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Photo by Eric Allix Rogers

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Anthony Overton Elementary

Hearing Officer Carl McCormick recommended against closing Overton Elementary in Bronzeville, arguing that district officials were not making good on their promise to send all students at shuttering schools to better-performing ones. CPS argued that McCormick and other Officers who came to similar conclusions either did not understand or over-stepped their role. Mollison Elementary, which was the receiving school for displaced Overton students, filed a Title VI lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Education against CPS the following year to investigate whether the overcrowding that followed was a violation of its students’ civil rights.

 

Bronzeville earned the title of the ‘Black Metropolis' of Chicago during the Great Migration. It was the center for Black culture and business until white flight, and later the demolition of the Robert Taylor public housing development, set off dominoes of disinvestment across the whole of the Black Belt and other predominantly Black communities on Chicago’s South and West sides. At its height, the narrow strip of Bronzeville was home to more than 300,000, but lost more than 75% of its population between 1950 and 2010. In 2013, Overton was one of six closed schools in Bronzeville joining Attucks, Mayo, Wells, and Williams Elementary and Middle schools.

 

Since 2017, Borderless has partnered with the Washington Park Development Group through Creative Grounds to organize community-led design activation projects at Overton. Community activations are focused on cultivating exchange and collaboration. For the past five years, Overton has hosted dozens of collaborative creative projects including art and design installations, workshops, exhibitions and more recently a mutual aid market. These projects reflect on the history of the school, celebrate its legacy and introduce its renewed identity. 

Photo by Sara Pooley

Researched by Jenna Pollack

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TIMELINE

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Quick Facts

Address: 221 E 49th St, Chicago, Illinois 60615

School Type: Neighborhood

Neighborhood: Bronzeville / Grand Boulevard

Student Body: 92% Black

Building Area: 60,600 sqft

Land Area: 97,136 sqft

Zoning: B3-2

Assessed Value:  $925,000 - $1,125,000

Sale Price: $325,000

Sale Date: November 6, 2015

Purchaser: Washington Park Development Group

Planning Region: Southeast

Repurposing Proposal: Slated for use as offices, business incubation, youth programs. Use restriction: All or part of building must be used for youth/adult recreational, educational, counseling and mentoring programs; job-training programs; housing; retail; or manufacturing/tech space. Cannot be used to sell/make liquor or as K-12 public/charter school.

Annual Maintenance Costs (as school): $251,100

Annual Carry Costs (vacant): $109,862

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Design by Zhilin Cai

Coming soon: 
Overton Center of Excellence

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Photo by Paola Aguirre Serrano

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Photo by Brandon Biederman

#CNDA28 Winner: Borderless Studios for Creative Grounds at Anthony Overton Incubator
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#CNDA28 Winner: Borderless Studios for Creative Grounds at Anthony Overton Incubator

Winner, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ( @macfound) Creative Placemaking Award In 2013, nearly 50 Chicago Public Schools were closed, primarily concentrated on the West and South Sides—one of them being Anthony Overton Elementary in Bronzeville. Overton was purchased by the Washington Park Development Group and is being transformed into a business and technology incubation center. Borderless Studios, a design firm focused on supporting healthy, vibrant and meaningful communities by demonstrating how design adds value to the built and social environments, has been a key part of the reinvention of Overton through the Creative Grounds Initiative. Through Creative Grounds, Borderless has partnered with the Washington Park Development Group to organize community-led design activation projects at Overton. Community activations are focused on cultivating exchange and collaboration. For the past four years, Overton has hosted dozens of collaborative creative projects including art and design installations, workshops, exhibitions and more recently a mutual aid market. These projects reflect on the history of the school, celebrate its legacy and introduce its renewed identity. Creative Grounds seeks to bring visibility to the challenges and opportunities presented by closed school buildings, while organizing community-led activities as a form of advocacy and collaborative agency to create a space for collective reflection and imagination about the future of social infrastructure in our city. The organization has connected and engaged with hundreds of neighbors and community members including residents, teachers, students, youth, artists and designers, as well as more than 50 local and city-wide organizations. It has supported design interventions, provided a space for experimentation, and broadcast community stories that reflect on the past, present and imagined futures of Bronzeville and its closed schools.
Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019 ...And Other Such Stories // Curatorial Venue Anthony Overton Elementary
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Chicago Architecture Biennial 2019 ...And Other Such Stories // Curatorial Venue Anthony Overton Elementary

Courtesy of Chicago Architecture Biennial / OnTheReal Film Inc., 2019 **** Anthony Overton Elementary School, located in the Bronzeville neighborhood, closed in 2013 after more than fifty years of operation, and was bought by a community development organization in 2015. Designed by Perkins and Will in 1963, the school was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. As this site prepares for its redevelopment into an entrepreneurship center, a series of outdoor collaborative design projects—including projections, installations, and mapping—aim to reflect and celebrate its design legacy, introduce its renewed identity, and propose new program opportunities to connect with the surrounding community. In summer 2019, international practices Herkes İçin Mimarlık (Architecture for All), studioBASAR, and Zorka Wollny along with Borderless Studio, who has managed a series of site-specific design projects at the school since 2016, came together here for a week of exchange, research, tours, and youth workshops. New work produced during this week, was opened to the public on select weekends during the run of the Biennial. *** More about these projects: https://chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org/current/contributors/borderless_studio https://chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org/current/contributors/herkes_in_mimarlk_architecture_for_all https://chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org/current/contributors/studiobasar https://chicagoarchitecturebiennial.org/current/contributors/zorka_wollny https://www.creativegrounds.org/processing-transformation-projects

Watch the many activations of the Overton Grounds through Borderless Studio’s Creative Grounds programs:

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About Anthony Overton

Anthony Overton (March 21, 1865 – July 2, 1946), a banker and manufacturer, was the first African American to lead a major business conglomerate. In 1898 he established Hygienic Manufacturing Company and produced a number of goods, including the nationally known High Brown Face Powder, which was “the first market success in the sale of cosmetics for black women”. In 1923 he established the Douglass National Bank, the second nationally chartered black-owned bank in the United States. He went on to develop a highly diverse conglomerate, including the Great Northern Realty Company, the Chicago Bee, and the Victory Life Insurance Company. In 1927 The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) awarded him its Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American. That same year, he was also given the prestigious Harmon award’s first award and Gold medal in Business. He was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

Photo from BlackPast

Sources: Kalyn Belsha, Block Club Chicago, Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Chicago Reporter, Chicago Tribune, City of Chicago, Main Street America, WTTW