Schools that have received preliminary landmark designation in 2016 include: Graeme Stewart in Uptown, top left, Elizabeth Peabody, bottom left, and John Lothrop Motley, at right.

Developers work to breathe new life into closed CPS buildings

Three years after dozens of underutilized schools were closed across the city, DPD preservation and zoning staff are helping developers to adapt several of the former school buildings for exciting new uses.

Each project has initiated a formal City of Chicago landmark designation, which enables the use of federal tax credits, parking and permit fee waivers, and other incentives to make rehabilitation financially viable. The designations also ensure the schools — all exquisite examples of the early years of Chicago’s public school architecture — remain neighborhood icons for years to come.

Through August 2016, the designation process has included:

  • John Lothrop Motley Public School, 739 N. Ada St., West Town
    Designed by John J. Flanders and Normand Smith Patton, the school was built in 1884 with fine Renaissance Revival and Italianate styles.
  • Elizabeth Peabody Public School, 1444 W. Augusta Blvd., West Town
    Designed by Board of Education architect W. August Fielder, the school was built in 1894 in the Richardson Romanesque and Queen Ann styles, and it contains several elements influenced by the work of Louis H. Sullivan.
  • Graeme Stewart Public School Building, 4524 N. Kenmore Ave., Uptown
    Designed by Dwight Perkins, the school was completed in 1907 and serves as a fine example of an early transitional Prairie Style building that echoes 19th century Revival styles.

Buffalo Grove-based Svigos Asset Management is overseeing the redevelopment of Motley and Peabody schools, and it’s currently seeking landmark designation for Andersonville’s Lyman Trumbull Elementary School, according to Nick Vittore, the firm’s vice president for real estate. By October, Vittore said his firm hopes to begin pre-leasing apartments at the former James Mulligan School, 1855 N. Sheffield Ave.

Mulligan, which last served students nearly 15 years ago, stood vacant much longer than the schools shuttered in 2013. But it serves as a model for how these schools can be artfully restored. For example, fine woodwork throughout the building has been refinished and replaced, a labor-intensive process made even more difficult by a 2014 fire.

At left, the fully restored, 10-foot-high windows bring an enormous amount of light into this kitchen area. At right, a before-and-after view of two pieces of wood, both of which would have been found in one of Mulligan’s classroom coat closet.
At left, the lobby area on the first floor. At right, a detailed look at the entryway to the school, featuring restored gray limestone detailed with Classical-style ornament.

Built-in furniture from the science lab and the principal’s office has also been reused whenever possible and historic limestone treatments, masonry, and other architectural details adoring the building’s exterior have been restored.

“Mulligan is probably the most unique apartment building coming on the market now,” Vittore said last week outside the Lincoln Park structure. “Anything new is a lot different, a lot more sterile. I don’t know if there’s anything out there with as much character as this.”

The building’s 24 units have 14-foot ceilings and enormous restored windows 10 feet tall by five feet wide. Most of the classrooms were about 1,200 square feet, making them an ideal size for a two-bedroom apartment, Vittore said.

On the top floor, the gymnasium has been transformed into a 2,200-square-foot suite, with a handsome foyer and extensive loft space. And a new rooftop deck offers outstanding views of the skyline.

At left, the rooftop deck under construction at the former Mulligan school. When complete, it will offer a nearly unimpeded view of the Chicago skyline. At right, the school’s former gym has been rehabbed into a large, 2,200-square-foot unit, complete with upper floor loft space.

Svigos has worked with DPD staff and Preservation Chicago to maintain historic elements of Mulligan when possible, and the firm intends to do the same in its next school projects. Demolition work inside Motley began this summer, and Vittore said his firm hopes to have that project done in 14 to 18 months.

After the 49 buildings closed in 2013, DPD worked with Chicago Public Schools and preservation activists to identify potential targets for reuse. Some prime properties that may still be available are:

  • Earle, 6121 S. Hermitage Ave., West Englewood
  • Emmet, 5500 W. Madison St., Austin
  • Fiske, 6145 S. Ingleside Ave., Woodlawn
  • Key, 517 N. Parkside Ave., Austin
  • Kohn, 10414 S. State St., Roseland
  • Lafayette, 2714 W. Augusta Blvd., Humboldt Park
  • Parkman, 245 W. 51st St., Fuller Park
  • Pope, 1852 S. Albany Ave., North Lawndale
  • Ross, 6059 S. Wabash Ave., Washington Park
  • Songhai, 11725 S. Perry Ave., West Pullman
  • Von Humboldt, 2620 W. Hirsch St., Humboldt Park
  • Wentworth, 6950 S. Sangamon St., Englewood
  • West Pullman, 11941 S. Parnell Ave., West Pullman

Beyond residential and mixed-use redevelopments, some of the buildings could be re-utilized as commercial kitchens, said Lisa DiChiera of Landmarks Illinois. In a report last year, the Loop-based advocacy organization found that at least five of the buildings have the opportunity for a partial food-related reuse.

“With the right partner, many of these school buildings can continue to offer tremendous value to their neighborhoods,” said Deputy Commissioner Eleanor Gorski, who supervises DPD’s planning and preservation staff. “We’re delighted with the efforts made so far and we’re looking forward to continuing that work.”

Read more about CPS re-purposing opportunities.