A structure that stood for nearly 125 years in Evanston’s 5th Ward is now a pile of wood and metal.

But thanks to a couple of local organizations, much of that material will be repurposed for other structures. And some of the pieces will be set aside, to help tell the story of Evanston over the years.

According to records discovered by the Shorefront Legacy Center, a Black history and cultural facility, a building permit was taken out in 1899 for what was to be a metal shop.

The workshop building in June, before deconstruction began. Credit: Zach Share

Cost to construct: $200.

The building, off an alley north of Emerson Street between Jackson and Wesley Avenues, was later used for storage and has generally been referred to by neighbors in recent years as a barn.

The Rebuilding Exchange, which deconstructed the building over the past few weeks, is a nonprofit with locations in Evanston and Chicago.

“We’re like if Home Depot was a thrift store or an antique shop,” making repurposed wood, furniture, even doorknobs, available at reasonable cost, the organization’s Zach Share says.

“People hire us to take apart their houses.”

Rafters and joists inside the old building. Credit: Zach Share

Instead of a wrecking crew putting everything into a dumpster, “we’ll take out and salvage and fix” the materials.

Besides the environmental mission of repurposing materials, the Exchange also has a social mission — job training in the building trades. More than 20 trainees worked on taking down the barn.

Workers deconstructing the building. Credit: Zach Share

Seven other vacant buildings adjoining the deconstructed “barn” have been demolished. All of them were acquired by the city after neighbors objected to plans to replace them with market-rate multi-family housing.

Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) says he plans to consult with the neighbors about what should be built on the now vacant site.

Once the site has been cleared, Shorefront Legacy may take a few pieces of the structure for display at their center.

“Our history often disappears,” says Shorefront Executive Director Laurice Bell.

Bell says the metal shop/barn was built by a partner in the still-in-business Lemoi Hardware.

That 1899 permit applicant was white. Over the decades, the block became majority Black.

The 2020 Census shows it’s now racially mixed — with the voting-age population about 45% Black, 30% white, 15% Hispanic and 10% Asian.

One ideal way to simultaneously reuse materials and showcase history, Bell suggests, is to incorporate some of the building’s remnants into the new 5th Ward School, perhaps in an entry way.

While that may not be possible architecturally, Bell says she’ll at least ask.

“It would be extraordinarily symbolic,” she says, “to go from a door into history into a door the future.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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