Library name official: Little Italy Branch
December 7, 2018

Ald. Jason Ervin (28th Ward) made a surprise announcement at a Near West Side meeting Nov. 14, telling a community group that officials will name the new library on Taylor Street the Little Italy Branch.

The Little Italy Chicago Community Association (LICNA) formed more than a year ago to oppose plans for the library, including its location, architecture, and housing component. After losing those fights, however, the group focused on getting the library named for the Little Italy community. It succeeded.

“That is what the name will be,” Ervin said. He noted he had received the word from Linda Johnson Rice, president of the Chicago Public Library (CPL) board of directors, and Brian Bannon, commissioner and chief executive officer of CPL.

“I can confirm that the library branch will be called the Little Italy Branch,” CPL spokesman Patrick Molloy said.

The name change decision brought rejoicing from LICNA, which waged a petition drive that drew hundreds of signatures. “LICNA is proud, humbled, and honored to accomplish having the library on Taylor Street renamed Little Italy Branch, deservingly so,” said Joseph Esposito, LICNA president. “This has been tried a few times in past years and is a long time coming.”

Esposito gave special thanks to Ervin and Ald. Daniel Solis (25th), whose ward starts on the south side of Taylor, “for their continued support of LICNA and the Little Italy neighborhood.” Ervin delivered the signed petitions to library and housing officials.

Kathy Catrambone, an area resident, historian, and former executive director of the now-defunct University Village Association, also expressed support. “The name is fitting. It will honor the history of the neighborhood and will continue the City’s practice of naming libraries for neighborhoods,” said the author of Taylor Street: Chicago’s Little Italy. She also had circulated name-change petitions, and said she secured about 50 signatures by business owners.

At the LICNA meeting, the lone voice opposing the name belonged to Mary Baggett, the only African-American at the meeting and the only African-American on the LICNA board. She wants the library to retain the Roosevelt name—either for Theodore Roosevelt or for Roosevelt Square, the housing development slowly replacing ABLA Homes.

Baggett is a lifelong resident of ABLA, president of the ABLA Local Advisory Council, and a resident of Brooks Homes, the only remnant of the public housing community that once contained 3,600 homes.

“The library is not going into an Italian community,” Bassett said. For many of the last decades of the housing project’s existence, almost all of its 7,000 residents were Black, she said. It is “insulting” for anyone to not consider that, she added.

Officials had not set a definite date for opening the new library at 1342 W. Taylor St. by Gazette Chicago press time. The current library at 1101 W. Taylor St. closed Dec. 1. Books checked out during the last weeks it was open carried “return by” slips dated Feb 11, 2019.

“The staff of the Roosevelt Branch of the Chicago Public Library is excited to be moving to the new Little Italy Branch in early 2019,” said Shelley Hughes, branch manager. “Our new location will be twice the size of our current location, and we will be able to provide the kind of service our community truly deserves in our new space. We look forward to seeing our patrons again once we re-open.”

Work on building 73 apartments above and adjacent to the library is taking longer than that. Apartments probably will not be ready for renters until the second quarter of 2019, Ervin said. “The housing portion will be ready in spring 2019,” Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) spokeswoman Molly Sullivan concurred.

The new library will offer considerably more space than the previous one, with special area for teenagers as well as children. Meeting rooms will be available for everything from tutoring sessions to community gatherings.

The apartments at the library will include 37 CHA units, 29 affordable units, and seven market-rate units. LICNA originally petitioned against the amount of low-income housing but lost its argument.

The Roosevelt Branch opened in 1924, named in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt, who died in 1919. It moved to Taylor Street in 1998, to a building erected but never used as a bank. The University of Illinois at Chicago now owns the building.

The National Public Housing Museum, which will sit due east of the new library, will contain apartments representing the three main groups who lived there: Jewish, Italian, and African-American.

—Susan S. Stevens