ALBANY PARK — 2nd Story, an artist collective that produces a cross between live lit and theater, was founded on the premise that storytelling can change the world.
The troupe is taking its own mission statement to heart as it settles into new digs at Lawrence and Sacramento, signaling the turning of a page for the once troubled corner.
"The community has been so welcoming," said Lauren Sivak, 2nd Story's managing director.
Neighbors have been popping in to ask, "What is this?" and have responded to information about the arts organization's activities with a "general sigh of relief," Sivak said. (Live lit has been described as "a hybrid form that lies somewhere between slam poetry and stand-up comedy, a literary reading and improv theater.")
The reaction is understandable given the corner's history as a hub of gang activity.
It's been two years since Silver Property Group bought the apartment building at 3001 W. Lawrence Ave., and Ron Abrams, a principal in the firm, still vividly recalls his first meeting onsite with Ald. Deb Mell (33rd), just a week after taking ownership.
"She was picking up shell casings off the sidewalk," Abrams said.
"It was just a mess," Mell said of the building, which had been on her radar since she took office in summer 2013.
Her then-chief of staff, Dana Fritz, paid an unannounced visit to the property, which he described at a community meeting in 2014.
"All the doors were open and the locks were busted," Fritz said. "The smell was absolutely awful, just horrific. There were lots of broken windows, and fire alarms going off. It was one of the worst I’ve ever been in."
Mell called in building inspectors in an attempt to remedy the situation, but the owner at the time was either unwilling or unable to make necessary changes, she said.
"What we would want is to work with the landlord to improve the conditions of the people living there, to keep their buildings safe and clean," said Mell.
"The owner was completely uncooperative" and overwhelmed, she said. "That's something that's really frustrating for me — we find out about buildings when it's almost too late."
Silver stepped in as a buyer, believing in the property's potential, particularly given its proximity to public transportation and its location on the fringe of Ravenswood Manor, Abrams said.
"Everything [on Sacramento] from Francisco to Lawrence was great except for this one building," he said.
In addition to undertaking repairs and renovations, Silver attempted to evict a gang member who the courts allowed to move back into the building, Abrams said.
"He sprayed graffiti on all the vacant units," Abrams said. "I spent weekends sitting there waiting for the police."
Eventually the problem tenant moved on, and Silver has implemented a strict screening process before renting apartments, he said.
Though Silver's priority has been rehabbing the building's residential units, occupants for the ground-floor retail storefronts have gradually surfaced.
First to ink a lease was Cory Creighton of Brü Coffeeworks, followed by 2nd Story, which was looking to trade in its Ravenswood loft for something with greater visibility.
"This is a dream location for us," said Sivak, who, like many of 2nd Story's more than 40 staff members and artists, lives in Albany Park.
The corner storefront was originally little more than four walls with a ceiling and floor, which gave 2nd Story the opportunity to configure it to suit its needs.
2nd Story asked to have the storefront divided into a communal area, a conference room and a kitchen, and Silver obliged.
"We'd send ideas and they'd say, 'Great, we can make it happen,'" Sivak said. "That's just been so exciting."
"Neighborhood retail is challenging," Abrams said. "If somebody shows an interest in our property, we want to bend over backwards."
2nd Story is eyeing a series of grand opening events in January to introduce itself to neighbors — and to introduce the neighborhood to its audience, Sivak said.
Members are still in the process of figuring out how to take full advantage their new home, which will be the organization's primary base for administrative operations, she said.
Though 2nd Story isn't likely to host full-blown performances on Lawrence, Sivak said the location certainly could be used for rehearsals and workshops.
The organization's education programming — 2nd Story offers classes in writing, story generation and performance technique — is almost sure to move to the storefront, and potlucks and story nights are other possibilities being mulled over, she said.
Given the number of schools in the area, Sivak said the storefront could also be opened up during the day simply as a safe place for teens and youngsters to congregate.
"We are looking to see how the community informs how we use this space," she said. "There are endless possibilities for this corner."
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