During the Great Chicago Fire, roughly 3.3 square miles of Chicago were destroyed, approximately 300 people lost their lives, 17,450 buildings were destroyed and over 100,000 Chicagoans were left homeless.
“’The limestone tower, built in 1869 by architect William W. Boyington, is one of the few buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, making it ‘as much an icon of our identity as our lake or our flag, representing both our ingenuity, architectural heritage and boundless resiliency as a people,’ Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in a statement. ‘Just as our city has been shaped around it, it has also shaped us, bridging our past to our present, and continuously guiding our future for generations to come.’
“‘It’s truly an architectural survivor that’s been an inspiration to many,’ said lecturer John Maxson, former president and CEO of the Greater North Michigan Avenue Association. We all know that it was the only municipal building in town to survive the Great Chicago Fire, but it also survived developers trying to tear it down…and the city trying to tear it down to try and straighten Michigan Avenue.’” (Wittich, 9/14/19)
The Old Chicago Water Tower is a much beloved Landmark which was almost demolished multiple times during the 1960s and 1970s. It’s a miracle that it has survived and this is largely due to strong public pressure to protect it.
To honor the 150th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire which so devastated our City and its residents, yet in retrospect had many positive impacts on the growth of Chicago and its ingenuity, Preservation Chicago has asked the Department of Planning and Development-Historic Preservation Division and the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to consider 150 new designated Chicago Landmarks in this anniversary year from October 2021 to October 2022.
Such an idea could begin with the Chicago Landmark Designation of the Seth Warner House, built in 1869 in the Austin Community, by industrialist and abolitionist Seth Warner, and extend to early pre-fire and post Chicago Fire Buildings across the City. This idea could include such communities as Hyde Park and South Chicago on the South Side and Lincoln Park and Lake View on the North Side-extending to Edgewater, and Austin and large areas of the West Side, with buildings that predate the fire of 1871.
This could also extend to community landmarks which have often been overlooked, like Holy Family Church, Mrs. O’Leary’s parish church on Roosevelt Road (1857) and Old St. Patrick’s Church (1856) in the West Loop and St. James Episcopal Cathedral on the Near North Side. Also, such later community landmark buildings as the Hotel Guyon, which stands vacant and if reused could transform the West Garfield Park Community, along with the Garfield Park Bandshell, by Joseph Lyman Silsbee. Also, the Francis Scott School on the West Side by Dwight Perkins, which remains vacant. On the South Side, buildings like the Washington Park National Bank Building in West Woodlawn, Loretto Academy and the Washington Park Substation and the South Chicago Masonic Temple, to the Walter Burley Designed Cornell Store and Flats Building in South Shore/Greater Grand Crossing Community.
In the Loop, buildings like the Century and Consumers Buildings at 202 and 220 S. State Street, as well as the Musicians Federation Building could be given Landmark Designation. North Side buildings could include several potential Landmark Districts, like Lakewood-Balmoral, areas of the Gold Coast-Near North Side, River North and extending to Rogers Park.
It’s a year of opportunity to explore the city for new Landmarks, as it was only 50 years ago, that the Old Chicago Water Tower, was finally designated a Chicago Landmark, just three days prior to the 100th anniversary of the Chicago Fire, and saving it from decades of speculation and demolition for a widening of North Michigan Avenue. What a tragedy that would have been and what an opportunity to have the Old Water Tower, Pumping Station, Fire Station and all of the greenspaces around them, as a relief from the many superstructures that now surround them. Landmarks are of great pride to our City and also a source of tourism, which continues to boost our city as a city of architecture.
Chicago’s iconic Water Tower, ‘an architectural survivor,’ marks 150 years in Gold Coast; The landmark tower, built in 1869, was one of the only buildings to survive the Great Chicago Fire in 1871. Jake Wittich, Chicago Sun Times, 9/14/19