Stony Island Arts Bank
6700 S. Stony Island Ave., Chicago
After 30 years of vacancy, the rehabilitated Stony Island Trust & Savings Bank reopened in October 2015 as the Stony Island Arts Bank, a program site for artist Theaster Gates’ Rebuild Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to activate underutilized spaces with arts and cultural programming, provide community event spaces and empower artists as agents of community change.
The Stony Island Trust & Savings Bank was designed by architect William Gibbons Uffendell and opened in 1923. The bank was an anchor along Stony Island Avenue in Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood — a once-thriving commercial thoroughfare that has seen extensive demolition. The building operated as a bank before permanently closing in the 1980s. Days before scheduled demolition in 2012, Gates bought the building from the city for $1 with the plan to renovate it into an arts and community space.
The bank’s façade was repaired and its ornate main entrance surround revealed. Inside, the plaster walls and ceilings were stabilized and the deteriorating rear balcony reconstructed. The interior space is now used for art exhibitions, archival collections holdings and management and cultural programs. Notably, the building’s west offices, nearly destroyed by decades of water damage and flooding, were transformed into a two-story library housing the research collections of the Johnson Publishing Company (publishers of Ebony and Jet magazines). The basement’s bank vault and decorative grilles, submerged in water for several years before rehab, have also been revealed and preserved. Today the bank has resumed its public role as an institution of and for Chicago’s South Side as part of Gates’ and Rebuild Foundation’s pioneering approach to community revitalization.