A demolition permit was issued on January 23, 2018 for 1217 W. Washington Boulevard, the orange-rated Chicago Machinery Building designed by D.H. Burnham & Company in 1910. This three-story commercial and industrial building has an beautiful façade with highly decorative ornament and an elaborately detailed cornice. The white glazed brick contrasts beautifully with the maroon-colored ornament and arched window openings.
“It’s tragic the developer, the alderman and the city didn’t have the wherewithal to save a building by D.H. Burnham,” Ward Miller said. “For people not to understand it should be preserved befuddles me. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. You can’t have another one. You’re depleting an important cultural and historical resource. At least the facade should have been saved. It’s tragic.” (Freund, Curbed Chicago, 2/1/18)
Efforts by Preservation Chicago to affect a preservation-oriented outcome and prevent the demolition of this outstanding historic building have yielded little results. Then on Thursday, February 1, 2018, conversations with the owner/developer yielded a slight opening. The development team declined the possibility selling the building or incorporating the historic façade into the planned new construction.
However, the owner/developer offered to donate the façade, if a third-party could be identified that would take the facade immediately and cover the full cost of disassembly, estimated at $300,000. Preservation Chicago was given a deadline of Monday, February 5, 2018 to solidify a plan. Preservation Chicago is now working in collaboratively with the the owner/developer to find a preservation-oriented outcome.
Despite the incredibly narrow timeframe, Preservation Chicago mounted a highly rapid campaign to identify a possible end-user that could save this facade given these constraints. It is understood that the likelihood of success is perhaps limited, but every effort must be undertaken to avoid the potentially tragic loss of this building, especially considering this outstanding architect, beautiful aesthetics, and excellent condition.
The effort has reached a wide audience through social media and print media. Preservation Chicago’s tweets regarding this opportunity have generated over 20,000 tweet impressions to-date and the story was picked up by both the Chicago Sun-Times and Curbed Chicago which published articles on Thursday, February 1, 2018. Additionally, Ward Miller was interviewed by WBBM Newsradio 780 on Monday, February 5, 2018.
On Friday, a developer from Detroit contacted Preservation Chicago with interest in the facade. A second Chicago-based developer also emerged with interest in the facade. Both developers appear to be have the financial resources to swiftly execute the facade removal and reconstruction. Preservation Chicago’s prefered outcome would be to see the facade remain in Chicago.
The owner/developer of 1217 W. Washington Boulevard is Peppercorn Capital, which owns multiple historic properties in the West Loop neighborhood. They applied for a demolition permit on August 23, 2017 and demolition permit hold was lifted at the expiration of the 90-Day Delay.
The building is excellent condition as it was “newly renovated by an experienced developer” in 2015. A recent rental listing further celebrates “heavy-timber loft with high ceilings and lots of character.” The building recently served as the showroom for Veeco Manufacturing, a furniture manufacturer.
This building contributes considerably to the character to the West Loop and at a minimum and Preservation Chicago would like to see this extraordinary façade preserved as part of a larger redevelopment plan.
According to Miller, the West Loop is home to a number of historic buildings that could possibly make up a new historic district. “We’re seeing a number of beautiful buildings come down on Washington Boulevard that could be part of a larger [historic] district. The city and staff are overwhelmed with landmark designations and just don’t have the capacity.”
The character of the historic West Loop is under intense pressure from new construction. With new buildings under construction ranging from 10 to 20 or even 40 stories, historic two and three story industrial and commercial buildings on big lots are prime targets for demolition and redevelopment. There is an urgent need for a Greektown/West Loop Chicago Landmark District that would recognize, celebrate and protect this wonderful and highly endangered historic neighborhood. Downzoning would help to immediately reduce development pressure on historic properties.