.

In an essay on the building, Preservation Chicago laid out why the building needs saving and proposed a number of alternative actions Misericordia could take to preserve the structure. One of those suggestions is to subdivide the property and sell just the building to a private party.

Preservation Chicago wrote that it is encouraged that Misericordia is working “in the spirit of partnership” to seek ways to preserve the structure.

Preservation Chicago recognizes the demand for Misericordia’s extraordinary housing and services programs and strongly supports this noble and important work,” the preservation group wrote in its announcement. “These recommendations are intended to preserve and honor Chicago’s historic built environment and Landmark-quality buildings, while simultaneously supporting the construction of new housing residential units for the developmentally disabled at Misericordia’s West Ridge Campus.”

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