Chicago’s Lathrop Homes added to the National Register of Historic Places

I’ve discussed before the implications of public housing projects like Cabrini-Green disappearing. Essentially, the disappearance of these buildings means that some of our collective memory regarding public housing simply fades away. Therefore, I was interested to see that one of the earliest public housing projects in Chicago, Lathrop Homes, was recently added to the National Register of Historic Places:

For more than six years, residents, preservationists and community advocates have been pushing to save the Lathrop Homes from demolition and to rehabilitate the public housing complex.

Their efforts got a boost Monday when state officials announced that the site has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places…

The listing does not automatically preserve Lathrop’s collection of low-rise brick buildings and ample green space, officials said. But it makes the site eligible for federal tax credits and financial incentives. The designation also triggers a review by state historic preservation officials if federal or state funds are used to demolish the site…

Built in the 1930s, Lathrop Homes were once celebrated because of their vibrant mix of residents, rich history and ornamental touches rarely found in public housing. Lathrop Homes were designed by architects like Robert S. DeGolyer and Hugh M.G. Garden, who were out of work because of the Great Depression.

In recent years, the 925-unit complex has become a battleground over the CHA’s plan to transform the homes into a mixed-income development. As of January, 170 units in the complex were occupied.

We’ll have to wait and see how much preservation takes place in the years to come. I wouldn’t be surprised if the CHA drags its feet…such things have happened before.

It is interesting to note that the Lathrop Homes are on the north side of Chicago as was Cabrini-Green. I wonder how much this geography affected the ability and interest of residents in fighting to save the buildings.

If these buildings were preserved, how many people would be interested in visiting? In a related matter, does the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago generate much interest the buildings and people who lived in them? Here is how the museum describes its purpose:

The National Public Housing Museum is the first cultural institution in the United States dedicated to interpreting the American experience in public housing. The Museum draws on the power of place and memory to illuminate the resilience of poor and working class families of every race and ethnicity to realize the promise of America.

It sounds like there is potential here…although I don’t know how popular this might ever be, it doesn’t mean it isn’t worth pursuing.

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