Located in the heart of Chicago’s south side Bronzeville community, a massive renovation project is underway to turn a shuttered 1929 apartment complex back into neighborhood residences. Originally dubbed the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, the historic development was a philanthropic gift from Sears Roebuck magnate Julius Rosenwald. The Chicago businessman funded a number of charitable causes and was responsible for saving the Columbian Exposition’s 1893 Palace of Fine Arts that later became the Museum of Science and Industry.
Rosenwald had a particular interest in civil rights and the struggles of African-Americans. Believing that inadequate housing on the city’s south side was a major barrier to social progress, he picked his nephew, and Adler Planetarium architect, Ernest Grunsfeld to design the block-sized, 421-unit Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments to help address overcrowding. Rosenwald invested $2.7 million in the project — a staggering amount of money back when the facility first opened.
Over the years, the apartment block was home to a number of notable tenants such as Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Lorraine Hansberry, Jesse Owens, Joe Louis, and Quincy Jones. Despite Rosenwald Courts earning a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1981, the complex was eventually closed due to poor conditions and mismanagement, with the last residents moving out in 2000. Rosenwald Courts had deteriorated so badly that filmmaker Michael Bay used the site as a stand-in for Chernobyl in his 2011 Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Last year, a $107 million gut rehab project to convert the property’s eight buildings to senior and affordable housing kicked off. The effort comes from Landwhite Development, Lighten-Gale Group, and Jim Bergman, with work funded by a combination of TIF money and low-income and historic tax credits. The renovation will see 239 units and 50,000 square feet of retail space re-inhabit the desolate block. The two acre courtyard will also be professionally landscaped. Care is being taken to salvage the interior's Arts and Crafts detailing wherever possible, but it remains to be seen what can be saved after so many years of neglect.
Community leaders hope the resurrected Rosenwald Courts will not only pay tribute to the history of Bronzeville and the visionary generosity of Julius Rosenwald, but also act as a catalyst for continued reinvestment in the south side neighborhood. The affordable-rate units are expected to rent for between $450 and $850 with occupancy slated for later this year.
- Renovation of Historic Rosenwald Courts Apartments to Begin [Curbed Chicago]
- Rosenwald Courts [Website]
- Previous Bronzeville coverage [Curbed Chicago]