A building nicknamed the Lero building at 4762 N. Milwaukee Ave., which has been vacant since the early '90s, is seen Aug. 1, 2023. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

JEFFERSON PARK — For over 30 years, a historical Northwest Side building that once was an integral part of the neighborhood’s liveliness has largely sat vacant.

Now, the two-story bow truss building at 4762 N. Milwaukee Ave., nicknamed the Lero building, could be revitalized and filled under new ownership.

Tim Pomaville, president and owner of Northwest Side development company Ambrosia Homes, bought the building in March after months of negotiations, according to public records and Pomaville.

“I look at that block and it’s outstanding,” Pomaville said. “There is so much potential … just gotta get something cooking over [in the building].”

He plans to put the building up for lease to attract tenants on the first floor who want to open a business in Jefferson Park and help “bring it back to life.”

Constructed in 1923, the bow-truss building has two separate storefronts that equal nearly 5,000 square feet, but interior work can be done to combine them into one if a future tenant wants the entire first floor, Pomaville said.

Residential apartments are also planned for the top floor, he said. Up to four units could be constructed upstairs, which will determine what kind of rehab needs to be done on the entire building, Pomaville said.

The building has 12-foot ceilings on the first and second floors, he said.

Pomaville, who is on a mission to rehab old buildings in the area to increase foot traffic and business opportunities in vacant buildings, is open to any kind of service tenant that could increase the offerings to residents who live in the area, he said.

The Milwaukee Avenue building is centrally located in the neighborhood and next to cannabis dispensary Cannabist, which revitalized two empty storefronts and has brought foot traffic and economic flow to the strip since 2020, he and neighbors previously said.

“There are a couple things that bring activity to that block but there’s a lot of vacancy on both sides,” he said.

The building’s facelift potential could be a new chapter for Jefferson Park. It once brought people to the heart of the neighborhood and has served diverse functions since the 1920s, said historian and Jefferson Park resident Susanna Ernst.

“It really is a mirror of what was happening in America: the Roaring Twenties, the Depression, war, then looking to modern amenities into a new era and a place for activities,” said Ernst, co-founder of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society.

It was a billiard hall and amateur boxing ring in the ’20s, a relief center for people struggling with food insecurity in the ’30s during the Depression and a community hall in the ’40s for festival and events, she said.

An interior storefront of the Lero building at 4762 N. Milwaukee Ave., which has been vacant since the early ’90s, is seen Aug. 1, 2023. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

It also was home to appliance, hardware and furniture businesses between the late ’40s and ’50s, when society was trying to recoup from the war, she said.

A former owner of the building was named Lero, Ernst said. She estimates the large letters spelling out Lero were added to the building’s facade between the ’50s and early ’90s, when the building became vacant.

It has been used for occasional pop-ups over the last two decades, she said. In recent years, its windows were painted with artwork promoting the Chicago Fringe Festival, which was held in Jefferson Park from 2013 to 2018. The festival ended in 2019.

Pomaville’s attempt to revitalize the building has created buzz in the community that could stimulate development in the area again, Ernst said.

“It’s undoubtedly enormous news and generating a lot of excitement and it should because this particular piece of land between Giddings and Lawrence on Milwaukee is really the only historic piece we have left that’s intact from the Jefferson Park downtown area,” she said.

“It’s almost scary because we don’t want to lose this vestige of our past. It could be a little boom for us. This is the first step … [Jefferson Park] is a little bit depressing but it doesn’t need to be because we are not depressed economically.”

The back of the historical Jefferson Park firehouse at 4841 N. Lipps Ave., as seen on June 22, 2022. It was built in 1906 but has long sat vacant. Credit: Ariel Parrella-Aureli/Block Club Chicago

Pomaville is also trying to restore the Jefferson Park firehouse a few blocks away at 4841 N. Lipps Ave., which is planned to have eight rental loft apartments above a restaurant or bar. The $2.4 million development has slowed due to structural design issues of the project, among other reasons, he said.

The project aims to add a third floor to the historic firehouse, build in 1906. Pomaville’s team has been going back and forth with the city’s planning department to fix any issues and make sure its designs are solid before acquiring a building permit, he said. Once a building permit is approved, construction could begin this year.

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