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UPDATED 04/30/12 1:21 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — While demolition has been the trend for much of Chicago’s public housing, one development has now won recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Julia C. Lathrop Homes – located on a 37-acre site centered at the junction of Clybourn Avenue, Damen Avenue and Diversey Parkway – was placed on the register by the National Park Service, according to a news release issued Monday by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency.
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The Chicago Housing Authority development was constructed in 1938 as part of the New Deal. The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency says the development is one of the largest and most architecturally elaborate of the 52 public housing projects constructed in that era.
Unlike many of the city’s other public housing projects, the Lathrop Homes never had any of the hulking high-rises that characterized much of the rest of the city’s public housing, and does not share the reputation for crime and danger that plagued the now-demolished high-rise projects such as the Robert Taylor Homes or Cabrini-Green – located a couple of miles due southeast on Clybourn Avenue from the Lathrop Homes.
The Lathrop Homes were developed in a period where the federal government wanted to create public housing with beautiful outdoor spaces and well-equipped apartments. With that in mind, landscape architect Jens Jensen designed small parks and kitchen gardens within the project, so that the low-income residents could enjoy open space and plant their own gardens, the agency said.
Five years ago, the preservation group Landmarks Illinois placed the Lathrop Homes on its list of the state’s 10 most endangered historic places.
While there are no plans for large-scale demolition at the Lathrop Homes, the CHA does plan to transform the project into a mixed-income development.
The Web site for the housing authority says it has convened “a working group of resident leaders, CHA staff, city officials and community organizations to assess the most effective strategy to revitalize Lathrop Homes and reintegrate the residential complex with the surrounding community.”
As the CHA comes up with a plan for redevelopment, only several dozen of the more than 900 units in the project are occupied. The rest are boarded up.
But in multiple published reports, the remaining residents of the development have expressed concern that they would be pushed out, as only a third of the units would be set aside for public housing.
Julia Lathrop was a Rockford native who worked with the poor under Jane Adams, and who, according to Vassar Encyclopedia, is credited with establishing a juvenile court in Chicago in 1899. It was the first court of its kind in the country.