WEST RIDGE — A last-minute effort to save a nearly 100-year-old former tennis club building was not successful, as Misericordia began demolishing the structure Thursday to make way for an expanded housing campus.
Thursday morning, crews started tearing down the former Chicago Town and Tennis Club building at 1925 W. Thome Ave., which stood in the way of Misericordia’s effort to expand housing services. The Catholic charity’s decision to knock down the building sparked a preservation effort to save the Tudor-style club.
Misericordia bought the building for $7.5 million in 2018 with plans to raze it to make way for 16 group homes. It will use the homes to provide housing and programming for adults and children with development disabilities.
Neighbors and preservationists fought to keep the building on the grounds. But when Misericordia said it could not reuse the building or build around it, groups like Preservation Chicago sought a donor who would pay to move the building to neighboring Emmerson Park.
Misericordia gave the preservationists a 90-day window to find a donor, and that deadline passed Wednesday. On Tuesday, the city issued a demolition permit for the building.
At a meeting Wednesday night held by Ald. Andre Vasquez (40th) to bring neighbors up to date on the project, preservationists announced a nonprofit offered to put up the $1.5 million needed to relocate the building.
The deal was made known to Misericordia a half hour before Wednesday’s meeting, and it was more of a notice of interest than a firm deal, said Kevin Connelly, assistant executive director of the charity. Representatives from the Chicago Park District also said Wednesday that it was not in a position to take the building.
“We bought [the building grounds] with one purpose in mind, and that was to serve as many adults and children with developmental disabilities as possible,” Connelly said. “We have waited two-and-a-half years. We feel we have been as neighborly as possible.”
Neighbors and preservationists asked Misericordia if they would pause on demolition for a few days or a week to consider the deal presented Wednesday. Connelly said he would have to consult with his peers and could inform the preservationists and Vasquez’s office of their intent by the end of Wednesday night.
Shortly after 9 p.m. Wednesday, Misericordia Executive Director Sister Rosemary Connelly notified Vasquez and preservationists that the organization would move forward with the demolition.
“We understand and can appreciate that this building has great sentimental value to some, and we hope that they too can appreciate our mission to provide residential opportunities to this very deserving population,” Connelly said in the email.
By 10 a.m. Thursday, a large chunk of the western edge of the tennis club building had already been demolished.
“It’s unfortunate,” Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago’s executive director, said after Wednesday’s meeting. “I think it might shadow their legacy.”
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 could not 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 could 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 serve more people and 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, according to the organization.
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