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01.20.22 | Sage Advice

National Bills Look to Recognize Bronzeville as a National Heritage Area

At Sage Collective, Bronzeville has always held a significantly special place in our hearts and identity. And, even as we continue to expand beyond our neighborhood’s borders, one of our favorite things is to spotlight the achievements and impacts that the community leaves on Chicago and the rest of the country. Today we’re exploring our neighborhood’s latest recognition: the national bills seeking to honor Bronzeville as a National Heritage Area.

Over the past few years, Bronzeville has seen a true renaissance; welcoming new businesses, families and cultures while still showing deep respect and appreciation for its vibrant history. As one of the most thriving Black communities throughout the early 20th century, Bronzeville set itself apart as a hub for talented artists and musicians, stunning architecture, booming businesses and more. 

Introduced by US Representative Bobby Bush and Senator Dick Durban, the bills intend to identify a new national heritage site within Bronzeville because of its rich contribution to the country’s culture. Although a similar bill in 2016 proved unsuccessful in passing, the latest version is backed by extensive planning and organizing.

If passed, the exciting recognition would welcome a breath of energy to the community. With more and more developments blooming each day, the implementation of the bills would further expand the resurgence within the community. They now head to the subcommittee on National Parks, where they get reviewed before being voted on by the United States House and Senate. 

With only two other National Historic Areas in the state, Bronzeville would continue to set itself apart as a cultural landmark not only within Illinois but throughout the country. You can find updates on the progress of the House of Representatives’ bill here and the Senate’s bill here

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12.21.21 | Sage Advice

A Brief History of The Chicago Bee

The promotion of Bronzeville’s rich history is something we continuously advocate for and give voice to at Sage Collective. That’s why today, we’re spreading the word about The Chicago Bee, a local paper that dominated the press for decades while distinguishing itself by its promotion of Black history.

History

The Chicago Bee, often referred to as Chicago Sunday Bee, was founded by Anthony Overton in 1925. Overton was a successful banker and manufacturer, and the first African American to lead a major conglomerate (Overton Hygienic Company, which was a cosmetics business). After its founding, the Bee moved into the now-famous Art Deco building located at 3647-55 S. State St., which is now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and recognized as a Chicago Landmark. 

The Bee’s staff included many esteemed members of Chicago’s community of writers and journalists at the time. Chandler Owen, a talented writer, became editor of the Bee after moving to Chicago in the 1920s and worked with other savvy editors including Ida B. Wells and Olive Diggs. During the World War II years, when men were in active military duty, the majority of the writing staff were women, which allowed them unprecedented autonomy and opportunity for advancement. 

The Bee covered a wide range of issues of the day. It was the first newspaper to support the efforts of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the nation’s first all-Black labor union created during conflicts at The Pullman Company. It also supported and covered the Black women’s club movement, and gained distinction from other newspapers in the Chicago press in their publicity of Black history and literature.  

Following Overton’s passing in 1946, the Bee was briefly run by his two sons but ceased operation in 1947. Even though very little of the historic newspaper has survived today, it is still recognized as one of the most influential and acclaimed papers of the 20th century. 

Through Sage Collective’s vision, we are proud to contribute to the legacy of African American culture, community and success that is, and always has been, the heart and soul of Bronzeville.

The Chicago Bee front page from May 4, 1941
The Chicago Bee Building
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10.26.21 | Sage Advice

Revolutionizing Bronzeville and the Construction World: A Conversation with Shevaz Freeman

As renovations continue at our 4108 and 4112 S King Drive properties located in the heart of Bronzeville, we sat down with the owner of Urban Intention Design and Build and general contractor for our project, Shevaz Freeman, to discuss her experiences in the world of construction and the progress of the projects. 

Urban Intention Design and Build is a Black woman-owned-and-operated company, which is rare in the general contractor domain. Tell us about your experience in the industry, and what has led you to where you are today. 

Running my own contracting company, Urban Intention Design and Build, as an African American woman absolutely comes with its struggles, but every experience I’ve had — good and bad — has led me to where I am today. Simple things like respect and recognition can be difficult to attain at times, and because of my gender, I have to maneuver within the environment with a whole different perspective. However, because of my significant experience in the field, I’ve discovered how best to navigate challenges I may encounter to my advantage. 

I’ve picked up numerous techniques and approaches that give me a leg up because I feel like I’ve had to work harder than a lot of other people in my field to get where I am. I’ve trained myself to have heightened attention to detail. Sometimes, contractors don’t have the “big picture” in mind and don’t fully pay attention to the endless little things happening on a project. Because I’ve been doing this for over ten years, I find it extremely easy to fully envision the outcome of every project from day one, which is a significant skill in contracting.

What does your role as General Contractor for Sage Collective Properties’ King Drive project involve? 

As the General Contractor for the King Drive projects, it’s my job to oversee and run almost everything. I am responsible for managing budgets, directing on-site subcontractors and conducting meetings with the Sage Collective Properties’ team. However, at the end of the day, my most important job is to make sure that the client gets what they envisioned at the beginning of the process. 

Who are the others who are involved in the renovation of these King Drive buildings, and how does your role fit in? How do you view the nature and value of the relationships you have been able to build with other professionals on this job?

Throughout the renovation, numerous people will walk in and out of the properties. Two people I’ve worked very closely with over the past few months are the Owner’s Rep and experienced General Contractor, Ernest Brown, and the Architect, Gregory Williams. Mr. Brown has provided me with incredible guidance and oversight throughout the project, and his rich expertise in the field has been remarkably beneficial and essential to our process. 

Overall, I’ve unquestionably developed relationships on this job that I believe will continue to provide immense value in the future. It’s so important in jobs like this that each party involved feels like they are valued as part of a larger team, and that is a feeling that is certainly present here. No matter who I am talking to daily, everyone understands that their role is essential for the project’s success.

Explain to us how you see Sage Collective’s vision of having “vibrant, high-quality, affordable living for older adults” come to life in the residences you are currently helping them rehab?

I originally went to school for interior design, so because of that training and the fact that I’m such a visual person, I’ve been able to envision Sage Collective’s concept since the project’s very early stages. As soon as I was introduced to the vision for “vibrant, high-quality, affordable living” and walked through the properties, there was no question that it was achievable, and day by day, I’m witness to its progress. 

Since we strive to make sure that every element is constructed with thought and care, the process behind bringing the vision to life is very meticulous. We discuss everything from the sizing of doors to the proportion of the showers to the type of lighting assembled in each room to make sure we specifically address the needs of older adults. All details throughout the process are constantly brought into question to ensure perfection. 

Do you think that there is enough emphasis by the government or social service organizations on meeting the need for affordable housing in this community? If so, please give other examples. If not, why not?

The need for affordable housing, especially in neighborhoods like Bronzeville, has been ignored by the government for the longest time. However, I think more and more organizations are finally stepping up, and we are moving in the right direction. One of the initiatives putting money into communities like Bronzeville that have essentially been ignored by the city for years is Mayor Lightfoot’s INVEST South/West.

The wonderful thing is that the initiative has encouraged even more developers to invest in affordable housing construction like the upcoming 43 Green projects. Having been born and raised on the south side, seeing the amount of interest currently being poured into the communities holds a special place in my heart. But with that said, the progress is long overdue, and there is still a long way to go until affordable housing needs are met. 

How does your perspective as a contractor inform your view of the future of the availability of affordable housing in Chicago?

In 2021 material costs for almost all aspects of home building and renovation skyrocketed, and they continue to go up. The shift over the past year also means that low-income families aren’t making the extra money they need to afford market-rate housing, making affordable housing even more in demand than ever before. Generally, historic properties like Sage Collective Properties’ buildings in the Bronzeville community are selling for very high prices. Some have been renovated, but others have either been abandoned for years or have not been preserved due to the high expenses that come with the process. 

With time, everything deteriorates. So, without any help, it’s hard to keep these properties affordable for residents. The sad reality is that without continued help from the city, state or federal government — and investments from organizations like Sage Collective Properties  —  it’s going to be hard to keep developing affordable housing in these neighborhoods. 

Have there been unexpected or unique issues that you’ve been challenged with on this project?

The King Drive properties are mature buildings in a very historic area that have been neglected for a long time, so of course, there have been surprises that we’ve come across throughout the renovation. We’re discovering issues now that I’m sure didn’t even cross the mind of the previous owners because development is so different now than it was back when these buildings were built. One specific uncovering was the deterioration in some of the exterior bricks. We found small trees, weeds and other plants vibrantly growing in the actual spaces between the bricks, so we’ve had to uproot all of those. 

The one thing I will say is that it is a solid building and has very healthy bones. So, we can still put it back together with ease. Overall, I’m just so happy to see the phenomenal progress we’ve made so far and can’t wait to see the finished product. I’m also very appreciative that Sage has allowed me the opportunity to work on this project and be able to help them create something so wonderful, especially since I’m in my own community doing it!

Shevaz Freeman, General Contractor for Sage Collective Properties’ King Drive Projects & Owner of Urban Intention Design and Build
Shevaz Freeman, General Contractor for Sage Collective Properties’ King Drive Projects & Owner of Urban Intention Design and Build
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10.21.21 | Sage Advice

A Brief History of Bronzeville’s Music Scene

Bronzeville has been home to several legendary performers and iconic venues throughout the neighborhood’s history. In celebration of Bronzeville’s rich past and to mark progress on our King Drive properties, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the unique venues and legendary artists that once filled Bronzeville’s music scene. 

Regal Theatre, 1941, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Significant Venues

As the century turned and more and more African Americans moved to Bronzeville from the rural South looking for brighter opportunities, several clubs and theatres emerged to meet entertainment needs. Several venues became community favorites and local treasures, including Grand Theater, Dreamland Café, The 708 Club, Pepper’s Lounge and the Vendome Theater. However, a number of these sites became well-known far beyond the boundaries of Bronzeville.

Widely recognized as one of the most important jazz clubs in the country during its prime, Sunset Cafe, also known as The Grand Terrace Cafe, was the city’s premier theatre from the 1920s to the 1940s. The club’s manager, Joe Glazer, invited several of the nation’s top jazz performers to entertain guests, including his client, Louis Armstrong. While the building experienced some remodels and reopenings, it became officially recognized as a landmark in 1998. Today, the venue, located at 315 East 35th Street, functions as an Ace Hardware. However, some of the original murals that filled the historic walls of the Sunset Cafe remain. 

At the time, Savoy Ballroom and the neighboring Regal Theater, located only a few blocks South of our King Drive properties, were credited as some of the first major stakes in establishing a new center of gravity for the African American community in Chicago. Savoy’s half-acre ballroom and the Regal Theater’s opulent auditorium offered hard-to-find performance space. Top jazz, blues and soul performers across the country, including Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder, left their mark on the famed clubs. The buildings were demolished in 1973 and are now home to the Harold Washington Cultural Center.

A band playing at the Savoy Ballroom, 1941, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

While the music scene thrived in Bronzeville for decades, the Great Depression brought unforeseen hardships to the community. Attendance in the top-tier theatres slipped for a time, but the 1940s brought back a resurgence in entertainment, with bebop music flourishing and nearly every big name in jazz returning. 

Uplifting Careers 

Throughout Bronzeville’s storied music history, multiple jazz, blues and soul legends visited the crowded theatres and clubs that filled the neighborhood. Music icons and various big band groups traveled the country to play the community’s numerous renowned venues. While many continued touring, countless others stayed in Bronzeville to expand their career and relish in the neighborhood’s rich culture.

As the jazz epicenter moved to Chicago from New Orleans in the late 1910s, so followed Joe Oliver — also known as King Oliver. Along with composing numerous celebrated works of music, Oliver played both individually on the cornet and in big bands along Chicago’s East 35th Street. He was also a pioneer in the field and mentored numerous young jazz artists throughout the city, including Louis Armstrong. After playing in Oliver’s band — the most influential jazz band in Chicago at the time — and earning a grand reputation competing in music contests throughout the neighborhood, Armstrong became recognized as perhaps the single most important jazz act during the genre’s heyday.

King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, 1923, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Bronzeville native Nat “King” Cole was a legendary music personality and eventually became one of the neighborhood’s most well-known residents. Surrounded by a community rich with jazz and soul history, it didn’t take long for Cole to discover his passion for music. While living at 4023 South Vincennes Avenue, Cole took advantage of Bronzeville’s iconic venues and played at both the Savoy Ballroom and the Regal Theater before furthering his career around the United States. 

Through Sage Collective’s vision, we are proud to contribute to the legacy of African American culture, community and success that is, and always has been, the heart and soul of Bronzeville.

Regal Theatre, 1941, Courtesy of the Library of Congress
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