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.