“For a city that prides itself on its architectural legacy, Chicago has a mixed track record when it comes to saving its significant buildings. The city’s historic preservation movement didn’t always exist. It took the work of dedicated pioneers like photographer Richard Nickel to document what was being torn down and shock the public and city officials into taking action. “Great architecture has only two natural enemies,” said Nickel. “Water and stupid men.”
“From its humble roots as a riverfront trading post to an industrial boomtown, Chicago’s been in a constant state of change. One downside to the city’s reinvention has been at the expense of the significant early skyscrapers, ornate theaters, gilded mansions, and grand rail halls lost along the way.
“It might seem inconceivable to discard works from the firms of architectural icons Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler, or Daniel Burnham, but that wasn’t always the case. Even today, debates continue over what can and should be saved—especially when certain styles, like 1980s postmodernism displayed by buildings like the threatened Thompson Center, fall out of fashion.
“With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it can be frustrating to see what has been so callously discarded. A loss is even more painful if the replacement is a building of lesser value or—in the case of the Old Chicago Mercantile Exchange—nothing at all. There are lessons to be learned to avoid past mistakes.”
“The senseless demolition of so many historic Loop buildings during the so-called “urban renewal” period of 60s and 70s certainly stings. But the more recent loss of the 1927 Chicago Mercantile Exchange in 2003 is borderline inexcusable. Designed by architect Alfred S. Alschuler, the building was in good shape and essentially fully occupied when its owners abruptly decided to tear it down. At the time, Preservation Chicago feared the location would “become yet another surface parking lot for the foreseeable future, in place of this landmark-worthy structure.” Thirteen years later, the site at 130 N. Franklin is still a fenced-off lot filled with gravel and weeds. The outrage caused by the destruction of the Mercantile Exchange led the city to adopt a 90-day demolition hold for historic and architecturally significant buildings that don’t have landmark protection.” (Koziarz, 2/6/20)