Soldier Field

sold field west

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

News came out Friday that the departing Secretary of the Interior, Gale Norton, had signed an order removing Soldier Field’s status as a National Historic Landmark. LPCI (see link at right) filed lawsuits to try to stop the Soldier Field project, so they (we) see this action as a vindication. Blair Kamin celebrated the decision today in the Tribune, noting that some 80,000 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places but less than 2500 have National Historic Landmark status. Your house can be on the National Register because it contributes to a local historic district. National Historic Landmark means the building is important on a national scale.

I recall that Illinois has more National Historic Landmarks than other states, largely because of all of the architectural landmarks we have, being the home of the skyscraper and the Prairie House. There are a couple of NHLs within two blocks of my house, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple and George Maher’s Pleasant Home, one of the first Prairie houses. Throw in the surviving works of Louis Sullivan, Mies van der Rohe and Daniel Burnham and Illinois has a good claim to more national significance in architectural history than any other state.

I wrote a letter in support of the effort to de-designate Soldier Field, not because I hate it, but because the changes wrought by the Bears so overwhelmed the original that it really doesn’t deserve to be in the rareified NHL category any more. We brought in Doug Garofalo to a 2003 Symposium because he was one of the few people who publicly liked Soldier Field at the time. He thought it was an interesting dialogue between old and new and projected that in the future it might be beloved. I’m not sure he’s wrong, but I am confident it is not a National Historic Landmark.

There are loads of historical ironies here, not the least of which is Soldier Field’s purpose. It was built in 1920 as a track and field stadium when the Bears were still the Decatur Staleys playing corn country. It hosted every kind of event from rock concerts to prize fights to auto shows and even the World Cup, which I saw in 1994. It was never meant to be a football stadium.

Here’s an irony: the Green Bay Packers played in Soldier Field twice before the Chicago Bears moved there. I saw the Packers play the College All-Stars there in 1968 or 1969. The first time I went to a Bears game it was in Wrigley Field – I think December 1970. The Bears didn’t show up in Soldier Field until both the stadium and the team were over 50 years old. (Geek historians will note that the Bears did play there in 1964 in the College All Star game, but hey, the Packers played there twice in the 60s.)

The thing that got me most upset about the rehab of Soldier Field was not the flying-saucer-in-the-Parthenon of it but the hundreds of millions of public subsidy for a private business that uses it 8 days a year. In a public park. That’s almost enough to make an Illinois politician blush.

I said almost.


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