Old Town School of Folk Music puts Lincoln Park building up for sale

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The Lincoln Park building that houses the Old Town School of Folk Music is now up for sale, and some of the staff and teachers are critical of the school's leadership for making that decision.

"This decision was made by a small, detached group at the top, without any warning, conversations, or input from teachers, students, or even administrators who make up what the school actually is," said Lindsay Weinberg, a teaching artist at the school.

Other teachers upset with the board of directors' decision shared Weinberg's opinion but declined to make public statements. The school's Lincoln Park building is located at 909 W. Armitage Ave.

Bau Graves, the school's executive director, emphasized the timing to sell the building, which he said has been discussed for decades, is right because the real estate market in Lincoln Park is "red hot" right now.

"We are very deliberately taking a bricks and mortar asset, which has served us very well, and converting it into a financial asset," he said.

Graves said the money will be used to start an endowment fund, ensuring the school's financial future. He also said the school does not have any debt right now, and outright owns every one of its buildings in Lincoln Park and Lincoln Square.

For generations, musicians of all ages have gathered to learn and share musical experiences. Nowadays, new parents are often spotted at the school, babies in hand bouncing to the music.

"We started bringing Hazel here when she was only seven weeks old and now she's three months," said Andrea Whetsell, a beaming new mother.

There are also musicians who have been linked to the school for decades, including Eddie Holstein. He remembers when the Armitage building first opened in 1968, when school founder Win Stracke saved the school from closing by converting the Armitage building from a beer hall to a music venue.

"As soon as they moved there, registration went up and things got back to normal. So it was a great move," said Holstein, who was recently jamming with more than a dozen musicians at the Lincoln Square location. "I have great memories of that place. That was my second home."

And, overall, Holstein said it really depends on the people, not necessarily the building. And playing music is a priority.

"This is what the school is all about," said Holstein, looking around the jam circle at all his fellow musicians. "You don't have to be a great musician, you can join a community of singers and players."
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