Posts Tagged ‘Block 37’

Quick Hits

February 27, 2009

Word is out that the Rosenwald is threatened again – the stunning Michigan Terrace Garden Apartments, an early affordable (not subsidized) housing scheme by Chicago’s greatest philanthropist of the early 20th century, Julius Rosenwald. Economic downturns help preservation by steering moneymad wasters away from random demolitions and harebrained development schemes, but they also stymie big projects like the Rosenwald that were getting ready to happen.
The other big preservation news in Chicago is the Appellate Court decision, which I presume the city has already appealed. An attorney on the North Side whose hobby is suing the city about zoning and a person of similar avocation in East Village managed to find some judges unaware of U.S. Supreme Court precedent to declare the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance “vague” in its criteria and remanded to the lower court, which would presumably throw out the ordinance. The effect of this? Nothing. Why?
1. The City has the power to landmark buildings with or without a landmarks ordinance. Every Chicago Landmark is designated as an individual legislative act by the City Council. The judges seem to be confused about who does the designation. You won’t get the Illinois Supreme Court to challenge a home rule legislative body. Believe me, I’ve tried.
2. The ordinance is like the other 2600 in the United States. They are equally vague. Even Houston designates landmarks, and it has no zoning. Maybe the hapless attorney should move there.
3. Chicago has a belt and suspenders. We have the 90-day demolition delay based on our comprehensive Chicago Historic Resources Survey, which is a level of precision a judge who had been rated as qualified would notice. Most landmarks fall under this law.
4. Even though the plaintiffs argued it, the decision did not mention downzoning efforts in the two neighborhoods. Maybe that’s why Jack Guthman stopped talking about it. He thought, reasonably, that his 25-year old argument was being validated, only to find that the judge completely whiffed it.

Meanwhile, in Oak Park they are demolishing the Colt Building and others on Westgate in preparation for a new development – wait, hold the phone – the developer backed out.
That means the demolition is?
I can see it now: Skate on Lake! Gallery Colt!
I was in favor of getting rid of the Colt if it saved the rest of Westgate, which was the plan in 2005.
But I also watched the demolition of Block 37 in 1989 for a new development.
And I watched the new development being completed.

This Tuesday.

It’s not done yet.

The timing between the demolition of 8 historic buildings on Block 37 and the completion of the new development they were sacrificed for?
How about a short list of the things that happened (besides my getting married, having children, hair turning gray)

Berlin Wall demolished
First Gulf War
Chicago Heat Wave
Six Chicago Bulls Championships
Current Gulf Wars
East Timor
Sox World Series
yes, the hometown of Chinese communism built all this while Block 37 lay vacant.
The Macarena
Harry Potter
Lord of the Rings trilogy and 3 James Bonds
iPods iPhones Wiis Facebook MySpace and most of the Internet
Bush, Clinton, Clinton, Bush, Bush


Now, to be fair, this building took longer to build than Block 37:
But come on guys, that was 800 years ago.

Saved By Technology II

November 1, 2007

I have taught Preservation Planning for more than a dozen years and I always include a lecture called “Churches, Theaters and Other Difficult Buildings”. These buildings are “difficult” because they are functionally obsolescent: They were designed for large public assemblies in a pre-automobile era, and nowadays assemblies don’t happen so much. Vaudeville movie theaters combined live and cinematic entertainment and we don’t do that anymore either. Movie theaters today need to have lots of screens for maybe 200 people each, and even big markets like Chicago can only support a handful of live performance venues of 4,000 seats or so. Churches become obsolescent when denominations change, as they have in Chicago neighborhoods for over 40 years, and despite the lingering religiosity of Americans, many people are in exurban superchurches or use religiosity as a wedge against preserving historical features of their buildings.

The problem with “functional obsolescence,” as the Modernists learned to their chagrin, is that even obsolescence becomes obsolescent. Non-functional uses become functional again. Two things gleaned from media lately: First, Wired reported with typical overstatement that soon every movie would be made in the new three-dimensional digital technology about to premiere with Beowulf. (They’ll probably use modern English, which is a shame – I would have liked a bit of “hige sceal pe heardre, heorte pe cenre, mod sceal pe maere pe ure maegen lytlap*” action) Wired quotes some dudes sayin’ that this is as big as talkies were 80 years ago, which meant and means a big capital investment for every theater. The second item was an announcement that Block 37 (20 years vacant and most assuredly NOT MY FAULT) might host a luxury movie theater. Granted, there will be seven screens, but I see a shift here.

Movies go 3-D to compete with the latest tiny tinny box (iPod ) just as they did 60 years ago during the first 3-D craze when they were competing with tiny tinny televisions. But think about the physical plant – big investment in tech for projection might favor bigger halls and fewer screens – recall that the other 1950s industry invention was the drive-in. I’m thinking this could make big white elephants like the Uptown or New Regal useful again as 3-D theaters. The mania of 20-somethings for vinyl LPs and hookahs proves the attraction of group entertainment for a overindividualized generation raised on crappy sound and teensy images.

Now, the real questions are: does this trend play out? Is Wired just blowing smoke? Do operators rehab big old movie palaces or just build new? Sustainability and green-o-rama help us here, but it is only a hunch for now. There is always some sharpster looking to take the easy way out and fill those landfills. Still, it is intriguing and might make these buildings less difficult.

Churches are another question, although the end of the latest Great Awakening suggests that we are not in the kind of religious growth period that gave us all of the “religion don’t have to follow zoning or building codes” laws of the 1990s. And heck, they might jump on to the 3-D trend too if Mel updates his gorefest Christ. Or not. Then we would have to follow the European model: no one goes to church but no one tears down a church.

How do they do that?

* cognoscenti will recognize the Anglo-Saxon passage is from the Battle of Maldon, not Beowulf.