Plan to transform historic Northwest Side firehouse into brewery heats up

SHARE Plan to transform historic Northwest Side firehouse into brewery heats up

A proposed rendering of what the Jefferson Park firehouse would look like transformed into a brewery, tap room and nine apartments. | Ambrosia Homes

A plan to transform a vacant, 112-year-old former firehouse into a brewery, tap room and nine-unit apartment building will move forward after the project got a warm — but not unanimous — reception from far Northwest Side residents.

The once-ornate but now crumbling brick building at 4835 N. Lipps Ave. would grow two stories taller to accommodate the apartments, which would each include two bedrooms and two bathrooms as well as an outdoor deck, said developer Tim Pomaville of Ambrosia Homes.

The first floor would become the new home of Lake Effect Brewing Co., which began brewing in Portage Park in 2012 and quickly became a neighborhood favorite by partnering with Northwest Side institutions like Superdawg and hosting tours of its brewery tucked away at the end of an alley nestled alongside the Kennedy Expressway.

At a community meeting Thursday, Ald. John Arena (45th) said he supported the effort to create an entertainment destination along with a “modest amount” of housing near the Jefferson Park Transit Center.

Because of its proximity to the transit center, the development qualifies for a reduction in the number of parking spaces that must be included. Six spots will be provided for residents, Pomaville said.

Pomaville said the firehouse — which hasn’t been used by firefighters since 1981 and has been vacant since 2015, when the Department and Streets and Sanitation moved out — was in “rough shape.”

The firehouse was used as the 45th Ward office for the Department of Streets and Sanitation until 2012, when it was boarded up. | Heather Cherone/For the Sun-Times

The firehouse was used as the 45th Ward office for the Department of Streets and Sanitation until 2012, when it was boarded up. | Heather Cherone/For the Sun-Times

The basement was fully flooded at one point, causing water damage to the ceiling, Pomaville said. “It’s soul has been stripped away over time.”

Clint Bautz, the founder of Lake Effect Brewing Co., drew sustained applause from the standing-room only crowd when he stepped to the podium to detail his plans for the new brewery and tap room, prompting some in the crowd to shout pleas to run for alderman.

Arena joked that would be Ald. Nicholas Sposato’s problem, since Bautz lives in the 38th Ward.

The brewery and tap room would be modeled on similar spaces opened by Dovetail Brewery and other Ravenswood tap rooms, Bautz said. The seating area will be about 800 square feet, and plans include an outdoor patio, he added.

There will be space for a kitchen, but food service won’t be added until the brewery is up and running, Bautz said.

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Lake Effect’s operation at 4727 W. Montrose Ave. will stay open, but the new brewery will allow the brewer to double its six-person staff, Bautz said.

The proposal calls for the city to sell the property to Ambrosia Homes in a market-rate deal as part of a negotiated sale, which must be approved by the Community Development Corporation, the Plan Commission and ultimately the City Council, Arena said.

Bob Bank, the president of the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association, objected to the proposal, saying the historic firehouse should be saved and kept at the same height.

Former 45th Ward Ald. John Arena.

Ald. John Arena | Sun-Times file photo

Sun-Times file photo

“This will bastardize the whole building,” said Bank, a frequent critic of Arena. “I think we are getting ripped off here.”

Hubert Cioromski, the president of Troy Realty, questioned Arena about why Ambrosia Homes was selected by Arena’s office, rather than through a city-directed process inviting different proposals for the firehouse.

Arena said he had reviewed Cioromski’s proposal, but rejected it because it asked for a discount on the price of the building and included a proposal for a restaurant that was not owned by a Northwest Side resident.

“I like to shop local,” Arena said.

Anna Sobor, an Old Irving Park resident, said the success of the Eris Brewery and Cider House in a former Masonic Temple shows what can be accomplished by repurposing a historic building.

“This isn’t Disneyland,” Sobor said. “You can’t just bring historic buildings back to life.”

The Jefferson Park firehouse in 1909. | Northwest Chicago Historical Society.

The Jefferson Park firehouse in 1909. | Northwest Chicago Historical Society.

Frank Suerth, of the Northwest Chicago Historical Society, urged Pomaville to keep the integrity of the firehouse as much as possible, perhaps by setting back the third and fourth floors to allow the triangular-shaped parapet to be restored. Pomaville said he was open to such changes as long as they were economically and logistically feasible.

The firehouse dates back to the 1870s, when it was a wooden structure built to house the volunteer Jefferson Township fire fighting force. In 1906, after the area became part of Chicago, a brick building was built for Engine Number 108, according to research compiled by Suerth.

The new building featured brass poles for firefighters to slide down, as well as a spiral staircase and ceramic-covered bricks to make it easier to clean up after horses, Suerth said.

Jefferson Park firefighters served across the Northwest Side, using diagonal streets like Milwaukee Avenue, Northwest Highway and Higgins Avenue to rush through the city, Suerth said.

When the Kennedy Expressway was built, city planners included bridge along Ainslie Street to speed access to and from the fire station, Suerth said.

In 1981, Engine 108 moved to a new firehouse on Milwaukee Avenue across from Wilson Park.

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