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Old police stations

What happens to shuttered police stations? Some cultural organizations, including a group that once faced police hostility, call them home.

 (Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki)
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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

The old Foster Avenue police station is soon to be home to Griffin Theatre.

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Plans for Griffin Theatre, located in the old Foster police station

 (Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki)
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Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

Wood Street police station

Foster Avenue station, 1940 West Foster Avenue
In 2005, Griffin Theatre was comfortably inhabiting a former movie house in Andersonville. Then the rent shot up to $6,000 a month. Realizing the theater company had been priced out, artistic director Bill Massolia went to 40th Ward Ald. Patrick O’Connor, who led him to the recently shuttered Foster Avenue police station. Massolia bit.

Acquiring a city property often takes years. In this case, the city’s budget woes prolonged an already long process. “One of the last things [Mayor] Daley did before he left office is make the phone call to say yeah, let’s do this,” Massolia says. In January 2011, six years after negotiations began, Griffin purchased the building for $1.

With Steppenwolf Theatre architect John Morris handling the build-out, construction starts this summer on an 80-seat black-box theater, expected to be completed a year from now. A second phase includes demolishing the back half of the building and creating a larger 120- to 130-seat theater.

Not all of the old structure faces a gutting. “Morris said, ‘It’s a police station—why not use what’s in there?’ ” Massolia notes. They picture the high-security cell as a box office, and three other cells as the green room and dressing rooms.

Massolia’s favorite part: “You’ll walk through a garden when you come into the property—it’ll be less like the theaters that are concrete and glass.”

Wood Street station, 937 North Wood Street
One of three stations to face elimination in Rahm Emanuel’s 2012 budget plan, Wood Street remains on the chopping block. (The Prairie Avenue and Belmont Avenue stations shut down in March.) The planned closure kicked up controversy among East Village residents, who hosted rallies and passed around a petition to keep the station open.

As of press time, the Department of Housing and Economic Development designates 937 North Wood Street as future “open park land.” But Ronda Locke, First Ward director of community outreach, says otherwise: “The mayor has made a commitment to have a community space.” The ward’s ideas for development include a dog park, a play lot and a police substation that allows officers to tap into a mainframe.

Neighborhood activist Anne Shaw also hopes to see some kind of police presence. “What if they close the station and crime shoots up?” Shaw says. “I mean, crime is inching up already.”

Pulaski Street station, 4461 North Pulaski Street
This 1938 police station stood empty for a few years until Arun Sampanthavivat, the owner of Albany Park’s upscale Thai restaurant Arun’s, dreamed up a plan for a Thai cultural center. According to the Department of Housing and Economic Development, the city sold the building for $990,000 this year and kicked in $1.5 million in tax increment financing. Sampanthavivat, who says he’s working with about 50 financiers in the Thai and Chinese community, plans to build a Thai spa and a restaurant in the former police station, which he dubbed Thai Town Center. “The food will be accessible Thai, like in a marketplace,” Sampanthavivat says about the forthcoming restaurant, his second eatery. While construction is under way, Sampanthavivat is reaching out to Thailand for assistance in bringing in a cultural component and forging a nonprofit foundation that offers scholarships for people looking to study Thai culture.

Town Hall station, 3600 North Halsted Street
“LGBT seniors, in their younger days, were persecuted by the police,” Britta Larson says. “They were dragged out of gay bars and arrested.” The director of senior services at Center on Halsted, Larson is spearheading programs and services for an affordable LGBT senior housing complex, set to open late 2013 inside the former Town Hall police station. “For seniors to come full circle and call this police station home is really significant.”

Last year, the city unveiled plans to sell the recently vacated station for $1. Center on Halsted teamed up with affordable-housing developer Heartland Alliance Housing on the $22 million project—residential apartments, a community room and street-level commercial space. Gensler, the architecture firm that oversaw Center on Halsted’s 2007 building, designed the station rehab and a connecting six-story structure. According to Larson, “There are seniors who are not safe at the senior housing where they’re currently living, and they have expressed interest in moving in as soon as they can.”

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