Okay, so a couple years ago a career gadfly and scold sued the City of Chicago claiming the Landmarks Ordinance was vague and arbitrary, the sort of legal challenge first-year law students learn about before they move on to the real stuff. But this is Chicago, and this is Illinois, and three judges at the Appellate level agreed with the charge, mostly based on the fact that the criteria in the ordinance were “vague” because they used words like “significant” and “values” and “importance” which of course caused me to opine and label the whole thing “Appellate Nuttiness” at the time.
The case is still out there and now we have Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is already facing the question of whether we should have three vacant city blocks in a row just east of Michigan Avenue in Streeterville (the Prentice Women’s Hospital issue) and he also gets to appoint people to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, who are by ordinance “professionals in the disciplines of history, architecture, historic architecture, planning, archaeology, real estate, historic preservation, or related fields, or shall be persons who have demonstrated special interest, knowledge, or experience in architecture, history, neighborhood preservation, or related disciplines.”
Now, if you are concerned about a case that challenges your ordinance, you might follow the ordinance in selecting those professionals. But the Mayor fumbled. He named an obstetrician (who delivered the President’s daughters) and a chef to the panel and removed the last architect and architectural historian. This is a fumble in dry conditions without an excuse, and the Tribune’s Blair Kamin has done an excellent job reporting it today here.
Architects Ben Weese and Ed Torrez are off the Commission, as is National Park Service veteran Phyllis Ellin and longtime community preservationist Yvette LeGrand. Eleanor Gorski has succeeded Brian Goeken as the Deputy Commissioner and leader of the Commission staff, and she is an architect and Rome Prize winner so that is good. But how will this look to the courts questioning whether the ordinance is “arbitrary” in its application? A chef? How will the new commissioners deal with Prentice, a triumph of architecture united with engineering, if they are seeing it from the obstetrician’s point of view?
JULY 13 UPDATE: Ben Weese – one of the architects sacked from the Commission – sent a REALLY nice letter to the Mayor saying you know, you might want to have an architect on the Commission to like look at building permits and, like, architecture? See Blair Kamin today.