BACK OF THE YARDS — A once-bustling department store will be given new life as affordable housing for the elderly, but the building’s architectural history will remain in tact.
The long-planned Goldblatt's Senior Living home came one step closer to reality after the City Council last week OK’d a plan to grant the old Goldblatt’s building at 4700 S. Ashland Ave. with landmark status.
The building was designed by Alfred S. Alschuler, a prominent Chicago architect whose other work includes the London Guarantee Building (now the Crain's Communication Building), the K.A.M. Isaiah Israel Temple, a Goldblatt Brothers store that would become the Chicago Public Library's West Town branch and the Florsheim Shoe Company building, all designated Chicago landmarks.
The planned assisted-living facility will contain 101 residential units, a dining room, chapel, flower and produce gardens, a library and more amenities.
Part of the state’s Illinois Supported Living program, the facility will be open to low-income elderly. In a typical supported living setup, a resident will pay room and board, while other services like medication supervision, laundry and 24-hour staffing are paid by the state through Medicaid.
William Platt, co-owner of the building, said the estimated $33 million rehab project should be completed in early 2014. It's been made possible in part with $2.9 million in tax increment financing funding.
The Back of the Yards structure was built in stages beginning in 1915 and was originally home to the J. Oppenheimer & Co. Department store, according to the landmark commission’s report.
The Oppenheimer company operated the store until 1926, when it was run for a two-year stretch by a New York-based company called Larkin. The Goldblatt brothers, Nathan and Maurice, bought it in 1928 and made the store part of their merchandise mini-empire.
The store served as a retail anchor for area families with its assortment of discount goods including home furnishings, automotive gear, pets and appliances until it closed in 1985. A posting on the Forgotten Chicago message board says the store even sold baby alligators for $2 apiece.
According to the commission's report, the building's design followed that of the "Chicago School" of architecture, but "Alschuler decorated the exterior with restrained Classical-style terra-cotta ornamental details, including pilaster capitals and a cornice as well as the tablet at the parapet framed by swags and a Greek-key motif. Street names are molded into the terra-cotta band above the storefront windows."
Ward Miller, president of Preservation Chicago, said the designation of landmark status would "return the building to the community."
"I think any type of rescue for these big buildings is a really a good way to preserve the character of it," Miller said. "This building tells a story. It tells a story about the neighborhood, about the building ... even if you're just reading the plaque on the outside of the building, the [landmark status] encumbers the building as a Chicago treasure."