Chicago Demolition

Living on Leavitt

by Michael R. Allen

In June 2005, we received an email from John Merchant about 1423 N. Leavitt (see “Lost on Leavitt in Wicker Park”, November 6, 2004):

“I used to live in the quaint building you describe on your website (1423 N. Leavitt). I lived their for five years, finally leaving in the spring of 1999. I no longer live in Chicago, but on a recent visit a friend who still lives in the area asked me if I had seen the old place and upon driving by I could not believe what I saw. Those have to be some of the ugliest condos I have ever seen.

“It is hard to describe in an e-mail, but the swath of destruction that ended with the annihilation of my old building was owned by my landlord. Behind my place was a slightly rickety but really nice coach house. Next to my building was a long, nicely tended yard. And then my landlord had 2-3 empty lots’ worth of space for a yard, all of which was cared for and decorated with funky artwork. Her building was on the corner, a former storefront from the looks of it with two apartments upstairs. One entire wall of her building was glass brick and the ceiling was one of those beautiful tin jobs. Janet, landlord, was an artist who had bought all of that land in 1980s, when the neighborhood was neglected, run down, and rather sketchy. She received offers to sell all the time, but refused. I don’t know what happened that made her change her mind and all her compound to go under the bulldozer…”

He added in a later email:

“The one thing I was thinking might still be there is a plaque remembering this old Polish man, Michal, who lived in the upstairs apartment in my landlord’s building overlooking Leavitt. She planted a pear tree, I think, and put in a memorial to him… maybe even his ashes, I can’t recall. It is sad to think that those hideous condos will loom over him for eternity. He lived the Nelson Algren age of Wicker Park/Ukrainian Village, playing accordian in the bars, etc.”

Fortunately, John sent us the following photographs so that we could see what the buildings and yard looked like under Janet’s care. With his permission, we are sharing them here.