Residents support cultural district
by BRIAN NADIG
The planned "Northside Cultural District" at Lawrence and Long avenues would have a positive ripple throughout the community, according to Gift Theatre co-founder Michael Patrick Thornton.
"(Children) are going to be taught to dream and to dream big," said Thornton, who while growing up acted in one of his first plays at the Jefferson Park fieldhouse, 4822 N. Long Ave., across from the development site.
Thornton made his comments at a Feb. 5 virtual community meeting hosted by Alderman James Gardiner (45th). Some residents said that the project would help revitalize the business district, and both the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association and Jefferson Park Forward have endorsed the proposal.
"The feedback seems very positive," Gardiner said, who later voiced his support for the approval of a planned development ordinance which is required for the $11 million project. "I hope we can get this moving sooner rather than later."
Thornton said that he opened the Gift Theatre at 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave. so that the community would have its own playhouse and that the proposed 20,628-square-foot museum complex would expand cultural opportunities for area youth and others.
The Gift would serve as an affiliate of the district, which is being developed by Lionel Rabb and Vesna Stelcer, founders of the Ed Paschke Art Center, 5415 W. Higgins Ave."We live two blocks from the site, (and) we are very respectful and mindful" of any concerns or suggestions which the community may have about the project, Rabb said.
Under the proposal, the Ed Paschke center would be relocated to a new three-story building which would be constructed on a vacant lot at 5374 W. Lawrence Ave. In addition, the National Veterans Art Museum would move from its current home at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave. to the the Paschke center site on Higgins, where a 4,600-square-foot addition to the rear of the building would be built.
Plans call for the two buildings to be connected via a second-floor walkway over the alley that separates the Higgins and Lawrence properties. The walkway would be contingent on approval from the city Department of Transportation.
The project is being designed by the Chicago-based John Ronan Architects, which was one of the finalists for the Obama Presidential Library.
The 55-foot-tall complex also would be home to the new Chicago Art Center, an exhibit-focused entity, and a 98-seat auditorium, Rabb said. In addition, the sidewalk along the Lawrence portion of the project would be widened to help make the area more pedestrian friendly, he said
Plans also call for a nearby cafe inside the 135-year-old Esdohr House, 4820 N. Long Ave., which is located on the grounds of Jefferson Memorial Park and once served as the park’s craft shop. The cafe would be operated in partnership with the Jefferson Memorial Park Advisory Council.
The veterans museum has more than 2,500 artifacts and has been based on the Far Northwest Side for almost 10 years.
The museum’s "Above and Beyond" exhibit would be on display on the cultural district campus, relocating from the third floor of the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St. It consists of more than 58,000 hand-stamped replicated dog tags representing the U.S. solders who lost their lives in the Vietnam War.
Rabb said that he was hoping to have it open by the summer of 2022 but that it could take about 2 years to complete.
The Ed Paschke center opened in Jefferson Park in 2014. His art often features intricate patterns and vibrant colors, and his works have been shown in some of the most famous art museums in the world.
Paschke, a Chicagoan who died in 2004, belonged to a group known as the imagists who were influenced by abstract and expressionist art and the pop movement of the 1960s.