Spring May Not Bloom at Old Town Garden Center

One of the things that makes neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities livable is a diversity of retail institutions.  Before the Magnificent Mile became a homogenized reflection of suburban shopping malls, it was the place where you could get anything, if you knew where to look.  On a smaller scale, the same was true in many of the city’s neighborhoods, including Old Town.

Now one of those quirky places that’s hard to leave without plonking down a tenner is going away.

Old Town Gardens, as seen in May 2012, complete with touts.  "Do you have 60 seconds for the dying gluten-free baby whales?"

Old Town Gardens, complete with touts out front. “Do you have 60 seconds for the dying gluten-free baby whales?”

Tomorrow the city’s zoning board will consider an application to change the required setbacks for the lot at 1555 North Wells.  You may know that location better as Old Town Gardens.  The fact that someone wants to change the setback from 30 feet to 16 feet isn’t what’s important.  What’s important is why.

According to the paperwork filed with the city (which uses the address 1553), there are plans to replace the neighborhood nursery with yet another mid-rise residential block.  For those of you who live in the suburbs, a “nursery” is like the garden department at a big box store, except staffed with people who know plants, and don’t have to be experts in paint one day, and corralling shopping carts the next.

This particular nursery has been supplying downtown residents with potted plants and veg, seedlings, cacti, and other assorted leafiness for a quarter of a century.  It is the horto in urbs that goes hand-in-hand with Chicago’s city motto.

The plan now is to turn the space into a six-story residential building.  There will be 23 new homes in the structure, along with ground floor retail space, and no parking.  But as you can see from the photo above, traditional retail space is not necessarily suited for seasonal greenery sales.


Location: 1553 North Wells Street, Old Town


Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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