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Developer Buys Stretch of Old Buildings in Wicker Park's Southern Gateway

By Alisa Hauser | January 23, 2014 11:42am
 1237-53 N. Milwaukee Ave.
1237-53 N. Milwaukee Ave.
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WICKER PARK — A row of old buildings on Milwaukee Avenue just north of Ashland Avenue was sold last month, though the developer who purchased it says he's "at least two months out" from sharing plans for the properties.

Brian Goldberg from LG Development Group declined to detail his plans for the four buildings at 1237-1253 N. Milwaukee Ave., which his firm purchased for $3.35 million on Dec. 19 from Centrum Partners LLC, according to Cook County records.

The buildings, all more than 100 years old, are located behind the nearby West Town Shopping Mall, which Centrum purchased in 2011 for $33 million.

The shopping complex, which includes a Jewel food store, was recast as Wicker Park Commons in August.

On Monday, Larry Powers, vice president of acquisitions and development at Centrum, told Crain's that the sale was "a good opportunity for us to sell to a reputable group.”

The southernmost building in the parcel is anchored by a Bank of America branch at 1237 N. Milwaukee Ave. on the northwest corner of Milwaukee and Ashland avenues; the northernmost building, at 1253 N. Milwaukee Ave. is home to a Foot Locker shoe store.

The two buildings between both storefronts have been vacant for several years. 

Goldberg told Crain's that LG may demolish the properties between those two, developing buildings with first-floor shops in their place.

Peter Strazzabosco, a spokesman for the Historic Preservation Division in the city's Department of Planning and Development, said the Foot Locker storefront, which has a painted white exterior with black trim, once neighbored a Nickelodeon known as the White Front Theater.

A 1962 Tribune article about Universal Pictures founder Carl Laemmle refers to a White Front Theater, a nickelodeon cinema set up in a clothing store on Milwaukee near Ashland, although no address is given. 

Laemmle established the theater in 1906 and went on to found Universal in 1912.

Though no address was given in the Tribune story, Strazzabosco used a 1907 City Directory to find Laemmle's theater, which is listed as “theater, 909 Milwaukee."

The city's address and street numbers changed in a 1909 renumbering, so 909 is the old address number for 1257 N. Milwaukee, which would be one door north of the Foot Locker and once home to a lingerie shop, Kiss N Tell.

All rich history aside, in recent years, the vacant buildings have attracted vagrants who sleep in the doorways, said Moy Arroyo, the manager of Stash, an athletic shoe store at  1250 N. Milwaukee Ave.

"I think anybody would be happy with anything that improves" the two buildings, Arroyo said. "It looks abandoned."

Last week, Charles Taylor, CEO of Reckless Records, announced his eventual move from the record shops's current space at 1532 N. Milwaukee Ave. to 1379 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Taylor purchased a 100-year-old brick building that plans to serves as a Reckless Megastore, he said.

Andrea Miller, owner of Miller Chicago Real Estate, said the CTA blue line is attracting retailers who want to be near transportation.

"Milwaukee Avenue is a main artery connecting Wicker Park, Bucktown and Logan Square. Empty storefronts are filling in from Division to Diversey," Miller said.

Miller cited Al's Beef and a Vitamin Shoppe as "key additions" to the southern side of Wicker Park Milwaukee Avenue and predicts "more retailers will continue to move into the area."

"Milwaukee Avenue has an independent and trendy vibe," Miller said.