Historic Elk’s Building – Union Street Gallery on Otto Blvd.


As promised, here is a bit more about our city’s very own:

Historic Elks Building – Union Street Gallery

1527 Otto Blvd.

Designated a local landmark November 2001, this structure was built to serve as the home of Lodge Number 1066 Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks and occupied in 1927. At the time, the Chicago Heights Star newspaper proclaimed it “the finest and most complete club home in the city. The building has every modern convenience to make it an attractive place for members and their friends. There are two beautiful reception rooms for men and women, a lodge room and a kitchen on the first floor. On the second floor there is a large and beautifully arranged parlor equipped with attractive furniture, including a piano and a victrola. There are card games, billard rooms, another kitchen for smaller parties, and a hard-ball court with shower baths in connection.”

The building is red brick decorated with locally produced white terra cotta.  Inscribed prominently above the terra cotta entranceway is “B.P.O.E.1066”. High on the building, above the center second-story window, is a polychrome terra-cotta medallion depicting an elk head along with a clock.

The Elks closed the lodge in 1942 and in 1945 local merchant, Charles Pressendo, opened a furniture store at the location, remodeling the first floor to include two storefront display windows. The store remained open until 1978.

Picture of the Elks lodge during the City Hall fire in the 50’s

After twenty-seven years the building was sensitivly rehabilitated to house the Union Street Gallery, a not-for-profit arts incubator open to all artists that was being displaced from another building in the city.  The renovation preserved the original facade as well as the later added display windows. On the interior, the two-story open gallery space features the original steel I-beams above the mezanine level and main gallery. The third floor is filled with artists’ studios.

This blog entry has been co-written with CHHPAC member Pete Petrouski. Pete is also currently the president of Union Street Gallery’s board.


Driving the Dixie 2012

If you didn’t make it out to Chicago Heights for Driving the Dixie, you missed a wonderful event.

Over 300 people enjoyed the Gallery’s amazing art, our own Mike Bonhart’s fascinating display of Chicago Heights memorabilia, and all the cool CARS!

We gave away these great magnets to all that participated. –>

There was even a great display put up and staffed by the Park Forest Historical Society & Museum’s president, Michael Gans.  If you haven’t visited their museum, you really should get over there!  They also have an archive. Check out their website, and donate to keeping history alive.

Additionally, a hearty “Thank You” goes out to the Union Street Gallery for hosting the Driving the Dixie stop in Chicago Heights. It serves as a wonderful spot for people – many not from our area – to see what a wonderful art community we have, and some of our fantastic architecture. If you haven’t been to the Gallery yet, you really need to go, and go often. New shows are opening all the time. I see something new and wonderful each time I am there.

Call me crazy – you won’t be the first – but the  Elks Building/Union Street Gallery looked, well,  happy. If a building could smile, I think it was. Beautiful, used, cared for, and all the people enjoying it.  Well, it made me happy to see such a great building in its most recent incarnation so loved and vibrant.  And the Star building across the street made a nice backdrop for all the sweet rides that parked in front of it.

Check out some of the photos:

Driving the Dixie – The Chicago Heights Car Show!

This year we are again hosting a stop on the Driving the Dixie route.

Not only will we be at an amazing art gallery in a super-duper cool adaptive reuse of a historic building (stay tuned for that post…)  BUT we will also be the Car Show stop for the vintage cars.

SO, stop by between 10AM and Noon and enjoy!

Union Street Gallery, 1527 Otto Blvd., Chicago Heights

Thank you to the Union Street Gallery for hosting this great event!


Prints, slides, tintypes and more; do you feel overwhelmed by stacks of unorganized family photos? This workshop will teach you how to properly identify, store and preserve your family photos for future generations to enjoy. Using lots of hands-on examples, Lindsey Smith will guide you through the history of photography and the latest preservation products, and suggest ways to to make this daunting project less stressful and more manageable.

Lindsey Smith is the archivist at Des Moines University and the collections manager at the Iowa Jewish Historical Society. Prior to moving to Iowa, Lindsey was an archivist and exhibit developer at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. She co-chairs the Iowa Museum Association’s Exhibits and Collections Committee and advises for the State Historical Society of Iowa’s Historical Research Development Program. Lindsey received a BA in History from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MA in Historical Administration from Eastern Illinois University.

An archival supply bag can be purchased for $10

TUESDAY, APRIL 17TH 2012 – 7PM   Union Street Gallery, 1527 Otto Blvd., Chicago Heights

Directions can be found on the Gallery’s “Contacts” page: Here

Bloomvale Cemetery – The Visit!

Many of you will remember the story of our long forgotten cemetery encircled by landfill. If not, find it here.

Well, today many of our committee went for a visit along with a couple of city officials. They helped us find our way back through the 12 foot reeds and we were able to uncover some headstones. The area is very over-grown. Very. And soggy.

The photos below are from today’s visit and of an earlier visit (when there was actually snow on the ground). The photo credit for those go to Anne Coffey who was our first scout.

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The good news is that the City is very willing to help reclaim this area. Our shared goal is to make it visitable once again. It is a large endeavor we have before us. Between the landfill, soil erosion, the invasive reeds (did I mention they are 12 feet tall?), rogue trees, and general neglect, it is going to take a village – or an entire city – and time to bring this story a happy ending.

We are planning organized outing(s) this spring and summer to clean and recover any stones that have sunk or are hidden in some way. We will keep you posted and hope you will be involved.

Here is the link to Find A Grave where you can see the list of known burials in the cemetery, that is, those interred after they started issuing permits in 1902. You may also find this list at our library.


Bloomvale Cemetery Clean-up Event Saturday June 7th 2014 10:00am – click link to sign up-
**However, if you have mobility issues, this is not the event for you. Once this work day is complete, subsequent work days will be available for you to be involved and see this site.

Kids love history and architecture – if you give them the chance

Parthenon, Athens, Greece

For three days in October a sub-committee of the CHHPAC spent an hour with the 4th and 5th graders who spend afterschool at The Jones Community Center.We had a goal. Show kids that old buildings are cool – and that regardless of their condition, a little TLC can make the shabby shine again.
We first looked at different styles around the world, from the stuffy to the funky.  Like these–>

Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright

Geodesic Dome, Bukminster Fuller

We looked at shapes – who knew we could find so many in buildings? Then we taught them a lesson in historic equipment as I struggled to make a non-carrosel-type slide projector work. Yipes! But, they loved seeing the actual slides. We all looked at an old brick with a name stamp on it. We talked about materials and how we make materials, how that has changed over time, and then looked at architectural drawings on vellum. ooohh

The next day they seemed to have a good time actually looking at the slides projected – I had figured out how to use the vintage slide projector – and putting together puzzles of houses of different styles. They also got to touch and hold a piece of art glass, counting the panes, and a terra-cotta roofing tile. They seemed very interested in these items.

On the third day there were many proud to tell me they lived in an old house, and even the year it was built. We talked about places that matter to us, our homes, churches, schools, and the Jones Community Center. We also talked about why we keep old buildings.

Why is it important to save items and places? We talked about the three reasons.

1)Because they are beautiful or interesting to look at and provide “visual enhancement” to the area.

Before and after of a house (Dallas, TX)

2) They are still useful, sturdy and can be re-used rather than be wasted and create more garbage in a landfill. Once cleaned up, or with regular maintenance, shabby places can look new again.

3) The place/structure has a special history, provides a link to that history, and helps us – and future generations – remember.  Tactile history, just like the brick, or terra-cotta roofing tile, gives our minds something to make history real.

How do you explain the reasons for preservation to children?  I try to work it in when I can with my own. Pointing buildings out as we pass, the details that I find attractive, or predominant shapes. Wondering out loud what an empty building could be re-used for, or where all the debris will go when something is demolished. We talk over old pictures, or the reasons why I value the old dresser we have over a newer one.

History gives us a sense of belonging to something, and kids get it – if you give them the chance.

Here are some of the links we used for our project:

The National Park Service – Teaching with Historic Places

National Trust for Historic Preservation – My House Matters

Architecture – It’s Elementary!


**All pictures in this post are not our own and have been borrowed from another website, a while back, and therefore do not have a link. You probably knew that, but I will work harder in the future to keep track of borrowed images and their original locations.

Hull House in Chicago Heights? The Jones Memorial Community Center

The Jones Center gets it's Landmark sign

On August 1st the Chicago Height Historic Preservation Advisory Committee was joined by Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez, Alderperson Wanda Rogers, Chief of Staff Lisa Aprati and Cicely Barber, Community Relations Administrator, in presenting to Executive Director Cheryl Roop of the Jones Community Center their Landmark sign. In April the Chicago Heights City Council unanimously voted to give historic landmark status to the structure.

Not only has it become an established and familiar visual feature to the City of Chicago Heights, but the Harold Colbert Jones Memorial Community Center remains a focal point of the city today. The community center was chartered November 16, 1917. It grew out of a mission organized by Eugenio De Luca directed toward the Italian immigrant community.  On May 1, 1910 Mr. De Luca organized night school classes in a hotel on Twenty-Second Street in the Hill neighborhood to teach citizenship and English. As the number of participants grew, it became obvious that rented rooms and church spaces were no longer adequate to house the  classes. A fundraising campaign for $15, 000 was successful and a building to house these programs was completed in 1918 on East 15th Street.

Throughout the ensuing years the Center has served Italians, Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, African Americans and
migrant laborers teaching them English so they could become citizens and introducing them to American customs. Staff lived in the Center in the spirit of Settlement Houses such as Hull House. The goal of these organizations was to help others, not by patronizing them, but by joining their communities. These houses became the key means by which immigrants and the less fortunate would be welcomed, enriched, and encouraged toward self-sufficiency. A second story was added to the building in 1921 to provide more sleeping quarters for staff and additional club rooms to accommodate the Center’s increasing number of
activities. Hot showers, the first on the East side of town, were available and were especially important to the men who did the hardest and dirtiest work in the factories but whose homes lacked hot water or indoor plumbing.

In 1938 George Colbert Jones made a gift to the Center of 1500 shares of Inland Steel Company stock in memory of his son Harold Colbert. It was designated for the construction of an addition to the building that was to have a full size gymnasium, among other facilities. The original building was veneered to match the new. This is the Art Deco style structure that is visible today, exhibiting the common style characteristic of geometric ornamentation. It was designed by Benjamin F. Olson.

Today, the Center’s mission is very much the same as it has been for 100 years. Neighborhood kids know this as their home, where they come before and after school. A safe haven. A great place with great people. Unfortunately, they are in dire need for a new roof over the gymnasium and are campaigning to raise the money needed. Please visit their website to donate and to find a more detailed history of this amazing Chicago Heights place.

(Patch Article Jones Center Celebrates Landmark Status…)

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Al Capone’s Tunnels

In my short tenure as the chair of the preservation committee, I have been asked a few times if I know anything about Al Capone and his ties here. Where did he live, visit? Did he build tunnels? If so, where?

Honestly, I don’t know. There are sooo many more things I, personally, care more about in this city. But, history is history….so here is a bit on the existence of tunnels.

A quick search of the internet brought up places where it is said Capone used tunnels for escape and bootlegging purposes. One as close as Thornton, others in Burlington WI, and Canada. A May 2005 Star article talks about how Chicago Heights not only served as a refuge for Capone, but was where many of his liquor stills were located.

When first posed with the question of tunnels I asked past Chicago Heights historian, Barbara Paul‘s husband. Since her passing, he, and the books she and Dominic Candoloro wrote, are my link to all that she knew – and that was a lot. He told me that she never knew of any and didn’t believe they existed.

Now, that is a tough pill for a lot of people to swallow, I am sure. But the nature of these things, secret tunnels, well, are secret. The stuff of “if I told you, I’d have to kill you”, right?  There just may be places, maybe in YOUR basement. Maybe you, or your uncle, held your own Geraldo vault opening only to find canned tomatoes and empty Peroni bottles?

But if there were tunnels, we’d know by now. Our streets – and homes- would have caved in by now. If there were tunnels here, they could not have traversed the city and still be unknown.  Tunnels running short distances are more likely, other places had them as well. From home to store, home to home, or from home to carriage house I could believe. A deep cellar for canning and sausage making more likely.

I think I understand why Barbara, and now I, am reluctant to delve into this subject. So many reasons. Yet, it is an interesting question.


Are there secret tunnels in Chicago Heights?

Chicago Heights Postcards and Images

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Thank You to Chuckman’s Collection for use of the images. For more great postcards and images please visit Chuckman’s blog.

Bloomvale Cemetery

A little known landmark in the city is that of Bloomvale Cemetery. Never heard of it? You are not alone. Even if you have lived in Chicago Heights all of your life you may still not know of its existence. You might just know of the area as “the dump”. WHAT?!? There is no longer a cemetery there? Well, here is the story.

While its origins are unknown, Bloomvale Cemetery may have been in use years before Chicago Heights began issuing burial permits in January 1902. 339 burial permits later, the last was issued in February of 1912. (these can be found on findagrave.com or at the Chicago Heights Free Public Library) Many founding members of the city were buried there. A 1907 map of Chicago Heights shows a large plot along 28th street (no longer an actual street) across from Ludowici-Celadon Co., a terra-cotta and tile roofing company long gone. Also in the area was a brick company due to the rich clay deposits.

As years passed those who visited loved ones in Bloomvale Cemetery passed away as well, to be buried elsewhere, and it sort-of was forgotten. After the closing of the terra cotta and brick companies in that area, two landfills crept up there, originally beginning to fill the clay hole from the brick factory. Years passed, and the boundaries of the cemetery have gotten smaller. A current map of the area only shows the cemetery as a small patch along that side of the road, a fraction of its representation on the 1907 map.

Bloomvale’s size is quite large on this 1907 map

The Chicago Heights Historic Preservation Advisory Committee landmarked it in June of 2000. VERY little is known about our little cemetery encircled by landfills – and that brings me to our plea. If anyone has any recollections, pictures, information, etc about Bloomvale Cemetery, post it in the comments below or email us directly. When does a cemetery cease to be a cemetery? I say never, and it is time to reclaim it.

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Bloomvale Cemetery Clean-up Event Saturday June 7th 2014 10:00am – click link to sign up and for more information
**However, if you have mobility issues, this is not the event for you. Once this work day is complete, subsequent work days will be available for you to be involved and see this site.