Thirty-second and Kedzie was a place where musicians, vendors, and artists alike came together to learn from, help, and support one another. After the Azteca Mall small business incubator fell through in 2016, due to a combination of mismanagement and big developers eyeing the land adjacent to the former Washburne Trade School site, the existing tenants kept the largely empty building open to anyone who needed the space.
Band practice rooms, artist work spaces, music and theater lessons, and recording studios were all offered at no charge to community members. It hosted local shows and events to raise money for people in need, like when people fundraised to send aid to Chiapas, Mexico, after a recent earthquake there. The building currently has a donation room, which allows anybody in the community to help themselves to supplies like diapers, food, household items, winter clothes, and blankets, all of which are brought in by volunteers.
When the pandemic started, work dried up for the musicians, artists, and self-employed people of 32nd and Kedzie, and paying bills became a challenge. So tenants Marcos Hernández, Juan González, Juan Herrera, and Ivan Cruz converted their work areas and studios into living spaces and moved in. Hernández, a mechanic by trade, worked out of the building since 2017 as a means of income. He also taught other people the skill so they too could make a living.
Prior to the pandemic, the owner of the building, Guillermo Hernandez, passed away. The tenants said they continued paying rent to the Chicago Southwest Development Corporation (CSDC) until their payments were declined, and now they face a possible eviction, which organizers are calling illegal due to the state and nationwide moratorium on residential evictions, currently in effect. A notice of demolition from CSDC was placed on the front gate of the building, giving tenants until November 2, 2020 to vacate the property. But they’ve stayed put.
Saint Anthony Hospital bought the land, but occupants said in a press conference that representatives have not shown them permits for the demolition of the structure. In the beginning, the tenants tried multiple times to talk to American Demolition, the company contracted for the demolition, but when a crew asked to be let in to look around, the tenants said they started pulling things out of the ceiling, destroying the place and ruining a lot of the handyman work the tenants had done around the building.
People have come by claiming that they are the new owners. But because they can’t produce paperwork or proof of ownership or eviction, they eventually end up leaving when they are not let in. The developer put barricades up, blocking cars from coming and going, which has prevented the tenants from being able to move for work. Tenants say they have been facing harassment from security guards and cops. They have received death threats and demeaned with comments like, “You guys are homeless,” “You need to go to a shelter,” and, “Yall are squatters.” They say the building has been called a drug and gang house.
The tenants continue to organize eviction defenses at 3200 S. Kedzie and are calling on members of the community for support.