An exuberant Art Deco SRO overlooking one of Chicago's oldest public parks, preserved as affordable housing–this is such an encouraging project. Designed by B. Albert Comm and opened in 1930 as the Union Park Hotel, a middle-class residential hotel, by the early 2000s this was a dilapidated SRO, the Viceroy, in a gentrifying neighborhood. It's easy to imagine a reality where the Viceroy was converted into luxury microapartments, but instead Heartland Alliance and the nearby First Congregational Baptist Church partnered to rehab the building and convert it into an affordable development with wraparound supportive services. Renamed Harvest Commons, the 89 unit building reopened in 2013.

On the left, early 1940s postcard of the Nikolas Hotel. Yellow and red brick and terracotta, 'HOTEL' running down the side, red and blue car in front. On the right, 2021 photo: new tree, new neighbor, similar coloring, otherwise looks the same.
1941 postcard, Curt Teich Postcard Archive, the Newberry Library via the Internet Archive | 2021 photo

So, what's changed? With the exception of the construction of a next door neighbor, remarkably little–that 2010s restoration has this building looking incredibly fresh. That new neighbor to the west (right) is the Warren Apartments, another Heartland Housing affordable development, this one designed by Valerio Dewalt Train and opened in 2020. Oh, and while the spandrel panels are a different color than the rest of the brick, the illustrator went a little overboard here–they're just beige, not that salmon color in the postcard.

Residential hotels were a key component of the American housing market for decades, providing fast, cheap, and spatially-efficient (rooms here had Murphy beds to save space) living options for people of diverse social classes for the short or long term. When it opened in 1930, the Union Park Hotel catered to a more modest clientele than fancier lakefront apartment hotels, but it had its selling points as well–located in the one-time “Gold Coast of the Near West Side”, it was close to the L and with a prime spot overlooking Union Park. Plus, few others had such eye-catching facades–colorful terracotta, warm brick, highly symmetrical, and dramatically geometric with neo-Mayan flair.

The architect behind that vibrant style, B. Albert Comm, specialized in the creative and colorful application of architectural terracotta. He designed a clutch of Art Deco and Moderne buildings across Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s, both residential and commercial, from Rogers Park to Roseland.

Renamed the Nikolas Hotel in the early 1940s, it started to slide downmarket in the postwar period, as stigmatization of residential hotels took hold. By the time it was renamed the Viceroy in 1960, white flight and urban renewal were crushing the Near West Side, and for the next 40 years the SRO popped up occasionally in newspaper stories involving vice raids, murder, fires, and voter fraud. In 1983 lawmakers even briefly floated turning it into a prison.

Deteriorating through neglect and neighborhood disinvestment, by the end it sounds like the Viceroy was a pretty tough place to live, but it still continued to provide flexible, affordable lodging for those who desperately needed it.

Vacated in the 2000s, Heartland Alliance and the nearby First Baptist Congregational Church bought the building from the city for $1, aiming to restore it architecturally and convert it into high-quality affordable housing for at-risk adults in need of supportive services as well. It's an illuminating example of the complex financing landscape for affordable projects. To be financially viable, this project needed the historic preservation tax credits tied to listing on the National Register of Historic Place (added in 2010) and City of Chicago landmark designation (secured in 2009), as well as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, TIF funding from the city, Renewable Energy Tax Credits, and an Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Energy Efficiency Grant.

No wonder "affordable" developments can be so expensive to build–the cost and complexity of capital is ridiculous. We have to make it easier to finance these things.

After an LBBA Architects-designed rehab, it reopened in 2013 as Harvest Commons, an 89 room SRO for single adults offering affordable and supportive housing with a vegetable garden, a teaching kitchen, and access to social services.


After more than 130 years operating in Chicago, Heartland Alliance started to fall apart during the pandemic, and in 2024 the organization announced it was shutting down. Heartland Housing controlled at least 14 affordable properties around the city. There's an ominous antecedent here–in the 2000s, when Heartland couldn't raise sufficient financing to retire the debt on their first affordable housing development, the Hotel Sutherland, it was sold and converted into market-rate units. It appears that Harvest Commons, at least, is safe–the property was transferred to national housing non-profit Enterprise Community Partners, Heartland’s limited partner in the project, and they intend to maintain it as affordable supportive housing.

Production Files

Further reading:

Harvest Commons | The Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards
Established in 1995, the Chicago Neighborhood Development Awards (CNDA) annually recognize the essential role that both non-profit and for-profit developers play in building communities in Chicago-area neighborhoods.
Chicago, Illinois: Historic Green Rehabilitation at Harvest Commons | HUD USER
Heartland Alliance to spin off subsidiaries, dissolve
The organization will close its doors after nearly 140 years, raising questions about the future of its services locally and globally.

B. Albert Comm designed these Streamline two-flats on the South Side that I'm absolutely obsessed with–and they're still there at 11207 and 11211 S Emerald.

Some more photos from the National Register of Historic Places registration form and the Illinois State Historic Preservation Office.

Some of the ads I used to come up with the data points that graph with the cost of a room over time.

It was noteworthy to me that the Union Park Hotel and Nikolas Hotel advertised in the Chicago Tribune, but for the first couple decades of its existence the Viceroy advertised exclusively in the Chicago Defender–a clear response to white flight.

Mildly interesting production envelope–the customer wanted some cars removed (who doesn't?) and a hedge added.

Production envelope from 1941, instructing them to "follow sketch for design", remove some cars, add a hedge, and see tissue overlay on photograph for coloring.
Curt Teich & Co. Records, Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, Newberry Library via the Internet Archive

Unposted postcard back, "Facing Union Park; 10 minutes from the heart of the city, etc."
Postcard verso, Curt Teich Postcard Archive, Newberry Library via the Internet Archive