Restoration to Revitalization in Chicago Uptown Neighborhood Published December 13, 2011

As a former resident of Uptown, I am keenly aware of the residents’ desire for a long-awaited revitalization of the neighborhood.  Home to the Green Mill Jazz Club, the neighborhood drew the likes of Al Capone “when big jazz names graced the stage, and even Frank Sinatra slung back a few through a couple of sets.”

Venues like the Aragon and the “Riv” (Riviera) continue to draw music lovers to the area, but the vitality of the neighborhood that once existed in the swing area diminished over the following decades.   “Uptown began a slow slide, morphing into a low-rent district known for crime, grime and arson fires.”  Burdened by corruption and misallocated tax dollars, buildings fell into disrepair, and such landmarks as the Uptown Theater and Bridgeview Bank, formerly known as Uptown National Bank, awaited long overdue restoration.

Slowly but surely, the neighborhood is experiencing a revitalization with the completion of Uptown Square/Borders project, funding being raised for the Uptown Theater, and the $16 million dollar renovation of the Bridgeview Bank.  The circa 1920’s art deco building is “the second largest terra cotta structure outside the Loop, and serves as an Uptown anchor, hosting special events and public gatherings.”

The three year rehabilitation project based on Klein and Hoffman’s façade inspection is being performed by Design Installation Systems of Morton Grove.  The project will include removal, repair and replacement of damaged terra cotta.

The terra cotta will be replaced with ARC’s glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) supplied by Arcspec.  Due to its ability to replicate building ornaments and terra cotta, GFRC is becoming more commonly used.

The strength, durability and low weight of this material make GFRC an appealing option for restoration projects.  “Lower weights mean easier hoisting and installation, and replacing terracotta with a lightweight material like GFRC will also reduce loads on the structure.”

GFRC’s characteristics provide a long life span and make it a viable alternative for replacement of terra cotta; however, the determination of which material should be used for restoration should be evaluated based on the type of pieces to be replaced, structural, mold and field conditions, and the budget of each project.

With the recent election of three new aldermen and their plans to draw businesses and retailers back into the area, perhaps there will be more opportunities to use these materials to restore more of Chicago’s historic buildings and promote a much anticipated upswing in the not so “up-and-coming” Uptown.

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