Friday, March 18, 2011

The 2011 Chicago Seven

Here is Preservation Chicago's 2011 list of the seven most endangered buildings and districts in Chicago. I am personally familiar with six of the seven sites, have very close personal ties to two of them, and walk by two of the buildings on the list almost every week day.

Preservation of buildings is a mixed bag, in a perfect world we'd like to be able to save every good building (not to mention the great ones), or buildings that have historical significance. In the real world however there are so many factors that can make preservation impractical or impossible. Usually it all comes down to economics, public safety, law, or a combination of all three.

Two of the buildings on the list are houses of worship which by their very nature automatically gives them historical significance. They also prove to be the most difficult buildings to save, as our laws prohibit government from meddling in church affairs, including their architecture. Even if the government had a say, it would be difficult to make the argument that a church should devote its resources toward saving a building rather than ministering to its people. Consequently we can't landmark a church as we would another type of building. This has come up previously in this space regarding the fate of the once magnificent St. Boniface Church on the near northwest side that continues to stand and decay as it awaits an uncertain future. St. Lawrence Church in the Grand Crossing neighborhood on the south side, the one building on the list I have never visited, has not been empty for as long as St. Boniface and it appears to be in fairly good shape. Preservation Chicago urges creative re-use for the building. I have mixed feelings about converting churches to secular use but I suppose that saving a church building as a community center, or anything else is preferable to not saving it at all.

In the case of Shepherd's Temple on Douglas Boulevard on the west side, the building is a testament to what was once a major center of Jewish life in Chicago. It is one of the most striking examples of synagogue architecture on a boulevard lined with many. Its loss would leave a tremendous void in the neighborhood. Here is a link to some photographs of the interior of the gutted Temple which later was converted to a Baptist church.

The Pullman Historic District is already a landmarked community, but as Preservation Chicago points out, the area north of 111th Street which includes a small residential neighborhood as well as the burned out remnants of Pullman Works, is suffering from terrible neglect. South of 111th you will find Hotel Florence and a community that is still very much intact. The charm of the neighborhood belies the turmoil of its past as a company town conceived and built by one of the greatest, and also perhaps most despised industrialists of 19th Century Chicago, George Pullman. Here is the Encyclopedia of Chicago's article on the neighborhood of Pullman.

The sites where I have the closest personal connection are two hospitals, Children's Memorial, which is moving its campus south to Streeterville, and the former Prentice Women's Hospital. Presntice was the site of the births of both our children, and many anxious moments have been spent with our kids at Children's Memorial. Of all the buildings mentioned in the list, Prentice is perhaps the most architecturally significant, designed by Bertrand Goldberg, employing his signature cylindrical motif. It's an innovative, unique design that would be a shame to lose, especially given the fact that it could be adapted to any number of alternate uses. It is also by far the newest building on the list, barely over thirty tears old. It has been replaced by a state of the art facility a block away and while it could be converted, its location in the midst of a hospital campus makes that scenario a little more complicated. It is showing its age, my wife pointed out that the concrete facade gives the building the perpetual appearance of being dirty. Yet for obvious reasons I would be brokenhearted to see it go.
The University of Chicago's purchase of the Chicago Theological Seminary along with its plans to convert it to the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics threatens three important Chicago interiors of the Gothic Revival style. Several magnificent stained glass windows have already been removed and more are to follow as the University deems them "inappropriate" for an Economics school. Preservation Chicago also expresses concern for the entire 5700 block of south Woodlawn, a residential block slowly being taken over by the rapacious University. This is truly one of the loveliest blocks in all of Chicago and the destruction of all or part of it would be a crime.

Finally, two skyscrapers on State Street that share one block, 202 and 220 S. State Street are threatened by an unlikely source, the Federal Government, who has expressed interest in demolishing them and redeveloping the block. This would be a sham as these buildings are significant as part of the fabric, albeit diminished of State Street. The 202 building, pictured at the top of this post, was designed by Holibird and Roche and is in fact one of my favorite buildings on State Street. You may recall last year I mentioned it in connection with the late great Republic Building designed by the same firm, that once stood directly across the street to the east. 220 South State is another fine, if not exceptional building whose loss would be a travesty.

Of all these unfortunate new members of the threatened architecture club, Preservation Chicago makes the strongest case for saving and rehabilitating these two wonderful buildings. Read it for yourself here on a PDF.

Goodness knows that State Street, once this city's premier thoroughfare, has suffered enough indignities over the past fifty years. One would only hope that the government will see the light and find a way to creatively adapt these fine buildings to their needs, or at the very least, let them stand until they find someone who can. A city that claims to be an major architectural capital can't afford to let go of any more significant buildings in the heart of the city.

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