The Wolfson Building, 2678 W. Washington Blvd., is slated for demolition. Credit: Preservation Chicago

EAST GARFIELD PARK — A former women’s health center that has stood in East Garfield Park for more than a century is facing the wrecking ball, but preservationists say the building should be a protected landmark.

The owner of the building at 2678 W. Washington Blvd., known as the Wolfson Building, has asked for the city’s permission to demolish the structure. The demolition permit, applied for in May, is being reviewed by the Chicago Department of Planning and Development.

The former maternal health center on the West Side has a history of providing critical services to single mothers in the early 20th century, when help was scarcely given to them. The site also includes a former dormitory for single mothers.

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said the building’s age and history should qualify it for landmark status.

“I think in my heart of hearts it could be designated a landmark and that it should be saved,” Miller said. “Services they provided for women, especially women of color in later years, make this very important.”

The Washington Boulevard building was constructed in 1892 as a single-family home for Fred W. Morgan, a manufacturer of bicycle tires, according to Preservation Chicago.

In 1886, Frances Willard and members of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union joined to create the Chicago Home for Convalescent Women and Children where single “friendless women” could rest and pray. The center was originally located at 1516 W. Adams Street, according to a 1946 Chicago Tribune article.

After financial difficulties put the center’s future in jeopardy, New York merchant and philanthropist Charles Crittenton opted to donate and save the institution. It was renamed the Florence Crittenton Anchorage in 1893 in memory of Crittenton’s deceased 4-year-old daughter, Florence.

The center closed in 1943 after the Adams Street building was condemned, but reopened in 1949 at 2678 W. Washington. The anchorage remained there until closing permanently in 1973, according to a Chicago Tribune article from that year.

Photo from Jet Magazine of women in the Florence Crittenton Anchorage. Credit: Debbie Mercer

The building originally provided services to homeless women, sex workers, unmarried pregnant women and women with children who had been abandoned by male partners. It later became a maternity home offering shelter and assistance to unwed mothers who cared for children who would otherwise be put up for adoption.

At the time of its closure, the facility was the only state-licensed maternity home in the city that served girls 18 and under, according to the Tribune.

Florence Crittenton Homes’ then-president Kate Waller Barrett said she sought to help and redeem single mothers who she believed were victims of poor circumstances, vicious men, and a troubling double standard of sexual behavior, according to the Student Journal of Historical Studies at Illinois State University. Waller Barrett was a pioneering physician and charter member of the League of Women Voters.

The building’s future is now in question after its owners applied for a demolition permit.

The Wolfson building was sold by members of its namesake family last year to Landmark Living LLC, a property investment firm, property records show. It was bought for $299,000.

A coach house on the Wolfson building property that acted as a women’s dormitory. Credit: Courtesy Preservation Chicago

Because the building is listed in the city’s historical survey as “potentially significant,” a demolition permit for the structure automatically triggers a 90-day review period by the city to determine if demolition is prudent.

It is not known what Landmark Living’s plans are for the property if the building is demolished. Landmark Living principal Guillermo Meza Ortega could not be reached for comment Monday.

Debbie Mercer, a retired Chicago schoolteacher living in Oak Park, said the building speaks to Chicago’s history of progressive politics in offering health services to women before the passage of Roe V. Wade, viewing it as timely in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn it.

Illinois has seen a massive spike in abortion patients seeking care, in contrast to surrounding Midwestern states that have enacted significant restrictions on the procedure.

“This is something that played a large role that provided care for women at a time where there weren’t really a lot of places for them to go,” Mercer said. “I think that is worth talking about and saving.”

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