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Chicago Neighborhood Pins Its Image on Art Deco Landmark

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Here now, Past Lives, in which Curbed contributor Chris Berger explores what some of the country's most interesting residential buildings used to be before they became livable homes. Care to suggest a building with a fascinating past life? Do drop us a line.

Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own identity. Logan Square, on the city's northwest side, wants to be known as an arts-friendly neighborhood. The recently rehabilitated Hairpin Lofts has helped it cement that identity. Built in 1930, the flatiron-shaped Art Deco style office and retail building was constructed at the confluence of Milwaukee, Diversey and Kimball avenues for the Hump Hair Pin Manufacturing Company. Architects Liechenko and Esser included a camel—the company's logo—on the decorative exterior panels and on the lobby floor.

? After World War II, the building housed a Morris B. Sachs department store. The store closed in 1958, and over the years the offices were home to a range of tenants. By the 1990s, the building was empty, except for a Payless Shoe Source on the ground floor. In 2005, developer Gary Poter bought the building for $3.3 million and began to have it converted into condos. But tragedy struck the following year when Poter was stabbed to death by an enraged employee. The city purchased the building for $4 million and sought a company to redevelop the prominently situated property. In 2010, the Chicago City Council approved the proposal by Brinshore Development, in collaboration with the Lester and Rosalie Anixter Center, to transform the building into residences, retail spaces, and an arts center. The city sold the building to the development team for the grand sum of $1. On top of that, the project received $7 million in property taxes set aside for community improvements and $1.5 million in state tax credits.

? The former office building—named the Hairpin Lofts in honor of its original owner—was a shell of its former self when Hartshorne and Plunkard Architecture began the redesign: the detailed parapet had been replaced by yellow brick, the camel motif panels were fragmented, and some windows were enclosed. The situation was even worse inside, where the would-be condo conversion had left the upper floors tattered.

? Restorers Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates stripped off the 858 exterior limestone pieces and cleaned them before returning them to their correct spot. They also re-created the ornate concrete parapet using historical photos and recast the decorative panels from molds. The lobby required less work. The terrazzo floors, including the inlaid camel, were patched and re-ground; the marble walls were scrubbed; and the missing ceiling panels were restored.

? The Hairpin Lofts, which have earned LEED Gold certification, also are a model of sustainability. The replacement windows minimize energy usage. Some of that energy comes from a geothermal heating and cooling system supplied by wells that were bored on an adjacent property. On the roof, solar panels share space with a 3,600 square foot self-irrigating garden.

Photo: Patsy McEnroe Photography

? Opened in 2011, the ground floor includes four retail units that total 7,000 square feet. The 8,000 square foot second floor is occupied by the Logan Square Community Arts Center, which hosts a variety of exhibitions, performances, and classes. The top four floors have been divided into one- and two-bedroom apartments, 89 percent of which have been set aside as affordable housing for artists and the disabled. Rents range from $300 to $1,200 per month.

? Thanks to a collaboration among government, nonprofit, and private sector, a once neglected building has regained its allure. Not only that, it serves a number of positive roles for its community and truly distinguishes Logan Square from all other neighborhoods in Chicago.

· Harpin Lofts [official site]
· Hairpin Lofts [Hartshorne Plunkard]
· Hairpin Lofts [Brinshore]
· Strategic Subsidies [Chicago Reader]
· History of the Morris B. Sachs Building [Peopling Places]