NILES, Ill. (CBS) — Generations of Chicagoland residents have fond memories of swimming, diving, and inner tubing in the pool, taking judo or tae kwon do classes in the basement mat room, or having a birthday in the top-floor skyline room where the former John Hancock Center and Sears Tower rose in the distance, at the Leaning Tower YMCA in Niles.
This week, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago announced that the Leaning Tower YMCA – along with the Lattof YMCA in Des Plaines and the Kroehler Family YMCA in Naperville – will be closing for good amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The YMCA announced that effective Monday, the Leaning Tower YMCA building at 6300 W. Touhy Ave. in Niles will close permanently. The decision will not affect residents at the Leaning Tower Housing complex.
“The overwhelming stress that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has put on our global economy has also put an enormous strain on our organization to the point where we are no longer able to sustain the center during and after the pandemic,” YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago President and Chief Executive Officer Richard Malone said in an online statement.
Even before the pandemic began, the Leaning Tower YMCA had been operating at a loss for several years – due to an aging building and declining membership and program enrollment, the YMCA said. The YMCA said it tried to keep the facility open, even at a loss, but COVID-19 proved to be insurmountable.
“Unfortunately, due to the impact of COVID-19, we have abruptly reached the tipping point and no longer have the ability to cover the center’s losses,” Malone said in the statement. “The organization has considered fundraising for the facility, but our study has concluded that forecasted funds would not be enough to cover future losses.”
The YMCA said it was trying to find alternative ways to serve families in the Northwest Side and north suburban area the YMCA served, and advised that members could go to any of 14 other YMCAs in the city – including the Irving Park YMCA, located six miles to the south and east at 4251 W. Irving Park Rd.
Like the Leaning Tower, the Irving Park YMCA has two pools, basketball courts, a racquetball and handball court, before and after school programming, and ample parking, the YMCA said.
The YMCA posted similar announcements for the Kroehler YMCA, at 34 S. Washington St. in Naperville, and the Lattof YMCA, at 300 E. Northwest Hwy. in Des Plaines, which will also close permanently on Monday.
Kroehler YMCA members were advised they could use the Fry Family YMCA, six miles away at 2120 95th St. in Naperville, and Lattof YMCA members were advised of the Buehler YMCA in Palatine.
The closing of the Leaning Tower YMCA will not affect its namesake Leaning Tower of Niles – a half-size replica of the Leaning Tower of Pisa that was completed in 1934.
The tower was commissioned by businessman Robert Ilg to conceal a water tower for a recreation park for employees of his Ilg Hot Air Electric Ventilating Company of Chicago.
In 1960, Ilg’s descendants handed over part of the park for construction of the Leaning Tower YMCA. in Niles. Part of the deal was that the YMCA would spend a minimum of $500 per year to keep up the tower and surrounding area until 2059, according to the Village of Niles.
The Village of Niles established a sister pact with Pisa, Italy in 1991, with a new fountain plaza surrounding it in 1997, according to the village.
But by 2013, the tower was deteriorating – with some suggesting it was in such poor shape that it should be torn down.
The Village of Niles approved the purchase the tower from the YMCA for $10 in 2015 and a new $1 million restoration effort began.