Imagining a 21st Century Community PARTNERSHIP & persistence form the rebirth of an award-winning mixed-income urban development

The reimagination team for the National Register-listed Julia C. Lathrop Homes has produced 414 mixed-income residences for Chicago’s North Side and restored 16 of the original 32 buildings first constructed in 1938 under the Public Works Administration.

"This is such an important resource for the people of Chicago and residents of the North side, designed to bring people together in a world-class community." — Heartland Alliance

Today, Lathrop is home to two- and three-story, high quality walk-up residences, accommodating a range of mixed income levels. The property’s historic Great Lawn, which fronts the Chicago River provides a green space for both the residents and the surrounding community to enjoy.

The Vision

The first phase of the project, completed in 2019, is the result of a seven-year planning process. Led by Lathrop Community Partners (LCP), it included master planning and a robust community engagement process.

Master plan

The master plan will continue to evolve over time and is a finely tuned balance of preservation and opportunity for new construction in future phases. Key to this process was not only identifying and retaining the successful planning of 100 years ago, but also looking for opportunities to improve for the next 100. Sustainability was a core strategy from the beginning. As an urban infill site, Lathrop is an exemplary LEED-Neighborhood Development (ND) project, earning most or all available preferred location-, reduced auto dependence-, housing & jobs proximity-, mixed income-, and diverse communities credit points, achieving LEED ND Gold certification.

Preservation & Sustainability

The scope of the renovation brought new life to the historic buildings addressing the tired exteriors. Full brick restorations included the meticulous replacement of the brick, mortar, coping, and preservation of the unique finials.

Stripping away the years of paint highlights the beautiful limestone entry portals and glazed block stairwells. Replacement of the existing windows with historically accurate casement windows dramatically transformed the buildings. Renovating the interior units to a modern standard enabled LCP to attract a diverse range of residents. The historic buildings have been certified via the Enterprise Green Community Criteria. The project achieved 69 points and 12 of the possible energy points. This can be attributed to the integrated approach between the highly efficient VRF heating and cooling system and improved building envelope.


While the Great Lawn reflects what should be kept, the riverfront re-connection reflects what is new. One hundred years ago the Chicago River was something to turn your back on; today it is recognized as an asset and an amenity for those who live here.

Activating the original landscape design and reconnecting the site to the river was key to Lathrop’s success. The river and the creative programming encourage community engagement. Riverfront amenities include a quarter-mile river walk, a boat launch, an updated Elizabeth Wood park, a bike path which flies out over the river and under the Diversey bridge, and a dog park or dog “ring” intended to recall Jensen’s famous Council Ring concept in a playful contemporary way.


Inherent in Lathrop’s historic plan are all the ingredients we are now discussing as solutions to our current COVID and future pandemic responses. These ingredients include biophilia, active living, and open space among other strategies.

At Lathrop this is built in at two scales: The Great Lawn and the enhanced Clybourn Courtyards. The walk-up nature of the historic buildings promotes active living, and the thin footprints and lack of interior corridors promote natural ventilation and daylight. The sustainable lessons that Lathrop teaches explain its endurance over time and make it a model worth studying for future planning.


The conversion of the townhome buildings into flats along with the introduction of the new construction ensures that Lathrop can accommodate elderly populations and people with mobility impairments, as 20% of the units now meet accessibility requirements.

"This is a neighborhood for everyone – centered on integrating all residents and families into the fabric of the neighborhood." — Chicago Housing Authority

LCP, through its member Bickerdike Redevelopment Corporation, is actively engaging with residents and neighbors through outreach and programming. LCP and its partners have brought together neighbors and residents to participate in paddling events that encourage access to and appreciation for the Chicago River in addition to other events, including neighbor nights, movies in the park, and block parties.

Reuse, Maker Spaces & Economic Development

Lathrop is also a story of salvage and reuse, repurposing trees that were removed during construction, as they were in the way of utility lines or they were too old to withstand the stress of construction.

The Wood Shop Collective helped coordinate the off-site milling and sawing of these trees. As a result, Lathrop Lumber was born, and it has been used in various places throughout the campus, including the “Nature Play” playground at the Mary Crane daycare facility, as well as for furniture at Hexe Coffee Café. The Wood Shop Collective then became a tenant of Lathrop, leasing space in one of the row house buildings and now runs community programming for Lathrop residents.


  • Chicago AIA Design Excellence Award
  • ENR Midwest’s 2020 Best Projects: Best Project, Residential/Hospitality
  • 2020 Landmarks IL: Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award for Rehabilitation
“In one word: beautiful! People, buildings, landscape ... everyone is happy here. This is a home and place to live.” — 37-year resident of Lathrop

A Video Timeline of Transformation

The Team

Lathrop Community Partners:

  • Related Midwest
  • Heartland Housing
  • Bickerdike Redevelopment Corp.
  • Chicago Housing Authority


  • HED
  • bKL Architecture
  • Juan Gabriel Moreno Architects

Landscape Architect: Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects

Civil Engineering: Terra Engineering, LTD

Exterior Envelope Consultant: McGuire Igleski

Historic Preservation Financing Consultant: MacRostie Historic Advisors, LLC

Master Planning: Farr & Associates


Structural Engineering: Eskenazi & Farrell Associates LLC