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Clarendon Park Field House Named Among 'Most Threatened' Historic Buildings

By Mina Bloom | March 5, 2015 5:44am
 The beach house at 4501 N. Clarendon St. was built in 1916, but now suffers from water infiltration and other building code issues.
The beach house at 4501 N. Clarendon St. was built in 1916, but now suffers from water infiltration and other building code issues.
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Preservation Chicago

UPTOWN — A local preservation group announced its annual list of seven historic buildings most in danger of being lost to demolition or decay, and two of them are in Uptown.

Preservation Chicago released its list Wednesday, which includes Clarendon Park Community Center and Field House, 4501 N. Clarendon St., and The Agudas Achim North Shore Synagogue, 5029 N. Kenmore Ave. 

Ald. James Cappleman (46th), whose ward includes the deteriorating Clarendon Park Community Center and Field House, said the designation will not only help "send a message" to the park district, which has threatened to tear it down in the past, but it'll also allow him to go to his state and federal elected officials to discuss more funding options.

Since Cappleman developed the ward's zoning and development committee, "there has been a lot of discussion" on how to restore the field house, he said.

Right now, he said his office is looking for "creative ways" to fund the renovation like infrastructure trust funds, which might include a partnership with the Chicago Park District "where they both have some interest in it," he said.

The alderman has said that he's interested in using Tax Increment Finance dollars. He told DNAinfo Chicago Wednesday that "it's clear that it's become much more difficult" to get TIF money, which has led to a stall in securing funding.

"It was over 60 million dollars when it started and now the current developer is requesting 14 million dollars. That's not generating the needed tax revenue to rehab" the field house, Cappleman said.

Built in 1916, the community center and field house was designed to bring people back to the beaches by providing access to the lake. It was a "modern facility for one of Chicago's most popular lakefront beaches," according to Preservation Chicago.

"We recognize this as one of the great buildings of the lakefront," said the group's executive director Ward Miller at an event Wednesday unveiling the list and celebrating Chicago's birthday.

But now the building is "struggling for its life," Miller added. Its signature towers were truncated in 1972, which led to water infiltration and roof issues. It also suffers from building code violations.

The building was designed by architect C.W. Kallal in a Mediterranean revival style, sometimes referred to as "Italian resort style," according to the preservation group. Arguably its most distinctive features were its two tall towers capped with hipped-roofs clad in clay tiles, which were later shortened. Open-air promenades, large entry colonnades and loggias are among some of its other historic features.

It's also home to the Garfield-Clarendon Model Railroad Club, which has been housed in the basement of the building for more than 50 years.

A renovated field house would be "incredible" for the community, according to Katharine Boyda, a member of the Clarendon Park Advisory Council.

"The spotlight needs to be put on the park and recognize all of the value that it brings," she said at Wednesday's event. "People talk about economic development but without thinking about great parks and the public value, your economic development falls flat."

Another advisory council member, Melanie Eckner, said the city originally built the field house because they wanted to open up the beach to the public.

"You could do that again but in a way that moved forward," she said.

Eckner also said landmark status may not be necessary. 

"Sometimes it's better to say: 'What's going to be the next civic statement?'" she said.

The second Uptown building on the list, Agudas Achim North Shore Synagogue, is located in the 48th ward. Built in 1922, it has been described as the "last grand Chicago synagogue," the group said. 

It was recently vacated after changing demographics led to deferred maintenance and an overall dwindling of the congregation.

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