Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Losing Lawndale

Hebrew Rabbinical College
North Lawndale has one of the most undeniably exotic built environment  of any of the city's neighborhoods.  With such tremendous Jewish influence, synagogues populated the neighborhood the way that store front churches do currently.  There were other significant structures as well, including the first large theaters to be developed in the city.  An innovative market-building or creating design was unveiled in the neighborhood by Balaban and Katz. The Central Park and the Lawndale theaters are examples.  Ultimately Balaban and Katz took their show on the road and influenced other Chicago movie palaces like the Chicago and the Uptown.

Like a death in the family, North Lawndale most recently lost the old Hebrew Rabbinical Institute or College (shown above).  Driving along Douglas Boulevard a couple weeks ago, I was saddened to see the building being demolished.  Owned by the Chicago Public School system, the building had not been used for at least twenty years.  Scaffolding and braces had been supporting the facade of the building for the past eight years or so to hold it in place.  Eventually, time, water damage, and other factors won the battle.

Matt and I were able to salvage a few pieces of the building.  Spread out on the floor of my Lawndale office, I don't know how we will use them.  But, they are reminders of what we had, and can possible serve an an anchor for a Lawndale museum.

Like Lazarus - or the Hebrew variant, Eleazar - there is an occasional success.  Khelath -Jacob at the elbow formed by Independence and Douglas boulevards, as well as having been Benny Goodman's Schul, was dangerously close to demolition.  Jim Peters and my good friends at Landmarks Illinois were able to get the building included on their list of most endangered significant buildings in Illinois.  Ultimately, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago's Redevelopment Corporation was appointed as a receiver by the City of Chicago to try and get the building stabilized.  The building was purchased by a Christian congregation which began a renovation of the building.

Khelath-Jacob before renovation

Khelath-Jacob under renovation

But there is still much work to do...
The Lawndale Theater

Shepherd's Temple or the old Anshe Kanesses Israel

1 comment:

  1. I am saddened to hear about the demolish of the old Hebrew Theological College. I visited North Lawndale in each of the past 3 years in order to photograph and document the former synagogues and other remnants of the Jewish community which once populated the area, but I didn't know that HTC had been finally brought down. It was still standing on my last 2 visits this past summer.

    Perhaps some of the stone fragments could be put on exhibit (along with some photos of the old building) at the current campus of HTC which is in Skokie. Or perhaps at Spertus College of Judaica.