Leave the Seat Empty: 2635 North Emmett Street


Leave the Seat Empty consists of photos taken of buildings in Chicago in between the time a demolition permit is issued and the time the wrecking crews come.

The vast majority of the city's demolitions are vernacular residential buildings in areas that are either seeing immense new investment or immense ongoing disinvestment. In most cases, the doomed buildings are not deemed architecturally or culturally notable enough for proactive preservation efforts to succeed, where such efforts exist. They are most frequently replaced by new single family homes, or by empty land. These patterns aren't universal among demolitions, but are common outcomes of Chicago's current legal and market environment around land use, building vacancy, and new construction.

Despite its international reputation as a destination for architecture tourism, Chicago's policies around building demolitions often fail to protect historic structures. There are no easy answers to the question of which buildings should remain standing under which circumstances, but residents lack easy access to information about upcoming demolitions, leaving them unable to campaign effectively against demolitions they might oppose. I seek to document many of Chicago's doomed buildings in their final days, often with green demo fencing already up, and be present to acknowledge their disappearance.


2635 North Emmett Street

Permit issued 05/31/2023


This home in Logan Square sat on a block that was hotly contested during the second half of the 2010s and into the 2020s, one part of a larger conflict over the neighborhood's economic and social future. Directly adjacent to the Logan Square Blue Line station, the 2600 block of Emmett became the site of a proposal by a coalition of neighborhood groups to construct an all-affordable housing development, with the goal of taking some pressure off of existing housing stock in an area that is moving rapidly upmarket. The coalition hoped that constructing 100 units of structurally affordable housing would help longtime locals, especially working class Latino families, stay in Logan Square if they were displaced from their previous homes by price shifts.

It took half a decade for the group supporting the development to propose its final form and win the necessary approvals in the face of opposition from an affiliation of area landlords, homeowners on this block who didn't want to share the space with a large affordable housing complex, aesthetic critics of the proposed building design, and people who complained about the potential loss of a city-owned parking lot next to the Blue Line station. But the development team prevailed, and now 100 new homes sit across the street from the site where the house you see here once stood, providing accessible, affordable, transit-rich lodgings that are growing very rare in Logan Square these days.

The evolution of the side of Emmett Street across from the recently christened Lucy Gonzalez Parsons Apartments exemplifies the need for that affordable housing complex to exist. Many vernacular single-family homes and small multi-family buildings on blocks near the center of Logan Square, including this one, were purchased in the 2010s by landlords and renovators who took a speculative interest in what were previously often owner-occupied structures. Now the area is experiencing a second phase as it becomes desirable for ever more monied newcomers - the homes themselves are giving way to newer structures, with higher price tags (and often higher unit counts) in response to pent-up demand for premium housing in the neighborhood.

This home sold for $612,500 in 2023 to a developer specializing in LEED certified green buildings, and the three units in the resulting new building each sold last month for between $700,000 and $920,000. The same developer previously purchased and demolished the house next door to construct a four-unit building, a demolition covered as part of the Leave the Seat Empty photo series in 2021. The improved unit count of these new structures likely has a softening effect on overall price pressure in Logan Square, but the fact that the baseline price of entry for an individual condo in many buildings like this one exceeds the full purchase price of the homes that preceded them demonstrates how dire the neighborhood's affordability situation has become.