Preservationists Wary Of CHA's Plans For Lathrop Homes

By Chuck Sudo in News on Nov 10, 2012 5:00PM

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Lathrop Homes, with an 18 percent occupancy rate, has the most vacancies in the Chicago Housing Authority. (Photo Credit: Gabriel X. Michael)

The Architect's Newspaper has an interesting article that looks at the Chicago Housing Authority's continued attempts to redevelop the Lathrop Homes housing complex, and the concern from preservationists that CHA is doing its damnedest to tear down the landmark structures to make way for new buildings.

CHA has struggled with preservationists for years regarding its plans to redevelop Lathrop, a WPA project that was added to the National Register of Historic Places in April. In October, CHA's board approved in principle a proposal to demolish structures in Altgeld Gardens, Cabrini Green's row houses and portions of Lathrop, all as part of the agency's ongoing Plan for Transformation.

The agreement has preservationists wary of CHA's intentions. CHA is already collecting federal subsidies on empty units at Lathrop, which also boasts the largest vacancy rate of all CHA properties. Tenants, fair housing rights advocates and preservationists have long fought the agency's redevelopment plan, arguing the historical significance of Lathrop as one of the oldest public housing developments in Chicago meant CHA should have prioritized rehabbing and preserving the project.

The Architect's Newspaper looks at the three different masterplans for Lathrop. All incorporate demolition in some form: the Delta greenscape plan would raze Lathrop altogether. Community activist, preservationists and aldermen have objected to all three plans. Preservation Chicago's Jonathan Fine accused CHA of a "bait-and-switch."

“The RFQ called for 800 to1,200 units and for historic preservation to be a priority.” Yet neither is reflected in the final plans, he added. “They went through the motions of ‘community engagement,’ but there really wasn’t anything engaging in the process.”

Instead, “We got a market-driven, profit-oriented plan,” Fine said, that won’t serve residents or neighbors. While his group doesn’t focus on the many issues that face the planners, he said he thinks an emphasis on preservation could simplify the issues. “The problems at Lathrop have stemmed from breakdowns in security, maintenance, and tenant screening, not the architecture and planning,” Fine said.

With the Commission on Chicago Landmarks decision to not grant landmark status to Historic Prentice Women's Hospital still a fresh defeat for preservationists, Lathrop and its combination of art moderne and Colonial Revival architecture serves as yet another reminder of the powers that be in Chicago not having respect for the architecture that is one of the city's hallmarks. CHA has been so eager to tear down the structures that have stigmatized public housing in America they've somehow turned a blind eye to truly beautiful works like Lathrop.