NOBLE SQUARE — Concerned that the iconic Polish Roman Catholic Union of America just off the Kennedy Expy. could be sold, preservationists say they want the century-plus-old building to be honored and protected through city landmarking.
The impending sale of land behind the building to a developer has sparked fear among the preservationists that the entire site — including the fraternal organization's offices and a cultural museum at 984-986 N. Milwaukee Ave.— could eventually be turned over.
Citing what he described as sources within the Polish community, Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, told DNAinfo that "the executive management of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America is quietly going about trying to market and sell the building."
Miller said a $15 million price tag has been discussed for the fraternal organization's headquarters at 984-986 N. Milwaukee Ave. and a one-story building at 1322 W. Walton St. that's rented to Mid City Engineering.
But Joseph Drobot, president of the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America, and Hubert Cioromski, a broker at Troy Realty, who is representing the group on the sale of the land, denied Millers' claims in separate calls with DNAinfo early Thursday.
"The sale of the site is not in consideration. We have put a lot of money into the building over the last seven or eight years and just updated the bathrooms. That is not an indication that we would be thinking of selling the building. There are no immediate plans to sell the building," Drobat said.
Cioromski said Millers' assertions are "completely unfounded."
"There is zero plan to sell the rest of the site. That building is the longest-standing continually used Polish building in America, and it's a big part of the community," Cioromski said.
The prime properties overlook the Kennedy Expy. and are within feet of the highway ramp.
Cioromski is representing the Polish Roman Catholic Union on the land sale, which is under contract to Naperville-based Marquette Cos. pending a zoning change that would allow for a 160-unit apartment complex.
The sale of the land parcels was "a long time coming," a Polish Roman Catholic Union of America rep said.
Speaking of the landmarking effort, Miller said, "We are of the opinion that this would both preserve, promote and honor the rich Polish heritage of Chicago and insure that the building and that story is recognized and preserved."
In 2014, another structure a few blocks north of the union and museum building, the Depression-era Polish National Alliance at 1514-20 W. Division St., was designated a Chicago landmark.
Located near the geographical center of “Polish Downtown” — Chicago’s largest and oldest ethnic-Polish neighborhood — the Alliance building was recommended for landmark status by commission research that cited exemplary architecture and an example of the city's heritage. It is now home to architect Jeanne Gang's offices.
Miller said "in-person conversations" about landmark status have been held with officials, directors of the Polish Museum of America and members of the Polish community.
Drobot said that the group has no plans to seek landmark status nor knowledge of Millers' efforts.
Landmark protection would protect the exterior features of the building, its roof line and any significant interior features. While the city has authority to landmark buildings, with the exception of churches with active congregations, without owner's permission, Ward said that is not too common.
"You'd want them to be on the same page, that this would celebrate and honor the Polish community. If it's an important building, the city will act on it. We are seeing that with the Serbian American Museum St. Sava in Lakeview, where the leadership of the museum wants to demolish it but the city is seeking landmark protection status," Miller said.
A Landmarks Commission spokesman said Thursday that the Polish Roman Catholic Union buildings have not been previously considered for a landmark designation by the commission.
Constructed in the early 1900s, the art deco building was designed by architect John S. Flizikowski, according to the Chicago Historic Resources Survey database.
The building is rated "orange" in the survey, a designation that imposes a 90-day waiting period before a building can be torn down. Flizikowski was a Chicago-based architect who designed churches, homes and schools, according to reports.
"I am concerned about the long-term challenges of protecting this building. At the end of the day, I would like to see [the Polish Roman Catholic Union of America] and the Polish community come together and request a Chicago landmark designation due to its significant historical building and interior spaces," Miller said.