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Development Might Force Old Town's Noble Horse Carriages To Leave City

By Mina Bloom | February 17, 2016 6:01am
 Jim Rogers with some of the horses inside Noble Horse.
Jim Rogers with some of the horses inside Noble Horse.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

OLD TOWN — Plans to tear down the former Noble Horse Theatre and build a mixed-use development in its place are moving forward, with the carriage companies that rent the property preparing to move — possibly out of the city.

Debbie Hay, owner of Antique Horse and Carriage — one of the two companies that uses the Noble Horse, 1410 N. Orleans St., for its headquarters — said her days are numbered at the historic Old Town site.

A representative for the property, real estate agent Sheldon Baskin, told Hay and her fellow carriage operator Great Lakes Horse and Carriage that they must leave by the end of March because a deal has been reached with LG Development Group, the developer behind the mixed-use project. Baskin couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

"It's very sad," said Hay, who spent about four years operating out of the site. 

Hay said finding a new place to store her horse-drawn carriages has already been challenging because there is a lack of properties zoned for horses and other large animals, so she might be forced to move out of the city.

Brian Goldberg, president of LG Development Group, confirmed that a deal is "pending," but declined to comment further. He said the proposal, which would bring 250 residential units alongside 85 parking spaces, is currently being reviewed by the city's department of planning and is "progressing well."

Another sign of movement: Ald. Walter Burnett Jr., whose 27th Ward includes the development, said the owner of the privately-owned, single-family home located in the middle of the site now wants to sell. The developer originally designed around the home by making the building an X shape.

Burnett didn't offer an opinion on the development, which has drawn criticism from some neighbors who formalized their opposition with a petition.

Jim Rogers, owner of Great Lakes Horse and Carriage, said the "romanticism" of the urban stable may have appealed to some neighbors, but he believes many neighbors will be "happy to see it go."

Still, he believes the development is "another step in the ladder of gentrification of the area."

Like Hay, Rogers said it's difficult to find a new home for his company. But he's confident he will land on his feet even if he has to move out of the city, he said. 

"I was glad I was able to enjoy the time I did. I started my career there. It helped advance my career. For that, I'm thankful," he said.

He's more worried over whether the extremists who torched his carriages and spray painted messages like "Free The Horses" last year will be brought to justice.

Noble Horse was the target of arson in February 2015. Earlier this month, the FBI doubled the reward in hopes of finding who is responsible.

"Someone committed a heinous crime against us and it's unsolved," Rogers said. "There were people in there at the time when it was burnt. Lives could've been lost."

Should the developer get the necessary approval, crews will eventually tear down Noble Horse, which houses the city's last remaining riding hall.

Back in 1871, when Noble Horse was first built, it housed as many as 60 coach and riding horses. It was a time when Chicagoans relied on horses for transportation. 

In 1922, the property underwent major renovations and its riding hall was transformed into an elegant riding academy, according to its website. It became known as Lakeshore Stables, where people could board horses, see performances and take horses for trail rides through Lincoln Park. 

It wasn't until 1972 that the buildings began to deteriorate. The site sat empty until the 1980s, when it was used as a riding academy. By 1998, it was empty again.

The last renovation took place in 2000 thanks to a city grant, a group called Friends of the Stables and an investment from Dan Sampson, who decided to take over the property.

After Sampson moved out, Antique Coach and Carriage began leasing the property from Baskin. 

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