Public housing museum moves forward, despite appearances
October 5, 2018

Some of the artifacts found in public housing will become part of exhibits when the National Public Housing Museum opens.

Even though the former Jane Addams Homes public housing building at 1322 W. Taylor St. remains boarded up, those working on the project have taken steps inside the structure toward making it a museum, explained Lisa Lee, executive director of the National Public Housing Museum.

Workers put up orange plywood in place of the building’s windows, which “protects it from the elements,” Lee said. They also are preserving “some beautiful wallpaper” and other relics of life in the apartments and removed “a lot of lead and asbestos. We finished it, and it is a perfectly clean building now.”

“We did not have ownership of the building until spring, so could not do anything” before then, Lee continued. Then the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development deeded the building to the museum, and the Chicago Housing Authority awarded it a 99-year lease for $1.

Workers also removed a museum sign painted on the exterior bricks, which they will replace with a “coming soon” sign, Lee said. She hopes the museum will open by the end of 2019.

Fundraising, begun eight years ago, continues. “We have $4.5 million now,” Lee said. “We have to raise a total of $14 million.” Summer benefits to raise money for the museum featured Mary J. Blige and Earth, Wind, and Fire, and the organization has received several grants.

Those wanting a preview of the interior can visit an exhibit at the museum’s temporary quarters at 625 N. Kingsbury St. “They can see some salvaged artifacts and also get a sense of our future exhibition strategies,” Lee said. The exhibit is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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—Susan S. Stevens