from deep in the thickness of the holidays, a time when we celebrate traditions that seem to be really old but really aren’t, some reflections on the current state of preservation in Chicago and elsewhere….
Al Capone’s house – there was a lengthy article on the Al Capone house, a modest c. 1915 red brick flat building in Park Manor on the South Side. When this was proposed for the National Register back in 1989, I remember all hell broke loose thanks to a collection of Italian-American organizations objecting to giving the mobster any honor. Of course, landmark designation is not “honoring,” otherwise we wouldn’t landmark things like the Vesey Street staircase or Manzanar, but the media sweatfest was enough to torpedo the designation. Now, the owner of the house since 1963 is selling it, so the Capone history has come back in the form of a big article in the paper and a $50,000 boost on the sales price. People are always in favor of preservation when it pays off – the trick is seeing the payoff when it is still in the distance.
Barack Obama got elected, so we may get the 2016 Olympics, which means the Olmsted landscape in Washington Park will be affected. Keep an eye on this one.
Institutions – especially schools, hospitals and churches – are sometimes more likely to cause demolition of valuable historic resources than private developers. A classic example is the move of Children’s Memorial Hospital from Lincoln Park to Streeterville. The move not only threatens the buildings they are leaving – serviceable and urbane but not spectacular – but also the neighborhood they are moving to. Turns out Ronald McDonald House has to move with them, putting a landmark up for sale in Lincoln Park and potentially leading to the demolition of two buildings on the near north side. First, they are planning on building a new Ronald McDonald House by demolishing a nice 1887 warehouse – again serviceable and urbane but not spectacular. (See September 4 2008 blog) Second, they are NOT re-using Prentice Women’s Hospital, one of Bertrand Goldberg’s great buildings. This would have been a natural. I guess that would require a contemporary high-definition widescreen preservation vision. Too much to ask?
Prentice is on the current Chicagoland Watch List of Landmarks Illinois (link on the right). In fact, if you look at the dozen buildings on the list, at least half are threatened by universities and/or hospitals.
Oh, and let’s not forget religious institutions, what with the Archdiocese trying again to demolish Henry Schlacks’ St. Boniface Church at Noble and Chestnut. I wouldn’t be surprised if that move torches real estate values for four blocks in every direction.
On the plus side, we have seen the rehab of the Wabash Avenue buildings in the former Carson Pirie Scott complex. All of the attention is on the rediscovered Louis Sullivan facades on the Haskell and Barker Buildings but I have also been entranced by the restored roofline of the Atwater Building.
Now, a brief celebration of the supercool landmarks I saw in 2008, in chronological order:
that’s a good year. At least three World Heritage sites visited, plus I don’t know how many National Historic Landmarks…