Altgeld Gardens commercial building designed by Keck & Keck needs some love – or a new owner
We are happy to see good things happening at Altgeld Gardens, a public development in the far south of the city that is out of sight and out of the mind for many Chicagoans.
CTA’s red line could very well stop at the gateway to transit-hungry Altgeld Gardens over the next decade, as part of a $ 2.3 billion plan to extend the train line to 130th Street from its current terminus at 95th Street.
And the community has the new $ 7.5 million Altgeld Family Resource Center at 131st Street and Ellis Avenue, containing a public library, daycare, community center, and bright, enclosed play areas.
But we’re concerned about a curved, one-story structure lurking just east of the family center.
Built in 1946 and designed by famous Chicago architects Keck & Keck, the building once contained a range of shops and services for residents of Altgeld Gardens. And it would be one of the nicest commercial structures in the city if it weren’t for its current state.
With all the positive things happening during development, here’s another one to list: Restoring and reactivating the Altgeld Gardens shopping center.
‘Help build the complete community’
Completed in 1945 – and a decade or two before the rise of southern suburban malls – Altgeld Gardens was over 3 miles from the Roseland district, where the nearest large shopping strip was located.
Considering the remoteness of Altgeld, it would make sense for a shopping center to be part of the initial development plan. When it first opened, the mall included a grocery store, beauty and hair salons, laundry, doctor’s office, pharmacy – even a delicatessen.
“This building was then planned – to be privately owned and funded – for the prominent location of the project, to house these essentials and help create the entire community,” said a 1948 article in Progressive Architecture.
Architects George Fred Keck and his brother William designed a long, elegant curved brick and glass building. Its overhanging curved roof has the plume of a 1940s hat.
But over the years, businesses and services have left the center, and the private owners of the building have done little to keep the structure in good condition or to attract new tenants. Most of its floor-to-ceiling glass windows have been sealed or removed. The building looks every moment of its 75 years – and more.
The people of Altgeld deserve much better. But for once, the CHA is not at fault. The shopping center, built to be private property, the rest. And that’s a problem.
“We agree that the current state of the building is an eyesore and unfair to the community,” ACH told us in a statement. “We strongly encourage the owner to fulfill his obligations as the owner to improve the situation.”
CHA acknowledges that the building has “deteriorated considerably” in recent years, but the agency said it did not have the money to step in and purchase a non-residential structure.
“And the acquisition and renovation of a commercial building is not part of our mission,” says the statement of the ACH.
Altgeld on the national register?
CHA is working to get Altgeld Gardens and neighboring Murray Houses listed on the National Register of Historic Places. If registered, the designation may unlock federal tax credits that could help cover the costs of restoring the 157-acre campus.
Until then, I hope the CHA and the city can bring in a new owner for the mall or force the current one – listed in housing administration files as Garden Bldg LLC – to step in. and to do right next to the building, and residents of Altgeld.
Send letters to [email protected].