Rehab of the residential portion will be funded with federal money for affordable housing.
The building “means so much to the African American community,” Abrams added. It’s where, In September 1915, historian Carter Woodson convened a group that formed the Association for the Study of Negro Life & History, whose education programs about Black achievement would evolve into Black History Month.
Some early Harlem Globetrotters games were reportedly played in the Y’s gym, and Marshall “Major” Taylor, a world-renowned bicycling racer and the first Black world champion in the sport, lived at the Y at the end of his life.
The tie to Chicago’s business history is also strong. Julius Rosenwald, who ran the Sears retail empire in the first decades of the 20th century, funded the building’s construction to provide Black Chicagoans a place to live, exercise and study. He later supported similar programs in several other U.S. cities, explaining in speeches that as a Jew, he empathized with people denied opportunities because of their race.
The recreational section includes the rooms where Woodson’s group and others met; the swimming pool that has been closed since 2015; and the mural “Mind, Body, Spirit,” painted in 1936 by William Edouard Scott.
The mural, which portrays Blacks as professionals, nurses and engineers, “depicts the economic self-sufficiency that one could pursue in coming to Chicago during the Great Migration,” Abrams said. “It’s important to us to take care of it.”
Restored once before as part of the Renaissance Collaborative’s early-1990s rescue of the building, the mural has recently suffered water damage, Abrams said. Work on the mural will be done by The Conservation Center, the Chicago art conservation lab that did the earlier work on it, Abrams added.
Initially, the grant seemed to be enough to also cover the full restoration of the pool, but “the scope of that work is bigger than we thought,” Abrams said, so the organization is starting to raise separate funds for the pool.
While announcing the grant and a new round of rehab for the building today, the Renaissance Collaborative is also announcing the retirement of Abrams, who was a prominent force in the 1992 launch of the collaborative by several Black churches to save the Wabash Y.
The group now manages about 170 affordable apartments, develops and manages housing for the homeless, and has helped about 1,200 low-income people find jobs.
The Renaissance Collaborative has named Oji Eggleston as Abrams’ successor.