Did you know the original Sears Tower isn’t the tower in the Loop?
The original tower was part of the Sears Corp.’s headquarters in North Lawndale, the company’s hub until the mid 1980s. The 55-acre complex is now known as Homan Square, a community development project designed by The Shaw Company, a real estate firm that helped re-develop much of downtown Chicago.
Today, the West Side property includes community services, a health center and a public high school. A private elementary school, a park district recreational facility and a YMCA day care also comprise the area just west of Kedzie Avenue and Arthington Street.
Many of the services there are free to the community, subsidized by government funding or covered by the individual nonprofit.
“The campus is a great resource for the community,” said Kevin Sutton, the director of community relations for the Foundation for Homan Square. The nonprofit oversees all the moving parts of the Homan Square campus.
Sutton first got involved in Homan Square as a homeowner. He and his wife purchased a house that was part of the first round of newly-developed, mixed-income housing in the mid-’90s.
“We came after church on a Sunday to look at the property, and we sent a deposit in by Wednesday,” Sutton said.
The combination of Sears’ departure and the 1960’s race riots left the North Lawndale community crumbled. In the late ’80s, Shaw envisioned a development to help improve the neighborhood and the residents’ quality of life.
Sutton has since moved out of Homan Square, but remains a North Lawndale homeowner.
“We thought buying the house was an investment,” Sutton said. “We thought the neighborhood would gentrify.”
The Homan Square campus did spark a movement of development in North Lawndale, but, statistically, the neighborhood remains a low-income area with a high crime rate.
“There’s nothing happening in terms of development in North Lawndale right now,” said Charles Leeks, neighborhood director of the North Lawndale program for Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago.
“But, when you look at neighborhoods like this one, you find even when development and the economy picks up, we see it here last,” he said.
Still, the campus’ housing remains in high demand.
“I’m ready to move in,” said a woman outside the foundation’s office to a friend. She’s been on the waiting list for a rental unit since the winter. But Homan Square is more about supporting the community than serving as a housing development, according to Sutton.
“Homan Square serves the North Lawndale community, not just the housing associated with the campus,” he said.
The 14-story tower built in the early 1900s is the last of the property owned by the Homan Square foundation to be developed. The organization plans to redevelop the building, adding additional services for the community.
The plans include adding job-training and leadership development. “It is the last piece of the puzzle for this community,” Sutton said.
The repurposing is estimated to cost close to $44 million. The foundation is in the process of raising funds and finalizing development plans.