The beat goes on

Thrush’s Jazz on the Boulevard helps renew N. Kenwood-Oakland

Jazz on the Boulevard interiorThe unusual name of the Thrush Companies’ “Jazz on the Boulevard,” a new 137-unit residential development on the city’s South Side, is the first hint that this project stands apart. The name recalls the 1920s and ’30s, the heyday of jazz and the South Side, when the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington could be heard at the Regal Theater and the renowned clubs that lined 47th Street.

The South Side’s Bronzeville and North Kenwood-Oakland neighborhoods saw a steady decline in later decades, but as the name implies, Jazz on the Boulevard and other new developments are part of a South Side renaissance that has sparked dramatic growth on the area’s once grand streets.

Drexel Boulevard was one of the grandest, the kind of wide, grassy boulevard Chicago’s elite flocked to at a time when land was cheap and city planning an art. Much housing has been lost, but august graystones still line the boulevard and mature trees and landscaping give its wide median – just a few blocks from the lake – the kind of peaceful milieu that’s hard to find near the center of a major city. And Jazz on the Boulevard, which sits on the west side of Drexel Boulevard, between 41st Street and 42nd Place in North Kenwood-Oakland, is helping restore one the finest examples of Chicago’s boulevard system.

“We designed the project with the intent of contributing to the return of the grandeur of Drexel Boulevard,” says Steve Ryniewicz of FitzGerald Associates, the architects for the project. “We were determined to create a nice presence on Drexel, and therefore much of our design inspiration and many of our architectural cues – scales, windows, colors, materials and the like – are derived from the adjacent and surrounding environment.”

In keeping with Drexel’s historic character, the homes will have masonry facades and stone detailing on all sides of the buildings. Bays, balconies and arches provide visual interest, while decorative iron fencing adds security and helps define the community. The center of the development will contain a landscaped park-like space where residents can gather and children can play.

The various types of units are named after legendary jazz musicians, and the mix includes one-bedroom condominiums starting at 900 square feet, two-bedroom townhomes from 2,000 square feet and luxurious single-family rowhomes at 3,000 square feet, housed in six distinct building types with nine different floor plans. Prices for these units ranged from the mid-$100s to the mid-$500s, at press time.

The project also includes 39 rental apartments, and 30 of these are reserved for former Chicago Housing Authority residents in a mixed-income approach to development that’s becoming common on former CHA and city-owned property throughout the city. The CHA replacement units will be managed by non-profit Century Place Development Corporation, which is a partner with Thrush and Granite Development in Jazz on the Boulevard.

The remaining nine rentals are “workforce” housing, affordable units for families earning up to 120 percent of the metropolitan area’s median income. Twenty-eight of the for-sale units also are workforce homes, and the other 70 are market-rate. The workforce units, so dubbed because they’re designed to be affordable for teachers, city workers and others being priced out of Chicago, start around $150,000. At press time, about 20 percent of the market-rate and workforce units were under contract, and first occupancy was expected in spring of 2005.

“All of the units have the same high quality construction,” says Ryniewicz, “and the classification of units is disbursed seamlessly throughout the site and among the unit types, so that they are indistinguishable.”

Amenities include nine-foot ceiling heights throughout the main level, hardwood floors in living areas, ceramic tile kitchens and baths, furniture quality kitchen cabinetry, designer kitchen appliances, cultured marble vanity tops, washer and dryer hookups and multimedia wiring. Exterior amenities include designer landscaping, ornamental wrought iron fencing, lighting, yards and decks.

Thrush was one of the first builders to begin redeveloping the area with the North Kenwood-Oakland Parade of Homes in 1994 and the New Homes for North Kenwood-Oakland development in 1997, which won the Distinguished Building Award from the American Institute of Architects. The company’s involvement in continued with other projects, including the Shakespeare Townhomes, and the nearby Shakespeare Court project. Located on 46th Street, just east of Drexel, Shakespeare Court comprises six townhomes and a 46-unit condominium building. At press time, six condos priced in the $240s and two townhomes priced in the mid $300s remained for sale.

“Like Jazz on the Boulevard, Shakespeare Court blends in very well contextually with the surroundings,” says the architect, Phil Johnson, of Johnson & Lee, Ltd. “There is lots of rich brick and neighborhood textures, and while the buildings are traditional, the interiors have modern open spaces with living and kitchen area flow.”

Local Ald. Toni Preckwinkle (4th), the force behind much of the area’s redevelopment, has worked with Thrush and its president and CEO David Chase on all of these projects.

“I know all of the Thrush developments very well,” says Preckwinkle. “My constituents and I couldn’t be more pleased with their presence in our community…The Shakespeare developments are beautiful, and the whole concept of Jazz on the Boulevard is magnificent.”

As Preckwinkle points out, Thrush’s David Chase is no newcomer to the South Side, and the developer, who has long appreciated the area’s potential, sees an even brighter future looming.

“This redevelopment, reclamation, re-use, whatever you want to call it, is going to continue for many years to come,” Chase says. “The Chicago Housing Authority transformation is a powerful, powerful tool for a number of reasons. Right now there is still a faint residual fear of the area, but as we witness an infill of more developments like those Thrush has done, the scars will fade. Meanwhile, Jazz on the Boulevard and the Shakespeare developments are excellent examples of our motto – Thrush, built for life.”

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