It was the destruction of Louis Sullivan’s Garrick Theater in 1961, an act of civic vandalism, that gave rise to Chicago’s historic preservation movement and, ultimately, led to the passage of the Chicago Landmark Ordinance in 1968. Since that time the city has landmarked almost 300 individual buildings and created over 50 historic landmark districts. Despite this progress, several recent redevelopment projects endorsed by the city’s planning department and approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks call into question whether the integrity of the ordinance itself is in danger.
The issue that prompted the Chicago 7 nomination was an inappropriate 2007 redevelopment
proposal for the former Chicago Athletic Association building, located at 12 S. Michigan Avenue. The building, built in 1893, was designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb, designer of the University of Chicago. Additions located at 71-79 E. Madison Street were added to the structure in 1906 and 1926 respectively by architects Schmidt, Garden, and Martin. The Venetian Gothic style is rare in Chicago, and the Chicago Athletic Association exemplifies it to the fullest in its use of patterned brick and intricately carved limestone.
At that time, Preservation Chicago believed that an overly-liberal interpretation of the Landmarks Ordinance in order to facilitate a spate of boom-era over-development would have long-lasting negative consequences for the landmarking process.