HUMBOLDT PARK – A museum in Humboldt Park run by a longtime former councilman has been ordered to halt construction of a cinder block building after city officials discovered the project had started without permits appropriate.

The Puerto Rican National Museum of Arts and Culture, which occupies an iconic building at 3015 W. Division St. in Humboldt Park’s namesake park, is building a secondary facility on the park grounds right next to the museum. When completed, the building will house the museum’s archives and art collections, said executive director Billy Ocasio.

Ocasio served as city councilor for the 26th arrondissement from 1993 to 2009.

Conservationists and neighbors have wondered how the rectangular cinderblock structure was allowed to rise next to the Queen Anne-style stables, which date back to the 1890s. necessary permits or clear levels of city and state approval to begin construction, officials said. A stop work order was issued Sept. 25, city officials said.

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
A half-finished cinder block structure next to the iconic stables in Humboldt Park.

The site was abandoned on Tuesday, with a half-built cinderblock structure, construction tools and machinery cordoned off with construction fencing and police tape.

“The district is currently evaluating appropriate next steps and will continue to work with all relevant agencies to determine the future of the project,” Park District spokeswoman Michele Lemons said in an emailed statement.

Ocasio said they hope to resume construction after securing necessary approvals to build on Park District land near a Chicago landmark. Museum officials were not trying to deceive the city or circumvent regulations when construction began, he said.

“Some honest mistakes were made and we’re trying to correct them,” Ocasio said. “We’re working with the city, we’re working with the state, and we’re working with the Park District on them.”

Founded in 2000, the Puerto Rican National Museum of Arts and Culture is “the only free-standing museum in the country dedicated to presenting Puerto Rican artistic and cultural exhibits throughout the year,” according to its website.

The museum operates from Humboldt Park’s oldest structure, the Humboldt Park Receiver and Stables, a Park District-owned building built in 1895 for horses and used as storage for carts and landscaping tools .

Designated a Chicago Landmark in 2008, the building also housed the office of a renowned landscape architect, then superintendent of the park. Jens Jensen.

Credit: Chicago Landmarks Commission
(Top to bottom) Historic images of the Humboldt Park Stables building, from 1895 and 1896.

Ocasio said they’ve been trying to build a climate-controlled storage and archives building at the site since before the pandemic, and they secured $750,000 in state capital funding in 2020 to bring the project to life. .

Thanks to soaring construction costs during the pandemic, the project now costs $1.2 million. The museum is covering the funding shortfall, Ocasio said.

Ocasio said the building will be no more than two stories.

“We haven’t expanded our collection because we’re waiting to build this thing,” he said. “It is very important for our future.

Construction of the museum facility began earlier this year after the team got approval from the state grants office, Ocasio said. The project stalled about a month ago, two weeks before the city issued the stop work order, when the museum realized it had missed some approval steps, said Ocasio.

“We submitted a bunch of paperwork, we were told everything was fine, so we moved on. However, as they checked things out, we weren’t fine. There was some confusion as to who had jurisdiction, the Park District or the city,” Ocasio said.

Lemons said the museum must follow proper procedures outlined in its lease if it intends to build on the property, including written approval from the Park District, as well as “additional approvals” including permits. from the city.

Lemons did not respond to further questions about the specific approvals needed to build on the Humboldt Park site.

No building permits have been issued for the project, according to city records.

The museum had previously attempted to bring shipping containers to the site, but the state grants office rejected that idea, urging the team to build something that complements the historic stables building, Ocasio said. .

“It’s a blessing that all of this is happening because now the state can take another look at it,” Ocasio said of the stop work order. “In a way, it’s a good thing for everyone. We are doing everything right now.

Local curators and neighbors who frequent the park are concerned that the installation will detract from the beauty and charm of the historic stables and park building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Credit: Mina Bloom/Block Club Chicago
The city halted construction of the Humboldt Park project after officials found the museum failed to obtain the proper permits and approvals.

The unfinished cinder block structure “looks like hell,” and it’s hard to imagine how the museum facility will improve the area because the museum hasn’t publicly shared its plans, said Mary Lu Seidel of Preservation Chicago. .

Ocasio said the design is being reviewed by city and state officials.

“It’s important that the museum has a place to store its art, but it should be able to do so through a process that ensures its single purpose doesn’t undo the incredibly hard work the city has put in to preserve Humboldt Park and the Humboldt Park stables,” Seidel said.

“You’re not just talking about a building around the corner that has no history or character; you’re talking about a Chicago landmark and a National Register of Historic Places park that we don’t want to impact.

Neighbor Bridget Montgomery said the museum seems poised to “slap” the facility without considering the site’s rich history.

“To build a new building on the same site as a historic landmark, especially one that has such significance to the region – it’s ignorant and kind of insulting,” Montgomery said.

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