Photos of business owners throughout Evanston history as displayed at the Shorefront Legacy Center. RoundTable photo

Community was the word of the day on June 20, as Evanston opened the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center. The cultural center located at 1823 Church Street, is the next step to further enriching the Church/Dodge community. The cultural center’s opening was about the community’s future, but its past, namely the past lives of Thomas Gibbs and William Morrison.

Both owned businesses in the Church/Dodge community. William Morrison ran a pharmacy while Thomas Gibbs operated a gas station. Their black and white portraits hung above the audience as Tim Rhoze, artistic director of Fleetwood Jourdain, led the service. Mr. Rhoze spoke about the determination of Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Morrison. “We are here to dedicate that determination,” said Mr. Rhoze. Mr. Rhoze then spoke about the woman who had made the cultural center possible when he said, “Alderman Holmes, you have taken step that got this community going in the right direction.” To the sounds of applause Ald. Holmes stepped onto the stage as Mr. Rhoze said, “Ms. Holmes this community keeps pulling you back in.”

Ald. Holmes said when she became an Alderman her first words were, “what are we going to do about Church/Dodge?” After BooCoo went under she asked the community, store owners and neighbors on Church and Dodge what to do about 1823 Church St. In the end the City of Evanston bought the property and turned it into the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center. “Were going to make this community where it ought to be,” said Ald. Holmes.

The Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center is a, “seating for all business,” said Deputy City Manager Joseph McRea. All businesses, and their customers, will be able to share the space. The City worked with Nature’s Perspective to redo the garden and make the corner more presentable. It will also feature free wifi.

Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said the cultural center was, “a tremendous and wonderful thing.” Mayor Tisdahl echoed the words of Ald. Holmes when she said that the cultural center was the another step towards, “reclaim Church and Dodge.”

For the Gibbs and Morrison families the cultural center was not just about reclaiming Church/Dodge, but about remembering. They spoke about their father’s struggle, how Church/Dodge had once been “the Mecca of black enterprise,” in Evanston. They spoke about singing choir songs in front of the Morrison Gas Station. They spoke about how their fathers had served every member of the community, white and black. By the time they finished there were few dry eyes in the room.
 While the cultural center was dedicated to the love that Mr. Gibbs and Mr. Morrison brought to the community, it also touches on the community to which they gave their love. Upon the cafe wall of the cultural center hung a series of pictures, set up by Shorefront, of previous business that had been a part of the Church/Dodge community. As people stood to admire the display they chatted about the pictures and the memories they stirred to life, while munching on pie provided by First Slice Pie Cafe.

With a shared space for local business, a memorial to the history of two men who embody the spirit of Evanston, and First Slice’s delicious form of charity the future for Church/Dodge is looking bright. The Cultural Center was another way the City celebrated the Juneteenth holiday.

⁆irst Slice†to Operate Kitchen at Gibbs-Morrison

First Slice Pie Café, which operates three cafés in Chicago, has received a five-year renewable contract to operate the kitchen at the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center, 1823 Church St. The annual rent will be $9,575. First Slice will fully equip the commercial kitchen at its own expense.

Anna-Louise Haak, executive director of First Slice, said the company plans to hire as many Evanston residents as possible – the lease with the City calls for two Evanston hirees. She said hiring local is one of their typical business practices.

First Slice is known for its pies, but salads, quiches, soups and sandwiches are also on the menu.

The name comes from the philosophy behind the company, “making sure that those in need receive the first slice, not just the crusts.” Proceeds from the food sales provide support for their outreach program; through local partners they help provide more than 600 meals each week to the homeless and hungry. Ms. Haak said they plan to continue that partnership/outreach program with agencies in Evanston.

Asked whether First Slice sought to partner with the City or if the City solicited the company, Ms. Haak said Paul Zalmezak of the City’s economic development department knew of the First Slice Pie Café in the Lill Street Art Gallery in Chicago and had suggested the company would be a good fit in Evanston.

City Council approved the contract at its June 22 meeting.