BELMONT CRAGIN — For more than two decades, a hulking former Zenith television factory has sat empty and neglected on the city's Northwest Side.
Neglected, that is, until it catches fire, as it did again Tuesday evening, bringing scores of firefighters to Austin and Dickens avenues. Flames shot through the roof, and TV news choppers captured billowing smoke filling the sky.
Weary neighbors said the four-block, 300,000-square-foot former plant attracts trouble and presents a danger to the area. On Wednesday, 29th Ward Ald. Chris Taliaferro agreed with them, saying the old factory needs to be torn down.
Opened in the late 1930s and expanded in the 1950s, the factory, called "Plant No. 1," once employed some 2,500 workers assembling radios, record players and televisions under the company's slogan, "The quality goes in before the name goes on."
The company struggled in the wake of foreign competition, and the plant, which also was once Zenith's headquarters, closed.
Taliaferro described it as "an eyesore" that should have been demolished long ago.
"My preference would be that it be torn down — and not at the city's expense," Taliaferro said, adding that he is concerned the building could collapse and injure someone or damage neighboring properties. "It has been standing abandoned for far too long."
City officials have not determined whether the building will need to be torn down, Taliaferro said.
On Wednesday, officers blocked off the 6000 block of West Dickens Avenue "as concerns remain over the structural integrity of the building," according to Officer Jose Estrada, a Chicago Police Department spokesman.
The closure "will remain in place until the area and building are deemed safe," Estrada added.
Firefighters returned to the 6000 block of West Dickens Avenue on Wednesday, a day after a fire consumed the factory. The block will remain closed to pedestrians and traffic "as concerns remain over the structural integrity of the building," police said. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]
Mimi Simon, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Buildings, could not immediately provide a history of code violations at the property. But Tuesday marked the factory's third fire this year alone, according to Daniel Roman, who lives in the 2100 block of North McVicker Avenue.
Roman watched board-up crews drill into the building while he walked his dog to the end of his block on Wednesday.
"Every time the firefighters come and turn it off, and that's that," Roman said. "I really do hope they demolish it, otherwise it's just going to keep happening."
Another fire this year ravaged the corner of the factory facing Melvina Avenue, right across from Burbank Elementary School, where Roman's son is about to start eighth grade, he said.
"I worry for him, being right next to it," Roman said.
The ground-floor windows and doors are now boarded up after the most recent fire, but neighbors say teenagers have used the former plant as a place to hang out.
The property is now polluted, complicating any effort to redevelop the land, which is not far from the Galewood station on Metra's Milwaukee District West Line, Tailaferro said.
It is not part of a tax increment financing district, which means city officials have a limited range of options to find the money needed to clean up and redevelop the property which sits on the northern border of his ward, Tailaferro said.
People who live closest to the abandoned factory are in the 36th Ward, represented by Ald. Gilbert Villegas, who said he had asked the Buildings Department to force the owner to address safety issues presented by the building.
He added that he also has tried to market the property, but the owners have listed it for an "unrealistic" amount of money. An online listing pegs the price for the 14-acre site at $3.5 million.
The building's previous owners gave possession of the building to Chicago Title Land Trust Co. in August 2014, records show. Representatives for the company did not return a call for a request for comment.
Neighbors have been aching to see the crumbling factory replaced with "something that could actually help people," according to Celsa Sanchez, who lives in the 2100 block of North Melvina Avenue.
"I just want them to tear that ugly thing down and put up some stores, maybe a supermarket," Sanchez said. "So many things could go there that would really help the community."