LOSS: D.H. Burnham Building at 1217 W. Washington Demolished!

Chicago Machinery Building, by D.H. Burnham & Company, 1217 West Washington Boulevard, Photo Credit Gabriel X. Michael

Despite a vigorous 11th hour preservation effort, the historic D.H. Burnham & Company-designed building at 1217 W. Washington Boulevard was demolished. After the expiration of a 90-Day Demolition Delay hold, the demolition permit was issued on January 23, 2018 for the orange-rated Chicago Machinery Building. Built in 1910, this three-story commercial and industrial building had an outstanding façade with highly decorative ornamentation and an elaborately detailed cornice. The white-glazed brick contrasted beautifully with the maroon-colored ornament and arched window openings.

In early February, as part of a last-ditch effort to prevent demolition, conversations with the building owner yielded a slight opening. The owner indicated a willingness to donate the façade if Preservation Chicago could quickly solidify a plan for a third party to cover the cost of deconstruction and if the facade removal could happen quickly. Preservation Chicago was able to identify three potential developers who expressed interest and capacity to deconstruct the historic façade. The strongest of the developers engaged in good faith negotiations with the owner regarding the details of façade deconstruction. However, in late April the developer was unable to finalize the deal, the owner was unwilling to delay the redevelopment plans further and the demolition began.

Buildings of this caliber should be protected by the City of Chicago. This building contributed considerably to the character of the West Loop and, at a minimum, this highly intact orange-rated façade should have been preserved and incorporated into a larger new development plan.

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,” said Ward Miller.

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. Downzoning would help to immediately reduce development pressure on historic properties.

There is an urgent need for a Greektown/West Loop/Haymarket Square Chicago Landmark District that would recognize, celebrate and protect this wonderful and highly endangered historic neighborhood. This is an amazing assortment of fine quality buildings with strong links to early Chicago industrialists such as John Glessner and manufacturing, to labor history including the Haymarket riots, and ethnic histories ties to Greek-American settlements. Preservation Chicago made this suggestion to Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development Historic Preservation Division. Much like the wildly successful Fulton Randolph Chicago Landmark District, a new Landmark District would be a powerful economic stimulus, increase tourism, and protect the character of this neighborhood by protecting its built environment.

Additional Reading

Preservation fails; Burnham-designed West Loop building meets wrecking ball, Patty Wetli, Chicago Sun-Times, 4/30/18

Preservationists race to save historic Daniel Burnham-designed building façade, Patty Wetli, Chicago Sun-Times, 2/1/18

Historic Burnham facade could be saved from demolition in West Loop, Sara Freund, Curbed Chicago, 2/1/18

City grants demolition of historic West Loop building, Sara Freund, Curbed Chicago, 1/24/18

Historic West Loop warehouse slated for demolition, AJ LaTrace, Curbed Chicago, 8/28/17

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