I’ve driven by the Lathrop Homes on Diversey hundreds of times, and to my uneducated eye it just looked like a regular Chicago housing project. You can imagine my surprise when I read that the Lathrop Homes was just include in the famous Preservation Chicago list, “The Chicago Seven.” Being the giant nerd that I am, I decided to research it for this week’s “Did You Know, Chicago?” feature.
The Lathrop Homes was one of Chicago’s first public housing projects, completed in 1938. The housing development was named for Julia C. Lathrop, a social reformer who worked with Jane Addams at the famous Hull House. She was the first woman to head a United States federal bureau when she became the director of the United States Children’s Bureau from 1912 to 1922.
Not only was this built by a dream team of famous architects who created it in the famous Prairie Style, the landscaping was by the renowned Jens Jensen who designed Lincoln Park. The landscaping has stayed beautiful, and it’s one of the traits that sets this apart from other CHA homes.
If you’ve driven by the Lathrop Homes at night, you probably noticed the steam coming out of the ground and flowing over the street. While it looks like the steam is coming out of manholes, it’s actually coming out through vents from the steam heating system that warms the entire complex.
We’re so used to hearing about how bad Chicago public housing is, but the Lathrop Homes are actually one of the examples of success. It’s an ethnically diverse community located in attractive, structurally sound buildings. It’s in a prime location, right on the river in Logan Square and close to Lincoln Park. Yes, there’s crime, but generations of residents have chosen to stay in the complex because of the positive experiences they’ve had.
While the Lathrop Homes don’t look like the scary high-rises surrounded by even scary parking lots, it does need some work. In 2006, the city planned to demolish the entire thing and replace it with an apartment-condo-townhome development. However, this was blocked and since then the city and preservationists have gone back and forth about what exactly to DO with the complex.
The Lathrop Homes first appeared on the Preservation Chicago list in 2007 after talks of its demise began. While Preservation Chicago isn’t against renovation, they want to make sure that any changes “are respectful and sensitive to the intent of the original architects, and that they enhance the existing community for both residents and neighbors alike.” I can get behind that!