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Leona's Building, Former Ukrainian Dairy, Saved From Demolition

By Alisa Hauser | April 13, 2016 3:37pm | Updated on April 13, 2016 4:14pm
 Leona's at 1938 W. Augusta Blvd.
Leona's at 1938 W. Augusta Blvd.
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DNAinfo/Alisa Hauser

CITY HALL — A vintage building most recently home to a Leona's restaurant was saved after a battle initiated by neighbors and a new alderman who managed to get the demolition permit blocked.

"This is a victory for historic preservation and a victory for the legacy of Ukrainian people in the community. I'm proud to have played a small part in saving the building," said Ald. Brian Hopkins (2nd) on Wednesday, after the close of a City Council meeting.

Neighbors and local preservationists previously argued that the structure, dating back to the 1920s, once served as the site of Pure Dairy Products, the only Ukrainian dairy in Chicago.

Near the end of the meeting, a motion was made by Finance Committee Chairman Ed Burke to deny a demolition permit requested by the building's owners, Wicker Park-based developer MCZ Development, who bought the properties at 1936-1944 W. Augusta Ave. for $1.84 million in February 2015, county records show.

MCZ Development's plan to raze the one-story property and construct condos appeared to be moving forward last fall when the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approved demolition of the building.

Commissioners previously endorsed the findings of the Department of Planning and Development, stating that the building does not contribute to the historical and architectural significance of the East Village District.

The department's findings were that the building is “non-contributing to the character of the East Village District," and the proposed demolition “will not have an adverse effect of the significant historical or architectural features of the district.”

A spokesman from the Department of Planning and Development was not immediately available for a comment on the demolition permit denial, nor was Todd Mullen, a project manager with MCZ.

Hopkins said the vote was "a voice vote" because not all 50 aldermen were present by the end of the long meeting.

"We put forth a motion to deny the demo permit not withstanding the [Landmarks] staff recommendation. We overruled the permit, denied it on a unanimous voice vote," Hopkins said.

Earlier this month, Hopkins told members of the East Village Association at their monthly meeting in Happy Village, 1059 N. Wolcott Ave. that he would fight to save the building, though the matter was no longer up to only him.

The East Village Association sent a representative, Neal McKnight, to the City Council meeting.

"Prior to the meeting we expressed our confidence and trust in Alderman Hopkins' plan. The East Village Association extends its thanks and gratitude for Alderman Hopkins' consistent and courageous efforts to save this historic building," McKnight said.

Located just east of the Damen and Augusta intersection, the properties are a collection of buildings including a Victorian two-flat, which later grew into a local dairy that surrounded the original structure in the early part of the 20th century.

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 and find similar examples to Pure Dairy Products.

"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.

A parade or procession near the former Ukrainian Dairy, believed to have taken place in the 1940s. [Polish Museum of America]

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