ROGERS PARK — The neighborhood's most counter-culture establishment will close its doors March 31 after 10 years as an inspiration for artists and activists.
The Mess Hall, an experiment in free workshops, art galleries and more, had occupied the 700-square-foot storefront at 6932 N. Glenwood Ave. since 2003 and had become well known in art circles.
The building's owner, who had donated the space free of rent, has decided to open a Jewish spiritual center in its place.
"I’ve been studying spiritual interests for the last 15 to 20 years," Al Goldberg said. "And I felt there was a need to have a space for people to learn some of the things I’ve been learning."
"It’s just something that moves me to further the work of unifying the paradox," said Goldberg, a longtime Rogers Park and Evanston resident who also founded the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, Glenwood Avenue Arts Fest and the Miles of Murals project along the Rogers Park Red Line embankments.
The new center — dubbed Beit Yichud, meaning House of Unification in Hebrew — won't be affiliated with any nearby synagogues. Rabbis will be able to use the space for free, he said.
Goldberg said he bought the property in 1999 and created artist studios on the second floor, with a gallery below.
A few years later, the Mess Hall opened and began hosting free classes on topics ranging from how to pickle food and, more recently, the nuances of the subprime mortgage crisis.
White Rose Catholic Workers also put on monthly "free" flea markets, where all the merchandise is free.
Occupy Rogers Park uses the hall for organizational meetings, and Rogers Park's Food Not Bombs group feeds the needy on Sundays at the hall during winter months.
"Ten years later, private property, following the inevitable trajectories of its calculus, reasserts itself," a posting read on the hall's website. "As of March 31, Mess Hall will no longer exist."
Rozalinda Borcila, one of the center's organizers, said the spirit of the Mess Hall could live on in a yet-to-be defined form.
"We were all surprised at what scope this took on and continuity it achieved," said Borcila, of Humboldt Park, who is one of seven who hold a key to the hall. "We all knew it wasn’t going to last forever. We understood we didn’t own this space."
Throughout March, the hall plans to host "regular programming," such as a final free market and a workshop about how to create "counter-institutions that are non-commercial, consensual and community driven," much like what the Mess Hall strove to be for more than a decade.
"Obviously, we're sad we don’t have a space," Borcila said.