Why The City Won’t Landmark Berghoff

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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One Response to “Why The City Won’t Landmark Berghoff”

  1. Bill Says:

    We went to Berghoffs and we were rushed all the time we went there. The food was over rated. We made better at home. In downtown Chicago the city council should make room for new building since the old buildings are not up to code and are dangerous when the bricks begin to fall from time to time because of erosion and weather.Chicago should have more condos and townhouses.

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