UPDATED 03/30/11 5:23 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) – Demolition has begun on the last high-rise standing in the Cabrini-Green public housing development.
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On Wednesday morning, a wrecking ball began hitting the upper floors of the 15-story building. Chunks of concrete flooring and walls cascaded to the ground.
But Keith McGee of the Public Housing Museum in Chicago watched, and said for every infamous crime or horrid story attached to the Cabrini-Green high-rises, there were success stories.
“As Cabrini is coming down today, we want people to realize that the bricks and mortar does hold the memories, but the stories do,” McGee said.
Seeing the demolition brought mixed emotions for people who used to live there. It also brought hope, with speculation that a Target store could bring jobs to the neighborhood.
As the wrecking ball was swinging, former Cabrini Green residents were remembering what they had.
“I love Cabrini, I do,” Medinah Grant-Bey said. “We had a time here in Cabrini, we really did.”
Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) grew up in Cabrini Green and now represents the ward that includes the last vestiges of the housing development.
“Everyone was your mother and everyone was your father,” Burnett said.
He said the community created lifelong connections.
As he reminisced about growing up in Cabrini Green, Burnett also ran into the aunt of his childhood girlfriend, the brother of his best friend from childhood and a former teacher.
“That’s the thing that we’re losing with this, is the family connections and how we support each other,” Burnett said.
Burnett and all of his friends said most of the residents at Cabrini Green were good people and were sad that building neglect, drugs and violence took away what made the place special.
“The violence existed within five feet of the school every day. And somebody was shot, some kid’s mother, some kid. It was horrible,” Burnett’s former teacher, Jackie Bubes Holicka, said. “But on the other side, there was a lot of wonder.”
Now they hope the land will be used to help the community.
“Just bring us jobs,” Grant-Bey said. “We need jobs. Jobs, that is it.”
Burnett said the Chicago Housing Authority has been in talks to build a Target store at the old Cabrini Green site.
“We’re talking about maybe a possible 400 jobs,” Burnett said. “So, that would help those residents pull themselves up.”
While there are clearly fond memories, former residents cannot forget about the violence there too.
Cabrini-Green is known nationally for the negatives – in the headlines, high-profile crimes such as the sniper shootings that killed Chicago Police Sgt. James Sevarin and Officer Tony Rizzato in 1970, the sniper shooting that killed Dantrell Davis in 1992, and the brutal beating sexual assault of a 9-year-old girl known as “Girl X” in 1997. In popular culture, the development was known for horror movie villain “Candy Man.”
But Cabrini-Green was also known as the setting of the 1970s TV sitcom “Good Times,” and its real-life residents have many fond memories too.
Last year, many former residents posted memories of 1230 N. Burling St. on the Cabrini-Green Facebook group, which is intended for those who grew up in the development. They reminisced about specific families they knew as neighbors in the building over the years, trips to the Rubus Game Room at State and Division streets, perseverance in the face of adversity, and the close-knit community atmosphere among Cabrini residents.
“The adults made the difference, as our building did have a family feel to it,” one poster wrote specifically about the Burling Street building.
Cabrini-Green used to stretch from Evergreen Avenue on the north to Chicago Avenue on the south, and from the CTA Brown-Purple Line tracks on the east to Halsted Street on the west.
The 1230 N. Burling St. building was one of eight high-rises that composed the William Green Homes, which were located north of Division Street.
South of Division Street, there were more than a dozen red brick high- and mid-rise buildings, which were constructed in 1958 and have been under demolition since 1995. The last remaining mid-rises, at 364 and 365 W. Oak St., were closed in September and were demolished in the past couple of months.
Now, all that will remain are the Frances Cabrini Rowhouses in the southwest corner of the development, which date from 1942 and are still inhabited.
In December, CBS 2 spoke to one young woman who lived in the Burling Street building, on the day she was moving out. She told CBS 2 how it felt to lose the place she called home.
“I feel kind of excited because change is good, but then again, I also fear for my safety because they’re forcing us into another project,” said Rosie Ricks. “This is where I grew up. This is home.”
The Chicago Housing Authority says it believes the residents were moved to much better homes.
As to the future of the Cabrini-Green site, the CHA announced Tuesday that a new Target store is planned for the northwest corner of Division and Larrabee streets, on the site of another former William Green Homes high-rise.