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Historic Unity Hall Building to Get New Life as Student Housing

By Sam Cholke | March 14, 2014 8:52am
 A Douglas developer plans to convert the landmark Unity Hall into student housing.
Unity Hall
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DOUGLAS — The long neglected Unity Hall would be revitalized under a plan by a local developer to put student housing into the building that once housed the offices of Chicago’s first black alderman and the first black U.S. congressman.

Third Ward Ald. Pat Dowell said Douglas-based developer Tom Boney got the zoning change he needed last week to save the deteriorating landmark at 3140 S. Indiana Ave.

“The building, with its noble Queen Anne exterior, has sat vacant for the past few years and was the well-known home for a family of raccoons,” Dowell said.

Built as a Jewish social club in 1887, Unity Hall became the headquarters for the The People’s Movement in 1917, a black political organization headed by Oscar DePriest, Chicago’s first black alderman and the nation’s first black congressman. The building is one of eight key buildings on the National Registry’s Black Metropolis Historic District.

The Chicago Fire Department has marked the structure with the red X that tells firefighters not to try to save the building if it catches fire, and the building was in danger of being demolished if left to deteriorate.

Boney plans to convert the building into 21 market-rate apartments for students and plans to maintain the historic legacy of the building in the common areas, according to Dowell.

Boney could not be reached for comment.

“The Gap Community Organization approved it right away,” said Leonard McGee, the head of the neighborhood group asked to review the plan by Dowell. “It’s a good situation for the overall community.”

The City Council on March 5 approved the necessary zoning change to begin converting the building to student housing.