BRONZEVILLE — Efforts are moving forward to restore a historical South Side building that was once the epicenter of Bronzeville nightlife, but the team behind the project wants the public to get the project over the finish line.
Bernard Loyd, entrepreneur and Urban Juncture founder, is leading a team to rehab The Forum, 318 E. 43rd St., an event venue that dates back to the late 19th century. The team has launched a crowdsourcing campaign, Raise The Roof, to get $50,000 to defray some of the cost of the multimillion-dollar project.
“This project will require about $20 million of capital investment. That’s a full rehabilitation and to bring the building back into operation,” Loyd said. “We’ve spent the better half of $1 million to stabilize the building, and a key part of that stabilization has been the replacement of its three roofs.”
Bringing back The Forum, built in in 1897 in the heart of the city’s blues district, has been a labor of love for Loyd, who has lived around the corner from the Black Chicago landmark for 25 years. Loyd is also behind Boxville, an outdoor shopping mall and entrepreneurial incubator in Washington Park.
The building, a stone’s throw from the 43rd Street Green Line station, served as a colorful backdrop for generations, hosting everything from concerts — Nat King Cole and Muddy Waters once played the hall — to movement meetings before its closure in the ’70s. It’s also known for having the oldest surviving hardwood ballroom dance floor in the city, according to Landmarks Illinois. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2019.
With a performing arts venue, the Lillian Marcie Center, planned a few blocks away from the Cottage Grove corridor, The Forum is an important part of a larger plan to rejuvenate 43rd Street.
Loyd began rehabilitation work after his organization bought The Forum in 2011 days before the city planned to demolish it, using most of his own money pay for site remediation. The Forum had fallen into such disrepair that pieces of furniture had sunk into the floor due to the amount of water damage.
Repairs to the roof began around the same time, continuing intermittently to prevent further damage to the building. The North Annex roof was replaced last year, but the roofs of the Forum Hall and West Annex were a “bigger financial lift,” Loyd said.
Institutional support from organizations like the National Trust for Historic Preservation has helped their efforts, but Loyd and his team are hoping community fundraising can propel the project, as well. Raise The Roof has collected about $21,000 of the $50,000 goal.
Hoping to spur public interest, Loyd launched Forum Fridays last fall, inviting artists like Vic Mensa and J. Ivy to perform at the site.
Loyd and his team held a virtual town hall last week to hear what neighbors would like to see in the space, which would include a co-working space and a cafe. More than 60 people participated, with some saying they’d like to see it become a live performance venue, and others suggesting a podcasting studio.
Whatever the final vision, Loyd said he is determined to turn The Forum into a cultural destination.
“It’s the first major assembly hall in Bronzeville before it was even Bronzeville,” Loyd said. “It’s a rich asset, and we have to all come together to bring it back.”
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.