Chicago’s City Hall is a classic municipal building, imposing and columned, on La Salle Street in the Loop. Yet about nine miles southwest, the top of a building on 63rd Street declares itself “Town Hall.”
WBEZ listener Juan Zamora asked, “Why is there a town hall in the Clearing neighborhood?”
The answer lies in Clearing’s brief life as a town separate from Chicago. And the two-story, red -brick building, built in 1912 at 5649 W. 63rd St., was indeed the town hall.
The exterior features tall, arched windows and brick pilasters (or ornamental pillars), capped with a limestone beam.
The spot was first developed as a “clearing” area for rail lines passing through Chicago. In 1888, Alpheus B. Stickney, a Minnesota railroad executive, bought up enough rural property to build a one-mile circular railroad, where freight could be unloaded and transferred between trains smoothly. The project never got built, but the name Clearing stuck, and in 1909 was applied to the newly incorporated town.
Meanwhile, Chicago grew fast in the late 1900s, annexing the areas that make up today’s Lake View, Rogers Park, Hyde Park and, eventually, Clearing. Just six years after becoming a town, it was annexed in three gulps: 1915, 1917 and 1923. The Southwest Side neighborhood was one of the last pieces added to the city. Today it sits primarily west and southwest of Midway International Airport.
Clearing’s annexation essentially made Midway — Chicago’s first big airport — possible. Chicago started developing it in 1926. But the annexation left the old town hall at 5649 W. 63rd Street defunct.
In the 1940s and 1950s, the building was used as an American Legion Hall. From 1971 to about 1999, it housed Musichorale, a community chorus program that started in 1947 as a Lindblom High School alumni choir. In 2004, the old Clearing Town Hall building was redeveloped into four condominiums, called Town Hall Lofts.
There are two other town halls, built by former municipalities, that were annexed into the Chicago city limits — but both have been repurposed into something else.
Lake View built a town hall at what’s now Addison and Halsted streets in 1872. Seventeen years later, Chicago annexed Lake View. In 1907, Chicago built the 42nd precinct police station on the site and called the surrounding police district Town Hall. In 2010, it was replaced by a new police station built a block west, and the name moved with it. The old police station later reopened as affordable apartments for LGBTQ senior citizens, with a large modern wing attached to its north.
Austin, on the west side of Chicago, was once a part of the Town of Cicero, which incorporated in 1857. Cicero was a big swath of land that included what’s now Cicero, Berwyn, Oak Park and the Austin neighborhood. Its Town Hall was built in 1870.
The part that became Austin was incorporated into Chicago in 1899, and the town hall building became a branch of the Chicago Public Library. In the 1920s, it was replaced by a new branch library, facing Race Avenue, and a park district fieldhouse, facing Kinzie Street.
The Georgian Revival fieldhouse was designed to emulate Independence Hall in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were adopted. It’s one of two Chicago buildings from the era that honor Independence Hall. The other is the old Stock Yards Bank, which we wrote about in January 2020.
The building is sometimes referred to as Austin Town Hall, but the truth is that only the park, where the actual Austin Town Hall stood, qualifies for the name: Austin Town Hall Park.
Dennis Rodkin is a residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” contributor. Follow him @Dennis_Rodkin. Mary Hall produced the web version of this story. Follow her @hall_marye.