By Susan S. Stevens
The architectural gateway to the western portion of the Taylor Street business strip, Pompei restaurant at 1531 W. Taylor Street with its yellow brick dome and red roof, is on the verge of changing.
Owner Ralph Davino envisions a new building as part of a revitalized Taylor Street, with people living in 50 apartments above his restaurant populating the scene.
He plans to tear down the two-story Pompei and construct a four-story building with apartments on the three floors above the restaurant. He hopes other business owners will follow his example to bring new life to the street.
Pompei will not abandon customers during the transition. Davino will relocate the restaurant temporarily during construction and has started negotiations with the owner of the former Bacci restaurant down the street. “I am not going anywhere,” Davino said.
He believes Taylor Street needs business owners like him to step up their game. “I wish everyone would do the same thing,” Davino said.
At a Jan. 15 meeting of the Little Italy Chicago Neighborhood Association (LICNA), Davino announced his plan. Architectural drawings showed a largely glass exterior, with no defining feature. That is not what Davino wants, and he will have architects come up with new plans.
“That was too modern,” he said. “They have to do some other things yet,” something like the current façade, Davino added.
The current Pompei cost $2 million for land and construction a couple of decades ago, Davino said. He will not put in further money; the two developers will handle the expense, he said. One of the developers, Joseph Jankowsky, approached Davino with the proposal, bringing in another investor later.
“I’m only involved in my space,” Davino said. “I have a 3,500 square foot unit.” The new restaurant will seat about 100, the same capacity as the current restaurant.
Jankowsky said the building will top off at 48 feet, and would be shorter than the Little Italy Library or the former Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame. Most apartments will be studios or one-bedrooms, with some two-bedroom units. Rents would be around $2,000 to $2,500.
The building would include two to five affordable housing apartments. Ald. Jason Ervin (28th) said possibly only two units would rent at less than market rate.
Restaurant parking would remain the same, with limited parking for the apartments, Davino said. He said there will be 20 parking spots behind the building, and mentioned nearby public transportation.
Davino hopes construction will start in late summer or early fall, though Ervin said a 2021 groundbreaking was more likely.
LICNA issued a statement expressing pleasure with the plan.
“We welcome the opportunity in bringing more residents and density into our neighborhood and wish the Davino family the best of luck,” LICNA president Joe Esposito said in the statement. “We hope that the architecture of the building is done as well as the current structure that fits the ‘Little Italy’ community amazingly well. I personally am hoping that there is a ‘party room’ in the new restaurant since the current one has become an iconic gathering place for family events for many of us. Best wishes.”
Across the street, where SCIO owners planned to erect the first of two apartment towers facing Ashland Avenue, construction continues on hold. Ervin said “ownership changes” prevented the plan from moving forward. Company representatives declined comment.
For Ervin, log on to www.aldermanervin.com or call (773) 533-0900. For LICNA, log on to www.licna.org. For Pompei, log on to www.pompei.usa.com or call (312) 421-5179.