Art display would use old Red Star Inn sign
by BRIAN NADIG
The planned installation of a public art display and the preservation of the former Jefferson Park firehouse were discussed at the April 24 meeting of the Gladstone Park Neighborhood Association.
Association president Joe DiCiaula reported that the display is planned for the traffic island at Milwaukee and Central avenues, behind a Pace Pulse bus stop that will be built there later this year. The display is part of the citywide "Year of the Artist" initiative.
DiCiaula said that the association has not seen a design for the display, but that plans call for it to include the 5-foot-tall neon sign for the former Red Star Inn restaurant, 4179 W. Irving Park Road, which was demolished in 2015. At the time, Preservation Chicago and Alderman John Arena (45th) worked to secure the 80-year-old sign and have it stored.
Arena’s chief of staff Owen Brugh said after the meeting that sculptor and muralist Bernard Williams had been seeking local artifacts to include in the art display, which is scheduled to be installed by early summer.
A community survey taken in 2017 showed that the intersection along with the Jefferson Park Library, 5363 W. Lawrence Ave., and Jefferson Memorial Park, 4822 N. Long Ave., were among the top choices for public art, Brugh said. The traffic island was chosen due in part to concerns that there would not be enough space in front of the library and that children might mistake the display for play equipment at the park, he said.
Meanwhile, members of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society gave a presentation on the planned redevelopment of the 112-year-old former firehouse at 4835 N. Lipps Ave. They expressed concern that the project may not preserve the historical integrity of the two-story structure, as plans call for it to be converted to a four-story building and the installation of recessed balconies on the upper floors. The first floor would become the new headquarters for Lake Effect Brewing, 4727 W. Montrose Ave., while there would be nine living units on the upper floors.
The society prefers that the building be preserved as two stories or that any addition be set back at least 10 feet so that the original two-story nature of the facade would be the prominent feature to passers-by. Current plans call for no setback on the upper floors, but the project’s developer, Ambrosia Homes, has indicated that it will consider the request.
"It has to be respectful and deferent to the original structure," society president Susanna Ernst said of any addition.
The firehouse could be the oldest remaining public building in the area, Ernst said. The firehouse and Beaubien School, 5025 N. Laramie Ave., were built around the same time.
"You won’t see a building of that craftsmanship today," Ernst said of the firehouse, which once featured a decorative triangular element along its roofline. Ambrosia has proposed to install a similar triangle on top of the fourth floor.
More than 20 firehouses in the city have been repurposed, and none have a vertical addition on top of the original structure, according to the society.
The Lipps site has been used for a firehouse since 1874, when a wood building was constructed there, and for decades it was operated by volunteers and served as the main fire station for the Northwest Side, including for a short time for O’Hare Airport, Ernst said.
"It is a wonderful piece of history that still sits here in our neighborhood," she said.
A resident at the meeting expressed concern that once the city sells the building, there would be no recourse if the developer changed course and wanted to demolish it.
Brugh later said that it is common for the city to include a clawback provision in land sale agreements that would allow the city to regain control of the property if certain goals are not being met.
The city had the firehouse property appraised at $249,000 but is getting an updated appraisal which will take into consideration plans to upzone the property to allow for the nine apartments. The developer is seeking a credit of $95,000 for the restoration of the building’s exterior.
In other matters, it was reported that semi-trucks have been parking overnight in front of Taft High School, 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. A resident said that the drivers are probably using that stretch of Bryn Mawr to rest because there is no longer an oasis over the Jane Addams Tollway in Des Plaines. The oasis was demolished in 2014.
Residents were asked to make recommendations for the 45th Ward participatory budget, which includes a community vote on how to spend most of the ward’s annual $1.32 million allocation of discretionary funds. The funds must be used for infrastructure improvements such as side-street resurfacing.
Plans call for neighborhood budget assemblies to be held in late May or June and for the vote on the participatory budget to occur in October, Brugh said. Budget suggestions can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.