After being vacant for more than a decade, a firehouse in Little Village is not only on the way to getting landmark status but is also expected to be transformed into a center for the community.
If approved by the Chicago City Council, the National Museum of Mexican Art will acquire the building at 2358 S. Whipple St. It would be used by Yollocalli Arts Reach, an initiative of the museum aimed at providing arts and culture programming to teens and young adults.
Vanessa Sanchez, the director of Yollocalli, said she is excited to offer more for students.
“A lot of young people who have been through a program consistently say that, you know, Yollocalli has been their second home,” Sanchez said. “So we’re really excited to be able to offer this new opportunity.”
After Yollocalli outgrew its current space at the Little Village Boys & Girls Club, the museum was on a mission to find new ways to keep up with demand. This began talks of expanding the program’s space — a process that involved board members, alderpeople and the community.
Yollocalli has also included its students in designing the new space. Sanchez said the youth are excited to see the process from the ground up and see their visions come to life.
“The biggest thing that they said is they want one area to be just for them, and one area to be for the community,” she said. “So that first floor is going to be really for the community. It’ll be a big open space for gatherings, performances, for events. And then the top floor is for the young people.”
The proposed renovation would include a mixed-use art gallery space, ceramics studio, DJ and recording booth, classrooms and more. There are also plans to restore and repurpose historical portions of the building such as the spiral staircase.
Another part of the proposal is to landmark the building for its historical significance to Little Village.
Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago said this would be a great opportunity.
“Landmarks are for everybody. And you know, it’s not just the big buildings and the churches, but buildings that are significant to the community offer a wonderful opportunity,” Miller said. “And we have very few Latinx landmarks in the Little Village and Pilsen community. But, you know, this really does address a segment of the population in the neighborhoods that are so important.”
A number of fire stations across the city have been preserved in the past for their service to Chicagoans.
“This is a great step forward to preserving a great building,” Miller said.
Yollocalli is hoping to provide more programs and internships and serve twice as many students in this fun new space by early 2025, Sanchez said.
“Definitely lots of disco balls, lots of neon lights, lots of colors,” she said.
The Executive Latino Council is hosting a fundraising event for this project on Nov. 30 at the National Museum of Mexican Art.