WEST RIDGE — City officials gathered Wednesday to officially dedicate a West Ridge parking lot-turned-green space to former Ald. Bernard “Berny” Stone, calling it a “special” place that will welcome visitors to Chicago.
“All the parks in the 50th Ward are beautiful, but I feel that this one is special because it is what is seen first at the gateway to our 50th Ward, and to the wonderful city of Chicago,” said 50th Ward Ald. Debra Silverstein during the ribbon-cutting ceremony, alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Park District Supt. Mike Kelly.
It was a “very exciting day” for the long-awaited project to come to fruition, Silverstein said, adding it was “wonderful for the community and has transformed an old crumbling lot into beautiful green space.”
The area, which consists of fitness stations, benches, landscaping and soon a new sculpture, now connects a walking and bike path on the North Shore channel from Lawrence Avenue in Albany Park to Green Bay Road in Evanston.
Emanuel said the park and its use as a crucial link to Chicago’s smaller waterways was a big step in the city’s larger goal of “Building on Burnham” and bolstering its parks.
“To take our river and make it part of our recreational park system, this investment, this ribbon-cutting today, is the first true installation of that effort,” the mayor said. “[It] makes us truly a two-waterfront city.”
The park is owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and leased by the Park District.
Last year, the City Council approved using tax increment financing to fund a restoration of the land, which hugs the North Shore Channel between Lincoln and Kedzie avenues and Devon Avenue and McCormick Road on the border of North Park and West Ridge near suburban Lincolnwood.
The park sits just north of the Lincoln Village shopping center, where Stone had a ward office during a chunk of his 38 years serving the Far North Side. He was unseated by Silverstein in 2011 and died at the age of 87 in 2014.
Stone’s family was present at Wednesday’s ceremony, and Silverstein called the park a “fitting tribute to [Stone’s] decades of service.”
WEST RIDGE — A new library and senior housing complex along Western Avenue is what many residents hope will reveal West Ridge as a hidden gem neighborhood worth traveling to, residents said at a community meeting on the project Monday night.
“We want the library to put us on the map,” said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th). “We want West Ridge to be a destination.”
The 6800 N. Western Ave. branch is one of three new mixed-use libraries and housing facilities slated to open across the city, including others on Taylor Street and Elston Avenue, and is a collaboration between the Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Public Library and Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office.
The ground floor of the structure will include a 16,000-square-foot library, which will be topped with several floors containing 30 units of affordable housing for senior citizens.
Architects from design firm Perkins + Will, along with representatives from Chicago Public Library and the Department of Planning and Development, presented initial concepts for how the library portion of the building could look Monday.
“The mood is very good, it’s a great design,” said John Kane of the West Ridge Community Organization and LEARN West Rogers Park. “I personally love the idea that it’s going to be facing Western Avenue because one of our initiatives is to integrate the library in with Warren Park and the surrounding commercial development of Western Avenue, that whole stretch between Pratt Avenue and Lunt is a hidden gem.”
An early drawing of what the library’s front lobby, art wall and information desks could look like. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Between the new library, Warren Park and Lickity Split Frozen Custard on Lunt Avenue, neighbors said the library has the potential to create a strong pedestrian-friendly area.
“Not a whole lot has changed on Western Avenue,” said Denise Eichhorn, who lives in a house two blocks from the site of the future library. “It would be nice to make it a destination.”
However, two main concerns from neighbors were addressed Monday night: the library’s modern design potentially clashing with surrounding 1920s bungalows, and the amount of parking available.
The building is currently slated for about 31 parking spaces, including at least two for people with disabilities, though the final number and parking lot configuration is still up for consideration.
Andrea Telli of the Chicago Public Library said generally larger library branches offer 1 parking space per 1,000 square feet, which would equal 16 spaces at the new 16,000-square-foot West Ridge branch.
Doug Smith, managing principal with Perkins + Will, said last month city rules require only 0.3 parking spaces per one-bedroom unit of senior housing.
“I think there has to be more thought given to the parking,” said Kathleen Reyes, a writer for local 50th Ward Follies blog.
Others, like Eichhorn, said she didn’t think parking would ultimately be an issue, citing public transportation, walking and biking.
“If people really want to get to the library, they’ll find a way,” she said.
Though official renderings have not yet been presented, initial concept designs shown Monday night by Perkins + Will drew a mixed reaction, with some calling the structure an “ultra-modern eyesore” and wanting a more classic style, and others praising it as a potential “landmark.”
“It’s on Western Avenue — Western Avenue is not for bungalows,” Eichhorn said.
Early designs for the space show abundant natural light provided by wide windows throughout.
The library would be split into a lobby and community spaces, individual meeting and reading rooms, an early childhood area, space for school aged children, teen and media center, adult space and green areas on the rooftop as well as a Western Avenue-facing courtyard.
The color concept would revolve around shades of orange, green, brown and aqua blue.
Jeff Saad, a senior designer with Perkins + Will, going over the distinct areas within the library. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
David Tabak, Eichhorn’s husband, said it made sense that a library built today would look different from structures built nearly a hundred years earlier.
“The older libraries were built for a 20th century concept of a library, this is obviously built for the 21st century,” Tabak said. “I think [the criticism is] ultimately fear of the unknown.”
But, with the library set to open in December of 2018, Reyes said she’d really like to see official renderings and have “more concrete information.”
Silverstein said architects would present more solid plans soon.
Overall, many who spoke thanked designers for taking community feedback to heart and applying it to early concepts.
“I think the architects are really trying, they seem to be doing a very good job,” Reyes said. “There’s a lot of information to incorporate, everybody has a different idea.”
After a design competition that started late last year, Perkins and Will was selected from a group of three semi-finalists competing to design the library.
Headquartered in Chicago since 1935, the firm worked on the Rush University Medical Center, O’Hare International Airport, the Jones College Prep campus in the Loop and the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum — along with a number of mixed-use libraries.
Tabak said the library where the meeting was held felt like it was built for “a commercial transaction” rather than a community space, which is what they want to avoid.
A space that transitions between the library’s entrance and information desks into the main book area. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
A space for school-aged children that includes computers, individual and group seating and low-level shelving. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
A reading/study space in the main “adult” part of the library. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Ald. Debra Silverstein speaking with residents Monday night. [DNAinfo/Linze Rice]
Friends and Neighbors,
This week, I wanted to make you aware of several items on the calendar for the remainder of June:
1) This Sunday, June 19th from noon to 2pm will be the grand opening celebration of Magenta Boutique/Bowtique, at 2755 W. Pratt. Owned by Yaffa Crandall and Shaynie Landa, Magenta is selling a full line of womens, teens and kids wear and accessories. Come to enjoy the refreshments and the children’s entertainment, and to show your support for the relocation of these previously home-based businesses.
2) The Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park Annual Meeting will take place this upcoming Monday, June 20, 2016 at 7:30PM at the Bernard Horwich Center (3003 W Touhy). This will be an open meeting of our board at which time we will review our 2015/2016 accomplishments and discuss ways to further advance our work for the betterment of West Rogers Park for 2016/17. The key to our success as an organization is to give voice to our broad-based constituency for the betterment of our entire community. We urge you to join us at this session. Your input will be invaluable.
3) Thanks to the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and Alderman Debra Silverstein, JCCWRP was able to bring a cross-section of the community to the table last year to address the abandoned property owned by the MWRD at the southeast corner of Devon and McCormick. With the cooperation of the Alderman, it was agreed that the crumbling and abandoned 3 ½ acre parking lot that had been located there would be transformed into a new park. Now Alderman Silverstein is inviting the community to her 50th Ward office (2949 W Devon) on June 27, 6:30 PM to provide input as the Chicago Park District engages in the planning and layout of the park. We encourage everyone to attend and in so doing help to shape this main western gateway to WRP.
Finally, if you have a family member or neighbor who is not yet receiving our email updates, please let me know via email firstname.lastname@example.org so that I can add them to our weekly distribution.
Hope to see you in West Rogers Park next week!
on behalf of the Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park
The slab of concrete sits at the end of miles of otherwise well-kept parks along the North Shore Channel. Untouched for at least a decade, the empty parking lot is filled with graffiti and broken glass and has become a magnet for crime. Long-patient West Rogers Park residents hope that may change soon.
David St. Pierre, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, met with more than 100 members of the community last month to hear their ideas about turning the space at West Devon Avenue and McCormick Boulevard into a park or green space. The reclamation district owns the lot.
The Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park has led efforts to upgrade the area, and its yearlong push for meetings with officials may have finally paid off.
“That parking lot is really in many ways a gateway to many neighborhoods,” said Shalom Klein, executive director of the community council. “Especially Rogers Park, Lincolnwood, Peterson Park, as well as cultures and people that live in that area.”
St. Pierre estimated it would cost $200,000 to $300,000 to tear down the parking lot, install turf and repurpose the area, but he said the district doesn’t have a final estimate for the project yet. St. Pierre said he plans to bring a proposal to the district’s board of commissioners at its next meeting April 9. If the board approves the plan, he said he hopes the project could begin “as soon as possible.”
At one end of the property sits an abandoned movie theater and car wash. Howard Rieger, president of the community council, said the two buildings aren’t owned by the reclamation district and therefore cannot be included in the renovation plans for the empty lot. The two buildings are under the jurisdiction of the 50th Ward.
Ald. Debra Silverstein, 50th, said last week that any changes to the current structures are in the “early stages.” She had no further comment.
Klein said members of the community council and neighborhood residents hope to remain involved in developing plans for the lot, something St. Pierre said he would also like to happen once the project is funded.
Although Klein mentioned one idea of turning the space into a public park, he and St. Pierre said future conversations would determine how the space could best serve the neighborhood.
Klein called the initiatives over the past year a “strong community effort.”
“We really want to represent the community that hasn’t had the opportunity to enjoy that property for close to 10 years,” he said.
Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune
Friends and Colleagues:
On Monday, I was a guest of Governor Bruce Rauner at the inauguration in Springfield. Many of you may recall that he visited West Rogers Park a month before the election for several hours for meetings with communal leadership and tours of our non-profit organizations. He also visited the abandoned movie theater/car wash at Devon and McCormick and agreed that this eyesore needed to be removed from the heart of our community. Now that he is Governor, I have been in close communication with his senior staff and they have expressed support for our work and commitment to help us build bridges in local units of government. Hopefully this will open additional doors that will enable us to address this problem, and will serve as a boost for many of our other initiatives.
Tuesday was filled with meetings at JUF with Emily Sweet of the Jewish Community Relations Council who we have been collaborating closely with on creating programming across the Jewish and east-Asian communities that call West Rogers Park home. I also met with John Lowenstein to start a dialogue with the Hillel at Loyola University about working on resources for students and faculty in East Rogers Park.
To wrap up the day on Tuesday, I presented to the semester’s first session of the UIC urban planning department’s commercial revitalization graduate seminar . Several of our lay leaders joined me in presenting the background of our neighborhood to the group of students who will be spending tens of hours this semester developing a plan to help us attract new businesses to the Devon and Touhy avenue corridors. Our former consultant, Michael Schubert, opened the door for an introduction at the college of urban planning and I am pleased to report that we have leveraged that relationship to bring more resources to the community.
On Thursday upon our initiative, a meeting was convened at Alderman Silverstein’s office, along with representatives of Agudath Israel, Chicago Rabbinical Council, Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Community Relations Council, to discuss the recent acts of vandalism that took place in West Rogers Park. Subsequent to the threatening graffiti that was smeared on many structures in the community, we collaborated with ADL and JCRC to request the above meeting. With the recent tragedy in Paris, we also discussed the concern of possible local threats relating to the terror attacks in France.
Today we will be meeting at Alderman Silverstein’s office with a developer who has a plan to purchase the abandoned/blighted movie theatre and car wash at Devon and McCormick, and convert that site into a public storage facility. The developer has other facilities which are attractive and well-designed. The facility would require only five parking places, and that would open the possibility of the unused parking lot just behind the existing structures being redeveloped as a park to enhance the bike trail adjacent to it. We hope that our participation will demonstrate community support for the immediate improvement of the site.
To further encourage cleanup of the Devon/McCormick site, this week we sent a letter to the top leadership of the metropolitan water reclamation district signed by 26 rabbis and co-signed by 350 members of the community, inviting them to a meeting on March 10th at 6pm at Congregation B’nei Reuven to explain why the property they control at this site has been allowed to become a symbol of decline at the gateway to our community. We tried over the last six months to arrange a meeting with MWRD officials, to no avail. Now we will schedule a public meeting of our own to which we will invite media, and offer MWRD leaders a platform. If they come we will ask the tough questions and gain media coverage. If they don’t come, that will become a story in itself. It is MWRD policies that have led to the blight that gets worse day after day. We await their response and will continue to mobilize the community in support of our advocacy on this issue which will not stop until something positive is done to resolve this problem.
On Friday I will be continuing our development plan by asking local organizations on our list for financial support for our work. We have made progress in mobilizing our community and with your help we are building a sustainable base to continue our critical work in the community.
Wishing you and your family a wonderful Shabbos.
Executive Director, Jewish Community Council of West Rogers Park
When native Chicagoan Howard Rieger moved back to his hometown after vision questing elsewhere for 40 years, he found the condition of West Rogers Park disturbing.
“It was the ‘disconnect’ between the Jewish residential areas and Devon Avenue,” said Rieger, who earned a Ph.D. in government and wrote his dissertation on urban renewal.
Not that he expected a return to the glory days of the ’50s and ’60s, when fashionable shops and popular eateries catered to a largely Conservative and Reform Jewish community.
That was then.
An Orthodox community had emerged in its place. National retailers in malls contributed to the demise of family-owned shops on Devon. And immigrants from Russia, the Middle East, and the Asian sub-continent transformed its face.
Rieger, meanwhile, taught political science at State University of New York; segued to Cleveland’s Jewish Federation and then to the Pittsburgh Federation, which he headed for 24 years. Then he became President and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America. He retired four years ago, but first, after becoming a widower, remarried (this writer), and found himself back home.
“Jews in West Rogers Park were investing heavily in homes, synagogues and schools. ‘Indian Devon’ had become so popular with foodies that Chicago Magazine dubbed it ‘the most intriguing multi-cultural street in the city.’ And ‘Jewish Devon,’ California to Kedzie, was pocked with abandoned storefronts.”
To Rieger’s eye, the situation demanded action.
“Chicago’s Jewish community as a whole has a big stake in preserving West Rogers Park because we have an investment in schools and social-service agencies here that would be impossible to recreate.”
Concerned that Devon’s collapse could lead to the near-total suburbanization of the community, Rieger saw another need. “West Rogers Park is the last full-fledged Jewish neighborhood in Chicago, our stronghold in America’s third-largest city, and our platform for exerting influence here.”
He began networking with Jewish and non-Jewish community and political leaders, and he harnessed resources. Working with the West Rogers Park Jewish Community Council, he led a search for a consultant to guide a revitalization campaign.
“A neighborhood is not just its residential base,” said Rabbi Leonard Matanky of Cong. KINS. “It needs commercial streets that match it.”
WRPJCC was founded in 1975, when leaders established a fund to encourage young couples to buy homes in the area. Perception proved to be reality. No one took advantage of the offer. But knowing the fund was there made couples confident enough to invest on their own in the neighborhood.
“The community made a statement back then: We’re here to stay,” said WRPJCC vice president Robert Matanky, the rabbi’s brother. Citing leadership by Rabbi Sidney Glenner, Eric Rother and others, he said, “We’re still making that statement.”
Today, demand for housing in some parts of WRP is so strong that a new problem has emerged.
“We don’t have enough inventory,” said realtor Judy Reich. “In Skokie, you can get more house for less money, but many couples want to stay here.”
“The West Side didn’t disappear, it re-located to West Rogers Park,” said Peter Friedman, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago Senior Planning Advisor. Bernard Horwich JCC, Council for Jewish Elderly, Jewish Children and Family Services, Schwartzberg Home and Joy Faith Knapp Children’s Center, to name but a few, demonstrate Federation’s commitment.
Another vital anchor is Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed, which opened on Devon and Troy in 1967.
“When Rabbi Eichenstein, 24 years ago, decided to knock down the old shul and rebuild in the same location, people told him it was a mistake to invest here,” said Rabbi Tzvi Bider, executive director of the Center’s network of ancillary services.
Nevertheless, invest he did. Cong. Bnei Reuven, Hannah Sacks Bais Yaakov High School, FREE, and Yeshivas Brisk, likewise stand firm on Devon, all within five blocks.
The aim of Jewish activism in West Rogers Park today is different than in the past. Said Rieger, “Now it’s about embracing the neighborhood as a whole.”
WRPJCC retained Michael Schubert, a former Chicago housing commissioner who staffed the revitalization of Bucktown and Wicker Park, to conduct a study of the neighborhood and propose a plan.
A kick-off networking reception-which drew some 20 Devon merchants, businesspeople, and activists of different faiths-was held in July at Devon’s newly remodeled Ted’s Fresh Market.
“This is the first of many events we envision aimed at recreating Devon Avenue between California and Kedzie as an exciting international marketplace,” announced committee member Shalom Klein.
Schubert unveiled a Storefront Makeover Contest that will pay a $2,500 top prize, with $1,500 and $1,000, respectively, to second- and third-place winners. The contest runs Sept 1 – Nov. 30.
“Do anything that will make your store more welcoming to customers,” he said. Design professionals will review submissions.
Esther Sabo of Tel Aviv Bakery said she plans to enter. Upgrades she’s considering include new signs and awnings, tinted windows, and outdoor planters.
“I’m optimistic. I’m hoping this will help bring back Devon.”
Others expressing interest were Richard Trumbo, Music House Academy; Amer Chaudhry, Care & Care Social Service Agency, and Drs. Fatima and Anwar Mohiuddin, Universal Medical Center. The latter, ironically, is located at the site of once-iconic Kosher Karry.
“Neighborhoods are always changing,” said Schubert. “The task is to manage change effectively so the neighborhood stays healthy.”
Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) added that upcoming improvements on Devon-to widen and beautify sidewalks, upgrade infrastructure, and make the street brighter, greener, and safer – should not disrupt parking on both sides simultaneously.
“Devon is a diamond in the rough, and now’s the time to make it shine,” Silverstein said.
Schubert’s recommendations include hiring a full-time staff person, marketing Devon and recruiting new businesses, organizing nearby building owners to improve properties, addressing parking, and more.
“It takes one person to pull together everyone,” said Rabbi Bider, who admits to being hopeful for the future of Devon for the first time in years. “Thanks to Howard, we’ve got leadership who are making things happen.”
“Influencing perception in small ways can lead to big changes,” said Schubert.
Rieger, for his part, is enjoying his role as community volunteer and catalyst and plans to continue. “Success,” he said, “will require the commitment of many people.”
by Beverly Siegel
For more information about the Storefront Makeover Contest contact Mike Schubert, at
Beverly Siegel is a PR professional and award-winning documentary maker whose film “Women Unchained” aired recently on The Jewish Channel.
A Storefront Makeover Contest for Devon Avenue businesses between California and Kedzie will pay $2,500 to the winning storeowner, with cash prizes of $1,500 and $1,000 to the second and third place winners, respectively, announced Michael Schubert, a former Chicago commissioner of housing.
Schubert, special consultant to a committee of the West Rogers Park Jewish Community Council focused on strengthening West Rogers Park as a desirable neighborhood, unveiled the contest at a networking event for Devon Avenue merchants held July 30 at newly remodeled Ted’s Fresh Market, 2840 W. Devon.
“This is the first of many programs aimed at recreating Devon Avenue as an exciting international marketplace,” said Shalom Klein, community organizer and business consultant and vice president of Moshe Klein and Associates.
The program, featuring a continental breakfast, attracted some 20 storeowners, business people, and community activists who share a common goal of upgrading Devon Avenue.
“Communities go through stages,” said Schubert, who played a key role in the revitalization of Bucktown and Wicker Park. “First, cynicism, that things won’t get better. Then that gets chipped away and attitudes change as momentum builds.”
Howard Rieger of West Rogers Park, past president and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, the national umbrella organization of federated Jewish philanthropies, who volunteered to convene the community-revitalization committee with Rabbi Leonard Matanky of Cong. KINS, said, “The Jewish community has a huge stake in preserving West Rogers Park because this is the core Jewish neighborhood in Chicago, with an enormous investment in institutions that would be impossible to recreate.”
The Storefront Makeover Contest is set to run September 1 through November 30.
Schubert explained that once entrants file an application, a “before” storefront photo will be taken. Rejuvenation projects – whether involving new signage, doors or windows, or improved window displays – can then begin. “It’s pretty much anything that will make your store more welcoming to customers.” After the work is completed, an “after” photo will be taken. A panel of design professionals will review submissions.
The first 25 entrants will receive a $25 gift certificate from Home Depot.
Among those who attended the reception hosted by George Ballis of Ted’s Fresh Market were Esther Sabo, Tel Aviv Bakery; Richard Trumbo, Music House Academy of Music and Dance; Amer Chaudhry, Care & Care; Drs. Fatima and Anwar Mohiuddin, Universal Medical Center Rehab; Irv Loundy, Devon Bank; Rabbi Tzvi Bider, Chicago Center for Torah & Chesed, and Barbara Singal, principal of Business Operations Solution, and Amie Zander, president and executive director, respectively of the West Ridge Chamber of Commerce.
“Devon is a diamond in the rough, and now’s the time to make it shine,” said Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th Ward). Silverstein assured storeowners that Devon Avenue streetscape improvements set to begin within the coming year will not upend parking on both sides of the street at the same time. “Wider sidewalks will be great for sidewalk cafes,” she said.
For further information about the Storefront Makeover Contest, contact Mike Schubert at email@example.com