Photo by Eric Allix Rogers
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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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
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
Design by Zhilin Cai
Overton Center of Excellence
Photo by Paola Aguirre Serrano
The Overton Center of Excellence is redeveloping the former Overton School into flexible office space for entrepreneurs and nonprofits focused in the areas of CHANGE (Climate, Health, Arts & Culture, Next Generation, Growth and Education). The Overton Center of Excellence will leverage recent investments in the Bronzeville and Washington Park communities, such as the Obama Presidential Center, to provide below-market rent to South Side start ups. They are also seeking National Green Building Standards (NGBS) certification, and will use the sustainable building practices as an opportunity for community education.
Construction on the main building and annex — formerly Overton’s Child-Parent Center — will begin in the fall of 2022. Black-owned BOWA Construction is in charge. The main building’s renovation will cost $14 million, and the annex $3 million.
Photo by Brandon Biederman
Watch the many activations of the Overton Grounds through Borderless Studio’s Creative Grounds programs:
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