Razing the Brooks Extension

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“I can just slip on a pair of slippers and walk across the street to the store.”

“Overjoyed is how I feel due to the fact that we have clean and modern laundry facilities. I like that I’m on a lower floor in a cleaner, spacious unit.”

These are just some of the views expressed by former residents of the last two buildings of the Robert Brooks Extensions as the wrecking ball slowly knocks down pieces of many memories. These residents were moved into the relocation building at 1440 W. 13th St.

The residents of the Brooks Extension who chose to remain in ABLA and not take a Housing Choice Voucher (formerly known as a Section 8) have been relocated to various other units within our vast community. Some have gone to the relocation building, some to the Grace Abbott Homes and some to the new low-rise units that are the new Brooks Homes.

The History of Brooks Extension
During the late ‘50s and the early ‘60s, a need came about to accommodate larger, lower income families. These families faced many issues from deplorable living conditions in inadequate and unsafe housing. With this in mind, ABLA was chosen as one of the 28 sites to address these problems.

The Brooks Extension opened in 1961 and once consisted of three 16-story buildings. These massive high-rise structures also share their name with Robert Brooks Homes, a group of row houses located just west of the high rises.

Both developments were named after U.S. Army Private Robert H. Brooks, a veteran of World War II. Brooks was an African American believed to be the first soldier killed near Fort Stotsenburg in the Philippines Islands while engaging in combat.

Brooks Extension also was neighbor to many well-known pieces of architecture such as Holy Family Catholic Church, St. Ignatius College Preparatory School and one of the oldest fire houses in the city. Also there’s John M. Smyth Elementary School, the gone but not forgotten Liberty Center, and finally, the Roosevelt branch of the Chicago Public Library a few miles away from Brooks Extension.

Many residents of the Brooks Extension took part in the activities that were offered at the facilities. Smyth School educated exceptional students. All of the buildings house memories for the people who lived in the Brooks Extensions.

With the demise of Brooks Extension in 2001, some 60 years after the death of Private Brooks, part of his legacy still lives on in the recently rehabbed Robert Brooks Homes.

Opening of the New Play Area
Long-time ABLA resident and secretary of the Local Advisory Council Willie Mckay felt a new playground was needed for the children of the Grace Abbott Homes. LAC members, residents, and other interested parties who also shared McKay’s vision made it into a reality.

On a bright, sunny, windy recent Saturday morning, the ground-breaking took place at the circular site behind the remaining high-rise. A huge turnout from residents, the LAC, officials from CHA, H.J. Russell  the property manager for ABLA – and others gathered for the dedication.

A proud and very concerned LAC president, Deverra Beverly, said the site was the first new playground built in ABLA in over 30 years.

The brightly colored, well-maintained playground has something for children of all ages. It even has neatly arranged seating areas for parents to watch their little ones at play.

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