The Museum of Public Housing

Published in the Spring 2009 issue of SSA Magazine

This article is a sidebar to the "A Community Under Construction" story

-Ed Finkel

The final building left standing from the Chicago Housing Authority's Jane Addams Homes development, at 1322 W. Taylor St., will be rehabilitated and reborn as the National Public Housing Museum if a group including activists, community developers, CHA resident leaders, preservationists, funders, and architects succeeds in raising the necessary remaining funds.

"This started when the big developments were being torn down. There were generations of people from all backgrounds who had lived in those developments," says Donna Barrows, board chair at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies, one of the museum's supporters. "While nobody was mourning the bad parts of public housing, there's always been this tension: It's one thing to tear down buildings, it's another thing to obliterate community."

Modeled on the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York, the museum, which has been incorporated as a stand-alone 501(c)3 nonprofit, has recently hired an executive director and has in hand preliminary drawings of the rehabbed building, plans for programming, and a web site about the project ( The effort just received a $40,000 planning grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to create an extensive oral history program.

"The museum and its education center will challenge the myths and the stereotypes," says Sunny Fischer, executive director of the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, which has taken a lead role, and, like Barrows, is a member of SSA's Visiting Committee. "We will develop a curriculum for the Chicago Public Schools based on the oral histories we collect. We envision the museum, along with its permanent exhibits, being the basis for conversations about poverty and race, and many other social issues raised by the history of public housing."