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Vacant Firehouse Should Be Protected from the Wrecking Ball, Group Says

JEFFERSON PARK — A now-vacant former firehouse in the heart of Jefferson Park should be given landmark status and protected from the wrecking ball, preservationists said Friday.

The 107-year-old firehouse, 4835 N. Lipps Ave., was most recently used as the 45th Ward sanitation office, which was shuttered as part of the city's move from a ward-based garbage pickup system to a grid-based system.

"I would hate to lose this building," said Frank Suerth, a member of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society. "It has a lot of history."

While the city is seeking to sell 11 firehouse across Chicago, the Jefferson Park building is not one of them.

In the 1870s, a wooden firehouse was built on the southeast corner of Lipps Avenue and Ainslie Street to house the volunteer Jefferson Township fire fighting force. In 1906, after the area became part of the city of Chicago, a new brick building was built for Engine Number 108, according to research compiled by Suerth for the historical society.

The new building featured brass poles to help firefighters rush to the scene of the fire, as well as a spiral staircase and ceramic-covered bricks to make cleaning up after the horses easier, Suerth said.

Firefighters from Jefferson Park fought blazes all over the Northwest Side, taking advantage of nearby diagonal streets like Milwaukee Avenue, Northwest Highway and Higgins Avenue to rush through the city, Suerth said.

When the Kennedy Expressway was built, city planners included bridge along Ainslie Street to speed access to and from the fire station, Suerth said.

In 1981, Engine 108 moved to a new firehouse on Milwaukee Avenue across from Wilson Park. The building has been vacant since the sanitation department moved out in the fall of 2012.

Only two other Chicago firehouses built before 1910 are still standing at 2754 N. Fairfield Ave. 2350 S. Whipple St., Suerth said.

City officials are evaluating whether another city department could use the building, which is kitty-corner from the Jefferson Park Transit Center. If they conclude that the city does not need it, it could be sold and demolished.

"It's a unique building," Suerth said. "It doesn't look so spectacular right now. I would hate to see it turned into a garage."

Instead, the building should be rehabilitated and turned into shops, restaurants or even a theater, Suerth said, adding that he is gathering letters of support from local officials and groups to prepare to submit the landmark request.

"It should be something that brings people into the area," Suerth said.