Chicago 7 Most Endangered Buildings - 2017
Chicago’s 20th Century Public Sculptures
Alexander's The Universe Sculpture in Sears/Willis Tower Lobby, Photo Credit by Ward Miller
Jackson Park & South Shore Cultural Center Park
Jackson Park, Photo Credit by Eric Allix Rogers
Cornell Store & Flats
Cornell Store & Flats, Photo Credit by Eric Allix Rogers
Altgeld Gardens, Photo Credit by Eric Allix Rogers
Chicago Water Cribs
Wilson Avenue Crib, Photo Credit by David B. Gleason
Historic Streetscape in Madison Pulaski Commerical District, Photo Credit by Chicago Architectural Photographing Company
Chicago Union Station Power House
Chicagi Union Station Power House, Photo Credit by Eric Allix Rogers
Chicago has one of the largest and finest 20th Century public art collections in the world. Downtown Chicago is host to more than 100 sculptures, mosaics and paintings displayed in plazas, park spaces and the lobbies of both private and public buildings.
Contemporary 20th Century artwork in Chicago’s public spaces began with the dedication of The Picasso in 1967, on the Richard J. Daley Center Plaza (formerly known as the Chicago Civic Center and Plaza). The installation of The Picasso sparked an interest in investing in public art for public and private buildings and other developments. In the 50 years since that first installation, Chicago has enjoyed the continued investment in high-quality art work by world renowned artists. These world-class masterpieces are often placed by architects, working with their creators in public plazas and semi-public interior spaces within the Loop and Downtown. The Loop’s exceptional collection of 20th Century artwork is the result of visionary architects and artists working in close collaboration to provide the public with free access to masterworks of visual art.
Developers often placed large-scale public artwork within broad open plazas at the bases of high-rise developments in Downtown Chicago, offering these features as public benefits in exchange for zoning bonuses which allowed them to construct ever-higher and more massive buildings. This resulted in some highly important collaborations between architects and artists, including Alexander Calder’s Flamingo paired with Mies van der Rohe’s Federal Center; Alexander Calder’s The Universe in the lobby of Bruce Graham of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Sears Tower; Pablo Picasso’s The Picasso in Jacques Brownson’s Daley Center; and Jean Dubuffet’s Monument with Standing Beast in the plaza of Helmut Jahn’s James R. Thompson Center, (which is recognized as only one of only three monumental sculptures by Dubuffet in the United States.) This is just a small representative list which exemplifies collaborations between some of the 20th Century’s greatest artists and architects.
Recently, we have seen a number of these plazas and their artworks threatened with removal, relocation, outright destruction, or sale to private collectors. The result are losses or potential losses to this tremendously important collection of public art and public space. These artworks in the heart of the central business district are rightfully perceived as being an essential part of Chicago by many citizens, in addition to being an important part of its artistic and cultural heritage. The loss of these treasures would result in a devastating blow to Chicago’s exceptional collection of public art and would damage the city’s reputation as an international architectural and cultural capital.
HISTORY & IMPACT:
In 1978, Chicago’s City Council unanimously approved the Percent for Art Ordinance that required a percentage of construction costs for new and renovated public buildings and spaces be devoted to original pieces of artwork on the site. Chicago was one of the first, and certainly the largest, municipality to require the inclusion of public art into its public building program. While Chicago has been exemplary in providing its citizens with inspirational architecture and public art, it has not developed criteria for protecting these public works of art. In fact, The Picasso is the exception and is one of the few pieces of public art that is protected from being removed or altered in anyway.
On November 6, 2002, the Daley Center was landmarked, which includes the building designed by C.F. Murphy Associates, the plaza and The Picasso, protecting the visual trio of elements that comprise one of the most iconic plazas in Chicago. It is the hope of Preservation Chicago that many more of our public works of art, and the plazas they occupy, will be landmarked to protect the original intent of the artist and the architects who created them and for the future benefit of the public.
The Percent for Art Ordinance only applies to the construction of public buildings. In the construction of private buildings (or if public buildings are sold to private owners), there is no formal protection for public artwork to insure that they will remain in situ and not be relocated, removed, sold, or destroyed. There is also concern that some of these great works of art are not being properly maintained and are being allowed to deteriorate. The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs is dedicated to preserving Chicago’s art treasures, and growing the City’s public art collection, but they often have limited or no jurisdiction over many of the pieces in public-use plazas, outdoor spaces, or semi-public lobbies.
An example of public art falling into disrepair is Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons mosaic in Exelon Plaza, originally constructed as the First National Bank of Chicago and Plaza by architects C. F. Murphy. Dedicated in September of 1974, the five-sided, 70-foot long mosaic depicts the changing of seasons in Chicago. It was constructed of colorful glass and stone from Italy, France, Norway, Belgium and Israel. Exposure to the elements resulted in significant damage over time. In 1988, the damage to the vertical surfaces of the Chagall mosaic were repaired, however the top of the mosaic was damaged beyond repair and the entire top of the rectangular art piece was scraped off and replaced with a granite slab. The mosaic sunburst and rainbow stripes that once covered the top surface of Chagall’s masterpiece, and which were intended to be viewed from the tall buildings surrounding the plaza, have now been destroyed. The surviving vertical surfaces of the Chagall mosaic are now covered by a protective bronze and glass canopy, but the top mosaic, by one of the 20th Century’s great artists, is tragically lost.
Another highly unfortunate loss to our city’s public art collection was the recent sale of Large Internal-External Upright Form, a world-class, large-scaled, sculpture by Henry Moore that occupied the Three First National Building lobby for decades. A small plaster version is on permanent exhibit at London’s Tate Gallery. This 20-foot tall bronze masterpiece was quietly sold for millions in 2016.
In 1974, The Standard Oil Company, working with architect Edward Durell Stone on its new building, which at the time was the tallest building in Chicago, commissioned sculptor Harry Bertoia to design a kinetic piece of abstract art, which was placed around a central reflecting pool in the building’s plaza. Sonambient was comprised of eleven sets of copper and brass rods ranging in height from four to sixteen feet. The rods flexed and moved with the wind creating musical sounds. Sonambient was influenced by nature and represented wheat fields swaying in the breeze. In 1994, the plaza was redesigned and the grand rectangular reflecting pool was replaced with a few small fountains. The Bertoia sculptures were displaced and relocated, with only six of the original eleven pieces reinstalled. Five pieces of the sculpture were sold at auction in 2013 for hundreds of thousands of dollars, while others are believed to remain in storage. The original intent and beauty of the piece has been compromised by the plaza reconfigurement and sculpture reduction and displacement.
Jean Dubuffet’s 1984 fiberglass sculpture Monument with Standing Beast, located in the plaza in front of the James R. Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph is comprised of four elements suggesting an animal, a tree, a portal and an architectural form. Its shape invites viewers to enter and walk through the sculpture, while it reflects on the open space of the Thompson Center’s architecture, designed by Helmut Jahn. At this time, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan support the concept of selling the Thompson Center, which would likely result in a new development on this site leaving the fate of Dubuffet’s sculpture unknown, unless the building, plaza and the sculpture were to be landmarked. Chicago 7: Chicago’s 20th Century Public Sculptures Louise Nevelson’s Dawn Shadows at 200 W. Madison was inspired by the Loop elevated train system. This piece is meant to be viewed from all sides with an ideal vantage point being the train platform above Madison Plaza. Since Dawn Shadows was unveiled in 1983, the plaza has been enclosed with glass, restricting access to the sculpture physically and compromising visibility from the sidewalk and elevated platform.
Alexander Calder’s The Universe has been on display in the lobby of the Sears Tower, now Willis Tower, since 1974. It uses bold colors, organic shapes, and large scale to represent the Big Bang. Its massive scale was specifically designed for the massive lobby of one of the world’s tallest buildings. Shockingly, the current lobby remodeling plan fails to include displaying this magnificent masterpiece. The fate is unknown for this stunning kinetic installation by one of the 20th century’s most important artists and that has been part of the fabric of our city for over 40 years.
A few blocks away and dedicated on that same October day in 1974 as part of a grand parade led by the artist and Mayor Daley, Alexander Calder’s iconic Flamingo in Federal Plaza was designed to anchor the large rectangular plaza bordered by three Mies van der Rohe buildings. The vivid red color and organic curves provide a delightful and powerful contrast to its strict Miesian linear steel and glass surroundings. The size of the sculpture allows viewers to walk under and through the piece vividly displaying its size in relation to human scale. It is unthinkable that Calder’s iconic Flamingo could be removed from Federal Plaza, but yet no formal protections are in place to prevent this from happening.
Joan Miro’s Moon, Sun, and One Star, was created by Miro in the 1960s, in response to his friend and fellow Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso’s sculpture across the street at Daley Center. It was finally placed at 69 W. Washington in 1981, and is comprised of shapes and forms that evoke both celestial and common objects. Its placement in the small plaza to the west of Myron Goldsmith and Skidmore Owings and Merrill’s Brunswick Building, now the George Dunne Cook County Administration Building, and its relation to the
Picasso across the street was very important to Miro. Since its placement in the 1980s, a covered bus stop canopy has been constructed in front of the plaza and the Miro sculpture, partially obscuring its view from Daley Plaza across the street, and impairing the original intent and vision of its placement.
Claes Oldenburg’s Batcolumn, from 1977, stands 101 feet tall beside the Harold Washington Social Security Administration Building at 600 W. Madison. Its whimsical, larger-than-life-scale, was inspired by the soaring architecture of Chicago which the artist considered “the real art” of Chicago.
The Sears/Willis Tower renovation plans which fail to include Alexander Calder’s The Universe means this amazing piece of artwork is in immediate jeopardy. Due to the likely sale of the Thompson Center, Dubuffet’s Monument with Standing Beast will likely also be in risk of displacement or sale. The powerful Henry Moore sculpture, once located in the lobby of 70 W. Madison, has been completely lost to the people of Chicago after being sold at auction. Without the protection of a thematic Landmark District of Chicago’s 20th Century Downtown Artworks, or a new City Ordinance which would offer protections to these world class treasures, Preservation Chicago considers many of Chicago’s artworks to be in immediate jeopardy or at varying degrees of risk.
Preservation Chicago believes that these works of art should be protected and always on public display. Additionally, these works of art are contextual and were designed to be viewed in situ, so to the extent possible, should remain in their original environment. The loss of any of these art pieces is tragic, and we suggest that these public and private works of art, with public access, and on open plazas and semi-public spaces, be considered for thematic Chicago Landmark Designation along with their plazas and open spaces, to guarantee that they will always be here for the public good.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has named 2017 the Year of Public Art (YOPA) to highlight the rich history of public art in Chicago. Let’s make 2017 the year Chicago protects its irreplaceable public works of art and sets a national model for public art stewardship.
Jackson Park, one to two grand parks, designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, is among the greatest historical and environmental assets of Chicago’s South Side, along with the South Shore Cultural Center and Park. These grand parks include many amenities, resources and features, such as iconic landscape design, lagoons, islands, harbors, museums, historic structures, sculptures, and golf courses, which attract visitors from across the City, the South Side, and the suburbs. Despite these parks being quite distinct, they are adjacent at South Shore Drive at 67th Street, and will become more closely linked by a multimillion dollar renovation plan proposed by the Chicago Park District. Jackson Park is soon to be the site of the Tod Williams and Billie Tsien designed Barack Obama Presidential Library to be located between 60th and 63rd, and Cornell and Stony Island Avenue. In a development possibly related to Barack Obama’s passion for golf, the Chicago Park District recently announced a proposed $30 million renovation of both golf courses to provide the possibility of combining them into a single larger course suitable for hosting PGA Championship games. Jackson Park has also been the site of recent improvements sponsored by private non-profit organization Project 120, including the installation of Sky Landing, a sculpture by Yoko Ono, which was designed and installed outside the historic Osaka Garden on the park’s Wooded Isle, with little to no public engagement. Project 120’s website also includes suggested plans for a visitor’s center, music pavilion, and other major changes to Olmsted’s historic landscape.
The national attention that has come with the siting of the Obama Library in Jackson Park provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to attract much-needed reinvestment to the South Shore and Woodlawn neighborhoods. Preservation Chicago joins other neighborhood and community groups and advocacy organizations in calling for the Chicago Park District to conduct a transparent and thoughtful planning process, and furthermore, to preserve the historic integrity of these Fredrick Law Olmsted designed landscapes, so they may remain accessible assets to all people of the City of Chicago for generations to come.
The historical significance of these two parks is monumental. The 500-acre Jackson Park was designed by the important and influential landscape designer of the 20th Century, Frederick Law Olmsted, and was the site of one of the most important events in Chicago history, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 which has been memorialized with one of the four star’s on the city’s flag. It is connected via the Midway to Washington Park, forming one of the most magnificent networks of urban parkland in the country. Both parks are listed on the National Register of Historic places and elements are protected Chicago Landmarks.
The Mediterranean Revival South Shore Cultural Center was designed by well-known Chicago architectural firm Marshall & Fox, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks on Chicago’s South Side lakefront. In its more recent past, it was the site of Barack and Michelle Obama’s wedding reception, and is itself a major community preservation success story. Neighborhood activists famously rescued the former private South Shore Country Club from demolition in 1975, after it was acquired by the Chicago Park District, so it could be re-opened as a public facility welcome to all visitors.
The threats to these parks are three-fold and interrelated; the construction of the Obama Library in Jackson Park, the rehabilitation and construction of the golf course spanning both parks, and the various building proposals by Project 120 in Jackson Park.
The overarching concern of Preservation Chicago and many other advocacy groups is the level of influence by privately held organizations and the lack of substantive community involvement in each of these three initiatives: the Obama Foundation, a newly-established non-profit called the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, and Project 120. These non-profits are governed by their respective boards of directors and not accountable to the citizens of Chicago as are our governmental agencies, such as the Chicago Park District. The privatization of parkland is a concern across the city, including along the lakefront and in neighborhood parks for private events. The increased involvement of private groups in the management of public parkland is of concern, and sometimes may not be in the best interests of the general public. This includes the preservation of historic landscapes and structures which can, without oversight, be significantly compromised.
Preservation Chicago remains hopeful that these organizations’ willingness to participate in an open and transparent planning processes is genuine, however, worrisome signs to the contrary are cause for concern. Project 120 has held few public meetings, and developed their sweeping plans for the park without public input. The Sky Landing sculpture by Yoko Ono was conceived, designed, and installed at the historic Osaka Garden using private funds and has been exclusive in its limited interactions with the community. The golf course renovation was announced at the beginning of this year, with plans to break ground a few months later, in spring 2017. Only days after their initial announcement, after holding a single public meeting, the Chicago Park District approved spending $1 million on an engineering study for the two courses. Since the courses will be designed by a private firm, TGR Design, run by Tiger Woods, we at Preservation Chicago are concerned that preservation considerations will be largely absent from the final design. Similar issues abound in the design process for the Obama Presidential Library, led by the Obama Foundation, in a historic landscape designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted.
The importance of these historic landscapes to the citizens of Chicago is evident by the number of community advocacy groups that have emerged to monitor the development of plans that effect the parks. Preservation Chicago supports the work of these groups, which include Friends of the Parks, Jackson Park Watch, and the Jackson Park Advisory Council.
5th Ward Alderman Leslie Hairston has shown admirable leadership by publicly demanding that the Obama Foundation participate in a community engagement process as planning for the library proceeds. Alderman Hairston is also working to establish an advisory council of neighborhood residents to provide her with input on future projects in the parks.
Preservation Chicago specifically looks forward to providing a preservation oriented voice in this conversation. The beautiful
historic features of these parks are a large part of the reason that they have attracted the attention of these private interest groups. We at Preservation Chicago believe that current and future residents of Hyde Park, South Shore, and Woodlawn and all Chicagoans should have access to these historic landscapes and parks.
To that end, we hope to obtain open dialogue with the Chicago Park District that any construction and in changes proposed in the parks will be conducted with sensitivity to key features and structures of the historic park landscapes. Furthermore, Preservation Chicago believes that a percentage of the many of millions of dollars to be invested in these projects should be earmarked for the much needed maintenance and rehabilitation of historic park structures such as the South Shore Cultural Center Clubhouse Building, Entry Gate, Colonnade, and Stables, and the Comfort Station at 6600 S. South Shore Drive in Jackson Park.
The Cornell Store & Flats is an extremely rare example of a commercial building by one of the most famous practitioners of the Prairie Style of architecture, Walter Burley Griffin. Tim Samuelson, City of Chicago’s Cultural Historian, has called it one of the top 25 most significant buildings of any kind in Chicago, yet it remains unknown to many city residents.
Located in the South Side neighborhood of Greater Grand Crossing, near the intersection of 75th Street and South Chicago Avenue, Cornell Store & Flats is situated between a train line, viaduct and a concrete retaining wall, making it almost hidden in plain view. It has suffered years of deferred maintenance and neglect. Since its long-time owner passed away in recent years, its ownership has been in a constant state of limbo, including a period in demolition court in 2016.
Our sister preservation organization, Landmarks Illinois placed the building on its list of most endangered places in 2016, but its future remains uncertain and its condition continues to deteriorate. A handful of potential buyers have emerged, but none of their plans have come to fruition. Preservation Chicago hopes to continue to attract attention to this important historic building in hopes of encouraging its preservation and reuse.
The Cornell Store & Flats was built as an investment property by the estate of Paul Cornell, a real estate developer and the “Father of Hyde Park.’ Cornell was also an early developer of Greater Grand Crossing. Cornell died in 1904 and his heirs hired Walter Burley Griffin to design a building that would stand as an architectural landmark on the thriving 75th Street commercial corridor and would provide the family with a steady income stream of retail and residential rents.
Walter Burley Griffin was an Oak Park native and contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright. Griffin worked for the first five years of his career (1901 – 1906) in Wright’s studio, and was a project supervisor for notable works such as the 1904 Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York. After establishing his own practice, Griffin is best known for creating a master plan for the Australian capital city of Canberra.
In addition to the notable pedigree of its namesake and designer, the Cornell Store & Flats is also an unusual building typology in Chicago. The ground-floor retail space had a glass storefront facing 75th Street, with four apartments above, arranged around a light court in the center of the building. The light court had a glass block floor, in order to let light pass into the center of the retail space below. Unlike most mixed-use buildings, where all entrances and design detail are confined to the street-facing side, Griffin’s building is equally finished on both front and rear elevations. Chicago
The rear facade features a second entrance to the residential units, with a round arch over a second-story entrance to the courtyard space. This design took advantage of the building’s large lot, allowed for a deeper and more monumental structure, and permitted more natural light into both retail and residential spaces.
The streamlined ornament, obscured entrances, skillful brickwork and masonry, and emphasized horizontal characteristics of the Prairie Style of architecture are illustrated in both primary and secondary elevations of the building. Brick pilasters extend upward along the front and rear facades, with recessed paired windows between the pilasters. The horizontal appearance is emphasized by Roman brick and limestone lintels and sills. The long flat roofline is capped by an unbroken limestone platform supported by the pilasters which seems to hover and float just above the parapet wall. The original 75th Street storefront glass has been enclosed by a brick and glass-block wall, but the rear façade remains largely intact, behind a fence and piles of debris. Recent visits to the building’s interior indicate that modifications to the light court could be reversed as part of a restoration effort.
THREAT & RECOMMENDATIONS:
The neighborhood surrounding Cornell Store & Flats has suffered serious economic disinvestment in recent decades, and it is now one of very few remaining buildings of the once bustling 75th Street commercial corridor. The train lines that give the Grand Crossing neighborhood its name are also physical barriers that isolate this building from the urban fabric around it. After years of neglect and uncertain ownership, the building is in precarious physical condition and in urgent need of a new owner with plans for its development. Redevelopment of the Cornell Store & Flats would not only preserve this remarkable piece of architecture for future generations, but it could serve as a proud landmark for the Greater Grand Crossing community.
Altgeld Gardens was designed by architects Naess and Murphy, as a public housing complex in the 1940s, and stands as a testament to good public housing design ideals, with low two-story buildings, linked together in groupings, and placed in a park-like setting. The complex was said to be “the most self-contained comprehensive public housing project ever constructed in Chicago”. It includes a public library, schools, an auditorium, clubhouse, and modernist shopping center, which created a self-sufficient commercial development in the heart of the complex. Altgeld Gardens is located on a 157-acre site on Chicago’s Far South Side, near 130th and Ellis, in the Riverdale Community Lake Calumet Region. While there has been a great commitment towards preservation and reuse of many of the housing units in the past, a number of buildings, which had been mothballed for future renovation, are now facing potential demolition.
HISTORY: Altgeld Gardens is named after Governor John Peter Altgeld, who served as Governor of the State of Illinois from 1893 to 1897. He was a leader in the Progressive Movement, implementing important child labor and workplace safety laws. He also pardoned three men related to the Haymarket Riots and refused to intervene in the Pullman Company Strike of 1894 in Chicago. He was the developer for the “Unity Building,” designed by architect Clinton Warren, which was a 16-story office building, once among the City’s tallest, known as “The Leaning Lady of Dearborn Street” located on Block 37, at 127 N. Dearborn.
Altgeld Gardens was constructed between 1943 to 1945 for African-American servicemen returning from World War II and their families. Many of the residents in the 1940s were employed by the many industrial factories of the Lake Calumet Region of Chicago, including armaments, steel mills, utilities, and wastewater treatment facilities. The Altgeld Gardens development was a project of the Chicago Housing Authority’s legendary Executive Director, Elizabeth Wood, who served from 1937 to 1954, and was responsible for managing many of the early public housing initiatives in Chicago. At one time, Altgeld Gardens contained 1,500 units, divided into 162 groups of two-story row houses. Spread over 157-acres, it is bounded by 130th St, South Doty and St. Lawrence Avenues in Chicago. In the years prior to the Civil War, this area of the Calumet Region had historic links to the “Underground Railroad.”
In 1954, the Phillip Murray Homes were added to the Altgeld Gardens development area. Notable visitors over time included Paul Robeson, Joe Lewis, Jesse Owens, and a young community organizer
named Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama began much of his community outreach and community organizing at Altgeld Gardens. It played a important role in his early years in Chicago, prior to his election as a State Senator, United States Senator and ultimately, as President of the United States. Some of the residents of Altgeld worked with the former President, including environmental activist Hazel Johnson. This historical site is a testament to President Obama’s early career and volunteer work in the community.
Altgeld Gardens has seen a renovation and restoration of many residential buildings of the campus, with additional reinvestment planned for the public-use buildings. A highly-unique former commissary and store building with a curvilinear façade by architects Keck & Keck is scheduled for restoration and reuse as a library. This welcomed good news has been tempered by the pending demolition of three entire blocks of residential buildings.
Over the course of several years, the Chicago Housing Authority, along with State and Federal agencies, its consultants and consulting parties, including Preservation Chicago, have worked together to ensure good preservation outcomes for Altgeld Gardens. Two years ago, an agreement was reached with all involved parties which included approximately 98% preservation. Since that time, the development has suffered from demolition exceeding the agreement, with the loss of 15 buildings and 212 sorely-needed housing units. Notice was recently received that Blocks 11, 12 and 13, dating from the earliest years of the Altgeld Gardens development and comprising 25 structures and 244 units, are to be destroyed. We consider this to be contrary to policies of the past and we would like to encourage all parties to fulfill the promise of affordable housing for Chicago’s most vulnerable residents.
Preservation Chicago does not believe that the City of Chicago should be reducing public housing. We encourage another agency or owner to assume the renovation of these structures. Otherwise, we will see a total of 40 two-story buildings demolished and a total of 456 housing units lost, in an area with a great need. Additionally, this is the terminus of the proposed Red Line CTA Rapid Transit Extension.
We would like to see the Chicago Housing Authority or another third-party housing organization, take responsibly for these 25 structures, renovate them, and return them to active use as affordable and low-income housing. We also believe that they should be considered for the National Register of Historic Places due to their significance in the history of public housing and their connection to the legacy of President Obama.
Perhaps no Chicago structures elicit more “What the heck is that?” questions than these circular offshore structures. Often forgotten but essential components of Chicago’s infrastructure, Chicago’s water cribs are visible miles off the Lake Michigan shoreline and feature lighthouse beacons at night. These unique structures were engineering marvels of their day and were designed to be pleasing architectural gems as well. While two remain in use and are integral to the city’s water supply, others have been out of service for years. The City has plans to demolish two of the older water cribs and is scheduled for the City’s Capital Improvement Program. Preservation Chicago is advocating for their preservation and potential reuse.
Chicago’s first water crib was constructed in 1865 and designed by engineer Ellis F. Chesbrough to help deliver clean water to the city. At that time, Chicago was dumping its sewage directly into the lake. By locating the water intake two miles out into the lake and connecting it via a deep tunnel to a pumping station and water tower on the shore (the famous old Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station on Michigan Avenue), clean water was carried to the city. In the years between 1865 and 1935, the city constructed eight additional water cribs, all considered major engineering feats of their day. Of these, only six remain standing, and only two are still in active use. For many years, the city had 24-hour staffing of the water cribs by isolated crews who lived and worked on them. The cribs that are still in use now are staffed remotely.
INDIVIDUAL HISTORIES & THREATS:
The Four Mile Crib, designed by architect D.H. Hayes, was constructed beginning in 1887 and completed in 1894. Located 3.3 miles east of Monroe Harbor this water intake crib was connected via tunnel to two pumping stations on shore. Constructed at a cost of $429,000 (in 1894 dollars), the crib and tunnel provided 75 million gallons to the daily water supply of the city. It was equipped with a state-of-the-art steam heating plant to keep the crib’s well room at a constant 70 degrees even in the middle of winter. Constructed of thick stone and brick, the structure has a unique Romanesque appearance and is capped with a lighthouse. While it has been expanded over the years, it maintains most of its historic integrity. After being on standby service for years, the City now plans to demolish this crib as part of its four-year Capital Improvement Program announced in 2015.
The Wilson Avenue Crib was constructed beginning in 1915 and completed in 1918. It is located approximately 2.1 miles east of Montrose Harbor. It originally supplied water to eight miles of tunnels which connected to a pumping station at Wilson Avenue. It is constructed of square-hewn granite blocks atop a 90-foot steel caisson with a 40-foot diameter inner chamber. Circular brick walls are located above the stone structure and topped with a lighthouse. This iconic structure is mostly intact and in reasonably good shape, though the brickwork on one side has recently had some minor structural issues. On standby service for many years, the City also plans to demolish this crib as part of its four-year Capital Improvement Program announced in 2015. Chicago 7: Chicago Water Cribs
Preservation Chicago realizes that the location of these iconic structures pose a unique challenge for reuse. However, these cribs are the definition of a “landmark” – they can’t be missed by anyone on Lake Michigan or the shoreline. Additionally, they are of architectural note and historical importance to Chicago’s water supply and engineering history. They should be designated Chicago Landmarks and adaptive reuse options be sought.
If re-purposed, they would make extraordinarily unique and interesting destinations. Perhaps the cribs could be re-purposed as a restaurant, museum, excursion site, educational facility related to environmental issues, bird sanctuary, or other similar use that can be accessed via boat. If not reused, they should simply be preserved in situ with minimal structural maintenance so that they remain offshore landmarks to be enjoyed by boaters, sailors, and kayakers for years to come.
As Chicago grew exponentially in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, outlying shopping districts began appearing along streetcar lines and elevated train routes. One of the largest was located in West Garfield Park, centered at the intersection of Madison and Pulaski (previously Crawford Avenue). Featuring department stores, shoe stores, movie palaces, hotels and other amenities, this “mini downtown” was arguably the shopping center for the entire West Side. Numerous four, five and six story structures gave it the appearance of a major downtown district. With a varied collection of Art Deco, Art Moderne, Modernist and Gothic architecture by an eclectic mix of architects, Madison-Pulaski is one of the largest intact outlying shopping district in the city, especially with the recent demise of its South Side counterpart at 63rd and Halsted. As the neighborhood began to decline beginning in the 1950s, the shopping district began to decline as well, and more recently many structures have fallen into disuse or disrepair. The area currently includes numerous abandoned and underutilized structures, and if not protected, much of the area may face demolition by neglect in the near future.
Though the West Side’s first commercial district sprang up along Lake Street, activity began to move to Madison Street beginning in the 1890s with its bustling streetcar line and without the overhead “L” line along Lake Street. Hotels began to spring up around Garfield Park and a busy commercial district developed, especially in the boom years following 1914. Department stores, movie palaces (unfortunately all since demolished), and a diverse collection of other retail structures were constructed, mostly of a very high quality and of varied architectural styles. Many storefronts and structures were modernized or rebuilt over the years, using the styles of the time, whether Art Moderne in the 1930s or Mid-Century Modern in the 1950s. Beginning in the 1950s, the surrounding neighborhood began to experience a steep decline. Still, most of the retail structures in the neighborhood remained in use until relatively recently, but its future is in jeopardy if actions are not taken soon.
While the only significant structure currently known to face an explicit threat of demolition in the district is the historic Hotel Guyon (1927, Jens J. Jensen; listed on our Chicago 7 in 2013 and 2014) other structures are in various stages of disuse or disrepair. The major intersection of Madison and Pulaski itself remains intact on three corners, including the iconic Art Deco Madison/Crawford building on the northeast corner (1930, Arthur Howell Knox), and Modernist former Three Sisters Store (1948, Leichenko & Esser) on the northwest corner. The former Mid-Century Modern Goldblatt’s Store (1951, Friedman, Alschuler & Sincere) on the south-east corner of the intersection has been heavily altered but original elements of its sleek design are still evident. Further west at 4042 West Madison, the former Spiegel/L Fish Furniture Store (1927, B. Leo Steif) presents a unique terra cotta blend of Art Deco design. Numerous other structures (including the former Madigan Brothers Department Store at 4030 West Madison) are in varying stages of disuse, and face a serious threat of demolition by neglect.
While the Madison-Pulaski shopping district remains mostly intact at the present time, it is in extreme dan-ger of demolition by neglect. With the almost complete demolition of Chicago’s formerly largest outlying shopping district at 63rd and Halsted over the past few decades, Madison-Pulaski remains one of the best examples of this important form of early 20th Century shopping district. Moreover, many of the structures in the district are of architectural note and form a unique and complete streetscape with buildings of varying heights and sizes. The area (including portions of Madison and Pulaski streets, as well as surrounding streets) should be designated a Chicago Landmark District, so that this uniquely intact environment will be preserved for future generations. In addition, the City of Chicago should enact a comprehensive plan for reinvestment in the area so that the buildings can attract new tenants and be reused in a sensitive manner that will benefit the surrounding community for many years to come.
Visible from the Roosevelt Road Bridge, the iconic and austere Chicago Union Station Power House, with its streamlined Art Moderne facades and smokestacks, exemplifies the story of Chicago’s growth as a railroad and transportation center beginning in the pioneering days of the 1850s. The Union Station Power House is part of a network of buildings, systems, and rail tracks constructed in the 1920s by the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, which included Chicago’s Union Station, its Great Hall and Grand Waiting Room, along with the separate Concourse Building. The Chicago Union Station Power House has been out of service since 2011, is currently mothballed, and is being considered for demolition.
Chicago’s central role in the national rail network was unparalleled by any other city in the nation, with the highest amount of passenger and freight traffic. This allowed for early industries to flourish, ranging from coal and raw products for manufacturing, to agriculture including wheat, corn, grains, and even meat-packing. Chicago’s robust rail system also affected the city’s residential population. As industrial business expanded in Chicago, its population also expanded as laborers and their families came to the city to work and live. Chicago’s location at the hub of the national railroad network established Chicago as the capital of the Midwest.
In contrast to the more Classical-Revival style Union Station complex, the Power House is in the Art Moderne and Art Deco styles, reflecting the streamlined style of the time and the “industrial might” associated with generating and supplying power to operate a system of trains and buildings.
The architects of the Union Station Power House were Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, a firm that descended from the architectural firm of Daniel Burnham. They designed many of Chicago’s most iconic buildings, including the Wrigley Building, the Field Building (both Chicago Landmarks), the Merchandise Mart, and many other notable structures, both in Chicago and across the United States.
The strong verticality of the Power House, from its linear groupings of parallel window bands to its tall chimneys, emphasize the building’s strength. Its massive cream-colored brick walls, horizontal stone banding and austere ornament create additional visual impact. Unique in form, this is a rare example of power house industrial design by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White.
Amtrak is the current owner of the building and has determined that this structure may no longer be necessary for its operations. Therefore, they are conducting federally mandated “Section 106 Hearings,” to determine if it may be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. However, these hearings do not rule out demolition of the structure in the future. Demolition would be an expensive option, costing millions of dollars of taxpayer funds, to create a paved asphalt parking lot adjoining the Chicago River.
Preservation Chicago recognizes the limitations of the site, with railroad tracks to the west and the South Branch of the Chicago River to the east. However, we would encourage a clever adaptive reuse of the building and site by either another service utility, like the nearby ComEd facilities, or another user. The idea of a third-party use could stimulate long-range plans for addressing the riverfront along this stretch of the South Branch and could catalyze the creation of riverfront access, riverfront green space and perhaps even a future riverwalk. This would serve as an amenity for the many nearby residents and commercial enterprises.
We believe that the Union Station Power House’s connection to Chicago’s incredible railroad and architectural history makes it a prime candidate for a Chicago Landmark Designation. A Chicago Landmark Designation for this unique building would ensure its preservation and reuse. A preservation outcome for this building would be a win-win for Chicago, Amtrak Rail Systems, and future generations of Chicagoans.