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Eyes on the Project
Top tier team to rethink, not raze, PWA housing gem.
CHA's Plan for Transformation will spare the Lathrop Homes.
Couresy Jim Peters/Landmarks Illinois

Under its Plan for Transformation, the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) has systematically erased much of the landscape of public housing in Chicago. And now it is in the process of redeveloping these tracts into mixed-income neighborhoods divided roughly by thirds: market rate, affordable, and public housing. Exceptions to this tabula rasa-approach are rare; Bertrand Goldberg’s Raymond Hilliard Homes is one. And Julie Lathrop Homes along the Chicago River, another significant and vast low-rise housing complex, has thus far been spared. In November 2011, the CHA awarded a redevelopment contract to a top-tier team with expertise in development, architecture, preservation, and sustainability to re-imagine the complex.

Built in 1938 by the Public Works Administration, the 30-building Lathrop Homes were considered a model of progressive housing, with low-rise apartment buildings in art moderne and Colonial Revival styles. The buildings and landscape were well designed with such pleasing architectural details as arched colonnades and plenty of trees that are now mature. Architects including Robert S. De Goyler, Hugh M. G. Garden, Thomas Tallmadge, Charles E. White, and Hubert Burnham contributed to the complex, and Jens Jensen designed the landscape.

In 2006, the CHA initially planned to demolish the complex, but a long preservation fight led by esidents and groups such as Landmarks Illinois caused the authority to reconsider its stance and add preservation language into its redevelopment Request for Proposal. The low-income complex is surrounded by gentrifying neighborhoods, including Logan Square.

An arched colonnade (left) at the Lathrop Homes (right).

The selected redevelopment team includes Related Midwest and Magellan Development (best known for Lakeshore East and the Aqua tower), Heartland Housing, and Bickerdike Redevelopment, and engineers Ardmore Associates; architects Studio Gang, Brininstool, Kerwin, and Lynch, UrbanWorks, and CDM; Wolff Landscape Architects; and sustainability experts Farr Associates, as well as preservation and construction consultants. “The quality of the people involved is very heartening,” said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois.

The team has begun a series of public meetings and plans to announce a formal redevelopment plan in about a year. Still many remain vigilant and concerned, because the CHA has not explicitly committed to saving the buildings and landscape. “Residents have a right to be worried. The CHA has not maintained these buildings,” DiChiera said. Most remaining residents have been relocated within a cluster of buildings within the complex. “I like it here. Everybody gets along. We try to look out for each other,” James Carlisle, a resident of Lathrop for 52 years, told the Chicago News Cooperative. “I was afraid if I did take my options to go somewhere else, they would go back on their word and make it difficult for me if I ever wanted to come back.”

Alan G. Brake