From the President

Vol. IX No. 1 - SPRING 1998

By: Kathy Gemperle

On December 23, 1997, EHS signed a contract with Arcoiris Contracting Services to complete Stage-1 of our Museum Project. We were pleased to meet the officers of this company, President Cynthia Aponte and Program Manager Alex Polanco, at the offices of Greene and Proppe Design, 1209 W. Berwyn. Accompanying me were Carl Helbig, EHS Vice President, and Marie Morrissette, Treasurer.

At the meeting, we made plans to complete some documentation required by the CDBG granting process for insurance purposes. In addition we made tentative plans to begin work on the Museum on January 12, 1998. What a dream that promised to fulfill!

The next step in the process was to set up a pre-construction meeting, including the City of Chicago Department of Housing, our contractor and us. The January 12th date passed and the City informed us that there were new requirements related to the performance bond presented by Arcoiris. A new date was set for January 29. Again, the City delayed the pre-construction meeting while it awaited the approval of the Department of Purchasing.

Next came another surprise… while applying for the building permit for the project, Arcoiris was told that there was no building on that city lot. The City had no record of the building!! Records existed covering the City’s construction of a building there in 1890 when it built the first fire house in the newly annexed area called Lakeview, and its subsequent destruction in 1925. But there was no record of the construction of its replacement.

Do you find this amusing?! The plot thickens.

Fortuitously, Ken Little, a Chicago historian and co-author of a book, “The Fire Houses of the 19th Century, Volume I,” had been a guest speaker at an EHS meeting last year. In his presentation, Little reported he had researched our particular station and found that the City of Chicago had acquired it free of any cost. EHS has affectionately dubbed the transaction “Let’s Make a Deal.”

In 1925, the Clearing Businessmen’s Association wanted a fire station in their neighborhood. The location was to be 6911 S. Central. The City would bear the expense of providing additional staff and equipment, so the City was reluctant. To sweeten the deal, the businessmen offered to build two more fire houses - one at 5358 N. Ashland and one at 5758 W. Grace. The cost of constructing each building was $17,000. The one on Grace is still a working fire house and is very close in design to our building on Ashland.

Documentation for all of this is found in the 1925 Annual Report of the Department of Public Works. Not only does it mention the planned construction of the fire houses but it reports the completion of the project. We are very thankful to Ken Little for his helpful research. Our next step was to convey that research to Arcoiris and to the Department of Buildings. While we wait for the beginning of Stage-1 construction, we are seeking information for Stage-2. No one said this was going to be easy!

It seems that winter as we usually know it has bypassed Chicago this year, thanks to El Nino. We’ve had more mist and rain than snow, except for the March 9 “blast from the past” storm. Spring will bring the start of demolition of the buildings at the corner of Broadway and Ridge. We have begun digging into the location’s past as a significant historic site. By the next issue of the newsletter, we should have a report and, of course, by that time the buildings will “be history,” as they say. Walgreen’s is developing the site with lots of community input from adjacent neighbors, the ECC and Alderman Smith’s office. The Edgewater Development Corporation coordinated this four-month long process of negotiation among interested parties.

As noted in our cover story, we are observing our 10th anniversary this year. We plan to have several events to celebrate and help raise funds for our Museum Project. Besides attending to the repair and construction of the museum itself, we are also looking at what EHS will need inside the museum to make it an interesting place. My recent visits to the Northbrook Historical Society’s Northfield Inn, the Historical Museum in Oakland, CA, as well as the Rock and Roll Museum in Cleveland, have brought to mind how important the use of video is in making the historical objects come alive.

We have lots of planning to do and hope that more community residents will join in the fun.