Post 92: The Rooming House Gallery – Connecting the Dots

Excerpts from The Rooming House Gallery – Connecting the Dots

The Tribune

Sunday, September 16, 2012

(Front Page, 4 columns, below fold with before and after photos of the building)

New Community Art Gallery With A Twist of History

By: Lea Ming, Arts & Culture Editor

In 2009, when domestic partners Andres Rodriguez and Josh Sawicki inherited a 3 story rooming house built in 1887 with nearly 30 rooms, they knew exactly what they wanted to do with it. “Convert it to an art gallery,” said Rodriguez. “A gallery for Chicago up-and-coming artists. Along the way, it evolved into a community art center with classes for youth and people of all ages in a diverse neighborhood.” The building is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the only former rooming house in the Chicago area to be listed.

……The original building is 20 feet wide by 80 feet long. A 16 by 24-foot addition now extends and widens the back of the building. The side walkway curves around to the large entrance located at the rear of the addition. The addition is built of elegant dark gray cement block and ties in nicely with the old home. Across the back of the addition is an expanse of glass 3 stories high, designed to let additional light into all 3 levels. All 3 floors are accessible from the front or rear of the building, though the elevator and handicapped parking are at the rear entrance. The addition includes emergency exits from the 2nd and 3rd floors. “The entire building meets stringent fire code requirements,” James said.

In the original 4-bedroom home on the 1st floor are spaces for art instruction, a small meeting room, and an accessible bathroom. Several walls are covered with cork to display students’ artwork. It is almost another gallery in itself. From the quality of the art hanging there, I think the gallery will have a long future of good exhibitions of local art. The back apartment of the original building now contains 2 administrative offices, and a registration area that opens into the new addition.

The 2nd floor…..holds art from Rodriguez and up and coming area artists. It makes unique use of the windows through the installation of floor to ceiling screens that filter and redirect the light. Plus the light from the new addition’s large window provides a focused source. Portable walls set at various angles break up the long narrow space to give the gallery an expansive feel.

The 3rd floor, whose layout is similar to the 2nd, will rotate monthly with shows from community artists, school art competitions, occasional big name Chicago artists, and related special exhibitions. It also holds the Sawicki-Rodriguez Rooming House Historical Center with the hundreds of photos, copies of original diaries and secrets of the old place, all discovered during construction…..

Throughout the three years of rehabbing the building, Rodriguez, an artist and educator, and Sawicki, a paralegal supervisor for an international law firm, discovered diaries, letters and correspondence of 10 people who resided here over the years, along with photographs dating back to the 1890’s. When asked if they found any unique stories, both men laughed. “Unique is putting it mildly,” said Sawicki. “Almost every person who recorded something had a secret. Those secrets ranged from being 100% Jewish instead of Polish, to having an unknown French love child conceived in World War I show up at age 14, to a teenage male prostitute running the streets of Tijuana, Mexico, to the place operating as an underground hospice for undocumented AIDS patients during the ’80’s and ’90’s.”

“The bottom line is, though,” said Josh Sawicki, “this place will be a fine art gallery, and a vibrant community art center as we integrate ourselves further into the Back of the Yards community…”

Oh, but this isn’t the ending! Join us this Saturday at the Beloit Public Library at 3:30 for the official book launch. I’ll read a few other excerpts, answer questions, sell and sign books. OR order a signed copy directly from me via PayPal for $18.00 includes shipping ( OR order from online retailers. Signed copies will also be available after June 22 at the Villager Gallery & Framing, 429 E. Grand, Beloit, WI 53511.