MHA Chicago prepared a Chicago local landmark designation report for Cedar Street’s former West Side YMCA and Salvation Army Freedom Center, a Chicago Landmark, in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. The new development, known as The Duncan, is a mixed-use space with 260 market-rate and affordable residential apartments and 3,600 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, including a “co-working inspired” lobby, speakeasy bar, coffee and juice bar, community lounge, and outdoor patio.
The development is considered to be walking-friendly – blocks from the Illinois Medical District and the Fulton Market Innovation District. Apartment amenities include a fitness center, pool, sauna, in-unit laundry, custom cabinetry, and rain showers. The Duncan also offers residents a rooftop deck, courtyards, terraces, lawn space, and a public plaza, open to the local community.
The Duncan encompasses five Classical Revival and Georgian Revival brick and limestone buildings designed by several noted Chicago architects. Constructed in phases between 1907 and 1931, the buildings exemplify the growth and development of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) and Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) during the early decades of the twentieth century. The complex served as a regional headquarters for the Chicago YMCA and an important center for social, educational, and recreational activities in the Near West Side neighborhood for nearly seventy years.
During the first half of the twentieth century, the West Side YMCA/YWCA developed a roster of programs and services that helped young men and women, many of whom were recent immigrants, to assimilate, learn English, find jobs, and maintain a moral compass while living in the city. With dormitories for men and women, the West Side YMCA/YWCA also offered clean and safe lodging for hundreds of young people. During World War I and World War II, the complex was also an important center of services and activity for soldiers and returning veterans.
In 1932, the West Side YMCA became known as the Duncan YMCA, in honor of philanthropist Joseph Duncan and his wife Adelaid. In the late 1950s, the Duncan YMCA had a membership of 1,200 boys, and urban renewal and public housing were changing the neighborhood. By June 1961, the property had been remodeled to serve more than 2,000 youths. The remodeling included alterations and upgrading of the swimming pool and gymnasium, in addition to eleven club rooms, craft shops, kitchen, and staff office.
In early 1968 a portion of the complex became the Duncan Way Community Center, a halfway house that was the first in Illinois to be state-operated and financed. It offered employment and psychiatric counseling, as well as room and board in thirty-eight rooms.
In April 1976, the Duncan YMCA closed, and the complex became the Salvation Army’s Harbor Light Center, a facility that offered aid to addicts and socially marginalized men It remained in that capacity until October 2015, when the Salvation Army moved out and the property was purchased for redevelopment.
Commission on Chicago Landmarks | 2020 Chicago Landmark Award for Preservation Excellence
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