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8-7-2013-6-25-01-PM-8164116

Central Ave. Landmark To Fall

But City Will Preserve Some Items from Building for New Park

The distinctive Crane & Moreland building, just west of Midway Airport at 5600-5608 W. 63rd St., is now vacant and awaits the wrecking ball, while community leaders who tried to save it now look forward to the green space that will replace it.

Efforts to save the three-story Clearing landmark, a Spanish Baroque building dating back to 1927, were spearheaded by Clear-Ridge Historical Society members Barbara Schreiber and Rob Bitunjac, who is also the head librarian at the Clearing Library.

They tried to get state officials to have it designated an historical landmark when the Chicago Department of Aviation announced plans to buy the mixed-use property and tear it down, citing safety issues due to its proximity to airport runways across the street.

Business groups such as the United Business Association of Midway, led by Anita Cummings, also had hoped to save the building and the businesses in it. The building actually stands at the entrance to the section of 63rd Street that has been designated an Illinois Main Street, between Central and Austin avenues. UBAM worked for several years to get the Illinois Main Street designation, in an effort to breathe life into the commercial strip.

But while the city did buy the property, the community leaders are happy that the city agreed to replace it with a small park, similar to the green spaces now found on most of the corners around the airport. Department of Aviation officials met this week with Schreiber, Bitunjac, Ald. Marty Quinn (13th) and Cummings, to update them on the latest plans for the site, which include as many of the distinctive architectural features of the building as possible, and incorporate them in some way into the new park.

In recent months, the 80 or so residents who lived in the apartments on the second and third floor have relocated, as did the first-floor businesses. Pharmacist David Shlensky, whose family founded Central Drug in 1945, recently moved the business one mile west, to a strip mall at 6400 W. 63rd St., and said the new location might work out better.

ÒThere was a lot of history in that building and it should have been a landmark, but it was old, and a lot of work needed to be done on it,” said Shlensky. ÒWe’re now in a newer building, and a bigger space.” He said he only misses the basement storage space that came in the Crane & Moreland building, and found a lot of interesting antique items in it when he had to clean it out. They might one day be on display in his new location.

Department of Aviation officials could not be reached for comment on the meeting, which they tried to keep low-key, but everyone else who was there had good things to say about it.

ÒI felt the meeting did go well.. It is great to see the kind of cooperation we are getting,” said Schreiber, who had suggested which decorative pieces of the faade might look best in the new park. Ò It is great that (the Department of Aviation officials) are working with us on this project. We are all working together. They are kind of going out of their way on this,” said Schreiber. She and Bitunjac were pleased with plans the Aviation department had drawn up from their suggestions.

ÒThey took our suggestion and ran with it, and came up with some really nice plans,” said Bitunjac, crediting Schreiber for her work coming up with the suggestions.

ÒThe best result would have been to preserve the building. But having the park is second-best. And the (city officials) listened to us,” said Bitunjac. He noted that until this weeks meeting, he did not realize that the building is such poor condition and how costly it would have been to save it.

ÒWe’re losing a very distinctive building but we are gaining a great park,” said Cummings on Wednesday. ÒI look forward to seeing it completed. I hope it serves as the impetus we need to keep the Illinois Main Street project moving forward.”

ÒIt was a really positive meeting,” agreed Quinn, when asked about the meeting at the National Night Out gathering held Tuesday night at West Lawn Park. ÒIt was great to see the city and the community working together. I think everyone is on the same page.” He pointed out that Deputy Aviation Commissioner Erin O’Donnell grew up in Clearing, and was very receptive to the residents’ wishes.

The alderman, a Clearing resident himself, noted that the scaffolding that was erected on the building in recent months was put there for safety reasons, because pieces of the faade were falling down. ÒThere was also a crime problem there,” he said, referring to a prostitution ring that reportedly had been working out of the building.

Hesitant to predict when exactly the project will be completed, Quinn said, ÒHopefully, if all goes well, by this time next year, there will be a new park there. I am sure the community will be very happy with it.”

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