In Memoriam: Terry Tatum

Chicago has lost a leading light in the Chicago Historic Preservation community. Terry Tatum passed away peacefully on January 31, 2020. To plant a beautiful memorial tree in memory of Raymond Terry Tatum,please visit the Tree Tribute Store. Details of the memorial service can be found here.

Terry Tatum was a highly accomplished historic researcher and wrote over 50 Chicago Landmark Designation reports on many of Chicago’s greatest architectural buildings over the course of his career. In addition to his remarkable professional strengths and accomplishments, he was kind, generous, easy to work with and considered a friend by so many of the people who had an opportunity to work with him. He will be dearly missed.

“One of Tatum’s first postgraduate jobs was with the Commission on Chicago Landmarks working on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS). “They needed some young, energetic preservation professionals,” Tatum recalled, “and really, that was the job that sent me in the direction of my career, because it gave me the informed background that allowed me to make decisions about significance and an understanding of what is and isn’t important architecturally here in Chicago.”

“Tatum also shared that while working on the CHRS, he met many of the professionals in historic preservation, architecture, and history who he still knows and works with today, including a number of instructors in SAIC’s Historic Preservation program.

“We’re all stars in one constellation,” Tatum joked. “Really, that’s a great thing about this city and this program – you can meet other like-minded professionals and really become part of a community of preservationists who are working in different aspects of the field and are interested in different historic resources.”

“Following his six years on the CHRS, Tatum returned to academia, entering a doctoral program in art and architectural history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The flexibility of student life allowed him to teach and do freelance preservation work, including the National Register nomination of the Loop Retail Historic District and a number of landmark designation reports for the city.

“On the support of his freelance work and his previous stint as a surveyor, Tatum was re-hired by the city’s Landmarks Division (which by this point provided staff support for the Commission on Chicago Landmarks) as an architectural historian in 2000; within a few years, he was heading up the entire survey and landmark designation program. Between 2000 and his retirement in 2014, Tatum estimates that he researched and wrote upwards of 50 landmark designation reports and managed the legally-complex designation process for them.

“Since he first joined the Historic Preservation faculty in 1999, Tatum has taught core classes like Archival Documentation, the History and Theory of Historic Preservation, and the History of American Residential and Institutional Architecture, all of which have a strongly historical and academic focus. For these courses, Tatum draws on his own experience and skills learned as a scholar and as a longtime researcher for the city of Chicago’s Commission on Chicago Landmarks

“In retirement, Tatum has focused more on teaching, both at SAIC and Columbia College Chicago, bringing lessons learned from his 30-year preservation career into the classroom. He also continues to work professionally in the field, researching and writing reports in support of Chicago Landmark designations and National Register listings for a variety of private clients.

“Tatum is pleased by the significant growth he’s observed in the field, both here in Chicago and more broadly. “When I was first applying to graduate school, public history didn’t even really exist…and now in Chicago, there’s so much access for young professionals to get experience at lots of different organizations. It’s a city where you can dive richly into all sorts of issues and concerns that inform historic preservation in the wider modern world. And it’s still the architectural center of the United States. You name it, Chicago has it in some form or another.” (Giacomucci, SAIC)

Terry Tatum, Lecturer, by Monica Giacomucci, School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC)

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