Clarendon Park Advisory Council President Katharine Boyda (l.), Ald. James Cappleman (46th), Chicago Park District CEO Rosa Escareño, Clarendon Park Supervisor Michael Brown and Garfield Clarendon Model Railroad Club President Ryan Balla break ground on the Clarendon Park renovation project Sept. 13, 2022. Credit: Joe Ward/Block Club Chicago

UPTOWN — One of Uptown’s historical buildings is undergoing a massive renovation after years of neighbor efforts to preserve it.

City officials helped break ground Tuesday on the renovation of the Clarendon Park Community Center, a 106-year-old field house once threatened with demolition.

The city and Park District are spending $13 million to upgrade the facility, including giving it new accessibility features, outdoor space and a remodeled lobby.

Work will soon begin on the long-promised renovation that seeks to restore the community center to its former glory.

“We came very close to having this demolished,” Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said at the groundbreaking. “Every battle that had to be fought was fought and won.”

A rendering of the renovated Clarendon Park Community Center in Uptown, which will receive $13 million in upgrades. Credit: Courtesy 46th Ward

The community center at 4501 N. Clarendon Ave. will see a massive overhaul that will refurbish the 1916 structure and improve community amenities. The gym will be renovated, the lobby rebuilt and there will be a new outdoor gathering area.

Work will also include a renovated dance studio, performance space and club rooms, according to a planning document presented to the public.

Work is scheduled to be wrapped up by the end of 2023, park officials said at the groundbreaking. The building will be closed to the public during construction, according to a park employee.

The renovation work is badly needed, as the structure’s deteriorating condition led it to be included in a 2015 list of the city’s “most threatened” historic buildings.

In 2019, Park District officials unveiled multiple proposals for the site, including demolishing and replacing the structure. Neighbors and preservationists rallied to the building’s cause, helping convince the Park District to invest in its restoration.

Now, a building with long ties to the community will be restored and will better serve the community with improved accessibility and services, officials said at the groundbreaking.

“We thought it was important to preserve the building beyond its architecture,” said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. “This building is a safe haven for children.”

Clarendon Community Center, originally built in 1916. Credit: PRESERVATION CHICAGO

The Clarendon Community Center was built in 1916 as a bath house to serve the Clarendon Municipal Beach. At the time, Lake Michigan’s shores abutted the beach bath house.

The facility included locker rooms and a promenade. Beachgoers could rent bathing suits, towels and lockers for 10 cents per adult, according to the Park District.

In the 1930s, the city filled in Lake Michigan as it expanded Lincoln Park north to Foster Drive. This cut off the bath house’s beachfront access.

In response, the city converted the facility into a community center with gyms, club rooms and sports fields. In 1972, a major renovation project led to the building’s signature towers being removed, which eventually led to water infiltration and roof issues.

“We’re bringing back the old and making it new, making it functional,” Park District CEO Rosa Escareño said. “Projects such as this really cater to everyone in our city.”

The renovation project is being funded with more than $10 million in tax increment financing dollars, according to the city.

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