Saturday, April 13, 2013

A History of the “7331 N. Sheridan Road” Mansion (the “Shambala Meditation Center”)

By Susan Olin

The mansion at 7331 N. Sheridan (currently the Shambala Meditation Center) is a lovely, 95-year old, Prairie-school style home. It is constructed with cream-colored brick and now colorfully-painted, wood trim. This luxury home has large, lush green spaces for its front-yard and side-yards. In addition, the home is surrounded by many large, leafy trees. In fact, this is the last remaining Sheridan Road mansion in Rogers Park south of Jarvis Avenue.
This historic, beautiful home has a unique story and has served several uses over its lifetime which many people remember. So why are we throwing all this away? For an unsightly, 250-car, lakefront parking garage with no setbacks? To be built by a billionaire who claims to be a preservationist and who could readily repurpose this beloved mansion given his other multimillion dollar projects? This makes no sense. More . . .

Like all the mansions on Sheridan Road in Chicago, the residence at 7331 N. Sheridan has a colorful and enlightening history. Truly, one mansion can provide great insight into history. To start with, like many pre-1920 Chicago residences, no building permit is on record for 7331 N. Sheridan, which would list the architect and construction date. By 1914 however, commercial insurance maps show the home where it stands today. Moreover, as early as June 1918, Chicago Tribune articles report about the home’s original long-time residents.
It appears then, that the 7331 N. Sheridan home was constructed about the same time as the nearby 1915 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed “Emil Bach home”. Indeed, the Shambala mansion helps “tell the story” of the Bach house and why a Frank Lloyd Wright house is located here on the Far North Side. The Shambala mansion, two blocks south, was also a part of, and helps illustrate the early 1900s era when this stretch of Sheridan Road was a posh locale like the North Shore is today.

From 1918 through 1936, various Tribune articles refer to the mansion’s primary residents, the Holsman family. According to his 1934 obituary, Mr. Hyman Holsman was a local philanthropist and a jeweler by trade. Initially, Mr. Holsman owned a downtown jewelry store located at 179 W. Madison. Eventually, he owned a store at 5 S. Wabash, otherwise known as the “Jewelers Center” at the Mallers Building. This is one the most famous addresses on the historic “Jewelers Row” in the Loop. “Jeweler’s Row” is a group of buildings which contained many silver and jewelry businesses starting in the early twentieth century. These buildings are now a Chicago Landmark District since 2003.
Mr. Holsman resided in the home with his second wife, Nell, and their three daughters, Hortense, Jeanne and Elizabeth. His first wife passed away in 1911. He had an adult son, George, from this first marriage who did not live there.
Also according to his obituary, Mr. Holsman’s philanthropy included active participation in several important Chicago institutions. He was an early vice-president of the Edgewater Hospital at 5700 N. Ashland founded in 1929. This hospital, now closed, was one of the primary hospitals in the area for many decades. (Hillary Clinton was born there in 1947!)

Mr. Holsman was a founder and treasurer of Temple Mizpah, a synagogue at 1615 W. Morse, which is now the “Mision Cristiana Elim” Church on the southwest corner of Morse and Ashland. Temple Mizpah was one of the early, liberal, “Reform” Jewish congregations in the city. (The other major Rogers Park congregation founded at that time was the “Conservative” synagogue of B’nai Zion at 1447 W. Pratt now the private “Lakeshore Preschool”.)
According to the encyclopedic 1924 book by H.L. Meites, History of the Jews of Chicago, Temple Mizpah was actually organized in 1919 in Mr. Holsman’s home at 7331 N. Sheridan! The synagogue building on Morse was constructed in 1924 to accommodate the congregation of 350 families. Sixty years later in the 1970s, the then smaller congregation relocated to Skokie.

Mr. Holsman was also a director of the Marks Nathan Jewish Home for Orphans. The Marks Nathan Home opened in the Lawndale neighborhood in 1912 during the height of the immigration boom in America. At the beginning of the twentieth century in Chicago, many poor West Side Jewish immigrants fell on hard times, or even perished, and an orphanage was needed.
In its day, this orphanage provided a very good environment for its children, including music and Hebrew lessons as well as symphony and theater excursions. Some of the famous people who lived there as children include Elmer Gertz, the prominent constitutional law attorney, ( and Barney Ross, the famous Jewish boxer (

Ironically, also according to Meites’ 1924 tome, a well-known lawyer by the name of Nicolas Pritzker was one of the founders and a longtime advocate for the Marks Nathan Home. Nicolas Pritzker was Colonel J.N. Pritzker’s great-grandfather and patriarch of the Pritzker family! The book contains a photograph of the Marks Nathan orphanage home dedication in 1912 with Nicolas Pritzker there. The book also contains individual photos and biographies of both Hyman Holsman and Nicolas Pritzker. Thus, it is quite possible that Mr. Holsman and Mr. Pritzker knew each other.

One Tribune article also indicated that Mr. Holsman’s son, George, attended the aviation school at the Great Lakes military base during World War I. Finally, in 1936 the Tribune reported that Mr. Holsman’s daughter, Jeanne, eloped and married Philip Weintraub of Chicago. Weintraub was a first basemen for the Cincinnati Reds at the time and later played for the New York Giants. He became a notable baseball player in the 1930s and 40s, a time when few Jewish people had ever played in professional baseball.
Weintraub has several impressive career statistics such as the second most runs batted in (RBI) ever in a game at eleven runs! He first played for the Loyola University baseball team in Rogers Park ( and( (photo included). Additional research is needed regarding the occupants of the home after the 1930s.

The Camelot School
(photo courtesy of RPWR HistoricalSociety)
By the 1970s, the 7331 N. Sheridan mansion was utilized as a children’s daycare center, the Camelot School, for a decade and many Rogers Parkers remember going there as children. In the 1980s, the building was repurposed as an Illinois Masonic Hospital Women’s Health Center. Thereafter, starting in 1996, the Shambala Buddhist organization developed the popular meditation center that is there today. However, the organization is now relocating to a larger space in the West Loop. At the present time, the building is in great shape, charming inside and out while still operating as the Shambala Center.

Therefore, it is clear that research into one mansion can open doors to the many facets of history in a surprising and wonderful way. This one home sheds light on the formative days of Chicago as a city at the turn of the twentieth century. This was a time when great waves of immigrants settled here and community members organized to establish the city’s first businesses, hospitals, religious institutions, social services, and even sports activities. It would be a horrible shame to lose this gorgeous building that beautifies our landscape and its fascinating history that tells us so much about ourselves.

Note: To see additional Sheridan Road mansions of that era, download the must-see “Book of the North Shore” published in 1910, . (Download PDF version to rotate view!!)

Also Note: History of the Jews of Chicago by H.L. Meites, 1st publication in 1924 by Jewish Historical Society of Illinois, reproduced in 1990 by Chicago Jewish Historical Society.

Monday, March 25, 2013

This post details some of the concerns that have been voiced about The Lakefront Car Tower proposed at the southeast corner of the intersection at Sherwin and Sheridan (7317-31 N. Sheridan Road). Any community benefit that might be realized from the Lakefront Car Tower is heavily outweighed by concerns about safety, the unique character of Sheridan Road in Rogers Park and our investments in making Rogers Park safer and more hospitable for all residents, including pedestrians and cyclists. We encourage residents of Rogers Park who value the very special character of our community to join in the effort to let Alderman Moore know that the Lakefront Car Tower has no place in our community. Follow the links on this page to sign the petition to Alderman Moore, follow our Facebook page and and share it with your friends and neighbors.


The proposed lakefront car tower compounds safety issues associated with Sheridan Road, as well as providing a sheltered space for illicit activities.
  • The fact that there will be no left turn lane or light, nor an adjustment to the traffic signal durations, presents a clear danger to pedestrians who are crossing Sheridan Road at the intersection. Pedestrians who miscalculate their ability to cross in a timely fashion combined with drivers turning in and out of Sherwin onto Sheridan Road just before a red light could result in unnecessary injury, and possibly death.
  • Those visiting community attractions such as the Bach House and our lakefront beaches who would use the Lakefront Car Tower to park their vehicles, may abruptly stop or slow at Sherwin in an effort to enter the parking garage due to their lack of familiarity with the area. This raises the potential for vehicular accidents that will further hamper the efficient movement of vehicles through our community and result in unnecessary (and avoidable) harm to drivers and pedestrians.
  • Even parts of the neighborhood that might not see a direct impact from the Lakefront Car Tower (in terms of traffic and pedestrian safety) will experience elevated risk during construction. The nine month duration of the project will occur through the spring, summer and fall – times when pedestrian and vehicular traffic are at their peak. This means that many drivers who use Sheridan Road to commute through the neighborhood to Lake Shore Drive will use side streets in lieu of dealing with the constriction of traffic on Sheridan Road caused by the project, thereby increasing traffic volume on these side streets. This presents a clear threat to the safety of playing children, pedestrians and cyclists who enjoy these streets for their safety.
  • At present, parking traffic in the area is spread throughout numerous blocks as residents and visitors search for public street parking. With the addition of the Lakefront Car Tower as a parking destination, it will concentrate the already existing parking traffic to one intersection thus creating a potentially lethal situation for both pedestrians and drivers. Additional parking traffic generated by developments such as Farcroft by the Lake will further increase the danger that is inherent to the construction of the Lakefront Car Tower.The undetermined nature of security at the Lakefront Car Tower (i.e armed vs. unarmed personnel, number of personnel on all four stories) may make it a place for criminals to commit crimes in. There is no need to create an additional space in the neighborhood that could be used for illicit activities and endanger the personal safety of residents.

Quality of Life

The construction of the Lakefront Car Tower runs counter to prevailing trends in Rogers Park, Chicago and American cities.
  • Local community efforts to encourage safe, sustainable means of travel, such as bike lanes, safer intersections for pedestrians and improved public transit facilities, indicate a recognition that the city of the future will become less autocentric. In fact, according to I-GO Car sharing and a article dated February 13, 2013, Millenials, those persons aged 18-34, are ditching car ownership by 30% in the last five years in favor of car sharing, carpooling and public transit. In addition, close to a million Americans participate in car sharing programs, like I-GO in Chicago, up 44% last year, 2012. Promoting increased auto use by accommodating cars with the Lakefront Car Tower runs counter to community efforts to create safer and more sustainable transportation options.
  • The spirit of the Lakefront Protection Ordinance is not met with the proposed Lakefront Car Tower. Specially, the intent of the ordinance summed up in the statement “insure the preservation and protection of [the] district and of every aspect of its interest and value” cannot be realized by the construction of the Lakefront Car Tower.
  • The extended duration of the proposed Lakefront Car Tower, at no less than nine months, presents a severe inconvenience to the residents who live near the proposed site of the Lakefront Car Tower. The excessive noise, pedestrian diversions from the east Sheridan Road sidewalk, parking accommodations made for construction workers and the loss of public street parking during the construction is unacceptable. While there will be virtually no benefit to the residents of the community with the construction of the car tower, they are being asked to bear a substantial burden of its construction.
  • If this project is approved and constructed, it sets a precedent that promotes parking as a solution to a “parking problem” that can only be solved by making further accommodations to more vehicles. With each new development or redevelopment in the community, we will see the same line of promotion of more parking as the way to solve the “parking problem” without recognizing that the real problem is encouraging auto use. If the planning history of American cities in the period after World War II has shown us anything, it is that accommodating vehicle use begets more vehicles. In an era when many cities are reconsidering their encouragement of auto use, including Chicago, it is imperative that we as a community do not engage in such an anachronistic approach to auto use.
  • Some ideas have been floated that the parcels the Lakefront Car Tower would occupy might be better used for retail, business or residential development. We have been informed by the developer that this is not economically viable at this time. Whether or not this is indeed an accurate statement, we feel that it would be a poor decision to preempt such developments by approving the required zoning changes and allowing the Lakefront Car Tower to move forward. Such a move would virtually eliminate any possibility of development that might serve to enrich and benefit the community in a more holistic manner.


The proposed Lakefront Car Tower does not fit with the rich architectural heritage of Sheridan Road in Rogers Park.
  • The Lakefront Car Tower would take up two-thirds of the entire block and reach four stories into the sky. While some buildings near the proposed Lakefront Car Tower are of a similar mass, they serve people not cars. Putting brick and strips of glass on a concrete parking garage does not soften the fact that it is a concrete parking garage. Additionally, there is no legal obligation that the car tower is constructed as proposed. If the zoning changes were granted then a car tower could be built in any manner the developer sees fit.
  • Also, these three currently low-density lots offset the other higher than average, for Sheridan Road, lots on the block. A central line of reasoning offered by the developer in justifying the Lakefront Car Tower is that some of the buildings in the immediate vicinity of the proposed site were, in retrospect, poor decisions and have questionable aesthetic value. We acknowledge this, and as such we oppose another decision that, in retrospect, will serve to remind us that bad ideas don't get better with time.

Community Participation

Rogers Park residents pride themselves on the ability to live participatory democracy, and the planning process of this project is contradictory to this ideal.
  • While we appreciate the community meeting convened to discuss this matter, a project of such immense consequence dictates a very high level of involvement on behalf of the community. This has not been the case. We were essentially given a sales presentation where minor design changes were presented as substantial concessions on the part of the developer. The question of “should we even have an out-of-scale, unsafe and burdensome car tower” was never asked. To this end, we are engaging the community in this discussion and thus far it seems that the costs outweigh the benefits.
  • We are also very concerned that Rogers Park might become a community where outside interests feel they can buy influence. Influence is not a commodity in Rogers Park and rejection of the requested zoning changes needed for construction of the Lakefront Car Tower will demonstrate that.

These are some of the more glaring concerns that have emerged from discussions about the proposed Lakefront Car Tower. In the end, the Lakefront Car Tower is simply a bad idea. We encourage you to join us in stopping this monstrosity from becoming something we have to endure for years to come.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thanks to Susan Olin for kindly contributing a great piece that places Sheridan Road in Rogers Park in its proper historical and architectural context. 

The Virtues of Sheridan Road and the Rogers Park Lakefront

By Susan Olin— In 2009-2010, I was a member of the Rogers Park Business Alliance’s “Sheridan Road Planning Committee” and since then I have been researching and writing about Sheridan Road in Rogers Park to raise awareness of its many virtues.

The Rogers Park Lakefront, and its companion promenade, Sheridan Road, make up one of the few areas on the lake in Chicago that have not undergone major reconstruction (i.e. Lake Shore Drive landfill) or major development (Edgewater high-rises). Thus, this area in Chicago is still a charming, approachable, urban lakefront. Due to its original boulevard design and later legal protections, Sheridan Road in Rogers Park and the lakefront here are low-rise, residential and beautiful. Every city in the world would love to have such a walkable street and such lovely lakefront space. So why should we destroy ours in Chicago with over-development and over-commercialization by constructing enormous parking garages on the lake? More . . .

Sheridan Road and the Lakefront in Rogers Park are low-rise, residential and beautiful--

Sheridan Road in Rogers Park was laid out over 100 years ago as a grand lakefront boulevard and it is still just that. Anyone who walks Sheridan Road (Devon to Evanston) can see its many beautiful features. Sheridan Road was designed in the 1880’s in the great tradition of other Chicago boulevards and “pleasure routes” of that time. These wide, low-rise avenues provided air and light and were adorned with greenery for scenic travel (before the invention of the automobile). These gracious boulevards were an antidote to the city’s narrow, dark, grimy streets. Also, unlike most city streets of that era, these routes were paved, enabling optimal use by horse carriages, pedestrians and the newly-invented bicycle.

It is not by accident, it is due to its original boulevard design . . .

Thus, Sheridan Road was designed to be the showcase boulevard along the lakefront in Chicago and up to Wisconsin. When you walk Sheridan Road in Rogers Park today you see this original design. The street is very wide. It has tree-lined parkways next to the sidewalks. It is primarily residential and low-rise. It has many of its original high-quality vintage buildings from the 1910’s, 20’s and 30’s. Because this was high-end real estate, the lots and set-backs for these original buildings are very large and provide large green spaces.

Many of these vintage residential buildings have small commercial spaces on the first floor for quaint cafes or shops, appealing for the pedestrian. Because of the low-rise architecture, when walking down Sheridan Road here, you have air and light and can feel a lake breeze. You can see the lake at every street-end and you can easily walk one block to the lakefront park. This all adds up to a wonderful, walkable lakefront promenade and lakefront space in the city. Indeed, this corridor is easily accessible by anyone in the city via the Red Line “el” train and “151 Sheridan Road” bus.

A commercial 250-car tower on the lake would destroy the green, walkable, and residential character of Sheridan Road and the lakefront here. Its density of traffic is not safe for pedestrians and such a large car garage creates an enormous amount of pollution in our protected lakefront park. Moreover, a parking garage of this scale creates a physical and psychological barrier to the natural and beautiful space that is the lakefront.

As a side note about Sheridan Road, there are several large nursing homes and “4+1” multi-unit buildings, but if you walk the length of the street, (Devon to Evanston) you will see that many of the buildings are lovely vintage buildings with large, green setbacks (see my photography survey of Sheridan Road architecture).

As often heard, it is true that Sheridan Road in Rogers Park was once lined with mansions like the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Bach home, the Shambala Center mansion and the Wheeler mansion on the Loyola campus, now known as “Piper Hall”. In fact, you can see many of these remarkable Sheridan Road luxury homes in the “must-see” 1910 “Book of the North Shore”.  Notably, the Shambala Center building (c. 1917) is the last remaining 1900’s mansion south of Jarvis on Sheridan Road in Rogers Park. Sadly, all the others have been torn down over the past decades.

. . . and due to later legal protections--

The fact that Sheridan Road and the Lakefront here are still charming is not by accident. On the heels of the high-rise “canyonization” of Edgewater, the city of Chicago enacted the “Lakefront ProtectionOrdinance” in 1972.  The stated intent of the Ordinance is “the protection and preservation” of the “special environmental, recreational, cultural, historical, community, and aesthetic interests and values” of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Lakefront (§16-4-020). This law was intended to provide an extra layer of review by the city to guard against the whims of developers and local wards for development that is too large or too commercial and incompatible with accessible, environmentally-sound, lakefront space.

Moreover, in 1990, the 49th Ward of Rogers Park instituted the “Sheridan Road Plan” which down-zoned portions of the street. The stated intent of this Plan was to preserve the “residential character” and the “low-rise vista” of Sheridan Road in Rogers Park. Therefore, we have many people to thank over the past century for this exceptional lakefront in Rogers Park.

A lakefront and lakefront street like this is what every city wants--

Studies show that cities with walkable, green corridors and readily accessible park space are happier, healthier cities (see the New York Times bestselling book Thrive: The Blue Zone Way) Historic architecture enhances these thoroughfares even more. Sheridan Road in Rogers Park is just that-- a walkable, green corridor with historic architecture connecting people to the lakefront. A corridor like this is what every urban design planner and every city in the world wants and Chicago has it!

We should not ruin it with developments like enormous commercial car garage--

So why should we throw away this important lakefront corridor with over-development and over-commercialization turning it into just another exhaust-filled, cheesy, highway strip with massive parking garages? Is this the best we can do for our unique-in-the world lakefront? I do not think so. In response to Col. Pritzker/Tawani’s proposed 250-car tower several hundred feet from the lake at Sherwin and Sheridan, I say: “Don’t do it on the Lake!” We do not want the Rogers Park Lakefront to become “Rogers Park-ing Lot”.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Welcome to The Lakefront Car Tower Blog

Welcome!  You are at the Stop the Lakefront Car Tower Blog.  We are dedicated to providing information and opinion about the dreadful proposal by Tawani Enterprises for a Lakefront Car Tower at the southeast corner of the intersection at Sherwin Avenue and Sheridan Road (7317-31 N. Sheridan Road) in our wonderful lakefront community of Rogers Park.  On January 16th Alderman Joe Moore convened a community meeting, in accordance with his zoning review process, that was well attended and illustrated the opposition to this project.  Alderman Moore has yet to issue a decision on this matter, tacitly highlighting the fact that this is a very troublesome proposal for our community.  Repeated calls to Alderman Moore's office have yielded no answers as to the status of his review.  It is important that the Alderman demonstrate his dedication to democracy and transparency by issuing a statement that details where his office is in the review process and how he will ensure that residents have a voice regarding how their community is planned and developed.  If you haven't already, we encourage you to sign the petition and read the online accounts of the proposal.  If you any questions or comments, feel free to email us.