Altgeld Gardens, Ramova Theater, Elijah Muhammad House on track for National Historic Register listing | Chicago News


Altgeld Gardens. (Eric Allix Rogers)

The nominations for the Altgeld Gardens, the Ramova Theater and the Elijah Muhammad House on the National Register of Historic Places authorized a key committee hearing on Wednesday and will be presented to the full Chicago Monuments Commission in October.

All three sites have been approved to proceed by the commission’s program committee. If the whole committee also votes in favor of the proposals, then the final recommendation for inscription will rest with the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council.

Adding the Altgeld Gardens and the House of Elijah Muhammad to the register would expand the stories represented in Chicago and the nation’s history.

Highlights of the presentations:

Altgeld Gardens-Phillip Murray Homes Historic District
Bounded by East 130th Street, South Greenwood Avenue, East 133rd Place, East 133rd Street, East 134th Street, and South St. Lawrence Avenue

Built in 1944 in the far south of the city, Altgeld Gardens was originally built as public housing for African Americans working in nearby steel mills and factories during World War II. Designed as a self-contained town, the townhouses at Altgeld Gardens were part of a complex that also included schools, churches and the quirky Shop Building for retailers (known as the ‘Up Top’ for members. from the community).

This collection of ‘great mid-century architecture’ meets one of the National Registry Criteria, but it’s the role Altgeld Gardens played in the narrative of public housing in the United States that makes structures even more important, said John Cramer of MacRostie Historic Advisors, who gave Wednesday’s presentation.

But perhaps the greatest importance of the Altgeld Gardens is the home of Hazel Johnson, considered the mother of the environmental justice movement.

Johnson founded People for Community Recovery (whose office long operated in the Shop Building), which battled toxic waste from the surrounding industry that was harming the health of residents. It was a movement that attracted a young Barack Obama, who organized some of his first community organizations in Altgeld Gardens to remove asbestos from buildings.

House of Elie Muhammad
4847 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Leader of the Nation of Islam and mentor of Malcolm X, Louis Farrakhan and Muhammad Ali, Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Poole, son of Georgian sharecroppers, in 1897. He moved to Detroit in 1923 during the first wave of black migration from the south , converted to Islam, and moved to Chicago in 1934, his home until his death in 1975.

Muhammad bought the Woodlawn House in 1952 and it became the hub of his spiritual mission and work in the civil rights movement. It was here that Muhammad hosted rallies that drew the influencers of the day, including politicians, artists and activists, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Sam Cooke to Adam Clayton Powell.

His powerful messages of economic empowerment – “build black, buy black” – resonate today, and he was decades ahead of his time with his “eat to live” mantra, which encouraged the consumption of food. natural, organic and locally grown.

Long vacant and falling into disrepair, the house was recently rescued by developer Wendy Muhammad, who has renovated and restored the mansion to its original beauty and supports the landmark designation. His plan is to create a cultural center that showcases the property, celebrates the rich and diverse history it represents, and honors and promotes Elijah Muhammad’s impact on society.

Ramova Theater
3508-18 S. Halsted St.

The Ramova Theater in January 2020 (WTTW News)The Ramova Theater in January 2020 (WTTW News)

Built in 1929, the Ramova is a sort of sister to the Music Box and Patio theaters, furnished in the “atmospheric” style designed to create the illusion of the night sky.

Once the anchor for a large neighborhood of Lithuanian immigrants (Ramova means ‘peaceful place’ in Lithuanian, and was chosen through a name contest), the theater has been vacant since 1986. The water damage and the Deferred maintenance have taken their toll, but much of Ramova’s architectural flourishes are still intact and the building remains a valuable asset within the Bridgeport community. Indeed, its “level of local importance” is one of the criteria for historical inscription.

The developers are planning a nearly $ 30 million renovation, with the goal of reopening for live music and other events.

A render of the Remova Theater renovation project in Bridgeport.  (Credit O'Riley Office LLC)A render of the Remova Theater renovation project in Bridgeport. (Credit O’Riley Office LLC)

In addition to hearing proposals for the National Register, the program committee also opened the debates to receive suggestions for potential additions to Chicago landmarks. Commission staff review suggestions for further consideration

Among the 20 proposed:

– The Donda West and Kanye West House, 7815 S. South Shore Drive. Although not of architectural significance, the house is identified with a prominent cultural figure.

Kanye West's Kanye West’s “Donda” Listening Party at Soldier Field on Thursday, August 26, 2021 featured a replica of his childhood home in Evergreen Park. (Angel Idowu / WTTW News)

– James R. Thompson Center. Architectural historian Elizabeth Blasius made the suggestion on behalf of DOCOMOMO (the international organization for the documentation and conservation of buildings and sites of the Modern Movement). As Blasius noted, she’s not the first to recommend the Thompson Center for its landmark status. “It’s a landmark. Everyone knows it. But it’s a third rail, ”she said, referring to the building’s status as a political hot potato.

– Ethel Payne House, 6210 S. Throop Ave. Similar to the West House, the Payne House has little to recommend architecturally. It’s who lived there that makes the building special, argued Tammy gibson, travel historian. Payne, who worked for the Chicago Defender, was a pioneering journalist, “first lady of the black press” and the first African-American member of the White House press corps, Gibson said.

– Promontory Point, 55th Street and Lake Michigan. While it already looks like a landmark, Promontory Point officially isn’t, and that leaves the features of the park, especially its much-loved limestone rock coating, vulnerable to change. Supporters have pushed back an attempt to swap limestone for concrete, but with lakeside barriers under renewed control by the Army Corps of Engineers, Point supporters fear an earlier deal with the Corps could be canceled. On behalf of Preservation Chicago, Mary Lu Seidel said Promontory Point needs the “permanent protection” that landmark status could provide.

Contact Patty Wetli: @pattywetli | (773) 509-5623 | [email protected]

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