Old Town School History

Renovation at Armitage Avenue

The darkest financial days were past by 1985, but the School was faced with a 15,000-square-foot problem. Good old Aldine Hall, 909 W. Armitage, was crumbling.

"There finally came a point when we had to make a decision about the building," explains former board president Harvey Dershin. "Not that we wanted to give up some of the features we had come to love, like the floors and ceiling that could be seen to vibrate when poeple danced or tapped their feet in unison, or the dungeon of a basement that no one ever entered except Igor the dog, or the 'elegant' rest rooms, with leaky faucets and doors that wouldn't close, or the radiators with valves that seemed to be always set at 'drip,' or the room temperatures that were always too hot in summer and too cold in winter. It was just that the City's Building Department kept wanting us to fix things because of silly codes: things like the roof that leaked, the fire doors that weren't fire doors, the parapets that were falling down, the electrical violations - things like that."

Kenton Morris adds: "The School was falling apart. One of the members of the board, Fritz Biederman, was an architect; we were having a board meeting and someone was talking about continuing the great success with the clog dancing on Friday night. Fritz turned white and said, 'Clog dancing? Where are you having clog dancing?' and we said, well, right here in the main auditorium. And he said, 'You can't do that! This beam will collapse.' At that point we decided maybe we should get the place renovated."

"We considered moving out and selling the building, but we just couldn't bear to leave the neighborhood," says Harvey. "Besides, we couldn't afford it."

Raising for Rebuilding

When the School decided to renovate the building on Armitage, it also committed to its first major fundraising drive.

"As happened so many times in the past, people came forward with contributions of both time and money," Jim explains. Susan Church explaining how the staff and others got involved: "Everybody really owned this project. It was very much in keeping with the spirit of the Old Town School, which is: everybody owns the music, everybody owns the building, everybody owns the process of keeping it all going."

The highlight - and the most entertaining part of the capital fund drive was a January 16, 1987 concert at Orchestra Hall. Old Town School friends John Prine, Bonnie Koloc, David Bromberg, Stephen Wade, Corky Siegel, and Fred Holstein played for free. Bonnie sang a number she had written for the audience, 'With You on My Side.' Win Stracke sang 'Down by the Embras,' 'Methodist Pie,' and 'Wee Drappe O't,' backed by Studs Terkel and Jim Hirsch. Then the entire audience of 2600 people rose in tribute to Win the founder.

"It was a magical evening," says Jim. "All of our friends came back. It was a real turning point for the School." The concert raised $40,000. Byt the time construction began in March of 1987, the School had raised $650,000 - and the renewed support and enthusiasm of thousands of contributors.

Next → Rebuilding

The Old Town School of Folk Music, Inc.
4544 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago IL 60625  •  773.728.6000