Posts Tagged ‘Preservation Chicago’

Planning for Preservation?

August 8, 2011

This fall for the 17th time I will teach a course called Preservation Planning. This course deals with the intersection of a host of urban planning issues: surveys, politics, law, economics, public relations, etc.; and the preservation of historic buildings. It is not about planning a preservation project, and there is also a contradiction in the title, because in a very real sense, you CAN’T plan preservation.

Demolition of 600 block of North Michigan Avenue, 1995

In my 28-plus years in the field I have been through many organizational spasms that attempt to inject regularity and predictability into the task of saving buildings and then repurposing them for the future. Invariably we say “we have to stop spending all of our time putting out brush fires,” which means that we are always REACTING to crises. We get tired of being reactive. This is a normal impulse – we want to be able to work proactively and we want to be able to plan and allocate our work more efficiently.

AIA banquet in Palace of Fine Arts, 1925

These are laudable goals and often the efforts are productive. But at some level they are designed to fail, because at some level the preservationist/heritage conservationist is a firefighter. A firefighter can plan ahead by having the best equipment, a comprehensive survey of the surroundings, and extensive training. But a firefighter cannot predict when and how a fire will break out.

planning destruction of Maxwell Street, Chicago, c. 2000

Some organizations are formed to save a specific building, and thus their mission over time moves from firefighter to custodian, a position that can be planned and organized to a large extent. This is how, for example, historic sites operate. There are of course unexpected occurrences with sites as there are with any buildings, but you can budget your time and personnel pretty well.

Robie House, Chicago, c. 1970s

I have been on the staff or Board of Landmarks Illinois for major chunks of the 1980s, 90s and 2000s, and we have ALWAYS tried to get away from “putting out brush fires” but at some fundamental level, that is our job, and we can’t. Of course we are selective, and focus our efforts on certain battles based on factors like the value of the resource, the extent of local support, money and strategy. A classic example is the River Forest Women’s Club, which went from being one of Illinois’ Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites in 2005 to the Illinois Preservation Project of the Year in 2008.

River Forest Women’s Club, 2005

River Forest Women’s Club, 2007

Focusing efforts doesn’t mean you stop firefighting: it means you select among the brush fires those that are most likely to threaten the larger community, or most likely to result in a significant or irretrievable loss. Since this often occurs in an emergency situation, it is likened to field medic triage, but let’s stick with the firefighting metaphor for now if you don’t mind.

You can stop firefighting and do something else: The Chicago Architecture Foundation was established back in 1966 to save Glessner House, which they did, and then evolved over 30 years into an educational and tourism organization. They don’t fight fires, which is fine, because there is someone else who does. Arguably Landmarks Illinois, as it became more established, did less public firefighting, often preferring to work behind-the-scenes. Into the gap stepped Preservation Chicago, ready to protest out loud in cases when Landmarks Illinois was holding its tongue.

rally to save 1100 N. Dearborn, 2000

The real question for any group is how do you measure success? Number of buildings saved? Quality of buildings, sites or structures saved? Landmarks Illinois just released its 40 by 40 list – a collection of the most significant preservation successes in each of the 40 years LI has existed. It is a good list and you should check it out here.

But I teach Preservation Planning and I think success is more than simply buildings or sites or districts or structures. When I was on staff in ’86-’94, we often spoke of the goal of creating a “preservation ethic.” The goal was to get enough planners, developers, politicians and people in general – communities – who shared our belief that old buildings are worth ushering into the future. Then, and only then, would we be able to PLAN for preservation. Because then, and only then, would we have an effective volunteer firefighting force.

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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.

Prentice Women’s Hospital April 2011

April 11, 2011

The most significant preservation battle in Chicago for some time has been the effort to save Prentice Women’s Hospital, a pioneering 1975 design by Bertrand Goldberg. It’s four-lobed curving concrete form is being imitated by the NEWEST hospital building in Chicago and I called it perhaps the first acknowledgement of the feminine in architecture. My colleague Anthea Hartig said “The forms at Prentice are in the same instant structural and sculptural. This is truly the unity of art and function, the continuing discourse of artistic and engineering expressions.” The building’s seamless integration of art and science is manifest in concrete cantilevers that pushed the lobes 45 feet beyond their base, a feat that took one of the FIRST applications of computers to aid in an architectural design. And it’s gorgeous.

But rather than a seamless integration of art and science, the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board today called it a conflict between art and science. This artificial dichotomy comes up a lot in our field of heritage conservation. I can recall a panel assembled by a chamber of commerce group in Oak Park to discuss the conflict between preservation and development, another artificial dichotomy. Preservation is development, and science is art. False dichotomies are the refuge of scoundrels who can only count the beans in one silo at a time and hacks who can’t fathom art or science but are somehow charged with making room for one or the other.

Let’s read between the lines of the Tribune editorial. First, we need to set up the artificial dichotomy: what will the building be replaced by? Here is what the editorial says:

“Northwestern says the new (research) facility will form a state-of-the-art research complex with the adjacent Lurie Medical Research Center and draw 700 jobs and more than $300 million in federal grant money for biomedical research.”

Oh, so the landmark is being replaced by a $300 million research facility employing 700 people? NO, THAT’S NOT WHAT THEY SAID. Here is what Northwestern officials said last week when they announced they wanted to demolish the landmark:

“The university has looked at various alternatives including reuse of the facility and actually taking it down, and at this point, the university’s plans are to take that building down and use that area for additional research facilities that would be constructed in the future,”

THE FUTURE. This is a land bank. It is not clear whether the 700 jobs and $300 million are what would be ON THE SITE or what will be ADDED to the $200 million Feinberg research building. The wordsmithing does not isolate the Prentice site. Plus, Northwestern said clearly a week ago it is land banking. They will need a nice eight-figure donor to get this thing going and they haven’t announced that. I’m betting parking lot at least until my kids graduate high school.

The Trib editorial also doubts that Landmarks Illinois’ re-use plan will be persuasive, because:

“Northwestern says the building, built in 1975, uses only about one-third of the square footage that could comfortably be built on the site. The ceilings are too low to allow for the venting, heating, and cooling infrastructure needed for a modern research facility.”

Hard to know where to start with this masterpiece of misdirection. First, it WASN’T built as a research facility, so of course it doesn’t have the venting, heating and cooling capabilities. Neither do Northwestern’s NEW hospitals, because they – like Prentice – were built as hospitals, not research facilities! The REAL reason (land bank) is the first sentence – the building doesn’t use up its zoning.

This is the age-old preservation battle in Chicago, whether it was real estate developers and urban planners in the 1960s and 1970s or hospitals and universities in the 90s and 00s, it is ALL ABOUT LAND VALUE. Northwestern is in Streeterville, land that wouldn’t even exist if not for a rum-running rustabout named Cap Streeter who ran aground there 130 years ago, and now it is in the shadow of the highest priced retail ground along the Great Lakes so they need to maximize every square inch of land and zoning and building they got and that equation does not leave room for aesthetics. This isn’t about jobs or medical research, it is about land value.

Finally, let’s let the Trib trip over its own logic in an economical three sentences near the end of the editorial.

“The old Prentice building, though, is not much more than a minor architectural gem. It doesn’t have city landmark protection. Marina City doesn’t have landmark status either, although it deserves it and (Alderman) Reilly is moving on that.”

Yow. Talk about givin’ poor old Socrates whiplash. It is a “minor” landmark (because of its age? A paragraph ago it was old???) without landmark status. Oh, so it doesn’t have status so it must not be worthy. But neither does Marina City (also by Goldberg), but it deserves it. I’m confused. If NOT having the status means it isn’t a landmark, but the alderman can “move” to landmark Marina City, why can’t he “move” on Prentice?

Alderman Reilly negotiated a 60-day delay, which is nothing if you don’t have a new building ready to go. But it does push the potential demolition closer to the opening of a major retrospective on the architecture of Bertrand Goldberg at the Art Institute of Chicago. Then we should get a more accurate idea of how “minor” this landmark is.

APRIL 22 UPDATE: Landmarks Illinois’ re-use plan actually develops three different scenarios for the building – including RESEARCH FACILITY for 800 researchers. Not too shabby. You can see the 16-page re-use study here. The amazing flexibility of Goldberg’s open floor plan (caused by those innovative AND BEAUTIFUL cantilevers) also makes the building easily adaptable to office or medical housing uses – there are no interior columns to worry about. Northwestern’s “lack of flexibility” argument is simply code for “maximize zoning envelope,” which would give something back to the city if the developer paid any real estate taxes. But they don’t. So, if and WHEN they at long last build that skyscraper, we get all of the congestion and shadows WITHOUT any economic benefit to the city – beyond the increment between 800 research jobs and however many more they can squeeze into their unplanned, undesigned and unfunded zoning envelope.

Sign the petition HERE.

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?

Prentice Women’s Hospital, Chicago

September 30, 2010


The next great new building in Chicago is Perkins and Will’s new hospital building for the Rush-Prebyterian St. Luke’s Hospital complex on the Near West Side. The new building features a multi-lobed design rising above a square base, looming over the Eisenhower Expressway and expressing with its insistent curving form a humanism central to the successful medical relationship. It is new and exciting.

And it is very similar to a 35-year old building, now threatened, by the architect who first brought this undulating form to the world of medicine when he crafted a maternity hospital that seems, in retrospect, like the first acknowledgement of the feminine in hospital architecture. In fact the new building touts the virtue of its plan in the same terms Goldberg used for his building in 1975:

“The tower’s butterfly-like shape allows for clear sight lines to every room from one of the nurse’s stations on each floor, allowing caregivers to see and respond to patient needs more quickly.”

Demolishers love to tell you how older buildings are functionally obsolete. I love to tell them I told you so. The Garrick Theatre was demolished in 1961 for a parking garage. The parking garage was demolished 35 years later for a theater. What goes around comes around and obsolescence rarely lasts a long time.

A major new effort to save Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital has been mounted by our friends at Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago, and promoted by no less than Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin, who linked to this Facebook advocacy page.


This is a fantastic building. Unfortunately we live in a world where hospitals and universities present the greatest threats to our landmarks. Because they need to do the latest and greatest thing in their new buildings.

Even when the latest and greatest thing is 35 years old.

NOVEMBER UPDATE: The National Trust Midwest Office and Landmarks Illinois (I am on both boards) are working hard on to save “the cloverleaf” Prentice. I would also note that my first Prentice photo above has gone all over the interwebs – Blair Kamin credited it a few weeks back on his blog, and then Metropolis POV ran it again today sans credit.

DECEMBER UPDATE: I left the following description – from colleague Anthea Hartig – on the Save Prentice Facebook page:

“The forms at Prentice are in the same instant structural and sculptural. This is truly the unity of art and function, the continuing discourse of artistic and engineering expressions.”

And the question: Can you think of another building that achieves this as well as Prentice?

The responses were: Mies’ Crown Hall, Pei’s National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Saarinen’s TWA flight center, The Monadnock Building, and Ronchamp. Here was my response:

These are great examples of the architecture-engineering discourse, although I think Saarinen’s comes closest to Goldberg in seeking an aesthetic structural efficiency, and TWA has a lot of formalism in there. I think Pei and Corbu are even more formalist (nothing efficient – but everything beautiful – about Ronchamp). The Monadnock is perhaps the first iteration in the discourse, more elegant than efficient, while Crown Hall gains and suffers from Mies’ perfectionism and bravado: Prentice is a well-turned ankle while Crown Hall is a bulging bicep.

See the Facebook page and the new video here.

APRIL 2011 UPDATE:

Last week Northwestern Hospital announced they will demolish the building after the tenant moves out in September. They have no plans for the site – it is pure Neanderthal land banking. Odds are it will sit vacant a long time.

Alderman Reilly has asked Northwestern to hold off on applying for the demolition permit until the Landmarks Illinois Re-Use study comes out in a few weeks, which they are doing because – why not? They are using the building until September, and since it is just a dumb land bank, it doesn’t exactly matter when they demolish, because they won’t be rebuilding for a long time.

SIGN THE PETITION AGAINST YEARS OF VACANT LOT HERE

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?

2012 UPDATES: See my July 2012 blog updated through late August

Preservation Wins in Edgewater

August 30, 2010

POST DATE: August 30, 2010 – Exactly five years and 296 posts since this blog began.

Last week a lawsuit against the Edgewater Historical Society (EHS) was dropped, marking a significant victory for preservationists in the north side Chicago community, and indeed, for all Chicago preservationists, since another lawsuit against the city landmarks ordinance is still out there.

The suit argued against community activists who sought to landmark the neighborhood following plans announced to tear down an historic house. They claimed over a million dollars in damages, even though the district never was created.

The Edgewater lawsuit was particularly obnoxious, because the plaintiffs sued not only the Historical Society but several individuals on the society board. It was an attempt to chill the ardor of community activists by suing them PERSONALLY for what they were trying to do for their COMMUNITY. There are actually laws against these SLAPP lawsuits – Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – because they are specifically intended to intimidate and inhibit public speech and action. It seems some think community organizations should have the same legal protection that corporations do.

Historical fact: the corporation was invented to limit the personal liability of those who undertook business ventures for profit. It seems only fair that not-for-profits get similar protection, hence the wave of Anti-SLAPP legislation being passed worldwide.

The Edgewater ruling was cheered by Preservation Chicago “as a great relief to preservationists, who are closely watching a similar lawsuit filed by Albert Hanna against the creation of the Arlington-Deming District and the East Village District.”

I have previously commented on that case. The big irony in all this is that people oppose landmarking because they don’t want to limit the value of their real estate, but people have ALWAYS supported landmarking because they want to preserve the value of their real estate. The opposition always heats up with the real estate market, while the conservation option arises either during periods of down markets like the 1970s or in areas that have experienced long-term disinvestment.

We are reading a lot nowadays about the end of the hot real estate market, the death of homeownership and the decline of the McMansion (Bob Bruegmann suggested as much two years ago – see my post on real estate economics) now that the 30-year housing bubble has burst.

The right and left wings are arguing about who caused the housing bubble (if you are on the right, blame Fannies for giving mortgages to lowlifes who couldn’t make payments; if on the left, blame the banks who purchased, repurchased, rebundled and kept buying those toxic assets.) but the simple fact is that when the value of a house doubles in five years, as they started to do in the 1990s, and wages don’t, there will be a correction. This bubble started a quarter of a century ago, and it got really big.

Over historical time, real estate values also go down. Here is a house that cost $8,000 to build in the 1860s and sold in the 1920s for less than half of that.

In my 2008 blog post mentioned above I also related the story about buying two Frank Lloyd Wright houses for a dollar, which was tens of thousands of dollars TOO MUCH, because the properties had a negative value thanks to their location. According to the newspaper this morning, two Frank Lloyd Wright houses in California may be lost, thanks to their inflated values in that most inflated of markets. The Ennis house was listed at $15 million and now can be had for half of that, while La Miniatura dropped from $7.7 to $5 million and may be bought by art collectors, disassembled, and shipped overseas.

The point is, the market was psychotically overheated and overvalued. It reminds me of the Marshall Bennett quote about real estate development after World War II:

“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.”

Oh, I can’t resist. Here is what Bennett – a big real estate developer – said about the crash of the commercial real estate market at the end of the 1980s:

“A developer is like an alcoholic before he joins AA. If you give him money, he builds. He doesn’t care if there is any demand for the space: he knows that someone is giving him money and he can go out and build. Again, there was no vision – there are very few of us who are smart enough to listen to ourselves.”

“America does things completely differently from anyone else. We overbuild and we overcontract.”

Footnote for Bennett quotes: “Seized the Day: Chicago chronicles from seven who helped shape the city”, Rob Mier and Laurel A. Lipkin, Chicago Enterprise, October 1992, p. 18.

County Hospital

March 3, 2010


In Chicago today the news is the unanimous decision of the Cook County Board to rehabilitate the historic Cook County Hospital Building (1914, Paul C. Gephardt) as medical offices. Seven years ago the building was to be demolished after the new John Stroger Hospital replaced it, but Landmarks Illinois and Preservation Chicago and others were able to find enough County Board allies to prevent demolition, and the unanimous action yesterday illustrates the shift. The project also ably illustrates several intriguing aspects of rehabilitating historic buildings.

First, there is the associational aspect. While the hospital had several historic firsts: blood bank; indigent care, certain emergency room procedures. Yet many people of course had very negative memories of the hospital since it was the medical last resort for so many of the most indigent for so many years. I remember going there in 1983 to see a friend who had gotten his head cracked for supporting Harold Washington’s mayoral candidacy. It was not an environment to elicit enthusiasm, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected, having grown up with horror stories of the public hospital. What is intriguing here is how the negative associations are translated into a push for demolition. We got similar reactions in the effort to save one of the Jane Addams Homes, replete with the negative association we formed of public housing in the 1960s and 1970s.

But of course we toured the homes with people who had lived there in the early, glory days of public housing, who had nothing but positive memories of the place in the late 1940s. The problem with negative historical associations is that they can be employed to demolish an otherwise beloved place. I always recall the example of Stop N Shop on Washington Street in the Loop. Until the early 1980s, it was a rare and wonderful downtown grocery with all of the finest delicacies – I remember gigantic chocolate-dipped strawberries in an era before strawberries all became gigantic (steroids?). Stop N Shop was a real treat and a beloved place. It also occupied a stunning 1930 Art Deco building, but the entire block was slated for redevelopment.

Now, you would have a problem demolishing a lovely store with positive associations, so Stop N Shop was closed, and a discount men’s clothing store (two pairs of fuschia trousers for $10!) was put in its place for a few years. By the time demolition came around, no one was bothered by losing the cheap pants – but they would have been upset about the chocolate-dipped strawberries.

Back to Cook County Hospital. We also have the aesthetic issue, and here the hospital’s grand Beaux-Arts facade with paired fluted columns, elaborate terra cotta ornament featuring garlands, cartouches, human and animal sculptures and grand arched entrances proves worthy. Not only that, but compared to the refrigerator box that is the new Stroger Hospital, the Classical detailing and refined proportions began to look better and better. I suspect that if the new hospital had a more felicitous design, the rapture people developed with the old hospital might not have been as intense.

Photo by Antunovich Associates courtesy Landmarks Illinois.

Then, of course, you have the issue of construction then and construction now. Building built before 1930 tend to be REALLY WELL BUILT, and Cook County Hospital is a good example. Despite the bands being used to stabilize the terra cotta details, the steel and concrete structure has been investigated and found to be sound. Antunovich Associates did a re-use plan via Landmarks Illinois that helped forestall demolition last decade because it proved the building was still a viable structure. Blair Kamin’s excellent piece in the Tribune notes also that rehabbing the structure saves about 900 truckloads of landfill debris, not a small number. This is of course WHY PRESERVATION IS SUSTAINABLE. And green. (BTW check out the new GREEN issue of Preservation Magazine – or go to the National Trust link at right!)

Now, the other intriguing aspect of rehabilitating historic buildings is of course the economic aspect. The County Board did dither about the cost – apparently $23 million more (about 20 percent) to rehab rather than to demolish and build new. Ignoring the social and environmental costs of those 900 trucks of debris, this aspect of course triggers a familiar response – preservation costs more.

Does it? Demolition and a new office building would cost $85 million instead of $108 million, which is more IF both buildings do the same job for the same period of time. Which I doubt.

Old buildings, like old windows, are generally built with stronger materials than modern ones. Beyond structure, this is a gut job, and the big cost is that decorative facade, accounting for 80 percent of the cost differential. They are talking about TIF financing, an overused tool, but if they were to make it a private building it would immediately be eligible for tax incentives which would make up the entirety of the difference. Just like preservation tax incentives are intended to do.

But comparing a lovely old Beaux Arts landmark with a new refrigerator box is like comparing apples and Tupperware. There is a functional comparison, but the new building would NOT have a decorative facade. Would it need one? No, but you never NEED beauty or grace in life, do you?

The fact is we ALREADY have a decorative facade and we know it looks good – much better where it is than in a landfill. This building got a lot of public support in the eight years it took demolition to turn into rehabilitation.

And it is prominent – this building has a giant plaza in front of it and then an expressway – it is a face of the city and deserves to be preserved as much as other faces of the city like Michigan Avenue or Lake Shore Drive.

Chicago 7

January 28, 2009

depsto-window-clss
Preservation Chicago released its “Chicago 7” list of endangered Chicago landmarks on Monday, and one of them was very close to my heart – the “old-fashioned” wood window. I have often spoken about the virtues of old wood windows – made of stronger, straighter, better insulating wood, and how with a little caulk and a storm window they can outperform any vinyl replacement unit. You can scroll back through the old blogs – in November I reglazed one of my windows in my 110-year old house and marveled at a project that cost a couple hours and $20, versus the hundreds it would have cost if I broke a “modern” replacement window. I even had an installation in the “Department Store” with Felicity Rich this past fall featuring old wood windows surrounded by the barrage of advertising that has made replacement windows a force to be reckoned with in the last decade. The bottom line? People replace their windows because of the advertising, not because of any value in the new windows – or any failure of the old.
st-bonfc09s
They also listed one of Chicago’s beautiful churches, St. Boniface by the incomparable Henry Schlacks. This 1902 Kashubian parish at Noble and Chestnut was closed some years ago and neighborhood activists fought to prevent its demolition, so the Archdiocese apparently decided to wait until the building was falling apart. This is called “demolition by neglect” and is the ultimate passive-aggressive move. Often it is accompanied – as it is currently at the U of I campus re” Mumford House, with plaintive hand-wringing over a building’s deteriorated condition. Huh? You mean, you owned this building and allowed it to deteriorate and now you are complaining it is deteriorated?

Two on Preservation Chicago’s list are modernist and one of those – Meigs Field Terminal – got little support from local architecture critics, and likely the general public as well. The modernist gems on Landmarks Illinois’ last list in the fall scored embarassingly low on public opinion registers despite their high architectural pedigree, including Bertrand Goldberg’s stunning Prentice Women’s Hospital.

Getting popular support for the highly abstract visions of late 20th century Modernism is an ongoing challenge. Sometimes those buildings are a conservation challenge as well, because they were built in the era of thinner structures, single-glazing, and more ephemeral materials. Not like traditional wood windows.

Publicity for Landmarks

October 22, 2006



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Originally uploaded by vincusses.

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.