Mar 22, 2024 - Real Estate

Chicago's 10 worst eyesores

Photo of traffic driving by an empty building

The building that once housed Silver Cloud in Bucktown Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Last summer Gov. JB Pritzker signed a law meant to stop building owners from abandoning properties for long stretches of time.

The big picture: Chicago has a long-standing problem with abandoned buildings. You can spot these eyesores citywide, in areas neglected by developers and in wealthy neighborhoods alike.

  • With the help of Axios Chicago readers, we've identified 10 of the worst offenders.

Wishbone (West Loop)

Photo of an empty building
The former Wishbone in the West Loop. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

The Cajun restaurant was the brunch stop for folks coming to see "Oprah," while also hosting celebrities like Michael Jordan, Common and all the Chicago pols. But it moved to a new location in 2018.

  • Rumors have swirled about redeveloping its old Washington Street space, but six years later, that building still sits dormant in the shadows of new high-rise condos and hot restaurants.

Green Dolphin Street (Bucktown)

Photo of an abandoned building
Green Dolphin Street off Ashland Avenue. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

After nearly 20 years as a jazz club, the spot rebranded as Dolphin in 2015 and became a nightclub. But a series of shootings and fights at the club sparked the area's alderman to call for its closing.

  • He got his wish in 2017. There were murmurs last year it might become a dispensary, but for now it's just a blight across from Mariano's.

La Luce (Fulton Market)

Photo of a building behind a train
The La Luce Building in Fulton Market next to the Green Line L. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

The behemoth historic building built around 1891 used to be a Schlitz Tied House before becoming the Italian restaurant La Luce. When it closed in 2014, there were plans to renovate it, followed by plans to demolish it, and then … nada.

  • The city gave it a temporary landmark designation in 2021 and it sits in a state of perpetual stasis around eye level for Green Line passengers heading to and from the Loop.

Pilgrim Baptist Church (Bronzeville)

Photo of the side of an abandoned building
Scaffolding helps hold up a wall at Pilgrim Baptist Church in Bronzeville. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

This famous church has had a string of bad luck over the past 20+ years. First a fire gutted it in 2006, and a storm knocked down a wall in 2021.

Yes, but: Now there are plans to make it a Gospel museum. So this entry could be off the list soon — great news for Bronzeville residents.

Hotel Guyon (Garfield Park)

Cream and red colored building behind scaffolding.
Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

The famed West Side hotel was designed by Jens J. Jensen in 1927 and then converted into affordable housing in the mid-1980s. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 but has been the target of multiple attempts to tear it down.

  • You can still see it on the 4000 block of West Washington Street.

Capt'n Nemo's (Lakeview)

Photo of an empty building
The closed sandwich shop on N. Ashland sits vacant. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

This North Center sub shop on Ashland, known for its nautical theme and house-made soups, opened in 1992 as part of the mini-chain first launched in Rogers Park. In 2019, the year Nemo's founder Lou Ragusi died, the Ashland location closed due to the expense of complying with city codes, according to Ragusi's son. It's still there.

  • Yes, but: One Nemo's remains open in Winnetka.

El Milagro (Wrigleyville)

Photo of a closed building
The old El Milagro space on Belmont Ave. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

This squat taqueria, with sister locations in Little Village and beyond, used to offer great tacos on fresh tortillas before or after a show at nearby Schuba's. Then one day in 2007 it shut down "temporarily" with a sign that said "closed for renovation."

  • It never reopened.

The Rainforest Cafe (River North)

Photo of mushrooms outside building
The Rainforest Cafe in River North. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

The two-story tourist trap in River North closed during the pandemic. The facade's frog has been sold off, but the mushroom-adorned building remains vacant.

Silver Cloud (Bucktown)

Photo of an empty building
Silver Cloud lays dormant after closing in 2014. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Bucktown doesn't usually have blighted property problems. Sure, stores and restaurants turn over, but they're mostly replaced by new tenants. Not the case with Silver Cloud at Damen and Wabansia avenues.

  • The bar and grill closed in 2014. A different bar took over the space in late 2018, but closed during the pandemic.

Johnnie's Lounge (Roscoe Village)

Photo of an empty building
Johnnie's Lounge on North Lincoln Avenue. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

Who didn't love Johnnie's on Lincoln Avenue? The dive bar was a throwback, from the building's style to the bar's jukebox.

  • Johnnie Vrbetic died in 2009, and the bar has been closed since then. While the neighborhood builds up around the Paulina Brown Line stop, the building stands vacant.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to say a bar took over the Silver Cloud space in late 2018 and closed during the pandemic, not that the spot has been empty since 2014.


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