Lost: Chicago's 1959 Lake Meadows Tennis Club

Posted on: February 7th, 2008 by Margaret Foster

Lake Meadows Tennis ClubWeeks after a Chicago-based developer announced plans to redevelop its 1950s apartment complex, the company demolished the complex's 1959 tennis club, designed by Gertrude Lempp Kerbis, the first female architect in Skidmore, Owings & Merrill's Chicago office.

Draper and Kramer began demolishing the Prairie-style Lake Meadows Tennis Club last week.

"There was a private restaurant on the site that was abandoned for 20 years. The structure had deteriorated to the point of being unrepairable and an agreement was reached with the City to demolish the structure," according to an e-mail from Kim Dooley, Draper and Kramer spokeswoman.

Draper and Kramer, which built the Lake Meadows apartments on the razed site of a run-down neighborhood, wants to clear the 100-acre site again over the next decade, tearing down almost all of the 10- and 20-story towers and replacing them with new, higher-density housing.

Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy at Landmarks Illinois, says Draper and Kramer has an outstanding track record. In fact, last fall, Landmarks Illinois presented Draper and Kramer with its annual Real Estate and Building Industries Council award for its restoration of Chicago's Palmolive Building.

"The historic significance of the [Lake Meadows] development lies more in the original planning of the site," DiChiera says. "What was really unique about it was the amount of green space laid out … and, from a social standpoint, the fact that it was an early housing development that targeted integration and middle-income families."

The company is meeting with tenants later this month to alert them of the redvelopment, Dooley says.

"This is a 20-year project, and we don't plan on doing anything for three to five years," Dooley says. "They're still going to be maintaining the existing buildings [in the meantime]."

Landmarks Illinois plans to meet with Draper and Kramer officials in the coming months to discuss plans for Lake Meadows.

Meanwhile, architecture buffs are mourning the loss of the hipped-roof Tennis Club. "This structure was perhaps the most overt homage to Frank Lloyd Wright in Kerbis's early career," according to Grahm Balkany, a member of Preservation Chicago, who is working to document Lake Meadows' history.

"It's a real shame when we lose a great building like that," says Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago. "This really speaks to the issue of the lack of respect for mid-century modern architecture."

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