CHICAGO — The Workers Education Society celebrated the gala opening of its Unity Center here by putting out the welcome mat to the community Feb. 12. More than 100 people were on hand.

The nonprofit WES carries on the tradition of the Lithuanian Workers Educational Society, also based in the Bridgeport neighborhood, which housed the left-wing Vilnis newspaper for more than 60 years. Lithuanian workers toiled in the nearby Chicago stockyards. WES holds the archives from the progressive Lithuanian movement.

“The Unity Center sits on the broad shoulders of the greatest working-class traditions of this city, including the fight for trade union rights and multiracial unity,” said Terrie Albano, editor of the People’s Weekly World, whose editorial and production offices are in the building.

Shelby Richardson, speaking on behalf of the Communist Party of Illinois, said, “This building is made possible by the sacrifices of thousands who have come before us, who shared a vision of peace and justice. They would be very proud of this moment.”

Curly Cohen, leader of Affordable Power to the People, applauded the opening of the center. “There have always been two Bridgeports,” he said. “The anti-racist and progressive Bridgeport has a home again.”

Guests beamed as they viewed the “green” renovations, which include skylights and sun tubes that bring in maximum natural light, a reflective roof to reduce the “heat island effect,” a bamboo floor in the main meeting room, and the use of recycled and non-toxic paints and sealants in the construction.

The renovation was designed by the award-winning environmental architectural firm of Farr and Associates and built by a union workforce. WES will work to gain a Leadership in Energy Environmental Design designation for the building, which will make it one of the city’s first renovations of an existing building to receive it.