Concerns raised over potential sale of historic Family Focus building

Amelia Langas, Assistant City Editor

The more than 100-year-old building that currently houses Family Focus — a nonprofit offering family and child support services — will be put up for sale in January despite concerns that doing so would remove a piece of Evanston history.

At a June meeting, the nonprofit’s board voted to sell the 5th Ward building, concluding that the organization could no longer support the associated maintenance costs, according to a July letter from president and CEO Merri Ex.

Family Focus has been housed in the Weissbourd-Holmes building — 2010 Dewey Ave. — since its creation 42 years ago, Ex said. While Family Focus operates in seven other locations throughout the Chicago area, the Evanston location is the only building the organization owns, she said.

When Family Focus purchased the building in the early 1980s, it introduced social services like early childhood care and literacy programs to the community, Evanston branch director Colette Allen said. Allen added that while Family Focus can find a new home, its current location is integral to the 5th Ward.

“If Family Focus were to go away or this building as a community center, it would be a devastating loss to this community,” she said. “Where would they go for the services? They would have to leave the neighborhood.”

Dino Robinson, founder and director of Shorefront — a nonprofit organization that works to preserve the history of black North Shore residents — said the building previously housed Foster School, an elementary school.

“What I find interesting about the school is how it illustrates the racial dynamics of Evanston at the time,” Robinson said. “When it was first built in 1905, it was predominantly an all-white school, and by 1935 it was 99 percent African American.”

Robinson said the building is significant to Evanston’s black community because it was the school most 5th Ward black children attended and the first to allow black teachers.

To preserve the building, Robinson said he is working on an application to designate it a historical landmark.

Jerome Summers, who attended Foster School in the 1960s, said the building has been a “safe place” for community members for more than 100 years. He said he hopes the building will remain “part of the fabric” of the neighborhood.

“It would be a tremendous loss and blow to our community … to lose that building,” Summers said. “That it will not be a place for our children and our families … to go to and find the supports that they need.”

Allen said she hopes Family Focus can garner support from the community to buy back the building and keep the nonprofit in its current location. She said it is difficult to find rental spaces in the 5th Ward, let alone a space large enough to accommodate all of Family Focus’ services.

“It’s very important to this community, and I would hate to see us lose another important institution that has been here for a long time and supported generations,” Allen said.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @amelialangas