What was once a community anchor and forum for progressive politics on Chicago’s North Side is now a corner lot full of debris and bricks.
For more than four decades, the Heartland Cafe brought hearty food, lively music and activists of progressive bent to the corner of Glenwood and Lunt avenues in the Rogers Park neighborhood.
Co-founders Katy Hogan and Michael James opened the restaurant in 1976 with the idea of creating community through sharing all those things: food, entertainment and exchange of ideas.
“We opened right on time to say, ‘This is the world we want to create. Let’s go forward and do it,’” Hogan said. “Gay, straight, black, white, brown … It was a great oasis in a great neighborhood.”
Changing times and finances caught up with the Heartland, and this week, the cafe where Harold Washington and Barack Obama brought their political campaigns was demolished.
Rogers Park resident and former Heartland employee Joe St. Charles said he holds deep, fond memories of the Heartland.
“I met my wife here in 2009 and all my closest and best friends,” he said. St. Charles stood in front of the demolition site Friday, holding his 15-month-old son, choking back tears.
Heartland Cafe owner Tom Rosenfeld sold the building to real estate investor Sam Goldman in January.
Goldman said demolition began on Tuesday and was expected to be finished by Friday. He said he doesn’t know yet what he’ll build on the site. “We do know that the project will consist of apartments above ground floor commercial, with parking on the ground level,” Goldman said. He said the decision won’t be made in a vacuum, however, adding, “I know the alderwoman is working now on setting up a timeline for putting together community meetings.”
He’s talking about Ald.-elect Maria Hadden. Hadden defeated longtime 49th Ward Ald. Joe Moore in the February election. Standing under the CTA Red Line tracks, Hadden said community members have already shared their concerns about what will replace the Heartland. “It’s been such a community space for so many years and it holds a special place in people’s hearts and emotions,” Hadden said. She added that “everybody cares a lot about what’s going to be here next.”Hadden said she’s had discussions with Goldman, the new owner of the property, and plans to schedule community meetings to “try and make sure that the spirit of the Heartland and what this means to folks can carry on in whatever lives here next.”
Heartland co-founder Katy Hogan says change is hard. “I think what’s important is whether or not we get something in here that people are comfortable with,” she said. “What a lot of us hope will stay is the span of patio that’s been here for 43 years that the community’s missed terribly since the Heartland went dark,” she added.
She hopes whatever goes in its place will be as dedicated to building community as the cafe was.
“I think it’s shown that public spaces that actually say ‘everyone’s welcome here’ are needed and will always be something that people flock to.”