Photograph of the interior courtyard framed by the five-story multifamily building with the downtown Chicago skyline in the background.
Photograph of the interior of an apartment across an unfurnished living room to a kitchen.
Photograph of two street façades of the 5-story mixed-use building with storefronts on the ground floor.
Photograph of one of the entrances to the five-story building from the courtyard.
Photograph of a carpeted community lounge with tables, chairs, and upholstered bench seating.
Photograph of a street façade of a multifamily building.

 

Home >Case Studies >Chicago, Illinois: Rosenwald Courts Apartments Preserves History and Provides Affordable Housing in Bronzeville

 

Chicago, Illinois: Rosenwald Courts Apartments Preserves History and Provides Affordable Housing in Bronzeville

 

Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments opened in 1929 during the Great Migration, providing modern housing in Chicago for African-Americans who had journeyed north in search of social and economic opportunity. Developed by philanthropist and Sears, Roebuck & Company president Julius Rosenwald, the iconic example of garden apartments was inspired by Viennese public housing. The five-story Art Moderne building enclosed a two-acre courtyard that provided fresh air and open space for the occupants of its 454 apartments. The massive complex in the Bronzeville neighborhood became a social and cultural landmark for African-Americans on Chicago’s South Side with many famous residents, including Nat King Cole, Gwendolyn Brooks, Quincy Jones, and Jesse Owens. During the second half of the twentieth century, the historic apartments fell into disrepair because of mismanagement and neighborhood decline and were abandoned in 1999. A coalition of developers acquired the building, along with two adjacent three-story apartment buildings dating from 1907 and 1908, to undertake a single renovation project encompassing an entire city block that would further Bronzeville’s revitalization. The project, renamed Rosenwald Courts Apartments, opened in 2016, providing 239 units of mixed-income housing and more than 40,000 square feet of retail and office space. Rosenwald Courts earned the 2018 Advisory Council on Historic Preservation/HUD Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Historic Preservation for sensitively restoring a historic asset that contributes once again to the neighborhood’s social and economic vitality.

Rosenwald Courts

Rosenwald Courts consists of 239 one- and two-bedroom apartments: 206 units in the five-story building and the remaining units in the 2 three-story walkup buildings. The apartments include 120 units reserved for seniors and 105 units for families, both of which are affordable for households earning up to 60 percent of the area median income, as well as 6 market-rate units and 8 units for property management staff. According to Virginia Pace, president of the Lightengale Group, one of the project’s developers, input received during the design process led to separating the senior apartments from the family units. The two types of units have similar features, although the senior apartments have one bedroom and the family units have either one or two bedrooms as well as washers and dryers. Senior residents have access to common laundry rooms to encourage social interaction.

The development includes several types of community spaces. The interior courtyard has been returned to its original function with landscaping, axial pathways, and a dog run. A playground will be added when a children’s daycare center opens in one of the building’s retail spaces. Within the building, residents have access to computer, fitness, and community rooms featuring artwork and exhibits with information about many of the building’s significant residents. Residents and neighbors benefit from the retail and office uses. Ground-floor retail spaces are concentrated mostly on the property’s frontage on 47th Street, a neighborhood commercial corridor. In addition to this retail space, the building features office space on the second to fifth floors in the building’s southwest corner. Public art illustrating the Rosenwald building’s historic significance, which was supported by a grant to the Burton Foundation through the National Endowment for the Arts, is displayed outside of the building’s entrance on Michigan Avenue.

Bringing a Historic Asset Back to Life

In the early 2000s, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Chicago, and related organizations advocated the preservation of the vacant Rosenwald building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. Attention from historic preservationists helped galvanize redevelopment efforts, which had the support of committed residents and Alderman Pat Dowell, the neighborhood’s representative on the city council. Several redevelopment proposals were unsuccessful, and in 2010, the Chicago district council of the Urban Land Institute convened a 12-member panel to study the market conditions in more depth and present redevelopment options. The panel’s report, which considered partial rehabilitation, full rehabilitation, and demolition, recommended a complete rehabilitation of the property with a mix of uses to encourage economic development.

In 2012, the city sold the complex to a development team that proposed to retain the historic structures while significantly improving their interior and exterior features. The project’s two architectural firms, Hooker DeJong and John Joyce Architects, maintained historic preservation standards while improving the Rosenwald building, including addressing the community’s strong support for additional commercial space and fewer apartments, repairing extensive damage, and mitigating other structural issues. The rehabilitation included a new internal circulation system, elevators, and corridors on all floors. The original building had 29 separate entrances from the courtyard leading to individual staircases that provided direct access to three or four apartments per floor. According to Steve Moe, senior architect for Hooker DeJong, adding the corridors made it possible for neighbors to visit each other’s units without having to descend to the courtyard and use a separate entrance. The rehabilitation also improved circulation by creating three new entrances and lobbies. Enhancing the Rosenwald building’s exterior required restoration of the terracotta portals connecting the courtyard to the street, installation of 2,500 windows, and reconstruction of the 47th Street storefronts. The architects retained the configuration of the three-story buildings as walkup apartments, restored many interior elements to their historic condition, including wooden staircases and entry lobbies, and added new wooden entrance doors.

Financing

The $134 million development relied on city and federal funding, including nearly $61 million in low-income housing tax credits (table 1). According to Pace, the city and the Chicago Housing Authority provided critical support because of the Rosenwald building’s historic significance to the Bronzeville neighborhood and the revitalization of 47th Street. “Without that combined support, this project could not have happened.” Rosenwald Courts also received $25 million through the city’s 47th/King tax increment financing district, and the city sold the developers five nearby lots, valued at $155,000, for $1 to provide parking for residents. In addition, the housing authority provides rental assistance for all the senior apartments through a Housing Assistance Payments contract and project-based vouchers.

Table 1: Financing for Rosenwald Courts Apartments

Neighborhood Stabilization Program$8,500,000
Tax increment financing25,000,000
Chicago Housing Authority loan17,400,000
Low-income housing/historic tax credits60,800,000
Illinois Affordable Housing Tax Credit3,000,000
Tax-exempt loan from BankORION2,500,000
Tax-exempt loan held by R&R Capital Funding1,000,000
Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago700,000
Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity800,000
Other sources14,500,000
Total$134,200,000

Revitalizing Bronzeville

The community hoped that the Rosenwald Courts development would add not only needed affordable housing but also new commercial opportunities for the neighborhood’s revitalization, a goal shared by the city and accepted by the developers. In 2013, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) produced the “Bronzeville Retail District Land Use Plan,” which targeted housing and retail development along the 47th Street commercial corridor served by multiple transit routes. CMAP’s plan cited the anticipated Rosenwald Courts rehabilitation as a potentially catalytic success in the mixed-use corridor. In addition to providing 360 construction jobs for area residents, Rosenwald Courts offers opportunities for locally-owned businesses in its retail and office spaces. Demand for the building’s commercial spaces has been stronger than expected, according to Pace. As of February 2019, a coffee shop has opened, and an ice cream store, a cybersecurity firm, and a children’s daycare center will open later in the year. The building’s office spaces will be occupied sometime in 2019 by social service agencies and a dentist.


 

Source:

Chicago Department of Planning and Development. 2017. “Rosenwald Court Apartments: Preliminary and Final Landmark Recommendation Adopted by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.” Accessed 24 March 2019; Urban Land Institute Chicago. 2010. “Rosenwald Apartments: Evaluating the Future of a Community Legacy.” Accessed 24 March 2019; Document provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Chicago Housing Authority. 2013. “Authorization to Submit a Mixed-Finance Proposal and Evidentiary Documents to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.” Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development. 2012. "Staff Report to the Community Development Commission Regarding a Proposed Negotiated Sale of City-Owned Property and Designation of Developer." Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Housing Authority. 2016. "Mayor Emanuel Reopens Historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments," press release, 30 September. Accessed 24 March 2019; Correspondence from Virginia Pace, president, Lightengale Group, 20 February 2019.

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Source:

Correspondence from Virginia Pace, 20 and 25 February and 28 March 2019; Document provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Chicago Housing Authority. 2016. “Mayor Emanuel Reopens Historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments,” press release, 30 September. Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Housing Authority. 2013. “Authorization to Submit a Mixed-Finance Proposal and Evidentiary Documents to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.” Accessed 24 March 2019.

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Source:

Correspondence from Steve Moe, senior architect at Hooker DeJong, 12 March 2019; Document provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Correspondence from Virginia Pace, 20, 22, and 25 February and 11 March 2019; National Endowment for the Arts. 2017. “National Endowment for the Arts FY 2017 Spring Grants Announcement: State and Jurisdiction List,” 94. Accessed 24 March 2019.

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Source:

Document provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Correspondence from Virginia Pace, 20 February 2019; Urban Land Institute Chicago. 2010. “Rosenwald Apartments: Evaluating the Future of a Community Legacy.” Accessed 24 March 2019.

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Source:

Chicago Housing Authority. 2013. "Authorization to Submit a Mixed-Finance Proposal and Evidentiary Documents to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development." Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development. 2012. "Staff Report to the Community Development Commission Regarding a Proposed Negotiated Sale of City-Owned Property and Designation of Developer." Accessed 24 March 2019; Correspondence from Virginia Pace, 20 February and 11 March 2019; Document provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; John Joyce Architects. n.d. "Rosenwald Apartments." Accessed 24 March 2019; Hooker DeJong. 2015. "Rosenwald Courts Construction Update." Accessed 24 March 2019; Correspondence from Steve Moe, 12, 13, and 18 March 2019; Chicago Housing Authority. 2016. "Mayor Emanuel Reopens Historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments," press release, 30 September. Accessed 24 March 2019; Powers & Sons Construction Company. 2016. "Historic Rosenwald Court Apartments Celebrates Restoration," news, 19 October. Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Department of Planning and Development. 2017. "Rosenwald Court Apartments: Preliminary and Final Landmark Recommendation Adopted by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks." Accessed 24 March 2019.

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Source:

Correspondence from Virginia Pace, 20 February and 11 and 21 March 2019; Document provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Chicago Housing Authority. 2016. "Mayor Emanuel Reopens Historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments," press release, 30 September. Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Department of Planning and Development. n.d. "47th/King TIF." Accessed 24 March 2019.

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Source:

Correspondence from Virginia Pace, 20 February and 18 and 25 March 2019; Document provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development; Chicago Housing Authority. 2016. "Mayor Emanuel Reopens Historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments," press release, 30 September. Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Department of Housing and Economic Development. 2012. "Staff Report to the Community Development Commission Regarding a Proposed Negotiated Sale of City-Owned Property and Designation of Developer." Accessed 24 March 2019; Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. 2013. "Bronzeville Retail District Land Use Plan." Accessed 24 March 2019.

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