Crain's Chicago Business had an item last week that the 1929 Rosenwald Apartments, at 47th and Michigan in Bronzeville, are again seeking a buyer.
The 447 unit complex has been vacant and boarded up for years. It was originally created by Sears Roebuck & Company executive Julius Rosenwald as the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, to provide affordable housing for working class minority families at a time when such housing was in acutely short supply.
According to an excellent history of the building on the Preservation Chicago website, Rosenwald hired his nephew Ernest Grunsfeld, Jr., an architect who would later win an AIA Gold Medal for Adler Planetarium, for the design. The Rosenwald Apartments were actually a full-block series of interconnected buildings with landscaped courtyards at two of the eight separate entrances, and a large central green space with the structures along its perimeter.
The Rosenwald remained well managed for decades. A 1953 story in Jet Magazine carried manager Robert R. Taylor's announcement that the complex would begin accepting white tenants, "mainly school teachers and social works [who] had been living in the famed upper class housing project ' off and on for some time'". In 1967, Jet reported the complex was to undergo a $2,000,000 modernization and be converted to condo's ranging in price from $6,265, for a one bedroom, to $9,215, for a three bedroom unit.
Another rehabilitation in the 1980's failed to arrest the Rosenwald's decline. In 2003, the National Trust placed it on its "Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places" list. Landmarks Illinois followed in 2005, placing it on its "Chicagoland Watch List" for that year. In 2007, it made the "Chicago 7", Preservation Chicago's annual list of most threatened sites.
The complex was left to rot throughout the long tenure of controversial 3rd ward alderman Dorothy Tillman, and for years it has been vacant, the storefronts empty. Tillman was finally defeated by Pat Dowell, who reported in a newsletter that the Rosenwald has finally been "boarded-up and secured." Powell wrote that she had met with the owners, the same owners who are now looking to unload the building.
No less than at the time it was built, in 1929, Chicago suffers from an shortage of affordable housing, but for decades the Rosenwald, one of the proudest examples of the campaign to provide decent housing for all city residents, has been left, in essence, abandoned. You can see a Flikr set of photos of the Rosenwald's current state here.
This is how Chicago works. A billion dollars for a new "Olympic Village" to house 1,700 athletes for a couple of weeks. For a building that stands as one of proudest beacons of hope in Chicago history, with 400 units of affordable housing just waiting for a rehab, not a dime.