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As Brighton Park Changes, Pieces of Neighborhood History Are Being Lost

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When a neighborhood is tagged as one of the hottest in the country, change is to be expected. Brighton Park recently took third place in Redfin's hottest Chicago neighborhoods of 2015 list, and look no further than the six-point intersection of Archer, Pershing and Rockwell to see changes underway. At the northeast corner, a six acre shopping center with four commercial buildings called Archer Station is replacing a former CTA bus garage. Meanwhile, the old gymnasium at St. Agnes Parish is being demolished to make room for new developments.

The old CTA bus garage in the neighborhood dated back to the early 1900s and actually served streetcars before the shift to buses in the mid-20th century. When the shift did occur, the garage became known for having the city's first fleet of air conditioned buses. The one story brick building was very urban for its age, with the building's footprint filling the site to nearly the lot lines. By great contrast, the replacement retail center is a very suburbanesque strip mall with standalone buildings arranged around a surface parking lot, although permeable pavers and and 200+ trees will soften the dullness of the 366 space parking lot. In addition to making the development more aesthetically appealing, these design features will assist in reversing the effects of pollution leached into the ground from the building's years of servicing CTA vehicles.

Just across Pershing Road to the south, one long standing neighborhood landmark has finally met the wrecking ball. The St. Agnes Parish Center at 3916 S Archer, a huge gymnasium which loomed high over the rooftops of the neighborhood is currently being dismantled. Constructed in 1931 for $125,000, the building served as a community center for St. Agnes Church, which was demolished in 1990. Designed by Boston architect Edward T.P. Graham, the structure originally contained a children's roller rink and bowling facilities in addition to the multi purpose gym.

While the parish center outlived its namesake church by 15 years, the building's deferred maintenance and difficulty of repurposing such structures sealed its fate. The Art Deco/Neo-Gothic hybrid exterior facades were quite literally falling apart by the time the building was sold. As wrecking crews tore into the side walls, the large interior auditorium was reveled to the outside world, as was a mural featuring Jesus and players of various sports. The entryway was also flanked by decorative athletic busts molded out of concrete. Concrete ornamental detailing was somewhat common at this time period of construction, presumably it was cheaper than using cut stone or glazed terra cotta.

The site has since been cleared and a sign affixed to the perimeter fencing indicates "build to suit," meaning that a replacement development has not yet been secured.

Shawn Ursini

·Hottest Neighborhoods of 2015 [Redfin]
·'Archer Station' Will Bring Retail to Former CTA Bus Garage [DNAinfo]
·Ornate Roman Catholic parish center faces demolition on Southwest Side [WBEZ]