Posts Tagged ‘Chicago Landmarks’

Dying hospitals, living pubs

October 8, 2010

So MUCH heritage conservation news in Chicago lately. After the talibanic theft of writing from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple (see last post below) we now have reports that the one building the city saved at the Michael Reese Hospital site – the original Schmidt Garden Martin Prairie-styled structure from 1907 – is falling apart and beset by squatters. The article in the Tribune quotes a city spokeswoman, when asked why the city hadn’t fixed the roof, responding: “Time, the elements, exposure – all of those things took a toll long before we got into this building.”

I should add that quote above to my recent post on BAD excuses for demolition. You own the building, you own its problems. They did a walk-through in June 2009 and bought it then. Don’t tell me everything suddenly went south. The pioneering Chicago preservationist Richard Nickel once said that the only enemies of historic buildings were water and stupid men. Fact is, the water only gets there if the people look the other way.

On the GOOD NEWS front, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks today took a step toward designating a collection of my favorite buildings, the Schlitz pubs found all over town. The most notable of them, like Schuba’s on Belmont and Southport Lanes a few blocks south, have wonderful large terra cotta globes (supposedly modeled by Wright sculptor Richard Bock) and they generally follow a sort of Central European neo-Baroque in their ornament.

Division and Wood Streets, Wicker Park


Armitage and Oakley, Bucktown

For about 20 years I carried around a list of these buildings, adding more as I found them. Schlitz apparently built almost 60 in Chicago – they would only serve Schlitz beer there – a system common in England but forgotten in America following our little Prohibition experiment in the 1920s.

And they span every corner of the city, from 35th and Western

to Broadway and Winona way up north

There are also some from the Stege Brewery, and this little gem from the local Peter Hand brewery, which I remember, because it only went out of business in 1978.

Wolcott and Thomas, East Village

I used to vote in that bar when I lived a block away in 1984-85. Unfortunately, the Peter Hand and Stege and Standard Brewery pubs (that one is at Grand and Hamlin, I recall) are not part of this Chicago Landmark nomination.

This is a forgotten history but one well worth preserving, and not only for beer geeks (like me) or local history geeks (me again). The City, through the Landmarks Commission, has been doing an excellent job lately of telling neighborhood stories by designating types of buildings found in a variety of neighborhoods, like fire stations and neighborhood banks. The tied houses have the added attraction of some special, period architecture and art, like this stained glass Schlitz globe you find in the transom at the South Chicago tied house at 94th and Ewing.

Oddly, this one is not included in the designation.

Nor is the great Southport Lanes, still a tavern and one of the only places left with hand-set bowling lanes.

Why? Perhaps because it is owned by a big company that owns a collection of venues, and I must add that we had some BAD experiences with their clumsy management last spring. But this designation is getting a lot of traction – Lee Bey and others are blogging about it and I think it is worth a toast!

Wrigley Building and other non-landmarks

August 26, 2010

In a week a new school year will start and this blog will celebrate its fifth birthday. It is August 2010, and in the old days August was a time when people were vacationing and out of the office and out of touch with the media so it used to be a good time to tear down buildings or approve plans that might not otherwise have public support. I don’t see that this summer in Chicago, but there are landmarks in the news.

First, a moment to honor the passing of Phil Krone, political insider and dedicated preservationist, who led the first urban pioneers (according to the obituary Wednesday, he coined the term “urban pioneer”) to restore the 1500 block of West Jackson Boulevard, the sole west side historic district in the early days. This is one of the city’s smaller historic districts, but it is significant – a rare remnant of a thriving exclusive 19th century neighborhood. Krone didn’t stop there – I remember him telephoning me in 1989 with some idea about how to save some landmarks we were striving to preserve at Landmarks Illinois, and he telephoned me again last year with ideas about how to save the Gropius buildings at Michael Reese Hospital. In the late 90s it seemed he was at all the meetings of the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council, listing buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. He was a true friend of preservation and will be missed.

The other day Blair Kamin had a really excellent article on additions to historic buildings, decrying the refrigerator-like banality of the remodeling of the Wrigley Building’s courtyard. He pointed out that the default architectural option – do it in a bland modernist way – did not serve the richly ornamented historic building. This brought cheers from Steve Semes, who I have mentioned in the past, an advocate for additions that follow more traditional design idioms, and the Wrigley is an excellent example of a situation where Steve is right and the choice was wrong. At the same time, Kamin showed the criticality of his thought by including a second article illustrating an example of a modernist addition – the new project for Fourth Presbyterian Church – that makes sense. This isn’t an either-or proposition or an ideological battle: sometimes the traditional style is the right choice (Wrigley Building, but they flubbed it) and sometimes a glass modernist addition makes sense (Fourth Presbyterian). I am so very glad that Blair gets it and can explain it to those who think you need to take sides.


Nope, not a landmark

Of course, the kicker to all this is that the Wrigley Building is NOT an official Chicago Landmark. It has no protection, and the dumb refrigerator facade they put inside the courtyard could legally be put on the other side of the building. It was proposed for Chicago Landmark status in 1987 and John Baird made a valiant effort to convince the Wrigley family to go along but failed. The building has not been owned by the Wrigleys since 2000. Blair added another article a day later detailing many other iconic Chicago buildings that do not have local landmark protection, despite their appearance as “landmarks” in popular perception.

Blair included the Esquire Theater, Old St. Patrick’s Church (which, like the Wrigley, got close to landmark status but then balked), Marina City (likewise – due to a split between the commercial and residential owners I believe), the Murphy Memorial, and Merchandise Mart.

I argued against landmarking the Esquire 20 years ago because it had already lost its integrity thanks to windows punched into the facade and the destruction of the interior.


Now of course the Merchandise Mart and Marina City are located, like the Wrigley, on the Chicago River, which means they are more easily viewed and more likely to become iconic because they are so visible. That also means they were well designed, because the architects knew those sites would be visible and they lavished extra attention on them. And many of the other “vista” landmarks ARE designated Chicago Landmarks – the Board of Trade, Tribune Tower, and the lesser known but urbanistically exquisite buildings at the south side of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, the London Guarantee Building (1923) and 333 North Michigan Avenue (1928).

As Blair explained, the reason some iconic buildings are landmarks and some are not is clout. Actually, even some of the landmarks, like Tribune and Board of Trade, are subject to very specific landmark agreements that were approved by the city because the owners had clout – plus enough civic sense to realize that their buildings were landmarks.

LABOR DAY UPDATE: Blair’s non-landmarks article appeared in the Tribune print edition today – a full page that is well worth a look.

Landmark houses in different places

September 20, 2009

park drumm709s
Here is a lovely 1920s William Drummond home in River Forest that was recently sold for a few nickels shy of a million dollars as a teardown. Drummond was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s longtime apprentices in the Prairie era, and he lived in River Forest, where he designed numerous Prairie homes, a church, the library and the women’s club, now an award-winning private home. His 1920s designs featured these long sweeping rooflines that blended the continuity of modernity with formal nods to the traditional styles like Tudor that had captured popular taste in the period. This is one of a small number he did in River Forest, and it is gorgeous. It has a lot of interior layout issues, due to the integral garage, but it is unfortunate that a competent designer was not hired to make the house work for modern needs. You don’t need a competent designer for a teardown – anyone at all can do that. It is simpler. It takes no thinking or endeavor, only money.
bellinger cS
The Sunday paper (Tribune) has an article on this house, called “Coloring Inside The Lines” by William Hageman. That is a nice title, because it describes what happened here and what should have happened to the Drummond house in River Forest. This is the famed 1860s Bellinger Cottage on Chicago’s north side, which survived the Great Chicago Fire thanks to Policeman Bellinger, who reportedly poured hard cider on the house to keep the flames away. It is a small cottage that new owners – who spent over a million on the house – wanted to add on to. They did, but they stayed within the historic guidelines – not expanding into the side yard or altering the building’s appearance from the street. They moved a stair that had chopped up the inside of the house – a similar issue to that presented by the Drummond’s interior. They hired my friends at McGuire Igleski Architects, who know how to work with owners and landmarks commissions. The article mentions the importance of the architects, owners and builders getting in sync. And now they are in the Sunday papers.

I don’t know if the house that replaces the graceful Drummond on Park Avenue will make the Sunday papers, but I doubt it. Since they don’t have to color inside the lines, there is little call for creativity and little need for coordination. You just follow a formula. But they could have done something fantastic, adding on the rear, reconfiguring the interior. You can’t buy that facade – those bricks, those openings today. It isn’t that they are expensive – they don’t make them, period. This house is irreplaceable.

River Forest has an extremely weak landmarks ordinance and Chicago has a working one. A so-called “property rights” advocate might say this is better for River Forest. I say you get a better picture coloring inside the lines than scribbling all over the place.

October Update: The River Forest commission held a hearing on the issue which included this blog. It also included KEY information from Landmarks Illinois, which was not brought up locally: if you saved the house and added on the rear, you could take advantage of the Illinois Property Tax Freeze. It seems few people were aware of that. I hope the owners take advantage of it – unless they are tax enthusiasts who eschew such givebacks.

December Update: The Drummond is gone. The property tax enthusiasts who own the site won.

July in Chicago: Landmark Updates

July 20, 2009

lunar brit mus82
Well, it is 40 years since the moon landing, and lots of other things, like Sesame Street, Wal-Mart and Woodstock, and yes, things from that era are already being preserved – indeed the photo above I took in London in 1982. I took the photo below in 1983 in Manhattan, and captioned it in 1984 and I was struck by how much that caption is identical to the sentiments I express in this blog 25 years later.
ss spt83 unrestored
Enough with the past – what is happening in Chicago in July 2009? Well, we have the ongoing David and Goliath fight over the Gropius buildings at Michael Reese Hospital, not to mention other areas of concern – and POTENTIAL – if Chicago gets the Olympics in 2016. We will know in October, but meanwhile there are other issues, like the cheapest building in downtown, the old Chicago Post Office, a 1923/1938 Deco behemoth that can be had at auction for less than 40 cents a square foot.
old main PO
The Willis Tower became the official name of the 1975 SOM building filling the block along South Wacker between Adams and Jackson. This always seemed less a building than a zoning diagram. I watched someone’s YouTube video about Wesley Willis in tribute.
sears plus w vw09s
Joliet Prison is now assuming its rightful adaptive re-use as a tourist attraction, although access to the interior – which I toured four years ago – is not yet included. Having starred in Prison Break and the Blues Brothers, the prison features not only an original (horrifically cramped and certainly not plumbed) cell from its 1850s debut as well as a fabulous modernist chapel by Edward Dart from the 1960s.
jol pris hist cell i
jol pris ch ex
Some of the saddest news this summer is the impending demise of Kiddieland, an 80-year old small-scale amusement park that I grew up with, that my kids grew up with. It has fabulous landmark quality carousels and rides and a little train circling the whole thing. A family dispute is finally forcing the land sale on the intersection of two big roads. Thank god they waited for the 80-year low water mark in commercial real estate to do it, eh?
strem trainS
This is a damn shame. Some have suggested the county do a land swap and put it across the street in the Forest Preserve.
lit dippS
more to come….

Catching Up and Staying Warm

February 4, 2008



DSCF0531 copy

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Photo is copyright Felicity Rich, which explains its quality compared to most of the ones I post….

Okay, three weeks on the road plus the pressures of moving both our program studios and my home left me a little winded and even ill late last week so the blogs are a little behind, hence a few brief bits of catch-up:

All that air travel tempts one, despite good upbringing, to read airline magazines and one had a listing of wacky tourist attractions like the largest ball of twine and guess what – two Illinois sites which Landmarks Illinois has supported, were pictured! The Collinsville Ketchup bottle water tower, which we gave a grant to a while back, and the Berwyn Car Spindle, which is now threatened…

Preservation Chicago made news by putting Grant Park on their Chicago 7 list of endangered landmarks due to the threat of the Children’s Museum – perfectly echoing comments I made last fall about the same issue….

Lake Meadows tennis club by modernist Gertrude Kipnis demolished – Jack Spicer composed a fitting eulogy to another Mid-Century Modern loss…..

Blair Kamin in the Trib supporting efforts to save the great Gunners Mate Building at Great Lakes, bringing us to the interesting metaphysical problem of trying to save unique universals….

This is the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance and many groups are scheduling events to celebrate it – CAF is doing an exhibit opening this Thursday curated by our alum Kate Keleman and including me in some fashion. More lectures and a Fall SAIC symposium to come….

Someone looks at my 1873 Italianate house and is wondering about replacing the windows. Dude! I got 2,300 square feet of frame house in one of Chicago’s snowiest and coldest winters. It has original windows plus triple track storms added sometime in the past. Monthly heating (and gas for range and hot water)? $167. Replace the windows and I will happily give you a dollar for every nickel you save on that bill, dude.

Some economist needs to calculate the payback on trees, because we planted a river birch next to our house a decade ago. It is now taller than the house and has knocked $20+ per month off of heating and cooling bills – why calculate the payback on replacement BUILDING PARTS? For the cost of a little water and pruning, this tree paid for itself in energy bills a hundred times already…..

I can’t think of any building part that can compete with that. Period. Full Stop.

Publicity for Landmarks

October 22, 2006



caa michS

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Last week, Landmarks Illinois announced its Chicagoland Watch List, a collection of endangered buildings including the Chicago Defender Building (Illinois Automobile Club) at 24th and Michigan in the Motor Row district, which has been stripped and is sitting dangerously empty.

The list, like Landmarks’ 10 Most Endangered List, Preservation Chicago’s “Chicago Seven” and the National Trust’s Eleven Most Endangered list, is a way to publicize important historic and architectural landmarks that are threatened in one way or another.

For those who think landmark status prevents demolition or alteration of buildings, these lists can be sobering – many of the Chicagoland Watch List buildings ARE landmarks – and are still threatened. Landmark status provides a review process that presumes preservation, but it does not prevent demolition or alteration in many cases, depending on the nature of the threat, the building, or even the commission reviewing it.

In addition to the Defender Building, Landmarks Illinois’ list included the Chicago Athletic Association buildings on Michigan Avenue (Henry Ives Cobb 1893) and Madison Street (Schmidt, Garden and Martin, 1907 and 1923). Both are in the Michigan Avenue district, and they made the list because one of the bids for the property proposed demolishing the Madison Street property for a highrise.

Well, the list must have helped, because Saturday the news reported that the remaining bids are NOT intent on demolition but will work with the buildings. A boutique hotel seems to be the preferred use, a wise choice given that the building is exquisite and sits across the street from Millenium Park, Chicago’s new icon.

The news points to the power of publicity in pushing the preservation agenda forward. The Watch list has already scored a partial victory in its first week. We can still worry about the spectacular interiors, including lobby and dining room, as eloquently illuminated last Thursday during Rolf Achilles’ Landmarks Illinois lecture at the Cultural Center. Still, the departure of the demolition bid is a good sign, especially since the Commission has granted some questionable facade developments in landmark districts of late.

For more, click on the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois website at right.

Why The City Won’t Landmark Berghoff

February 1, 2006

One of my former students felt sorry for the Berghoffs and wrote me a note saying they should be allowed to cash in their building since they worked hard for 107 years. Indeed, they survived Prohibition and worked hard and built a business successful enough to save a landmark building. If we had that fabulous Italianate building sitting empty today, we would have to invent a business as successful as the Berghoff in order to keep it going. I’ve worked hard too, and like most humans who work hard, I will never earn what the Berghoffs earn. So I don’t feel sorry.

The City of Chicago won’t landmark the Berghoff building, despite its extremely rare status as a Loop 1870s building. In the Chicago Landmarks ordinance there is a “second bite” amendment that says you can’t landmark a building if you failed to landmark it before – unless there is a serious change in evidence or circumstances.

The City tried to landmark the Berghoff in 1990-91 and the City Council voted it down. Why? An attorney representing the Berghoff testified that the business would lose its business loan if the building was landmarked and produced a piece of paper. On this paper was a paragraph purportedly in the business loan from LaSalle Bank that stated that the Berghoff would be in default if its building was landmarked.

Wow! You work hard, build an iconic business for 92 years, but the bank is still not confident enough to lend you money unless they get the development rights to your building?

I guess LaSalle Bank didn’t think much of the Berghoffs as restaurateurs.
(BTW, there is an etymological link between restaurant and restoration)

This argument won the City Council vote, despite suggesting a banking practice that would make Ken Lay blush. Maybe the paragraph wasn’t really in the loan until the issue came up. The Chair of the Commission at the time wanted to talk to LaSalle Bank about this bit of hoodoo, but the Council had voted and the matter was dropped.

This argument, if raised again, would fail scrutiny, so why doesn’t the city landmark it?

Even the second bite amendment is hardly binding – the reason that amendment was put in was to prevent the City from going after the Second Leiter Building (William LeBaron Jenney, 1890-1, now Robert Morris College) after it was voted down once.

The City went ahead and landmarked Second Leiter on the second bite anyway.

“New evidence” and “circumstances” are hardly obstacles where there is political will.

Meanwhile, the lines are around the block every day of the week for those who want to savor rye bread, creamed spinach and schnitzel one more time. They are making a good profit on our nostalgia right now.


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