In 2006, a cross-section of Chicagoans came together to preserve and transform the only remaining building of the historic Jane Addams Homes on the Near West Side. The three-story brick building at 1322-24 West Taylor opened in 1938 as the first federal government housing project in Chicago. It housed hundreds of families over six decades, and has sat vacant since 2002.
The Jane Addams Homes was one of three demonstration projects in Chicago built under the Public Works Administration Act, which was created to provide jobs and help revive the Depression-era economy. Designed by a team of architects headed by John Holabird, the buildings were named after the Nobel Prize-winning founder of Chicago’s Hull House. Jane Addams Homes not only provided housing, but also offered child care, employment counseling and a variety of other pioneering social services.
We envision this restored building as a museum and study center, a challenging place to preserve and reveal history, to foster dialogue and to create change.
More than a Museum: A Cultural Asset
Like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York City, the District Six Museum in Cape Town, South Africa, and other social history museums throughout the world, the National Public Housing Museum in Chicago will create a place for social reflection, public dialogue, and education for the future.
The Museum will function as an interpretive center by recreating period living spaces of public housing apartments during eight consecutive decades (1938–2002). It will use oral histories, artifacts, and original documents to tell the stories of families who lived in the Taylor Street building. It will incorporate art and music of the periods, the politics and economics, all through the lives of the residents. Docent-led tours will guide visitors through the Museum, helping them make important linkages between the histories of individual residents and the social, political, and economic forces that shaped and continue to have an effect on urban communities.
Discussions are taking place about incorporating in the building an institute to study housing policy, exhibitions about other forms of affordable housing, and an interactive space for learning about new visions for sustainable neighborhoods.
- Imagine climbing the building’s concrete staircases, standing in its well-built one- and two-bedroom units, and walking among the restored Works Progress Administration animal sculptures in the gardens.
- Imagine visiting the recreated homes of an Italian-American family in the 1930s, a Jewish family in the ’40s, a Mexican-American family in the ’50s, and African-American families in the ’60s, their stories told through artifacts, oral histories, and original documents.
- Imagine a lively forum where participants could discuss the key issues surrounding public housing—including race, class, culture, citizenship, immigration, and the still-burning question of the role of government in the creation of decent housing for all.
Top: Richard Cahan. Lower: Chicago Housing Authority Archives