WICKER PARK — Untouched since the 1970s, a dozen boarded-up apartments in a prominent 1890s-era building at the southwest corner of Evergreen and Milwaukee avenues sold for $4.2 million on Friday.
The plan: Turn them into 20 millennial-friendly units that trade some space for amenities.
Cedar Street Co., which has converted several distressed Uptown and Far North Side vintage buildings into residential dwellings, plans to reopen the apartments next spring, co-owner Jay Michael said on Sunday.
Alisa Hauser explores why they've remained untouched:
"We love the building because it has been untouched. It was ready for someone to bring it back," Michael said of the building at 1422-26 N. Milwaukee Ave.
The 18,450-square-foot, three-story building — in a busy retail corridor two blocks south of the Milwaukee, Damen and North avenues intersection — was owned by the three children of the late Ben Neuman, who founded Ben's Shoes at 1424 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Scott Neuman, one of Ben Neuman's sons, said his father had a good reason for keeping the apartments boarded up.
“My father didn’t want to be a landlord," he said. "When he took over the building in the 1960s he realized he didn’t want to be a slum landlord. It is a lot of work to keep up apartments but he wanted to have consistent rent from the retail storefronts, which he always did.
“We will miss the tenants, they were wonderful tenants, all three of them,” he said.
Ben Neuman (Bimem Najman) was born in Radziejaw, Poland, where most of his family died in the Holocaust, according to a 392-page online book draft by Scott Neuman.
Ben Neuman, whose family was in the leather and shoe business, died in 2003 at age 83. Ben's Shoes in Wicker Park closed in 2012. The retail storefronts are now the home of Brooklyn Industries, Lomography Embassy Store and Emma, a boutique that replaced Ben's Shoes two years ago.
The retail stores, all of which have long-term leases, will not be affected by the renovations, Michael said.
Michael said that while his firm plans to gut the interior of the two upper floors to create 20 apartments from the existing 12, the goal is to keep "a great deal of the vintage character intact."
The vintage character is apparent from photos of the units, which have some time capsule-like qualities. One still held a yellowed newspaper from 1978.
Under contract since July, Michael's firm needed a zoning change approval from a neighborhood group to allow the building's two upper floors to be subdivided from 12 to 20 units.
Michael said that the majority of the 20 apartments will be one-bedroom convertibles, around 400 square feet. Some of the corner units will be 600 square feet.
"There is a need for new smart apartments that are built around what millenials need. They want in-unit washer and dryer and WiFi. They will compromise size to make sure they have well thought-out apartments," Michael said.
Michael said the apartments will be built for people who "want to live well and don't have a lot of money."
"We don't try to compete with luxury rentals; our tenants are young professionals just starting out, who want good, authentic apartments," he said.
Michael said renovations will start as soon as they get a building permit.
Danny Spitz, a Baum Realty broker who sold the building for the Neuman family, predicted that the reopening of the apartments "will be a great thing for the street."
"The building has a lot of character and was ready for a new life," Spitz said.
Said Scott Neuman: "I hope the new owners will contribute to making Wicker Park a better community."
Newspaper from 1978 in one of the apartments:
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