LOGAN SQUARE — Prolific Logan Square landlord Mark Fishman is selling the Milshire Hotel’s neon sign, prompting questions about the future of the long-vacant building as preservationists raise money to buy the sign and keep it in the neighborhood.
The 15-foot-tall neon sign, believed to be about 80 years old, was listed on Live Auctioneers last week with a starting bid of $5,000. Bidding starts in a few days.
“The Milshire Hotel is [a] grand old edifice on N. Milwaukee Street in the now fashionable Logan Square section of Chicago. It is little changed, inside and out,” the listing reads. “The vertical neon sign is original as is the traditional wooden booth the hotel manager sits in just inside the door.”
The Milshire at 2525 N. Milwaukee Ave. — and its sign — are owned by Fishman, one of Logan Square’s most well-known property investors. The former single-room occupancy building has sat vacant for eight years but Fishman has never publicly discussed his plans for the building.
Fishman was not available for comment Tuesday but ward officials said The Milshire could be transformed into apartments.
Fearing the Milshire’s neon sign could be “shipped out” of Logan Square, members of the neighborhood group Logan Square Preservation launched an online fundraiser to buy, remove and store the sign, which they described as “one of the last survivors of this distinctive signage that was once a defining feature of Logan Square’s commercial corridor.”
The Milshire Hotel was built in the 1920s as a small hotel serving Logan Square’s booming entertainment district, according to Logan Square Preservation.
The sign was installed sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. It was one of many similar signs on Milwaukee Avenue at the time, but few remain today, Logan Square Preservation’s president Andrew Schneider said.
“We only have a few survivors left,” Schneider said. “To see one of them removed when I don’t know that it’s strictly necessary, it’s a tremendous disappointment and a huge loss. If we can do something to prevent that loss, I think we should.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Schneider’s group had raised $5,755 toward their $20,000 fundraising goal. The group hopes to reinstall the sign if Fishman redevelops the property, Schneider said.
“When you take something out of its context, it becomes a piece of collected ephemera in someone’s private collection,” Schneider said. “When that happens, our city’s streetscape is impoverished … the city, as a whole, loses.”
The Milshire Apartments?
Neighbors are eager to see what the future is for the Milshire Hotel after languishing for nearly a decade.
Fishman bought the apartment building in 2014 for $2.4 million. The rundown hotel, which sits on a popular stretch of Milwaukee Avenue, looks about the same today as it did when Fishman bought it, attracting trash and graffiti.
But redevelopment of the 70-unit hotel is complicated given the history of the building and mounting displacement pressures in gentrifying Logan Square.
As a single-room occupancy building, The Milshire housed very low-income residents in small studios with shared kitchens and bathrooms. By the time Fishman took it over, residents had complained of bed bug infestation and filed a legal complaint about the substandard building conditions.
Dozens of the Milshire’s residents were evicted by the building’s former owner, Art Fischoff, before Fishman assumed control of the property, sparking a neighborhood protest.
The eviction and the resulting fallout came as Chicago politicians were grappling with how to preserve single-room occupancy buildings and keep low-income residents in safe housing. Many of the city’s SROs, which are concentrated along the northern lakefront, have vanished in recent years as neighborhoods have gentrified.
That’s exactly what’s happened in Logan Square: Thousands of Latino families and low-income residents have been driven out of the neighborhood in the face of soaring housing prices.
Any redevelopment of the Milshire should include affordable housing to help offset the ongoing loss of low-cost apartments in Logan Square, some community leaders say.
But Fishman is not an affordable housing developer and is one of the most criticized landlords in Logan Square. Some community leaders, including longtime foe Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th), say he and his management company, M. Fishman & Co., is notorious for rent hikes and evictions. The property investor has been the target of several protests over the years.
Paul Sajovec, chief of staff for Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd), who represents the area where the Milshire is located, said Fishman wants to convert the hotel into an apartment project with “a variety of elements including room sizes, affordability, etc.”
Sajovec said the project is under review, but didn’t answer further questions, including whether or not the development would require a zoning change and trigger a community evaluation.
As for the Milshire’s neon sign, Sajovec said they’ve notified the city’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks about the sale, but the building is not in a landmark district.
Other historical neon signs for longtime local businesses also have gone up for auction in recent weeks. Smashing Pumpkins frontman bought Orange Garden’s “Chop Suey” sign for $17,000. He plans to hang it in his Highland Park cafe. The Dinkel’s Bakery sign is still up for sale.
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