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Pullman lofts project draws ire of some residents; preservation groups split

Artspace Lofts in Pullman

Artspace Lofts, a project proposed for an empty lot between existing buildings on Langley Avenue, just south of 111th Street in the Pullman neighborhood. The $18 million development would include restoring the vacant buildings on both ends of the site. Plans call for 38 live/work apartments and 2,000 square feet of community space intended for use as a gallery, meeting place, and community room for special community arts classes. | Rendering courtesy of Artspace

The creation of an apartment building for artists to work and live in the historic Pullman neighborhood is one step closer to becoming a reality — to the alarm of some residents who view its design as incongruous with the look, feel and history of a neighborhood known for its neat brick row homes and uniformity.

The Pullman Artspace Lofts is slated for construction on the site of a tenement home that was razed in the 1930s.

The site is currently a field of rubble inside a partially destroyed foundation.

The new building, at 32,000 square feet, would be more than twice the size of the original. And its footprint is larger, changing its spatial relationship with two smaller apartment blocks that bookend it to form an H configuration. Those buildings are also being rehabbed into artists’ living quarters.

Between the three buildings, a total of 38 affordable housing units would be created, 26 of which would be brand new construction.

An interagency governmental review determined that the project would have “no adverse effect” on the neighborhood. It’s no small news considering the area is cloaked in several layers of historic preservation, chief among them the national-monument status bestowed three years ago by then-President Barack Obama.

The entire neighborhood, known in its previous heyday as a utopia for the workers who built Pullman train cars, was designed by one architect, pointed out Mark Cassello, a member of the Pullman National Monument Preservation Society.

“And now we’re going to stick right in the middle of those buildings this monstrosity … that looks like it belongs in the South Loop, not in historic Pullman,” Cassello said during a comments portion of a community meeting held Tuesday to update residents about the status of a governmental review on the impact of the project.

Cassello and other opponents say they are not opposed to an artist work-live space. But Cassello called for an additional 60 days of community outreach, particularly in the African American community, and a commitment to shrink the building’s footprint.

Ann Alspaugh, the former president of Pullman Arts, said a majority of the neighborhood is behind the project.

“The project is a grassroots effort,” Alspaugh said. “It’s been Pullman neighbors coming together and saying ‘Hey, what can we do with our structures that are vacant and about to fall down? How can we preserve them but also use them to promote the strong artist community that is here?’

“I understand people have concerns, but, you know, that site has been vacant since 1930 when it was torn down, but nobody said a thing except complained about the weeds, nobody wanted to buy it, it sat for sale for years.”

During a phone chat Tuesday afternoon, Ald. Anthony Beale (9th) said the “community is behind it 99.9 percent.

“These few people would say and do anything to try to stop it. They can’t give a valid issue. The community is moving forward,” Beale said. “We’ve had so many community meetings to try to appease them.”

Pullman Arts partnered with Minneapolis-based developer Artspace and Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives, which acquired the vacant lot and two historic apartment buildings.

Artspace executive Andrew Michaelson insisted that the new brick building will be complimentary to the historic architecture of the surrounding neighborhood.

The review process will ultimately lie with officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Construction could begin as soon as July.

Langley Avenue south of 111th Street

The Artspace artists’ lofts project would fill this empty lot between two older historic structures, which also would be renovated. | Google Earth