Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Center to honor blacks might open next year

A new Evanston community center and museum celebrating black heritage could open early next year after more than three years of delays, the project coordinator said Sunday.

External renovations and the final floor plan for the Black American Heritage House, 1817 Church St., should be completed in about two weeks, said Bettye Palmer, the project’s coordinator and president of the Evanston Westside Citizens District Council. The group is overseeing the project and promotes self-sufficiency in the Fifth Ward, Palmer said.

Palmer said she hopes to open the heritage house in January for the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day or in June for the anniversary of the end of slavery in the United States.

The building still requires further brick repair, parking-lot landscaping and the construction of an access ramp for heavy exhibits and wheelchair-users.

The first floor of the building, a three-story structure that served as an animal hospital for black pet-owners during segregation, will house the main exhibits. Palmer said the citizens’ group hopes to bring a quilt display from Detroit for the opening of the building.

The heritage house will offer resources for researching black heritage in Evanston and throughout country. A cafe and a gift shop in the building will also help to raise money for the heritage house, Palmer said.

The citizens’ group bought the property from the city for $1 in 2002 and first unveiled blueprints for the Heritage House at a fund-raising event the same year. As early as 1998, former Ald. Joseph Kent (5th), a member of the citizens’ group, started lobbying for the city to support the project.

Palmer said financial issues and the building’s local landmark status have delayed the project.

The citizens’ group already received about $150,000 from the Community Development Block Grant Program, said Sally Lufkin, Evanston’s grant program administrator. The federal grant provides money to cities and counties, which can then distribute the funds for community improvements.

The citizens’ group has applied for another $420,000 to help with building restoration, according to city documents.

The building’s landmark status also slowed construction, Palmer said. For example, to maintain the building’s historical integrity, the citizens’ group had to order handmade windows.

Despite the complications caused by the building’s status, Palmer said the history that made the structure a landmark also makes it a particularly significant location for a heritage house.

“There are very few buildings that depict some form of black American history,” Palmer said.

Current Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) said the museum is an excellent way to improve the Fifth Ward, and she said she wanted to know how other residents could contribute.

“I’m more than happy to see this in the ward,” Holmes said. “I await to hear from them if I can help.”

Palmer said residents who want to help can donate money for the project. She said the citizens’ group will begin a fundraising campaign soon.

“We’re going to open it up,” Palmer said. “It’s just slow.”

Reach Elizabeth Gibson at [email protected].

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Center to honor blacks might open next year