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Preservationists Make Last-Ditch Effort To Save West Ridge Building From Demolition

A demolition permit was issued Tuesday for the 1920s tennis club building.

The former Chicago Town and Tennis Club, 1925 W. Thome Ave., was built in 1925 by noted architect firm George W. Maher and Son.
Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
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WEST RIDGE — With a moratorium on its demolition now lifted, West Ridge neighbors and preservationists are rallying one last effort to save a 1920s tennis club from the wrecking ball.

The former Chicago Town and Tennis Club building at 1925 W. Thome Ave. stands in the way of a planned expansion of Misericordia’s West Ridge housing campus.

Misericordia bought the building for $7.5 million in 2018, with plans to raze it to make way for 16 group homes, where it provides housing and programing for adults and children with development disabilities. Misericordia applied for a demolition permit for the former tennis club, a move that irked some preservationists and sparked an effort to save the building.

Because the building is rated as “potentially” significant in the city’s historical survey, the demolition application triggered an automatic 90-day delay for a landmark review to be conducted. As a good faith effort to work with preservationists, Misericordia agreed to a second, 90-day delay in demolition work.

That moratorium ends Wednesday, and the city issued Misericordia a demolition permit on Tuesday. A spokesperson for Misericordia did not say when demolition work would start, but that the Catholic charity is “hopeful” it can begin soon.

“With the uncertainty of COVID-19, we cannot give definitive dates on how quickly we can move with construction,” Julie O’Sullivan, marketing manager for Misericordia, said in a statement. “The sooner we start, the sooner we will be able to provide the much needed housing for people with developmental disabilities that have been waiting years to call Misericordia home.”

Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago
The south-facing facade of the former tennis club building at 1925 W. Thome Ave.

Even with Misericordia cleared to go ahead with demolition, preservationists have not given up on the effort. Groups like Preservation Chicago have canvassed neighbors about the issue, and a petition seeking to save the building has 2,000 signatures.

Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) has scheduled a meeting Wednesday night to discuss the building’s fate. The meeting will bring neighbors up-to-date on the issue. Barring a last minute donor who would pay to relocate the building, demolition will likely move forward, Vasquez said.

“It feels as though Misericordia is going to move forward,” he said. “It would be a different conversation if we had the funding. If there is some one who is interested, reach out.”

Meanwhile, preservationists are hoping that a solution can be found.

After adding the tennis club building to its list of seven most endangered buildings, Preservation Chicago floated a number of potential solutions for saving the building, including relocating the structure to neighboring Emmerson Park.

The building could be relocated onto the park for about $1.5 million and then retrofitted into a fieldhouse or community center, said Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago’s executive director.

Preservation Chicago has sought to raise funds for the relocation of the building, and so far has about $250,000 committed to the project. Now, the group is hoping the city or Chicago Park District steps in to save the building.

“We’ve asked for a little more time,” Miller said. “This is something we feel the park district and city could invest in for Emmerson Park. This really could be a wonderful win-win for the community.”

RELATED: Misericordia’s Expansion Plan In West Ridge Sets Off Preservation Fight

The tennis club was built in 1925 by notable architecture firm George W. Maher & Son. It 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.

The structure cannot be retrofitted into a group home because of its grand staircase, uneven surfaces and because it is not built to code for group-style living, according to Misericordia.

The building also cannot be maintained if Misericordia is to construct 16 group homes on the site, according to the charity. The plan is for the building to be demolished along with a detached garage and two sheds. A gazebo on the property will remain, according to the demolition permit.

Misericordia is seeking to cut down on its wait list, which includes 300 families. The group’s decision to allow preservationists to seek a buyer for the property has put the project behind its original schedule, O’Sullivan said. No offers have been made on the building, she said.

“We certainly wish that construction would have already started since we bought the property in April of 2018,” O’Sullivan said.

Preservationists will seek to save the building as long as it is still standing, Miller said.

“We’re always hopeful,” he said. “It would really be a terrible building to squander.”

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