Future home of the Hairpin Lofts
Future home of the Hairpin Lofts Credit: sam adams

On March 10 the City Council approved a $15.4 million plan to turn the former Morris B. Sachs building—an iconic flatiron structure at the six-way intersection of Milwaukee, Diversey, and Kimball, currently owned by the city—into affordable housing for artists. The Hairpin Lofts, a project of Northbrook-based Brinshore Development and its nonprofit partner, the Lester and Rosalie Anixter Center, will get plenty of government funding: a $7 million contribution from the Fullerton/Milwaukee tax increment financing district, a $4 million “write down” the city’s taking on the building (which it purchased with TIF money), and $1.5 million in state tax credits. That’s a total of $12.5 million in public money. It looks like Brinshore will manage the property, which will consist of four retail spaces on the main floor and 28 apartments—three that’ll rent at market rate, four reserved for disabled tenants, and 21 for artists. A space on the second floor is earmarked for a new Logan Square Community Arts Center. The city is selling the building to the developers for two payments of $1 each.

Or at least that’s what I’ve gleaned from the scanty information issued so far. Though the city put out a press release when the Hairpin Lofts ordinance passed, by last week both city officials and Brinshore had clammed up about the deal. Spokespeople for each said interview requests were premature, and it would be best to save questions for a few weeks, until the deal closes. (Groundbreaking is expected in mid-April.) The Department of Community Development—which was created by merging the former departments of planning and housing last year—declined to reveal the details of the agreement between Brinshore and the city, leaving us with a passel of unanswered questions. For example: How long will Brinshore be required to maintain bargain rental rates on the artist spaces? What will those rates be? Who will administer the rental program? How will the lucky handful of artists qualify? And who will run the Logan Square Community Arts Center?

Here’s what we do know: the upper floors of the six-story building—2800-2812 N. Milwaukee and 3416 W. Diversey—will house 12 one-bedroom and 16 two-bedroom units. Eight of those will be rented to artists making no more than 50 percent of the Chicago-area median income when they apply and 13 to people with maximum incomes of 60 percent of the median. (The area median is $52,800 for a household of one, $75,400 for a family of four.) There’ll be about 7,000 square feet of retail space, and the 8,000-square-foot second floor, with rooftop deck, will be a “highly flexible community art center with multiple stage configurations and the opportunity for live music, improv, theater, dance, film, and poetry performances.” According to Brinshore’s executive summary, it’ll “anchor the budding Logan Square Performing Arts District.”

The building currently houses a Payless shoe store, but it’s been mostly empty for at least the last two decades, its glory days only hinted at by a recurring camel motif on the facade and the lobby floor. The Hump building, as it was known for a time, was built in 1930 by Sol Goldberg, who made his fortune by redesigning the humble hairpin. Goldberg’s “hair pin with the hump” was a U-shaped wire with a “non-rust satin enamel finish,” a few crinkles on each side, and the company’s signature innovation: a strand-grabbing short third arm in the center.

Hump Hair Pin logo motif on the facade
Hump Hair Pin logo motif on the facadeCredit: sam adams

They were produced at the Hump Hair Pin Manufacturing Company factory at 1918 S. Prairie, built in 1915 and designed by Alfred Alschuler. The office and retail building on Milwaukee was designed by the firm of Leichenko and Esser, who also did Hyde Park’s Narragansett Apartments, famous for its sculpted elephants. The camel insignia is a version of the logo that decorated Hump Hair Pin packages.

Goldberg survived the bobbed hair trend by creating a bobby pin, but by 1947 the Hump was home to a Morris B. Sachs department store, part of the chain started by another colorful Chicagoan, a onetime door-to-door salesman. The store closed in the 1960s, and the building passed through several subsequent owners. In 2005 contractor Gary Poter, who’d handled rehab projects for Tony Rezko’s company, Rezmar, bought the building for a reported $3.3 million. With the help of 35th Ward alderman Rey Colon, Poter got city landmark status for the entire intersection and planned to turn the building into condos, with 20 percent of the units set aside as affordable housing. But in 2006 he was fatally stabbed by an employee who was angry about a bad performance review. The city bought the building in 2007.

An alternative proposal for the building would’ve turned it into 48 apartments for people who’d otherwise be homeless, with social service agencies on the second floor. The Logan Square Neighborhood Association backed that plan, developed by Heartland Housing and Humboldt Park Social Services, and the LSNA’s new communities program director, Susan Yanun, says the building—which is close to public transportation—would’ve been ideal. There’s a “huge need” for supportive housing in the Logan Square area, Yanun says; homelessness is underreported, and families are now “doubling and tripling up” in their rental units.

The LSNA gathered about 600 petition signatures and initially had Colon’s encouragement. But two years ago the city’s planning department approved the Brinshore plan instead. Yanun says some area residents were misinformed about what the supportive housing would entail, and there was a sense that artists—generally the leading edge of gentrification—would bring more economic advantages and could “make Logan Square an arts destination.”

Brinshore president Richard Sciortino is a former assistant commissioner of Chicago’s housing and building departments. And in the 1990s, Brinshore CEO David Brint was a vice president at Rezmar, where he introduced Barack Obama to Tony Rezko. Brint left Rezmar after about four years and then founded Brinshore, which has since worked on major city projects including Legends South, the current $600 million redevelopment of the Robert Taylor Homes.

Dawn Marie Galtieri, executive and artistic director of Voice of the City, a multi-arts alliance headquartered across the street from the Hump building, said last month that she expects the Logan Square Chamber of Arts—which currently includes her group, Elastic Arts, Chicago Ballet, Intimate Opera, the Puerto Rican Arts Alliance, and three neighborhood groups—to run the community arts center. “Right now we’re looking at a dead building,” she said. “This center is going to provide performance and exhibit space and expand all the programming in the area. It’ll be a beacon of vitality.”