Englewood drug house turned into cultural center

Take a walk down the 7000 block of South Perry Avenue, then stop in front of 7042. It’s not the same building it was four years ago.

Take a walk down the 7000 block of South Perry Avenue, then stop in front of 7042.

It’s not the same building it was four years ago. It was once a haven for drug dealers, and its customers before it were engulfed by fire in 2004.

Now the “undiscovered gem” is the four-story Perry Mansion Cultural Center.

The center’s founder and CEO Samuel Smith, a former resident of a public housing development on the West Side, owns property in Englewood and saw the vast potential the mini-mansion had, if it wasn’t overrun by drugs.

Smith, a media and real estate professional, just couldn’t “let it go to waste.”

He thought about rehabbing the property and renting it, but instead chose to restore the building and use it for community purposes. He used his own resources and contracting experience to restore the “eyesore” in the community, Smith said.

The 110-year-old building will house all genres of art, and feature local, national and international artists, as well as entertainers. It will also have educational programs about the arts that will engage youth during after-school hours.

While Smith used his own resources to renovate the property, he will rely on individual contributions and donations from private foundations to keep the center up and running, and to sponsor special exhibits that are scheduled to premiere next year.

The main floor is open. However, the upper floors are currently under construction.

Local spoken word artists will be able to showcase their talents in November during Monday “Open Mic” nights, and in December, guests will be able to enjoy Mystery Dinner Theater. Sunday Jazz Brunches are expected to bring in the spring.

Smith hopes the center’s neighbors will see how one building can transform an area and “take more pride in their property” and “learn more about the different cultures from the various exhibits,” he said.

“I’m committed to making the difference, one youth and one block at a time,” Smith said.

Special exhibits, all housed in the center’s lower level, are also planned for the center.

The first will be “The Slave Experience.”

The interactive exhibit will allow guests to experience and learn about slave transport in the Middle Passage. The exhibit is scheduled to open in February.

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