In the mid-2000’s, several proposals for downtown skyscraper projects revealed a separate and unequal set of standards regarding how the Commission on Chicago Landmarks considered changes to existing Landmarked buildings. Case in point was the 2005 redevelopment plan proposed for the New York Life Building, 29 S. LaSalle St., one of William LeBaron Jenney’s seminal early skyscrapers.
The New York Life Building was no stranger to Preservation Chicago’s 7 Most Endangered list. It was first listed in the fall of 2002 after several large redevelopment proposals had been discussed for the site. Fearing that the building would be completely demolished, Preservation Chicago’s advocacy helped convince the city to declare the building a Landmark at the end of 2002. However, that landmarking did not prevent the approval of a plan that could only be described as an architectural mutation and evisceration of one of the most important buildings in downtown Chicago.
The plan called for a new steel and glass skyscraper to be built on top of, and encroaching into, the pioneering steel frame of the building. Preservationist’s cries of bloody murder were to no avail. The plan was approved by the Landmarks Commission anyway.
Update:The plan to redevelop the New York Life Building has been on hold due to the downturn in the economy. Unfortunately, the approved plan remains in place and the precedent to allow new buildings to be built on top of historic old buildings has now been set.