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A West Ridge Cultural Center? Ideas Sought For Closing Northtown Library

By Linze Rice | June 30, 2017 5:43am
 Residents and neighborhood groups, along with the support of Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), are rallying behind a petition calling for a new West Ridge library.
Residents and neighborhood groups, along with the support of Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th), are rallying behind a petition calling for a new West Ridge library.
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DNAinfo/Linze Rice

WEST RIDGE — As Far North Siders in West Ridge eagerly await a new library, at least one question remains: what should become of the old one? 

The Northtown branch of the Chicago Public Library opened at it's current location at 6435 N. California Ave. in 1962 after previously being housed at 2502 W. Devon Ave., now the site of Sabri Nihari restaurant. 

However, without renovations to the small library over the last 55 years, residents and neighborhood leaders began pushing for a new (or majorly updated) branch in 2015

That wish was granted in 2016 when it was announced West Ridge was among three neighborhoods selected for brand new libraries which were also co-located with affordable housing for seniors through a partnership with the Chicago Housing Authority. 

The state-of-the-art branch is due to open by December 2018, but that doesn't mean everyone wants to see Northtown shut its doors after its decommissioned next fall, either.

John Kane, president of the West Ridge Community Organization, said in May his group and others met at the library to discuss a future potential use.

"The discussion reached a consensus: The creation of the West Ridge Cultural Center," he wrote in a statement. "Our groups are pushing for the re-purposing of the fifty-five year old Northtown Library as a collaborative cultural and artistic hub for all West Ridge residents — something that is greatly needed and now lacking for such a multicultural and diverse population."

Now, the group is working to gather input from residents on Northtown's future through an online survey

Earlier this year Patrick Mallory, a spokesman for the city libraries, said the old building on California Avenue would remain in operation until the Western Avenue structure was complete, at which point the city will re-evaluate its use. 

A library representative did not respond to request for comment Thursday.

Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) also said it was still "too early to discuss concrete plans," but added that she would "love to find a use for the building that is a benefit to the community."

Though the new library on Western Avenue will have a community space, Kane said the neighborhood — "one of the most racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse communities in Chicago" — could use a separate community hub that focuses on the area's rich diversity.

Influences of the neighborhood's vast range of ethnicities, nationalities and cultures its residents represent is evident nearly everywhere, from food to language, fashion, business and more. Neighbors hail from around the world, with many coming from the Middle East, Pakistan, India, Latin America, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite its small size of about 11,000-square-feet, Kane said the Northtown branch can still be useful. 

A multifunctional room could become a performance space, and wide, street-facing windows would give passersby a glimpse into the center's activities, he said.

Serving as an "artistic and cultural hub," the potential West Ridge Cultural Center could not only provide community programming, but also "support services promoting the individual, social, cultural and artistic well-being of West Ridge residents," Kane added through discussion, art and "heritage exploration."

"Most importantly, West Ridge residents will meet, interact, and learn from people of diverse backgrounds in their own community," he said. 

See more from Kane on the West Ridge Cultural Center project below.