Posts Tagged ‘Commission on Chicago Landmarks’

Mayor Emanuel fumbles first landmarks test

July 8, 2011

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?

Oh, wait…

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.

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Crunch Time on Prentice

June 1, 2011

Tomorrow, June 2, 2011, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will consider preliminary designation of Prentice Women’s Hospital as a Chicago Landmark. This is the result of a joint efforts by Landmarks Illinois, Preservation Chicago and the National Trust for Historic Preservation (which used a photo of Prentice on its new Financial Assistance publication!) to give the building its day in court, or in the words of Landmarks Illinois Advocacy Director Lisa DiChiera “This building is just too high-profile to let it slip away without a thorough, transparent review of its landmark eligibility.”

It does not look good. Northwestern Hospital has so much clout that the new Mayor (see last post for what he could have done) and even the Alderman – who asked for a 60-day delay on demolition, and even two of the three architects who developed a comprehensive re-use study for the old (1975 is old?) hospital kept their names off of it. This is a lot of clout. The ability to keep this much of the most valuable acreage between Manhattan and San Francisco off of the tax rolls and have the city thank you for it is A LOT of clout.

Not only that, but despite the architectural importance of the building – by Chicago icon Bertrand Goldberg, a singular modernist, a veteran of Mies’ Bauhaus who nonetheless charted a different path both formally and theoretically. This building is one of the first to use computers in the design, to get that stunning 15m-concrete cantilever without breaking the beautiful curving lines. It is like a flower. Like a flower.

There is a generation that does not “get” this architecture, that is concerned that it is only 36 years old, even though that is EXACTLY the age of 860-880 North Lake Shore Drive (Mies van der Rohe) when the Commission on Chicago Landmarks voted preliminary determination of eligibility.

The generation that does not “get” it is unfortunately represented in large numbers in the immediate neighborhood, and I am not talking about inpatients but the local neighborhood group, which did NOT ask for its preservation. They are called SOAR (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents) and I am a little surprised because they STOOD WITH US 22 years ago to save the John Hancock Building, which was only 21 years old at the time.


One of the awful ironies of this situation is that NOTHING is going to be put there if Northwestern gets it way and demolishes the building. I don’t know that it will sit vacant for 19 YEARS like Block 37 did, but I can pretty much guarantee a half dozen. They are planning a green, fenced space. No access, no parking. I suppose that turns down the volume on the lost tax revenue issue. Huge net loss for the neighborhood, though.

Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune has been great on this issue, as have all three preservation organizations involved. We have gotten support from all around the country, and many are saying that this will be a watershed for the preservation of mid-century Modernism. Maybe now everyone will “get” it, the same way they “got” the Prairie School when the Robie House was saved in 1957, the same was they “got” Victorian architecture when the Jefferson Market Courthouse was preserved in 1967, the same way they “got” vernacular historic districts when Old Town was landmarked in 1977, the same way they “got” the church preservation issue when Holy Family and St. Mary of the Angels were threatened in 1987, the same way they “got” the need for local landmark protection when City Council designated 26 landmarks in 1997, the same way they “got” sustainability as the ultimate preservation modality in 2007.

Some may not “get” the beauty, historical value and urbanistic appeal of this building today. but pretty much everyone will within a decade. I have seen it happen many, many times before, as the above litany illustrates. I am watching the same thing unfold here.

And if it is lost, it will be important to put down the names of those who demolished it and save those names for posterity.

The Moving Finger writes.

WHAT HAPPENED JUNE 2: Northwestern went into talks with the City and promised not to apply for a demolition permit in exchange for the talks, and no preliminary determination from the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

JUNE 15 UPDATE: Prentice is named one of the 11 Most Endangered Sites in the U.S. by the National Trust for Historic Preservation! I made the announcement at the Save Prentice Rally today!

We made the announcement in front of a full vacant block. Next to another vacant lot half-a-block large. Would you like Northwestern to create a THIRD vacant block in Streeterville?

HALLOWEEN 2012: AND THE BULLY WINS!

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has sided with Northwestern and demolition. So that does it. I will give the Mayor $5 for every job created on that site prior to his next election, not including demolition and landscaping.

Dying hospitals, living pubs

October 8, 2010

So MUCH heritage conservation news in Chicago lately. After the talibanic theft of writing from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple (see last post below) we now have reports that the one building the city saved at the Michael Reese Hospital site – the original Schmidt Garden Martin Prairie-styled structure from 1907 – is falling apart and beset by squatters. The article in the Tribune quotes a city spokeswoman, when asked why the city hadn’t fixed the roof, responding: “Time, the elements, exposure – all of those things took a toll long before we got into this building.”

I should add that quote above to my recent post on BAD excuses for demolition. You own the building, you own its problems. They did a walk-through in June 2009 and bought it then. Don’t tell me everything suddenly went south. The pioneering Chicago preservationist Richard Nickel once said that the only enemies of historic buildings were water and stupid men. Fact is, the water only gets there if the people look the other way.

On the GOOD NEWS front, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks today took a step toward designating a collection of my favorite buildings, the Schlitz pubs found all over town. The most notable of them, like Schuba’s on Belmont and Southport Lanes a few blocks south, have wonderful large terra cotta globes (supposedly modeled by Wright sculptor Richard Bock) and they generally follow a sort of Central European neo-Baroque in their ornament.

Division and Wood Streets, Wicker Park


Armitage and Oakley, Bucktown

For about 20 years I carried around a list of these buildings, adding more as I found them. Schlitz apparently built almost 60 in Chicago – they would only serve Schlitz beer there – a system common in England but forgotten in America following our little Prohibition experiment in the 1920s.

And they span every corner of the city, from 35th and Western

to Broadway and Winona way up north

There are also some from the Stege Brewery, and this little gem from the local Peter Hand brewery, which I remember, because it only went out of business in 1978.

Wolcott and Thomas, East Village

I used to vote in that bar when I lived a block away in 1984-85. Unfortunately, the Peter Hand and Stege and Standard Brewery pubs (that one is at Grand and Hamlin, I recall) are not part of this Chicago Landmark nomination.

This is a forgotten history but one well worth preserving, and not only for beer geeks (like me) or local history geeks (me again). The City, through the Landmarks Commission, has been doing an excellent job lately of telling neighborhood stories by designating types of buildings found in a variety of neighborhoods, like fire stations and neighborhood banks. The tied houses have the added attraction of some special, period architecture and art, like this stained glass Schlitz globe you find in the transom at the South Chicago tied house at 94th and Ewing.

Oddly, this one is not included in the designation.

Nor is the great Southport Lanes, still a tavern and one of the only places left with hand-set bowling lanes.

Why? Perhaps because it is owned by a big company that owns a collection of venues, and I must add that we had some BAD experiences with their clumsy management last spring. But this designation is getting a lot of traction – Lee Bey and others are blogging about it and I think it is worth a toast!

Bradley House, Inland Steel, Wrigley Field

March 20, 2010

The big news this week was an effort to preserve Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bradley House in Kankakee, one of the epochal early Wright Prairie Houses. Blair Kamin did a bangup job of covering the issue in the Tribune here. A local Wright in Kankakee group is trying to raise money to buy the house and make it a house museum and education center. The bottom line is the $1.9 million price and the more immediate concern of an additional $100,000 for the down payment beyond the $70,000 already raised. I can recall when the house was law offices and Kamin’s article notes that the owners for the last 5 years, the Halls, have been ideal, keeping it together and restoring it. With 100 art-glass windows, the house could be worth almost as much in pieces as it is put together. The real challenge is not simply the purchase price, but the ongoing operations, since house museums rarely generate more than a quarter of operating costs from admissions. The Bradley House either needs an angel to subsidize the purchase and an endowment, or it needs more angels like the Halls who will care for it as the treasure it is.


My other news clippings this week included a plan to restore the iconic 1957 Inland Steel Building using the Cook County Class L landmark tax incentive, which basically halves a commercial building’s tax liability for a decade. What’s the catch? It has to be a locally designated landmark and you have to spend half the value of the building on the rehab. The announcement came just days after the death of Bruce Graham, the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architect who designed the building, or rather, completed the design that Walter Netsch had started, making the building a rare collaboration between the two SOM protagonists.

Inland Steel has a fascinating landmarks history. On a flower planter near the Monroe entrance you can find a 1960 plaque from the first, toothless 1957 Chicago Architectural Landmarks law, an add-on to the famous zoning ordinance that doubled the city’s density. Inland Steel was included in “Chicago’s Famous Buildings” and considered a Chicago Landmark WHEN IT WAS BRAND NEW! It epitomized the structural bravado that seemed the salient characteristic of Chicago School architecture, carrying its steel frame on the OUTSIDE and creating completely open floor plans serviced by a separate, windowless tower than contained all of the functional necessities. It is such an icon modern starchitect Frank Gehry is a partner in the building and has designed a new desk for the lobby.

Finally, Wrigley Field announced it wanted to put up a giant illuminated Toyota billboard above the left-field bleachers. What can I say – Toyota and the Cubs: what a co-branding opportunity!

Two teams you can trust – until September comes!

Don’t put the brakes on the Cubs season!

As if Toyota wasn’t enough of a target for regulators and Congress, now it is going to be a target for MLB sluggers?

All joking aside, Wrigley Field is a landmark and the signage would presumably have to be approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. It is a big sign, and it is structural. There are plenty of other signs in and around Wrigley Field, so the question is not whether a sign would be allowed but what kind of sign and how big.

Also, Wrigley has had a fair amount of changes approved by the Commission, including an addition in the bleachers that reached out over the public sidewalk at Waveland and Sheffield Avenues and the new club building that appeared last year on Addison.

Time will tell.

Happy New Year

January 3, 2007



Farwell Building_PetersS

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Well, it’s a good day for global warming in Chicago – our 25th consecutive day of above-normal temperature. I went downtown with only a blazer on January 3 – amazing. Haven’t used the long underwear in five years. Sure, I miss skiing, but this is a good spot to be on the globe during an emission-enhanced climate shift.

So, how does 2007 look for landmarks? Not that it is hard to top 2006 – if less than three Louis Sullivan buildings burn down this year, we are ahead. Hell, there are only 20 left out of the 135 he designed in Chicago. Still, 2007 may start off on the wrong foot tomorrow if the Commission on Chicago Landmarks approves another skin job on North Michigan Avenue.

The Farwell Building is one of a small handful of Art Deco landmarks left on North Michigan Avenue, part of the old Terra Museum. A clodlike developer, noting the building’s landmark status, is proposing to do to the Farwell what John Buck (not Joe Buck, although there is a physical resemblance) did to the McGraw-Hill Building ten years ago.

It goes like this – you take the whole thing down, numbering the bits like Abu Simbel, put up a new building, and then reclad it with the old skin. The McGraw-Hill, at 16 stories, was the largest example of this sort of preservation travesty, and we hate to admit it, but it looks pretty good. The Farwell can’t look as good – a good chunk of its footprint will be taken up by a new residential highrise that will loom over and well into the Farwell Frankenstein. Moreover, the Farwell is already a landmark – McGraw-Hill wasn’t.

Landmarks Illinois (I’m on the Board) sat down with the architect a year ago and heard about the desperate condition of the roof and roof facades. This was a gambit to get preservationists to go along with the skin job. It failed, and the actual plan makes it look even sillier – the problem for the developer’s dreadnought is not the skin but the bones – the structure is in the way of the parking garage, of the construction staging – of everything. Sure, the façade needed repair and/or replacement – not the structure.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks should have made the developer go through the economic hardship process before approving taxidermy on this scale. I would have paid to see that hearing – the pathos and poverty of a project that’s already a third sold without city approval.

Lynn Becker rants off the rails on this one at http://lynnbecker.com/repeat/farwell/farwell.htm

Damn, my blog is tame….