Posts Tagged ‘Michael Reese Hospital’

What’s left of Michael Reese Hospital

December 11, 2010

Demolition has started on the old Main building at Michael Reese Hospital, the 1907 Schmidt Garden Martin building which was the ONLY one that the city was planning to preserve, despite the presence of 8 Walter Gropius designs on the hospital campus. Then in the last few months, the city admitted that the building – which it has owned for over a year, was in severe disrepair and further endangered by squatters, which is a hell of a stewardship model if you ask me. With ownership come basic responsibilities. Check out Lee Bey’s recent blog.

The whole saga has been tragic, because the original plan was to build the 2016 Olympic Village there, and that is not going to happen. Given the real estate market, this land will be dumb dead for the next generation. It took the city 19 years to build on Block 37, and that is right in the center of downtown.

But they went ahead and tore down the buildings which Grahm Balkany had proved were designed in significant part by the modern master Walter Gropius. This included the fabulous Kaplan pavilion with its sunshades, shades of every high modernist from Corbu on.

Interestingly, there is one Gropius building left on the campus, mothballed. The preservation community is a little burned out on this whole issue, and there seems little interest in expending the effort on one surviving example of the Gropius campus along the lake, a bookend to Mies van der Rohe’s IIT campus a half-mile away. But upon reflection, I think we need to save this one. Not because it is the best – those were torn down under protest – but because it is still there and it has value – both design value, re-use value and last and least, commemorative value. See Lynn Becker’s take on the demolition here.

The Singer Building is now the only survivor, and it did win an AIA Award in 1951. I understand advocacy fatigue and have suffered it many times. But we can’t let this incredible architectural legacy – mostly lost – be completely lost. The Michael Reese Hospital saga is a failure of public policy and a failure of building conservation. It is a failure of sustainability, too, as Lynn detailed above in calculating how many millions of gallons of energy is wasted when we destroy this many buildings. But it isn’t over. Let’s save this one.

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!

A Better Plan

August 18, 2009

One of the things that has made Landmarks Illinois an effective preservation organization has been its ability to transcend the primal impulse of many preservationists – the “Just Say No” response – and provide a more intelligent way to proceed. When a developer/institution/politician/agency says “This is what we want to do” the preservationist in all of us just wants to shout “no!”. But that is neither effective nor even a complete response. Much, much better to say: here is the better plan that achieves your goals and saves historic buildings.

This is what Landmarks Illinois did this week with their new plan for the 2016 Olympic Village on Chicago’s lakefront – they picked the best Gropius buildings – not all of them – and came up with a more intelligent and sustainable plan – you can see it at http://www.landmarks.org or click at the link on the right.
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The organization actually has a long history of doing this – coming up with a more sustainable plan than what is first proposed. And the plan is usually a compromise – it doesn’t save everything the most ardent preservationists want to save, as is the case here at Michael Reese Hospital campus. Landmarks did it way back in 1980 when the City of Chicago proposed demolishing Block 37. They picked 4 of the 8 historic buildings and proposed a development that met all of the city’s requirements for the block. The city ended up demolishing the whole thing and then letting it sit vacant for 18 years.

They did it several years ago with Soldier Field – developing a new stadium for the Bears while holding onto the history – and National Landmark status – of Soldier Field. The Bears went ahead and modified the field and lost the landmark status.

They did it again with Cook County Hospital, showing how the old hospital could be adaptively re-used for needed office space. That one got enough traction that it came to fruition – albeit with the loss of the rear of the building. But that is what I like about Landmarks Illinois – they know how to save something by coming up with a better plan. You can argue that they should have saved more, but you can never argue that the original plan was better. And it meets the opposition to preservation on its own terms: What do you want? How many square feet, what uses, what plan requirements? Let’s take all of those parameters and do it WHILE saving the best historic buildings.

This is what good planners, good designers, good developers do. They take the MORE creative approach of looking at how all of the programmatic goals can be achieved without starting from scratch. Creativity is not measured by how blank the canvas was at the start. Heck, the vaults of the Sistine Chapel are a huge impediment to a decent painting.

It is a measure of the maturity of an organization like Landmarks Illinois that it chooses to argue for preservation by doing a BETTER job of planning than the opposition. You can argue about the significance and beauty and innovative epoch-shattering character of a building, but it can all be for naught if you can’t show them a better way. As baby preservationists, we first just see those arguments of history and architecture and beauty and human scale. Eventually we learn that we have to speak the language of those who would throw away those qualities. It is a language Landmarks Illinois has mastered over the years.

2016: Chicago Plan or Chicago Way?

August 7, 2009

On the front page of the Chicago Tribune today is an article about a Chicago Olympic committee member who is also a real estate developer and how the Olympics will help him develop numerous parcels near Douglas Park, an Olympic venue site. On page 11 is an article about the city’s landmark commission voting against landmark status for the Michael Reese hospital complex, site of eight buildings by Walter Gropius and site of the proposed Olympic Village, which the city will deliver to another developer after spending about $100 million on acquisition and demolition.
MRH friendS
This is all more of the same, a familiar pattern in Chicago, which has every right to become a world city but seems intent on doing so without disrupting its long reliance on politically connected real estate deals. Not surprising, not necessarily illegal, but disappointing because it treats the physical fabric of the city as a liquid asset, not a character-defining element.
lsd s f north ave2S
This is the 100th anniversary of the Plan of Chicago, the 1909 Burnham and Bennett document that crafted such a compelling vision for the future of the city that we still refer to it more often and with more affection than any city plan since. There are two pavilions spending the summer in Millennium Park as part of the celebration of this centennial, along with a whole slate of other activities.
loop and south aerialS
Chicago’s strong candidacy for the 2016 Olympics should be an opportunity to rekindle the visionary spirit of Burnham and Bennett, and there are aspects of the plan that do so. I am enough of a realist to understand there will be deals cut and politicians will take advantage. To a certain extent they did that 100 years ago, but what survives today is a bold plan that rose above petty temporal interests. What will we leave for 2116?

I regularly share with my students the October 1992 issue of the journal Chicago Enterprise, in which Rob Mier and Laurel Lipkin interviewed seven major figures in Chicago real estate. They were asked what their vision for the city was as they redeveloped it in the decades after the Second World War. In their own words, they professed NO VISION AT ALL. Harry Chaddick, who wrote the city’s second zoning code, defining its land values and development potential for a half century, said “I took on the job of rezoning Chicago because Parky Cullerton asked me to when he couldn’t get anyone else to do it. I worked on it for five years, developing a complete inventory of the city’s land use. I did it with no vision in mind, merely figuring out how the city’s land was being used.” Ferd Kramer, who redeveloped huge swaths of the South Side, said “I never had a vision for the city exactly. I guess you could say I had one for the communities I worked in.” Marshall Holleb described “street deals” that developed loads of lakefront land and Miles Berger said “I can’t take credit for any kind of vision for Chicago.” Phil Klutznick, who built Park Forest and Water Tower Place, claimed the latter “was not a visionary project” and Marshall Bennett said of postwar development: “It didn’t take vision because the market was fantastic. You had to be an idiot not to make lots of money. Really. I’m not kidding.”
west loop 60s
Well, I guess that’s the Chicago Way. And that is why we don’t remember the plans made since 1909. Maybe the developers who have reshaped the city in the wake of the urban renaissance of the 1990s and 2000s would come off better if asked the same question today, and certainly Chicago’s positive trajectory since the 1980s stands in contrast to the decline that preceded it. But reading the newspaper today gives little cause for hope.

2016 could be the opportunity for another grand vision for the Sustainability Century, one that encourages the reuse of city fabric and requires development to reveal its true costs to taxpayers and to the environment. Or not.

Dumb Down

April 16, 2009

Well, the Public Building Commission is taking bids (RFQ actually) to demolish ALL of the Michael Reese campus for the Olympic Village, now that the IOC committee has been shown a lovely vision of loveliness that could only come from renderings and never from reality. This means not only the recently documented eight buildings by Walter Gropius (the only ones in Illinois) but also the Schmidt, Garden and Martin building that was shown as being preserved in the plans for the village. This is dumb, and both Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago have said so.
mrh-mains
I would like to have the Olympics in Chicago. I am proud of Chicago because it has always innovated in architecture and planning. Why stop now?
mrh-kaplan-bess
It’s not that you have to save everything. It is NEVER that. It’s that you have to at least look at the more sustainable, more energy-savvy option of saving things. You have to do your homework. Can these buildings be rehabilitated as the Olympic Village? Do they have the lovely lake views shown to the IOC? Maybe they do, maybe they don’t. Maybe they can be rehabilitated efficiently, maybe not. WE DON’T KNOW. And with this call for demolition, WE WILL NEVER KNOW.
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Why – at the moment when you are about to stride onto the world stage as a player – would you pull a punk move like this? Jim Peters, President of Landmarks Illinois, called the demolition without reuse study “premature” and “foolhardy”. I think it also hurts the bid. The rest of the world knows about this architecture.

To learn more about the Gropius buildings, see this Monday’s presentation by Grahm Balkany at 5:30 PM at the Haefele showroom, 154 W. Hubbard in Chicago – registration required – check http://www.savemrh.com/ for updates.

TUESDAY UPDATE: Now the city is saying again they will save the Schmidt Garden building (first one pictured). They are saying the others are not feasible to save. Could be. Could not be. Will they prove it?

WEDNESDAY UPDATE: See Blair Kamin in the Chicago Tribune on this issue today. He makes the point about the Private Pavilion (second image above) which looks like it could easily be re-used for exactly the purposes needed. Wouldn’t it be nice to know whether or not it is?

One of the links talks about the LEED rating plans for the new Olympic Village. Will that offset the amount of debris and dust and waste created by demolishing a dozen multistory buildings? Or we will just skip that analysis as well?

THURSDAY UPDATE: Don’t miss Lynn Becker’s excellent article on this in the current Chicago Reader.

Gropius in Chicago

March 16, 2009

Grahm Balkany, a student at IIT, the school designed by the great Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, has uncovered a surprising amount of evidence that Mies’ fellow modernist Walter Gropius had a hand in as many as 8 of the buildings at Michael Reese Hospital, the venue for the planned Olympic Village 2016. While the 2016 committee has always said they would save the main building, by local hospital heavyweights and sometime Prairie specialists Schmidt, Garden and Martin, the Gropius buildings are a big question mark at best. I saw Balkany’s presentation and it was very impressive – Gropius’ name appears on drawings as well as that of his firm and local planning director Reginald Isaacs. And as Balkany told the Landmarks Illinois’ Issues Committee, once you start looking at the buildings….
mrh-kaplan-bess
These are the only Gropius buildings in Illinois, much less Chicago, and they are part of a near South Side that is an essay in modernist planning, flanked by Prairie Shores, Lake Meadows, and to the west, IIT.
mrh-gropius-31st-bs
All of a sudden, it seems near South side Chicago is a Gropiusstadt, and the parallels in materials and idiom between the works of the Bauhaus’ first and last directors is stunning.
mrh-steam-plants
iit-typicals
ok, that is Mies
mrh-bldgs
gropius
iit-modeules
mies
mrh-friends
gropius
It’s like a showdown between two architectural Olympians, and it’s all here.

The Gropius in Chicago website is at http://www.savemrh.com/home/


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