The entrance of the vacant Home for Soldiers’ Widows in Maywood is wrapped in tarp and scaffolding. Workers are repairing the steps and front of the dilapidated building on First Avenue between Ohio and Lake streets. Caption: Tribune. (Photo: Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune)
Sunday, January 11, 2015 || Originally Published: Chicago Tribune || 1/6/15 || Stephanie K. Baer
Scaffolding covered in white tarp wraps around the entrance of the dilapidated red brick Georgian structure on First Avenue between Ohio and Lake streets in west suburban Maywood.
Workers are repairing the porch steps of the Soldiers’ Widows Home in hopes of attracting a new developer for the 1924 building that once housed women whose husbands died in the Civil War or later U.S. wars.
The village-owned structure has been vacant and decaying since 2003.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here for a developer with some vision,” said Vicki Haas, a member of the village’s Historic Preservation Commission, which recommended last fall that the Village Board allocate tax increment financing dollars to repair the two-story building’s porch. “(The area) lends itself for some really special redevelopment there that ties in with the structure.”
And in Maywood, which has struggled with economic development in recent decades, revitalizing the home and surrounding area is important to the community.
“(The village has) been forgotten about for the last 40 years unless possibly there’s a crime story,” said Tom Kus, chair of the Historic Preservation Commission.
In October, the board approved using $69,900 from the St. Charles Road TIF to repair the porch and repaint the structure located at 224 N. First Ave. Officials are also planning to use additional TIF dollars to clean up the interior of the building, though a contract for that part of the project has not yet been signed, Acting Village Manager David Myers said.
Myers said the repairs and renovations should be completed sometime this spring.
“The commission was smart to say, ‘Let’s invest and do some key exterior public facing repairs that can really help people understand why this building is important,'” said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois, a nonprofit historic preservation, education and advocacy group. “It could really be sort of a new perspective of the type of architecture that Maywood possesses and the opportunities for redeveloping this community that you know has had a lot of challenges in recent years.”
In 2010, the Village Board considered proposals to convert the building to a restaurant and jazz club or senior housing, but those plans fell through. There are currently no development proposals on the books for the vacant building, which sits near the eastern gateway into the village along the Des Plaines River.
Officials and residents hope to have better luck in the new year.
Kus hopes a plan emerges.
“It just depends on the right person coming out there,” he said.
The village is currently seeking a real estate broker to market the property and adjacent land owned by the village for redevelopment. Once a broker is chosen, the village plans to share a recent study conducted by Landmarks Illinois with prospective developers to show potential ways to redevelop the building and the larger surrounding property.
The study, which was completed last summer, determined that the best use would be some kind of office conversion and that a broker should market the fact that the building has been deemed eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
If the home gets on the register, the developer would be able to use a 20 percent federal tax credit for its historic status.
Philip Hamp, president of Vinci-Hamp Architects — which worked on the Soldiers’ Widows Home study with the nonprofit — said that the prospect of developing the building with the adjacent land is more attractive to developers.
“When (the home) is linked to a larger development, it becomes an interesting concept,” Hamp said. “The development’s not just going to be a cookie-cutter strip mall. It’s got some resonance and history because its going to be linked to this building as part of the site plan.”
He added that while the building has gone into disrepair over the years, its “bones” are still intact.
“It’s quite a solidly built building that could lend itself to reuse,” Hamp said. “By saving it, you’ve got the piece of character that’s important to the community.”
Despite plans to market the building for an office space reuse, Kus and Haas said that some community members would still like to see the historic home used for a restaurant — a proposal that is still alive and well, according to one man behind the 2010 plan.
Michael Dawson, the Maywood resident who suggested converting the building into a jazz club and restaurant, said a sort of revival of that plan was in the works, though nothing has been submitted to the village just yet.
“Something is being formulated,” said Dawson, who also serves on the village’s Plan Commission/Zoning Board of Appeals.
He added that he was not opposed to the office idea proposed by the Landmarks Illinois study.
“Their study is very good. I think (the restaurant) is just another concept,” he said. “All of these ideas are viable.” VFP