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EDITORIAL: Time to let Woodlawn’s old Washington Park Bank building go

The former Washington Park National Bank, at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue.
Washington Park National Bank on 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue. | Leslie Adkins/For the Sun-Times

Whenever possible, older buildings that showcase Chicago’s architectural legacy should be spared from the wrecking ball.

Every Prairie Style home and post-modern office building, every brick bungalow and greystone two-flat has value as part of the visual past and present of Chicago.

Though preserving a building that has seen better days can cost millions, it’s often worth it. Also being preserved is our city’s history.

In the case of the former Washington Park National Bank in Woodlawn on the South Side, however, the millions needed to save the building just aren’t there — and have not been for at least a quarter century.

That might explain why a maturing tree is growing out of the roof.

We think it’s time to allow a local developer, DL3 Realty, to put up something new. DL3 wants to raze the crumbling property, now vacant for 25 years, and put up a brand-new building that will include retail and office space, perhaps even another bank.

We say go for it.

It’s understandable that preservation groups and many residents are nostalgic about the bank building and want to save it. It’s a reminder of the community’s glory days, when 63rd and Cottage Grove was a bustling corner of commerce in a thriving middle-class community, not a place where drug dealing openly takes place.

There is not enough historic significance to this building to justify waiting any longer to find the $10 million to $15 million — at minimum — necessary to make it habitable.

The building is mildly architecturally interesting, but not on any federal, state or local historic registry. And the former longtime owner left a serious mess: a crumbling facade, a basement that floods for reasons that are unclear, that tree growing through the roof and $3.7 million in unpaid property taxes. A skylight over the main lobby has collapsed, letting in rain.

It’s no wonder that the Cook County Land Bank Authority, which bought the property last year, went with DL3 Realty’s proposal. A group that wanted to rehab the building could raise only $6 million.

Newly elected 20th Ward Ald. Jeanette Taylor has said she won’t allow the demolition. For the betterment of her community, she should think again.

As one resident of the neighborhood told the Sun-Times: “At the end of the day, change is good, especially if it’s for the better.”

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