Commentary — May 7, 2012, 10:09 am

The Death and Life of 1230 N. Burling

Ben Austen is a contributing editor of Harper’s Magazine. His article on Cabrini-Green, “The Last Tower: The decline and fall of public housing,” appears in the May 2012 issue of Harper’s.

The last tower to stand at Cabrini-Green, a fifteen-story high-rise known by its address, 1230 N. Burling Street, was opened in 1962 and torn down in 2011. There were 134 families living there at its peak occupancy, then fewer than fifty, and, for a short time before its demolition last year, only the household of Annie Ricks, her children bouncing balls in their top-floor unit, blaring music, with no neighbors around to object. On the Cabrini-Green Facebook page, former residents reconnect, posting competing memories of the movies that were projected onto 1230 Burling’s façade, the unlicensed candy store that was operated out of a first-floor apartment, or the slick jackets they wore as members of the Junior Police Explorers.

In 1981, a group of teens who had formed a band convened a practice in 1230 Burling’s downstairs rec room. Maybe the kid with the .357 Magnum mistook the drummer, Larry Potts, for someone else; pointing the gun into an open window, he shot Potts in the head. Not long after, Cora Moore and nine other residents, almost all of them women, started a tenant patrol, hoping to push out gang members who had been charging residents to ride the elevators. They sat up nights in the lobby, replaced hallway lights, and repaired fire doors. Eventually, the Department of Housing and Urban Development trained them as professional security guards. They were even paid for their efforts. Then, under a Reagan initiative, they signed a contract with the Chicago Housing Authority to manage the building themselves, handling 1230 Burling’s security, maintenance, tenant screening, and leasing. Their mission statement proclaimed, “We, the residents of the 1230 North Burling Resident Management Corporation, will provide management programs and services, social, educational, cultural, and spiritual, to better the lives and conditions of the 1230 North Burling residents.” Urine still sometimes pooled in the stairwells and elevators could go unfixed, but the building was relatively functional, generally considered cleaner and better operated than the other Cabrini towers, standing in opposition to the argument that high-rise public housing could never succeed.

From 1999 to 2007, several members of the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, all of them white men, took up residence in a second-floor apartment, joining the tenants’ fight to stave off redevelopment while subscribing to the Maoist maxim to “be in close contact with the people.” During that time, a video shot from an upper-floor apartment captured police officers as they punched and kicked four handcuffed tenants outside the building. Angry residents emerged from the tower, and additional officers arrived from the precinct across the street to combat what was turning into a riot. One of the beaten men, Dave Anderson, who was thirty at the time, sued the city and eventually won a settlement. A girlfriend had once stabbed Anderson in the belly outside a Cabrini grocery store, but nothing like this had happened to him before. He and the others had returned home after a funeral and were just sitting in a parked van when the police yanked them out, maced them, and started whaling away.

A 150,000-square-foot Target is now going up at 1230 N. Burling. A few former tenants are hoping to land jobs building the store or working in it once it has opened. Its customers will include some four hundred Cabrini-Green residents living in new mixed-income developments nearby, as well as those who remain at the 150 rehabbed Cabrini row houses a couple of blocks to the south. Kenneth Hammond, who raised his children in 1230 Burling, relocated to one of the row houses in the months before the building came down. A tenant leader, he told me he had lived at Cabrini-Green all of his forty-two years and never thought about leaving, since he wanted to make the community strong right here. Looking at the 1230 Burling site in disbelief, he said, “All of this for a Target.”

Single Page

More from Ben Austen:

From the May 2012 issue

The Last Tower

The decline and fall of public housing

From the October 2010 issue

Southern culture on the skids

Racetracks, rebels, and the decline of NASCAR

From the June 2010 issue

In the Loop

Obama’s hometown takes Washington

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada



October 2019


Secrets and Lies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Seeking Asylum·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

Poem for Harm·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:


A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!


Happiness Is a Worn Gun


“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today