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Leona's Building Has Rich History That Condos Won't Preserve, Neighbors Say

By Alisa Hauser | April 5, 2016 9:49am
 A parade or procession near the former Ukrainian Dairy, believed to have taken place in the 1940s, according to local historian Elaine Coorens.
A parade or procession near the former Ukrainian Dairy, believed to have taken place in the 1940s, according to local historian Elaine Coorens.
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Polish Museum of America Archives

EAST VILLAGE — Residents from the Ukrainian Village area packed a community meeting Monday to fight for ... an old Leona's building.

Actually, according to, Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) and residents in attendance, the building that once housed Leona's at 1936-1944 W. Augusta Ave. was once the only Ukrainian dairy in the city. Now, developers want to raze the building and turn it into condos. But residents say the nearly 100-year-old building should be part of the Ukrainian Village Landmark District.

After using a "parliamentary maneuver" to delay a vote on a demolition permit at last month's City Council meeting, Hopkins told a standing-room only crowd on Monday that he will continue to fight to preserve the building.

 Leona's at 1938 W. Augusta Blvd.
Leona's at 1938 W. Augusta Blvd.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

"I wish I could stand here today and promise you that we will be successful. The outcome is very much uncertain at this point but we are still in this game," Hopkins told members of the East Village Association at their monthly meeting in Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave.

None of the approx. 40 people in attendance raised their hands when Hopkins asked if anyone wants to see the building demolished and turned into condos. But last fall, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved demolition of the building.

Hopkins and neighbors were not satisfied with that ruling and have spent the past few months gathering evidence that supports an argument to include the building in the neighborhood landmark district.

"We want to make the case that the community wants this building. ... The Landmark District got it wrong 20 years ago when they said the building wasn't contributing to the Landmark District," Hopkins said.

Elaine Coorens, a local historian, journalist and author of "Wicker Park, from 1673 Thru 1929 and Walking Tour Guide" said she did a lot of research to try to find similar examples to Pure Dairy Products, which was built in front of a residential 1880s home.

"This concept of taking an existing building and building around it to make it a dairy, that was the industry in this city and I think it might be fairly unique. It is so significant, it's way more than just a snapshot; it's the only example left of an entire industry," Coorens said.

According to 1920s-era newspaper ads uncovered during Coorens' research, Pure Dairy billed itself as the only Ukrainian dairy in city. 

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said the advocacy group is in full support of keeping the building and perhaps encouraging the owners to consider an adaptive reuse. 

"I don't know of too many dairy buildings that survived like this from this era," Miller said.

Last month, Hopkins said he was able to pull the matter of whether to demolish the building off of the City Council's agenda using "a "parliamentary maneuver" that buys him another month.

Though no meeting agenda details have been posted yet on the City Council's online calendar, Hopkins said that the demolition permit will be on the next City Council agenda on April 13.

"I intend to allow it to be called for a vote since I used my one time deferral trick. The audience for the case we're making tonight, that this building should be saved, is my 49 colleagues on the Council," Hopkins said, referring to the city's aldermen whom he is urging to vote "no" to demolition.

"When I've got full community support, it's easier to go to my colleagues because they all understand, they've been in rooms just like this in their wards," Hopkins said.

Hopkins said he asked the developer to reconsider their request to demolish the building and see if an adaptive reuse could still be considered.

Leon Toia, CEO of Leona's Pizzeria, sold many locations in 2014. The East Village Leona's opened in 1985 and the building was sold for $1.84 million to Sedgwick Acquisitions, a venture backed by Wicker Park-based MCZ Development in February, state records show.

Located at 1936-44 W. Augusta Blvd., the properties are a collection of buildings including a Victorian two-flat (which dates back about 120 years, according to the Cook County Assessor's Office), which later grew into a local dairy that surrounded the original structure in the early part of the 20th century.

Todd Mullen, a project manager with MCZ, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on what MCZ will do if the demolition permit is voted down next Wednesday.

Ald. Moreno (1st), whose ward previously included the former Leona's building before the ward map was changed, also did not respond to a request for comment on whether he supports the demolition.

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