All Things Old and New at Harold Ickes Homes



In the fall of 1997, all of the security guard houses in each of the nine seven-story buildings of Harold L. Ickes Homes were abandoned. Some of the security stations, which had been constructed in the middle of the first floor lobbies, were boarded up while others were wide open to any and all possible dangers. Many of us felt that we were held hostage by the abandoned security posts.

On either side were the in and out dark passages where the residents were at risk day or night every time they used them.

Broken door jams and broken light fixtures created a hazard for young children trying to go outside to play on broken swings, dilapidated monkey bars, sliding boards and busted up toddler barrels. Even the grounds were uneven and treacherous.

Revitalization began in spring 1998. The guard houses were sledge-hammered down, the old floor tile was ripped up, useless security screens and metal detectors were trashed. The ball was pitched; change and improvement started to roll.

Mixed Feelings

Mixed feelings from residents mar the beauty and serenity of the well-laid plans that converted patches of unused and misused vacant areas into a bright picture of urban revitalization.

Brick pillars mark the lengths of heavy wrought iron fencing and gateways. Berry-laden trees are lined just behind the fencing and serve as a background for low-lying rows of blooming yellow flowering plants.

New concrete terraces spread out in front of clean double tee buildings. In the center of each is a multi-function tot lot boasting multi-colored frames above soft wood chips spread for safety.

Adjacent to the tot lot is a single permanent basketball hoop with backboard and curved safety post to complete the recreational area.

Sturdy but comfortable benches dot the ample terrace where parents can watch their children play. New sod enhances the whole area and completes an engaging scene.

I personally appreciate the new manicured landscape conversion because it is in keeping with the overall new housing building boom that is adjacent to our public housing property.

The revitalization continued well into portions of each building. The lobbies were completely renovated with new floor tiles, light fixtures, grilled metal doorways and windows. All fire lanes and parking areas were leveled and re-paved.

The final piece of the revitalization took place on June 30, opening day for the Midnight Basketball Stadium. Mayor Richard M. Daley, CHA Executive Director Joseph Shuldiner and others cut the ribbons to open the new Midnight Basketball Stadium. It was a great celebration to mark the completion of the outdoor revitalization program and to open the only facility of its kind in America.

Residents’ Statements

Here’s what the Local Advisory Council President and some of the other residents said about the revitalization:

Gloria Williams, LAC President: “I’m so happy they finally chose Ickes to put the Midnight Basketball stadium in. We had been promised a lot of material things but seldom were they sent.”

Khaliq (Shaky) Battle, 16: “It’s a good place to meet new people. It will bring other developments together socially and friendly.”

Nolan Birden, 26: “I grew up in Ickes. I’m glad for the change. It was needed. The whole area: playgrounds, park terraces and parking lot. The changes are much better. It makes the community look better. It makes the passersby look at us with new thoughts: Perhaps we did something to deserve this. I just hope the adults help the children take care of the new surroundings.”

Vanessa Battle: “The beautification of the grounds is a good thing. However, if the tenants do not show appreciation by showing the children how to treat the new surroundings with care, within a short time it will look crummy again.”

Kat Johnson: “The kids needed something. They had no playground. It’s a whole lot better than it was.”

JoAnn Williams: “It’s OK. I could care less. It doesn’t seem to make any difference. They’re still shooting when they want to. Crime is still rampant.”

Gladys Richman: “The manicure of the grounds is good but we need our apartments revitalized. After 40 years, I would welcome new fixtures in my place.”

Speaking with Doreather E. Washington, deputy director of CHA’s Modernization Department, I was overwhelmed with her sincerity and love for her job and the people who worked with her. She explained to me that the renovation was a real challenge: she received only five weeks notice before the initial ground breaking. Her face became a glow of happiness as she poured out the joy, energy and commitment to professionalism that took hold of each foreman and each laborer as they worked long and unusual hours to complete such a massive undertaking in just three weeks.

Washington also revealed in our conversation her affection for the residents of public housing and the pride that was felt in being in position to work to effect a change to improve the quality of life for them. She also said: “I believe that our people must rise to the occasion to accept change and to know that it’s good, even though it’s painful.”

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