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Ridge Firehouse Attracts Brew Pub, Theater Groups

By Benjamin Woodard | May 22, 2013 7:41am | Updated on May 22, 2013 10:18am
 The city hosted an open house at the vacant firehouse, attracting a variety of neighborhood groups.
Ridge Firehouse Open House
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EDGEWATER — Potential new owners of a city-owned firehouse on Ridge Avenue got a first look at the rundown property during an open house Tuesday.

A brew pub and independent film venue were just a couple of the proposals the city could evaluate after an Aug. 1 deadline.

The healthy turnout during the two-hour open house surprised the city and alderman's office.

"I've never seen anything like this before," said Christopher Jang, a representative with the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Since news first broke late last month that the firehouse — and 10 others across the city — would hit the market, calls began rolling in from people looking for more information about what it would take to renovate the Chicago landmark at 5714 N. Ridge Ave.

The city started taking proposals earlier this month, seeking "the introduction of a commercial and/or not-for-profit development focusing on arts, recreation or culinary activities that are open to the public."

The city said it would consider more than money in its evaluations of what could become of the property appraised at $360,000.

Among those attending the event was Ashley Wright, who owns Hamburger Mary's in Andersonville.

"We want to expand," he said. Wright, 40, said he and his twin brother wanted to try a "new concept" at the firehouse that would include a brewery and a pub.

He and other potential business partners, who preferred to remain anonymous, took measurements of the interior rooms and jotted down notes. They discussed installing brew tanks on the second floor.

But the Wright twins weren't alone.

Nearly 20 groups or individuals put down their information on a yellow legal pad, declaring their interest.

"We've seen this abandoned firehouse for years and always thought, 'Wouldn't this be a great theater space for Li'l Buds Theatre Company,'" said Jenny Lamb, 36, the group's co-artistic director. "There's so much space."

Li'l Buds hosts workshops and productions for children at neighborhood theaters and their studio space at 1210 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.

"It's definitely a possibility — or we wouldn't be here," Lamb said. She added that an architect would be stopping by to give them an estimate on overhauling the firehouse's interior.

During the two-hour open house, a steady stream of people walked through the interior, including the first floor — where fire trucks were stowed — that opens to busy Ridge Avenue.

A staircase leads to the second floor, an assortment of smaller rooms, including a bathroom, locker room and bedroom, surrounding the building's second-largest room.

Paint hung from the ceilings — and nearly every wall — and littered the firehouse floors.

And old fire hose snaked from the dank, wet basement up a tight staircase to the main floor.

Several people noted the missing fire pole.

Employees from a nearby preschool, Family's Together Cooperative Nursery School, were taking measurements and discussing how they could move their classrooms to the old firehouse. They noted that electrical and plumbing would just be the beginning of renovations.

The school of about 90 students is at capacity and has a "huge waiting list" every year, business director Kate Brenner said.

For the last 13 years the school has shared space at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 1500 W. Elmdale Ave., forcing staffers to dismantle their classrooms every Friday before weekend services.

"But here," she said, "we could have a third classroom."

A representative from the Pegasus Players, a theater company that could get the boot from its current home at the Hull House Community Center, scrawled contact information on the legal pad, too.

Sally Anderson, of Rogers Park, snapped photos of the interior with her cellphone.

"My dream is to build Chicago's premier film and art venue," said Anderson, the production manager at Edgewater's pH Productions, an improv comedy theater.

Anderson envisions 50 to 80 seats on the firehouse's first floor, in front of a single screen showing independent films. The second floor could host art classes and gallery shows, she said.

She'd rent the space, too, for weddings and other events. A neighboring building could be converted into a kitchen for caterers, she mused.

"It's fun to dream," she said.