UPDATE: After this story was published, demolition began on the Edgewater structure. Work continued Tuesday afternoon.
EDGEWATER — Edgewater neighbors and preservationists are trying to halt Howard Brown Health’s planned demolition of a 100-year-old former auto garage on Broadway, asking the health group to reuse the historical building in its future plans for the site.
Howard Brown last week received a demolition permit for the building at 5650-56 N. Broadway, a 1911 building that sits on Edgewater’s former motor row. The LGBTQ-focused health group bought the building in April from the Bob Loquercio Auto Group, property records show, but Howard Brown has yet to make public its plans for the site.
With no plans announced, preservationists hope they can — at least temporarily — prevent the building’s demolition. They have made renderings for how the building at the corner of Hollywood Avenue and Broadway can be reused in a development.
“It’s great Howard Brown is investing in the community,” said Bob Remer, president of the Edgewater Historical Society. “There’s also people who want to preserve the look of Broadway.”
It is not clear when the building might be demolished. Construction fencing with signs from a wrecking company has been erected around the building. A spokesperson for Howard Brown did not return requests for comment. Ald. Harry Osterman’s office did not return a request for comment.
Known as the McNitt building, the garage at 5654 N. Broadway was built in the Arts and Crafts style in 1911 as a parking garage with second-floor apartments.
Back then, parking your car or your carriage on the street was not allowed, Remer said. Wealthy neighbors like lawyer Willard McNitt had garages built to park their cars.
With glazed brick and ornate, arched brackets, the McNitt building is one of many auto garages turned car dealerships along Broadway in what was known as Edgewater’s motor row. In an inventory of historical buildings on Broadway conducted by the Edgewater Historical Society in 2019, at least nine auto garages or dealership buildings were considered significant. The building at 5654 N. Broadway does not have any historical designation from the city.
“It’s an iconic neighborhood building that so many people pass exiting Lake Shore Drive,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “It’s a visual landmark to so many.”
The garage was home to a body show and car detailing spot where Bulls legend Horace Grant got his Mercedes customized. It was Northside Toyota until 2018, when dealer owner Loquercio moved the business to 6042 N. Western Ave., according to WBEZ.
Preservationists said there are compromises that can meet Howard Brown’s needs while saving what they consider an important building in Edgewater.
For one, preservationists said they have no qualms about Howard Brown demolishing a one-story addition that was added south along Broadway and behind the building along Hollywood.
Retired architect Thom Greene drafted a mock-up of a development that includes the two-story structure . Building around the existing structure keeps the setback at the corner at Hollwood and Broadway, which is the gateway into Edgewater from DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
“That corner is important for a number of reasons,” Remer said. “It’s emblamatic of Edgewater and its history as a motor row. It really cuts Edgewater in half.”
The building may be in poor condition, and holes are visible in its roof. If the building can’t be saved, there are ways to preserve its facade, or historical pieces of the property to be used in a new building, Remer and Miller said.
There is precedent for preserving former auto garages and dealerships as part of a redevelopment effort.
That includes the South Loop’s Motor Row District, which was designated a landmark in 2000. Helping to lead an economic revival in the area, the Motor Row District won Landmark Illinois’ 2018 Preservation Award.
“They really should be embracing these buildings and the importance they have to the community,” Miller said.
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