News News/Local Wicker Park

New homes to replace 91-year-old business

Wicker Park will soon be saying goodbye to a building that's housed a local family-owned lumberyard for the past 91 years.

By next spring, the two-story L. Miller & Son Lumber Company building, currently located at 1815 W. Division, will be transformed into a four-story mixed-use commercial and residential development.

It's a bittersweet change for Bob Margolin, whose grandfather Louis Miller opened the lumberyard in 1921.

"It's more sweet than bitter, though," said Margolin in a phone interview. "I'll miss it. I've spent my entire life here. I've worked with my grandparents, and my kids came to work here, but I can't think of anything negative to say."

Over the past century, Miller & Son's customer base has changed drastically.

While the lumberyard used to be a one-stop home improvement shop for neighborhood residents, lately he's been supplying specialty products to some big-name customers like the Chicago Tribune. Margolin said he's even had several brushes with fame as he's supplied hardware for The Bozo Show, and even blockbuster films like 2009's Public Enemies.

But Margolin said with the changing economy and the influx of big box stores, like Home Depot, he doesn't need such a large lumberyard anymore. In fact, for the past several years he's been leasing out the extra space.

So, what exactly will replace Margolin's lumberyard?

A 39-unit residential building that will feature two new, yet unknown, restaurants designed by Chicago-based Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, whose over 70 restaurants include M Burger and Wow Bao. Some of the units will be for rent, with four dedicated to low-income housing, while the rest will be for sale. No word yet on how much the units will cost, but the building will have plenty of parking with 35 available spaces.

Margolin sold the land to Chicago developer Smithfield Properties after years of trying to find the right buyer.

"Both Smithfield and Lettuce Entertain You are in Chicago and they're quality," Margolin said. "We're not bringing in a national guy. I'm delighted to leave this legacy here, and it's time to do it."

But Margolin's not closing up shop entirely. The Miller & Son Company will be moving to new digs down Division Street some time next year.

Matthew Bailey, spokesperson for Ald. Joe Moreno (1st), whose ward includes Wicker Park, said they will break ground on the new development this fall pending a zoning approval.

But in light of the current economic downturn, and with so many people struggling to sell their homes, does Wicker Park need a new residential development?

Bailey said yes.

"[Smithfield] wanted four levels of housing, we're only giving them three, and they obviously think they can fill those spaces," Bailey said. "It's a great neighborhood to be in, and we'd argue one the most highly desirable places to live in Chicago."

Brandon Campbell is a RedEye special contributor

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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