On the city's West Side, a place built for a King

January 17, 2011

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King took up residence in a West Side two-flat during his historic fair housing battle here in 1966. But the building was later demolished and a vacant lot--for 30 years--marked the occasion in which a King walked among us.

No longer, though. The new $17 million Dr. King Legacy Apartments at 16th and Hamlin now enlivens what was once a large empty parcel that once included 1550 S. Hamlin where King briefly stated. Built by a coalition that included the Lawndale Christian Development Corporation, the New Communities Program of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, and the Westside Federation of Chicago, the development brings 45 units of quality new housing to the West Side. Retail storefronts are also included.

The project's architect,Johnson & Lee Architects manages to pull off a nice-looking structure with form, color and respect of the streetscape on a budget small enough to be a rounding error in some residential projects in town. Johnson & Lee used multicolored face brick, limestone columns along 16th street and metal bays.

"The bright color values of the masonry give the development a definitive sense of place," said design architect Philip Craig Johnson, FAIA. "The client wanted a development that symbolized rebirth."

Chicago--at least a segment of it--was unkind to King during his stay here. Many Chicago black pastors and elected officials turned their backs on King, labeling him an outsider and a agitator. And the civil rights leader was struck in the head with a brick during a march in the then-predominantly white Marquette Park neighborhood,  prompting King to famously say, "I've been in many demonstrations across the South, and I can say I have never seen--even in Mississippi and Alabama--mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I have seen in Chicago."

Quality housing on the site of where King lived while fighting for the same is a proper tribute to that battle--and a reminder the struggle is far from over.