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'Radical' Publisher Wants To Take Over This Mansion, But A Fight Is Brewing

By Josh McGhee | July 14, 2017 9:59am | Updated on July 15, 2017 9:32am
 The land surrounding 800 W. Buena Ave. was once owned by a family that holds historical significance in the neighborhood.
The land surrounding 800 W. Buena Ave. was once owned by a family that holds historical significance in the neighborhood.
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Dana Galowich/Jameson Sotheby's International Realty

UPTOWN — A left-leaning book publisher wants to move into a historic mansion in Buena Park, but some neighbors aren't thrilled about their politics.

Since Haymarket Books, a self-described "radical progressive" publisher, expressed interest in buying property at 800 W. Buena Ave., neighbors have been hit with a parade of flyers for and against the sale.

"People look at the politics... and raised objections," said Haymarket Books financial director Behzad Raghian. "That's at the heart of the disagreement. We're a radical progressive book publisher. We publish books that are critical [analysis] and not covered by the mainstream media."

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) needs to approve a zoning change in order for Haymarket to move into the building, but he's waiting for neighbors to vote on the issue before making a decision — a process he's previously used to determine support for a sober living facility in the ward. Neighbors have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to vote on the zoning change online. 

Jerry Blair, one of the neighbors who signed a flyer that was circulated in the neighborhood opposing Haymarket said he take issue with the publisher's politics. 

"They are anti-Semitic and totally left wing. We're just a nice residential community that happens to be historical and we'd like to keep our peace and quiet," he said.

But one of the flyers opposing the special use permit, signed by eight neighbors, said the issue isn't about politics. 

"Some dismiss our objections as ‘you do not like their politics.’ We reject that. We are all for social justice, free speech, diversity and free expression of ideas," the neighbors wrote. Instead, they're concerned about parking and traffic that the publisher would bring to the tranquil neighborhood, they wrote. 

One flyer in opposition takes issue with the Center for Economic and Social Change, which runs Haymarket and would actually be buying the property. The group wants to use the "residential building," currently owned by non-profit organization The Menomonee Club, "as its national headquarters," the flyer states.

"On the web, they openly invite to their meetings: 'radicals, activists and, self-described revolutionaries.' They give prisoners discounts to their publications... We believe in free speech and the right to protest but keep our neighborhood quiet and safe," read the flyer.

[DNAinfo/Josh McGhee]

Raghian said that Chicago-based Haymarket Books would be the "main entity" using the space. The Center for Economic and Social Change publishes other journals, International Socialist Review and Mondoweiss, a website covering foreign policy from a Jewish perspective, and operates an annual socialist conference Socialism 2015, Raghian said. The entire organization has less than 30 full time employees and Haymarket Books has about 16 employees, he said. 

Neighbors said they are also concerned that the publisher would host events with 50-100 people at the mansion, they said at a neighborhood meeting on the proposed purchase Tuesday night. 

Raghian said the bulk of the events would be book and poetry readings by Haymarket authors and there would be "one or two" at most per month.

Neighbors at the meeting also raised concerns about parking and traffic. Raghian told neighbors that staff would park on-site but attendees would be asked to take public transportation or would use the pay-to-park lots nearby.

Another flyer, circulated by 10 residents in favor of the project, said the group would be a "fantastic resource" that could be a community gathering space for neighborhood meetings and would benefit local businesses.

"Haymarket has committed to not only maintaining the historic mansion, but also to working with us all to ensure Buena Park keeps its serene, unique atmosphere," the flyer read. 

One neighbor who's lived around the property for more than two years, said that a "propaganda machine" has aimed to influence the vote on the purchase. 

"There’s been at least three or four flyerings, postings, slipping under doors and mailings from both sides," he said, adding the flyers had "some sensational headlines." 

Lisa von Drehle, president of Buena Park Neighbors, said the executive committee decided not to take a position on the issue, though some individual members have voiced their personal opinions. She said she wasn't surprised the publisher's planned purchase of the historic mansion became a hot button issue.

"Neighbors want to be sure what all would go in the building in terms of events and businesses," she said.