Chicago 7 Most Endangered Buildings - 2012
Chicago’s Historic Movie Theaters
Portage Theater, Photo Credit by Eric Allix Rogers
Unity Hall, Chicago; Preservation Chicago; Darris Harris Job#1053
John Roche House 5725 S Woodlawn Avenue Rapp &; Rapp, 1900, Photo Credit by Eric Allix Rogers
St. Anthony's Hospital
Cuneo Hospital, Photo Credit by Eric Allix Rogers
Overview and Map - 2012 Chicago 7
Prentice Hospital, Photo Credit by Preservation Chicago
Gethsemane Baptist Church, Chicago; Preservation Chicago; Darris Harris Job#1053
Chicago was once home to hundreds of neighborhood movie palaces, a type of movie house that was pioneered in the city. More than just a place to see a movie, these structures were places to escape from everyday life for working class Chicagoans. Often ornately designed with whimsical details, today very few of these structures remain, and even fewer remain in their original configuration. Preservation Chicago has identified five neighborhood movie palaces that are endangered due to potential demolition by neglect or extensive alterations.
Chicago was the birthplace of the movie industry in the early 1900s, so it makes perfect sense that it is also the birthplace of the movie palace. With the opening of the Central Park Theater on the west side in 1917, movie palace construction boomed. Theaters were constructed by legendary theater operators Balaban & Katz and others throughout the city. While big theaters were built downtown, equally large movie palaces were constructed in outlying neighborhoods from the late teens through the 1930s. They attracted neighborhood residents with air conditioning, fantastical and ornate architectural designs, and huge neon marquees. More than just a place to see a movie, they were important social centers and drivers of economic development in their respective neighborhoods. Each has a different story.
1. Avalon/New Regal (1645 E. 79th) – John Eberson, Architect – This 2500 seat theater originally opened as the Avalon in 1927. Eberson designed it in a unique Middle-Eastern style. Huge murals and Persian decorations fill the interior along with an Atmospheric auditorium. After closing as a movie house in the 1970s and briefly being used as a church, it became the New Regal, in honor of Chicago’s legendary Regal Theater, which was demolished in 1973. In 1987, an arts venue catering to the African American community. Despite city landmark status (granted in 1992), the Regal closed in 2010 and is now owned by the FDIC. It appears to be in rapidly deteriorating condition.
2. Ramova (3518 S. Halsted) – Meyer O. Nathan, Architect – Known as the larger cousin of the well known Music Box Theater in Lake View, the Atmospheric Ramova opened in 1929 with a capacity of 1500. Situated in the heart of the Bridgeport business district, the Ramova’s Spanish-styled courtyard interior has charmed patrons for many years, even after it became a second run house in the 1950s. It closed for good in the mid-1980s and has since sat vacant and deteriorating. Owned by the city, a group called Save the Ramova is working on resurrecting the theater, but it needs financial backing.
3. Central Park (3535 W. Roosevelt) – Rapp & Rapp, Architects – Arguably one of the most historically important movie houses in the United States is located on Chicago’s West Side. The first Balaban & Katz movie palace, the Central Park is by most accounts the first movie palace constructed in the nation, and was the model for those that came after it. With nearly 1800 seats, the Central Park opened in 1917 and remained a profitable theater for decades until becoming a church in 1971. While the church still operates in the Central Park, without funds for needed repairs the theater has been allowed to deteriorate. Despite being on the National Register of Historic Places, the Central Park’s future is uncertain.
4. Lawndale (4015 W. Roosevelt) – William P. Whitney, Architect – Just down the street from the Central Park, the Lawndale is in even more dire straits. Opened in 1927 with 2000 seats, the Lawndale (later known as the Rena) was a popular neighborhood theater for many years before becoming home to a church. The church has since left, and the theater sits exposed and open to the elements and scavengers.
5. Portage (4050 N. Milwaukee) Kalischer & Newhouse, Architects – The Portage Park Theater opened in 1920 with nearly 2000 seats. The anchor of the surrounding Six Corners business district, the Portage was a popular theater for many years. Divided into two screens in the 1980s, it closed in 2001, but was restored shortly thereafter and reverted to a single screen. Since reopening in 2006, the Portage features concerts and movies, classic and modern, and has become a destination on the Northwest Side. However, the Portage is now under threat – a church wants to purchase the entire structure and convert it to a house of worship, which would take it off the tax rolls and could jeopardize the nascent economic revival currently occurring at Six Corners . Despite major community opposition, the Zoning Board of Appeals will soon be considering whether to grant the church a Special Use Permit to operate in the Portage Theater space.
Each one of these five historic and architecturally significant theaters has its own issues and peculiarities, but all can be restored and become economic catalysts for their surrounding neighborhoods with the right plans and circumstances. The Avalon/New Regal needs a sympathetic owner to come forward and rescue it before it falls into complete disrepair. The Ramova already has a community group advocating for its reuse and crafting reuse plans – all that is currently missing is financing. The Central Park and Lawndale theaters are faced with both their condition and the socioeconomic conditions of their surrounding neighborhoods, but could easily be rescued if someone had the vision to see their potential. Finally, the Portage has clear community opposition to the proposed church plan, and simply needs the community to continue its advocacy against granting the church a Special Use Permit.
Standing as an important monument to Chicago’s rich African-American heritage, as well as an official Chicago Landmark (designated in 1998), Unity Hall is threatened with demolition by neglect. Originally constructed as the Lakeside Club, a Jewish social club, the building later played an important role in Chicago’s black political and social history as Unity Hall. Though it has survived to the present with few alterations, the building is now vacant and threatened with demolition.
First constructed as Unity Hall, a Jewish social organization in 1887, the building was designed by local architect Laban B. Dixon, who also designed many nearby residences. An excellent example of 1880s Queen Anne architecture, the building housed a large assembly hall in the rear as well as small clubrooms. After the area underwent demographic changes, Alderman Oscar DePriest (Chicago’s first African-American alderman and the first northern African-American elected to the United States House of Representatives) established the Peoples Movement Club and moved it into the Lakeside Club building in 1917, renaming it Unity Hall. The building also served for years as the headquarters of prominent Democratic political leader William Dawson before becoming a church after World War II. In 1998, it was designated a Chicago Landmark as part of the thematic Black Metropolis District which included several other buildings important to the history of the African-American experience in Chicago and the Great Migration.
As a designated city landmark, Unity Hall cannot be demolished. However, the scourge of deferred maintenance and exposure to the elements could effectively cause its demolition by neglect. The building’s current owner, a small church congregation, has not occupied the structure in over a year due to code violations and the building is currently in receivership. The city has attempted to pressure the owners to address these current health and public safety violations in housing court. The building has been for sale, but attempts to close on the sale have not come to fruition. Interested buyers with the resources to stabilize and rehabilitate Unity Hall are encouraged to make an offer.
The 5700 block of South Woodlawn Avenue and surrounding streets consist of numerous historic residences from the World’s Columbian Exposition era (and shortly thereafter), many by notable architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House. While the area currently survives largely intact, recent purchases by the University of Chicago, coupled with zoning change requests by the university to convert from residential to institutional zoning have put the future of these properties and the historic integrity of the entire neighborhood in doubt. A recent community engagement process facilitated by Alderman Leslie Hairston (5th) between the university and community stakeholders has led to the establishment of a much-welcomed and much-improved communications procedure going forward. Athough this newly crafted civic engagement process did lead to a dramatically improve Planned Development document, threats to these individual buildings still remain.
The 5700 block of Woodlawn in Hyde Park, as well as surrounding blocks, was developed with large single-family homes beginning in the 1890s. The serene residential character of the area contrasts gently with the neighboring Gothic Revival buildings of the original University of Chicago campus. Many homes in the district were designed by notable architects and recognized for their historic significance:
• 5707 S. Woodlawn, designed by William Carbys Zimmerman, constructed 1909.
• 5711 S. Woodlawn, designed by Dwight H. Perkins, constructed 1901, and Orange rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS).
• 5720 S. Woodlawn, designed by Myron Hunt, constructed 1904, and Orange rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS).
• 5757 S. Woodlawn, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, constructed 1909 and designated a Chicago Landmark in 1966.
In 2011, The University of Chicago completed the purchase of several residences and now owns a total of eleven historic buildings on the block, with five slated to be re-purposed in the near future. At that time, The University was seeking to expand itsinstitutional Planned Development zone (PD43), a change that would have voided the current zoning restrictions and allow the University to develop its properties unilaterally with little community consultation. Although that process has been greatly improved due to a new process facilitated by the alderman, threats to the other buildings still remain. Because only the Robie House is a designated city landmark and cannot be demolished, there are currently no guarantees that the other historic homes on the block will not be demolished in the future.
The University of Chicago had its Planned Development #43 expansion application approved by the Chicago Plan Commission in February of 2012. This stakeholder-negotiated agreement represents an outstanding resolution of the potential conflict between the University and the community over the future of university-owned buildings on the 5700 block of South Woodlawn Avenue. However, the resolution is far from perfect. It doesn’t include the properties on the 5700 block that the University does not own, nor important University buildings in the Woodlawn Corridor that abut the 5700 block. Many property owners and neighbors in the Woodlawn Avenue Corridor have indicated their support for the creation of a landmark district as another layer of protection for their community. To that end, Preservation Chicago will continue to work with property owners and other community stakeholders with regards to the ongoing discussion of creating a landmark district for the corridor.
St. Anthony’s Hospital, an orange-rated structure in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS) overlooks Douglas Park and is currently facing an uncertain future. Threatened by its sheer success in serving a diverse community, a new replacement hospital campus is being planned a mile to the south at 31st and Kedzie. The existing hospital, which is located on a narrow site, is to be either redeveloped or demolished. Discussions have even included razing the buildings for additional green space to be added to Douglas Park, even though the building complex is also a buffer to the freight railroads, the CTA’s “L” and industrial uses behind the existing hospital.
The St. Anthony Hospital building is located along Chicago’s renowned Boulevard System or “emerald necklace” on 19th Street where Sacramento Boulevard transitions into Marshall Boulevard. The building was designed by noted Chicago architect Henry Schlacks in 1898 with a faithful addition to the original building, also by Schlacks, doubling its original size in 1910. Both structures, along with several modest additions of later eras form a beautiful terminus to the park, further defining its southwest border, while also being a gateway building at the park’s entry point and the Boulevard System.
Henry Schlacks was born in Chicago in 1867 and attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During his early career he worked in the firm of Adler & Sullivan, one of the most influential architecture firms in the country and the firm responsible for many of the some of the city’s most prominent structures including the Auditorium Building and theater, the Schiller (later Garrick) Building and Theater and The Chicago Stock Exchange Building. The Adler and Sullivan firm also fostered the career of perhaps the world’s most recognized architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Schlacks later formed his own practice and is very well noted for his proliferation of religious church buildings, as he was considered one of Chicago’s finest architects of ecclastical buildings. Among the most notable strucutres include St. Paul’s Church and St. Adalbert Church in Pilsen and St. Ita, St. Ignatius and St. Mary of the Lake on Chicago’s North Side, St. Anthony in Bridgeport, St. Boniface (Chicago Seven for 2009) in East Village, St. Gelasious in Woodlawn, St. John of God (recently dismantled and to be reassembled elsewhere) and St. Martin De Tours. These structures were among the landmarks of the communities in which they served and represented a wide diversity of ethnicities, from German, Polish, Croatian, Czech, Italian and Irish to name several such groups.
Many of these buildings are among the City’s finest religious structures and it was said that he was the favored architect of Cardinal Mundelein during a time of growth of Chicago’s Roman Catholic community, known as the Golden Age of ecclesicial architecture. Among other accomplishments, he also helped to establish the Department of Architecture at the University of Notre Dame.
As hospitals throughout the county expand and modernize, the facilities that are vacated for these new structures are, more often than not, demolished. Recent fights by Preservation Chicago and other preservation stakeholders to preserve significant hospital buildings have had mixed success.
Efforts to save the former Cook County Hospital have, so far been successful. The campaign to save Prentice Hospital is currently stalemated and it has again been named a Chicago 7 for 2012 and only one of 8 buildings co-designed by Walter Gropius at the former Michael Reese site remains standing. Soon, St. Anthony’s will be replaced with a new campus a mile to the south at 31st and Kedzie. The fate of the existing hospital is currently unknown, but discussions have included both razing the building for additional green space to be added to Douglas Park or preserving the building for redevelopment. The building is in good condition and its floor plan layout lends itself well for residential or commercial adaptive reuse.
When opened in 1957, Frank Cuneo Memorial Hospital was the most modern of hospitals, including a stunning lobby and operating rooms with patterned walls and floors of individually designed Romany-Spartan glazed tile walls. Architect Edo J. Belli introduced a new modernism to Roman Catholic architecture in Chicago, including St. Patrick’s High School at 5900 W. Belmont and St. Joseph Hospital at 2900 N. Lake Shore Drive.
Cuneo Memorial Hospital demonstrates his whimsical yet thoughtful approach to hospital design, including a roof line that resembles an artist’s palette. Belli combined lyricism with modern materials to create his own architectural style, one that departed ever so slightly from the rigid “Miesian” orthodoxy that dominated architectural expression at that time. Similar in design and execution, a visit to the chapel at St. Joseph Hospital provides a hint of what the original Cuneo interior was like. Cuneo was closed in July 1988 and was then converted to a children’s shelter. The building has stood vacant and deteriorating for several years. Although a recent redevelopment plan for the entire campus was killed in early 2012 by community opposition, demolition, including demolition by neglect, remains a credible threat to Cuneo.
Frank Cuneo Memorial Hospital, a 140-bed women and children’s hospital, was dedicated by Cardinal Samuel Stritch in 1957 in a ceremony attended by Mayor Richard J. Daley. The hospital was built for the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, who also built Columbus Hospital at 2520 N. Lakeview. The hospital was endowed first by Frank Cuneo and then by his son John F. Cuneo, Sr. John Cuneo founded Cuneo Press and was chairman of the National Tea Company and founded Hawthorn-Mellody Farms Dairy. John’s wife Julia Shepherd was the granddaughter of one of the founders of Chicago’s Crerar-Adams Railway Supply Company. They bought Commonwealth Edison founder Samuel Insull’s Vernon Hills home which was built in 1914 and designed by architect Benjamin Marshall of Marshall & Fox. It is now known as the Cuneo Mansion and Gardens. Cuneo had the interior of the Mansion painted with murals from Chicago Ecclesiological Muralist John Mallin, who also contributed murals to Belli’s hospital projects. Edo J. Belli, who was born in Chicago 1918 and began architectural training while in high school, took a job with architects Holsman & Holsman in 1936. With their support, he enrolled in evening classes at Chicago’s Armour Institute of Technology, graduating in 1939. He worked for Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and Perkins & Will before founding Edo J. & Anthony J. Belli with his brother in 1941. Edo’s sons, Allan and James, later joined them, and in 1978 the firm was renamed Belli & Belli. James had worked with C.F. Murphy Associates. The firm elected to remain a relatively small family-owned operation specializing in Catholic ecclesiastical architecture. Belli died in Lake Forest, Illinois, in 2003.
Although a large multi-use redevelopment project that would have destroyed Cuneo hospital was killed by local community opposition in 2012, the threat to the hospital still remains. Due to its proximity to the lakefront, the property is very desirable and could suffer the same fate as its sister institution, Columbus Hospital, which was demolished after 97 years of service for a condominium development. Alderman James Cappleman (46th) has expressed interest in seeing the hospital adaptively reused and has embarked on a new community engagement and planning process. Public meetings will commence in the spring of 2012, at which residents and other stakeholders will be encouraged to express their vision for the site, including adaptive reuse for the former hospital building.
Preservation Chicago urges the adaptive reuse of the 1957 Cuneo Hospital building. Its location and structure offers numerous reuse possibilities. Suggestions put forth by the community include and arts colony similar to the recently completed Arts Center Logan Square Avondale, workforce housing, as well as a first floor restaurant that could take advantage of park views.
Prentice Women’s Hospital was groundbreaking for its cutting-edge cantilevered concrete design, advanced engineering and its progressive plan for the organization of medical departments and services. Merely 37 years old, this amazing masterwork is threatened with demolition. Prentice, designed by Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg and completed in 1975, returns to Preservation Chicago’s 7 Most Threatened list again this year.
In 2010, Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois formed the Save Prentice Coalition. The Chicago Chapter of the AIA, docomomo, and The National Trust for Historic Preservation quickly joined the effort. Since the coalition was formed, much progress has been made to inform the public about the importance of its preservation. In addition, Prentice was named one of the National Trust’s 11 Most Endangered buildings of 2011. Although a robust nation-wide advocacy campaign continues, which has turned the tide of public opinion to a more favorable view of preservation, Northwestern University still has not committed to preserving and repurposing the building. Because of that, Preservation Chicago felt that Prentice warranted being relisted for 2012 in order to keep the pressure on Northwestern University.
Goldberg trained at Harvard and studied, for a time, at the German Bauhaus under the direction of architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. When Goldberg returned to Chicago in 1933, he shaped the Miesian philosophy he had acquired there to suit his own principles, resulting in a uniquely original design philosophy. Rather than steel and glass, he adopted concrete as his medium; its plasticity the ideal material to realize his vision. Goldberg opined that there were no right angles in nature and strove to create a more organic architecture thus gravitating to more circular forms. The pinnacle of that philosophy was achieved at Prentice Women’s Hospital.
Unlike his other previous projects, Goldberg was finally able to jettison all exterior supports, creating a hospital tower that was fully cantilevered 45 feet over its base. The base of Prentice is a conventional box consisting of traditional steel post and beam construction. However, atop this structure sits the seven-story quatrefoil, or four-lobed, bed tower. The central core of the tower pierces through the horizontal base. This concrete core supports these upper stories of cantilevered hospital rooms, allowing the entire bed tower to be column free. This also allows the lower structure to remain completely free of interior columns and was intended to facilitate the concept of universal space.
According to Geoffrey Goldberg, architect and son of Bertrand Goldberg, “you will not find the structural solution to Prentice, which is an exterior shell cantilevered off a core, anywhere else in the world and Prentice was the only one in which this was achieved.” Ironically, Goldberg even envisioned that Prentice would become obsolete and anticipated that day by designing a space that was as flexible as possible to adapt to a different use, which would therefore preserve the building. The tower that cantilevers above the base was achieved by the employment of massive arches, which transfer the load diagonally back to the central core, rather than vertically down to the ground. Moreover, the exterior concrete shell is load bearing, in direct contrast to the typical glass curtain wall that was virtually mandated by the modernist idiom at mid-century.
For Prentice, Goldberg’s unique quatrefoil plan was intended to provide a much higher standard of care by creating small floor plates that facilitated interaction between the staff and patients. Each floor was laid out with a central nursing station between four circular patient wings or “lobes.” Each maternity floor also featured nurseries, bringing mothers closer to their babies. Centralizing services for the medical needs for women, obstetrics and gynecology was representative of a new approach for women’s health.
The primary tenant, Prentice Women’s Hospital, relocated to a new facility in 2007, leaving the bed tower portion of the building empty. The last remaining tenant, The Stone Psychiatric Institute (located in the building’s base), relocated to a new facility in September of 2011, at which time control of the property reverted from Northwestern Hospital to Northwestern University. University officials have made it known for years that they plan to demolish the building for the construction of a new research/laboratory facility. Since Prentice has no local landmark protection, demolition is a “matter of right” for the university. It is only public pressure that has allowed the building to continue to stand until now.
The Maxwell Street neighborhood has experienced tremendous change and urban renewal over the past century. The structure at 1352 S. Union reflects this. First constructed as a German School in 1869, it later became home to a Romanian synagogue, an African-American church, and then briefly an arts center. All of these changes in use have reflected the changing ethnic and socio-economic character of what was once Chicago’s port-of-entry neighborhood. While the appearance of the structure has been partially altered and now stands in the middle of new construction, the Dan Ryan Expressway, and urban renewal, this context simply reflects the transient nature of the neighborhood and demonstrates the tremendous staying power of one of the few structures to remain from before the 1871 Chicago Fire.
As a pre-fire structure that served many purposes in the port-of-entry Maxwell Street neighborhood, Gethsemane Church has a rich history. Designed by Augustus Bauer (architect of St. Patrick’s Church) and constructed in 1869, the structure initially served as a German School (the city’s first, in fact) for the neighboring Zion Evangelical Church. Though it was tied in with the church, this was not an explicitly religious school. The congregation later moved west in the typical Chicago pattern of migration, and the building was transformed to a new use — a Romanian Jewish congregation moved in and the building became a synagogue in 1905. This congregation later moved west to Lawndale, and the building became Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church – an African-American congregation – by 1935. Alterations to the front of the building took place soon thereafter. The church was noted as being “one of the most important institutions in family life” in the surrounding neighborhood (then known as “Black Bottom”), and the structure remained in use as Gethsemane until 2002, when it briefly became an arts/performance space called South Union Arts. While the structure has been altered over time (a new façade was added in 1944 when the building served as Gethsemane Church), the alterations reflect the changing uses of the structure over time to serve different populations that came through the Maxwell Street area.
The church has been vacant for several years. The John Paul II Newman Center at neighboring University of Illinois at Chicago is aggressively trying to purchase the property in hopes of razing the building and constructing a Catholic-centric dormitory facility. Neighbors are opposed to this plan, citing density and traffic.