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This Washington Park Renovation Is the Next Chapter of a Great Chicago Housing Story

New owners revived a home that once belonged to Jesse Binga, a pioneering black developer and banker in Chicago.

The former home of Jesse Binga

Photo: Dennis Rodkin

When Juan and Darron Kirkman found the home they wanted most in Washington Park, they were impressed, says Juan, by “the amazing kitchen, the way the floorplan had been opened up, the big backyard where we can host family barbecues, and the park and tennis courts across the street.”

Only after falling in love with the newly remodeled two-story brick home did they find out that it is an important landmark of African-American financial empowerment. “When we learned that, it was a done deal,” she says.

In December, the couple moved into the house on South King Drive that for decades in the early 20th Century was home to Jesse Binga, a pioneering black real estate developer and banker. When Binga bought the house in 1917, Washington Park was a fashionable white neighborhood. The response to having a successful black businessman and his wife, Eudora Johnson Binga move in?

The house was bombed a reported seven times in four years.

In recent years, the former Binga house had been destabilized by other factors: the deed to the rapidly declining property changed hands eight times between 2001 and 2012, with some rehab started but not completed and the house standing empty for some time. By the time developer Gerese Tadros of Oak Lawn-based Prime Capital Group bought it a year ago for $45,000, the house was, Tadros says, in need of “everything.” Collaborating with Re/Max agent and consultant Hasani Steele Tadros entirely redid the roof, plumbing and mechanicals, repaired and restored the brick facade and wood front porch, and created an elegant, sunny open floorplan in what had been a series of small rooms.

In December, Prime Capital sold the home for an amount the Kirkmans don’t want reported. Suffice it to say that they spent considerably less than the $585,000 somebody paid for it un-renovated in 2007 and the $550,000 that Binga’s purchase price of $30,000 would equal in today’s dollars.

On Thursday, Tadros, Hasani and others involved in reviving this historic home will be awarded a Chicago Association of Realtors Good Neighbor Award, one of 42 residential and commercial projects to be honored. Some of the others include the Pullman Wheelworks, a subsidized apartment complex developed in a century old rail-car factory; a Park Forest townhome development that had been a crime-ridden eyesore before renovations; and the super-luxurious Lincoln Park 2550, where, as I reported in March, at least 21 condos have sold for $2 million or more.

But it may be the tale of the Binga house that best exemplifies how a single piece of real estate can mean so much to a neighborhood. Together, Jesse Binga’s purchase in 1917 and the Kirkmans’ 95 years later speak volumes about how this city breathes.

On the other hand, to the Kirkmans, it’s mostly just a home, one whose sizable basement and back yard they couldn’t find anywhere else at the price. The basement is in the process of becoming Darron’s man cave, and this summer the back yard will be, in Juan’s words, “the Kirkman family barbecue headquarters.”

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