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Butler Street Iron Foundry Will Convert to Grocery Warehouse

By Casey Cora | March 28, 2013 6:50am

BRIDGEPORT — A South Side warehouse with ties stretching back to the late 1800s has been converted into a grocery warehouse.

Gone is the gritty manufacturing history from the Butler Street Foundry and with it the names etched into the walls of the hundreds of blue-collar immigrant ironworkers who toiled there.

The 15,000-square-foot facility, just west of U.S. Cellular Field at 3422-24 S. Normal Ave., dates back to 1891.

It was sold by developers Richard Ferro and Thomas DiPiazza to Yue Sheng Liang, records show. Liang took out a $390,000 mortgage for the property.

Liang, owner of the Chinese-American grocery store Starlight Market, 2832 S. Wentworth Ave., said he'd already begun storing products in the building — after a thorough scrubbing of the floors.

The Butler Street Foundry and Iron Co. opened in 1891 on what was then known as Butler Street.

The business thrived as a foundry — its steel and iron work can be found in places like Union Stockyards factories and the shuttered Fisk Power Plant — until the 1940s, when the Environmental Protection Agency demanded the dirty business of iron work get cleaned up. Owner Arnold “Bud” Hinkens then steered business toward custom metal fabrication.

Bridgeport’s John La Monica, an ironworker, artist and teen mentor, took it over from Hinkens in 2005 and shepherded several large projects, including the restoration of the iron fence around Buckingham Fountain.

In an effort to revive the art of manufacturing, La Monica, 49, maintained operations while hosting various mentorship programs there, like welding programs for Back of the Yards high school students.

But business dried up with the economic crisis and LaMonica took a job as an ironworker with the city’s department of transportation in January 2011.

For La Monica, who told the Chicago Tribune's Rick Kogan in an interview that he'd never give up trying to make the foundry survive, the arrival of a new business there is bittersweet.

“I think if neighbors are happy with the place, then I think it’s a good thing. In my heart I think it’s kind of cool that it’s a Chinese place, and I’ll tell you why: It’s started by an immigrant," he said.