PILSEN — Competing visions for a 134-year-old building on 18th Street are set to clash Saturday at a community meeting meant to launch a new plan for the APO building.
The newly formed Friends of APO will host a meeting from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at St. Pius Church, 1900 S. Ashland Ave., to gather input on what the community would like to see in the building 1438 W. 18th St.
If the community doesn't make a plan, advocates fear that the APO Building will go the same way as Casa Aztlan, a former community center set to become 10 four-bedroom apartments after it was foreclosed on in 2012 and later sold for $2 million.
But those already using the APO Building said they feel like the Friends of APO are trying to push out an existing community of artists, even as work is already underway to expand what the building offers to Pilsen neighbors.
Artwork adorns the facade of the APO building, 1438 W. 18th St. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
“It's like someone coming to your house and saying, 'Wow, this is nice. I'm going to move in and take over,” said Leticia Guerrero, who manages the building’s daily operations. "It's ridiculous."
The APO building began as a Czech community center when it was built in 1883. It changed hands over the decades until the Latino American Council of Christian Churches gave the building to the Asociacíon Pro Derechos Obreros, or the Association of Workers’ Rights, in 2000.
For years, the building APO had free event space and community workshops, said the Friends of APO, many of whom also belong to Pilsen Alliance.
Friends of APO include Pilsen Alliance President Magda Ramirez-Castaneda, third from right, and youth council member Anderson Chaves, second from right. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Currently, an artist collective called Casa de la Cultura Carlos Cortez Mestizarte has a gallery with artist studios on upper floors. Guerrero said she is working on getting licenses that would expand their use of the building to include a cultural center. Much of the building needs rehabilitated before it can be used by the public, she added.
"It's been nothing but sweat equity and personal investments of our own," she said. "We've invested from our own pockets. Everybody in this organization works."
She envisions partnerships with Pilsen organizations like El Hogar del Nino to offer violin lessons, dance classes and other programs.
It's not so different for what the Friends of APO want: a community center with open doors for students and young adults with GED classes, advocacy programs and workshops.
"We don't need more cops, and we definitely don't need more coffee shops," said Anderson Chaves, 21. "What we need are resources, a space to hang out. People wonder why young people are joining gangs; maybe instead of judging us, listen to what the youth are saying: We need a community center."