Wednesday, June 27, 2018

By Erick Johnson

It looks like an ordinary building on the South Side, but its occupants were not. For 121 years, the two-story structure has stood in Chicago’s predominately Black Woodlawn neighborhood. An unassuming edifice built with Chicago’s muscular red brick, it’s a piece of Black history that was recently sold before the owner found out that Mamie Till-Mobley and her son, Emmet Till, once lived there.

Emmett was a 14-year-old boy whose brutal murder drew global attention and helped spark the Civil Rights Movement. The building was the last Chicago home that Emmett lived in before his life came to a tragic end on August 28, 1955—a time when racial tensions began to boil in the South.

His mother lived in a building that’s located just four blocks east of the Chicago Crusader office. It’s one of many structures in Woodlawn that have been purchased and rehabbed by Elite Invest, LLC—a development and property management firm in South Shore that’s in the midst of an ambitious plan to restore residential and office buildings that have been long neglected on the South Side. Some of these structures were occupied by prominent Black Chicagoans in sports and politics.

This year, the firm has been busy seeking buyers for properties thathave some curb appeal in neighborhoods that were once shunned by investors.

One of them is the building that Emmett and his mother once called home. Based on public records, since 2001, the building at 6427 St. Lawrence Avenue has been sold five times. Decaying from time and neglect, the building was once worth just $23,500; that’s when Elite Invest purchased it from a bank in 2015.

Last spring, without knowing the famous occupants, Alex Al-Sabah, principal of Elite Invest, completed an extensive renovation, which included installing a new set of wooden steps for the porch. After the makeover, the building’s value more than tripled to $185,000.

“There were squatters there and a big drug raid, so I think they were running drugs,” Al-Sabah said in an email to the Crusader.

Weeks after closing a deal with a property owner, Al-Sabah learned that he sold the building where Emmett and his mother lived.

“We found out about it later; pretty cool,” Al-Sabah said in an email. “If I would have known sooner, I wouldn’t have sold it.”

The new owner of the building has not been disclosed. The building was still boarded up during a visit by a Crusader reporter on July 5. Properties such as this can be a prime target for “flipping”—a practice where owners purchase properties then resell or rent them out.