ROGERS PARK — A stately house on Lunt Avenue in Rogers Park was owned by a Black Civil War veteran and was the childhood home of an NFL Hall of Famer, the first Black woman to graduate from Northwestern University and the first Black registered nurse in the state.
Now, neighbors want the park next to the home renamed after the Pollard family, the first Black residents of Rogers Park, whose members blazed trails in a number of fields and industries.
The Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society — along with the current owners of the Pollard home — are asking the Park District to rename Paschen Park, 1932 W. Lunt Ave., to Pollard Family Park.
“They’re an inspiration to all,” said Dona Vitale, treasurer of the historical society. “These accomplishments would be special for anybody, but to do it under the circumstance they did? The Pollards deserve recognition. We think the time has come.”
The name change has the support of Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) and 350 people who have signed the historical society’s petition. The request is being submitted to the Park District this week, supporters said. It will go through the district’s process for such name change requests, a district spokesperson said.
There have been efforts to recognize the Pollards before: Lane Tech High School alumni are working to name the school’s football stadium after standout athlete Fritz Pollard. With that momentum, Rogers Park neighbors said the larger discourse over monuments and honorific names made this a good time to push for more recognition of the family.
“This compelling story about the Pollards — it’s inspirational,” said Kevin McGurn, who, along with wife, April Mink, owns the Pollard home at 1928 W. Lunt Ave. “We’d like the story to live.”
‘An Inspiration To All’
John Pollard was the son of free Black Virginians who sent their son to Kansas to avoid the risk of kidnapping and enslavement.
At 15, Pollard joined the Union Army, fighting in an all-Black regiment in the Civil War. After the war, Pollard trained as a barber and opened his own barbershop in Mexico, Missouri, according to the Rogers Park West Ridge Historical Society.
It was there that Pollard met his future wife, Catherine Amanda Pollard. The couple had three children in Missouri but moved to Chicago in the 1880s to escape racism and lack of opportunity in the South.
John Pollard opened a barbershop in Rogers Park in 1886, and Catherine Amanda worked as a dressmaker for department stores, including Marshall Field’s. The Pollards bought the home at 1928 W. Lunt Ave. and became the first Black residents of Rogers Park, according to the historical society.
It was at the Lunt Avenue home that the Pollards raised eight children, many of whom had distinguished and pioneering careers.
Frederick Douglass “Fritz” Pollard was the first Black quarterback and Black head coach in the NFL, and he was inducted into its Hall of Fame in 2005. Artissmisia Pollard was the first Black licensed nurse in Illinois. Naomi Pollard was the first Black woman graduate of Northwestern University. Luther Pollard was one of the first Black silent film producers and directors in the country. Hughes Pollard was a jazz musician who toured the world.
Fritz Pollard Jr., John and Amanda’s grandson, won a bronze medal at the 1936 Olympics along with teammate Jesse Owens.
The family’s accomplishments came despite racism in the neighborhood and elsewhere. For example, Catherine Amanda Pollard never answered the front door “without slipping a handgun into her apron pocket,” according to a biography of Fritz Pollard.
The Pollard family owned the Lunt Avenue house until 1976. Artifacts and documents from the Pollards have been handed down to the home’s new owners, and some of them have been gifted to the historical society for a display on the family.
McGurn and Mink, the home’s current owners, were given a box of photos and documents when they bought the house in 1999. The box included photos of Luther Pollard, the film director and businessman.
Neighbors told the new homeowners about the house’s history, and the couple began to learn more about the Pollards. About 10 years ago, the couple commissioned a plaque honoring the Pollards and put it in their front yard, near the sidewalk so passersby could see.
“People would tell us, ‘Oh, you live in the Pollard House,'” Mink said. “So we started to learn more. Their story is timeless.”
‘A Living Monument’
Neighbors want the park directly next to the Pollard home named for the family.
Paschen Park dates to 1929, when the city leased an acre of land at Lunt and Damen avenues to the Board of Education to build a park in rapidly growing Rogers Park. The park was named for Christian P. Paschen, the city’s commissioner of buildings from 1927-1931.
Paschen helped get the land leased for a park, but he was later indicted on tax evasion and in 1932 was sentenced to two years in prison.
Given the complicated past of its current namesake, neighbors and the historical society believe the park should honor the Pollards. Christian Paschen’s great-grandchild started the business that became construction giant FH Paschen, but a company spokesman said Christian was a distant relative who was never involved in the firm and it had no comment on the proposed name change.
The historical society has helped lead successful name changes of public places before, including Helen Doria Beach (formerly Columbia Beach) and Marion Mahony Griffin Beach (formerly Jarvis Beach).
The members hope to not only change the park’s name but also get a permanent display installed that would teach future generations about the Pollard family’s accomplishments.
“We’d like it to be more of a living monument,” Mink said. “It seems like a great opportunity to inspire some kids.”
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