Chicago 7 Most Endangered Buildings - 2020
Jackson Park, South Shore Cultural Center & Midway Plaisance, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered
2020 Chicago 7: Threatened
Jackson Park © Eric Allix Rogers
Washington Park National Bank: a Chicago 7 Most Endangered 2020
2020 Chicago 7: Threatened
Washington Park National Bank, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Chicago Town & Tennis Club / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered
2020 Chicago 7: Threatened
Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Dan Paterno / PaternoGroup.com
Chicago Union Station Power House, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered
2020 Chicago 7: Threatened
Union Station Power House, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Roseland Michigan Avenue Commercial District, a Chicago 7 Most Endangered 2020
2020 Chicago 7: Threatened
Roseland Theater Eric Allix Rogers Chicago 7 2020
Central Manufacturing District - Pershing Road: Chicago 7 Most Endangered 2020
2020 Chicago 7: Threatened
Central Manufacturing District, Pershing Road, CMD, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
James R. Thompson Center / State of Illinois Building, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered
2020 Chicago 7: Threatened
Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance and the South Shore Cultural Center have now been part of Preservation Chicago’s Chicago 7 Most Endangered List for a fourth year in a row, noting the threat to one of America’s greatest public parks and boulevards and one of Chicago’s lakefront legacy parks and greenspaces.
We very much welcome the proposed Obama Presidential Center to Chicago’s South Side, but for another nearby site and not on historic public parklands designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, Olmsted Brothers, and with additions by Alfred Caldwell, May McAdams and others of national and world recognition.
The Obama Presidential Center (OPC) has been contentious among residents, citizens of Chicago and elsewhere across the nation because of concerns about gentrification, displacement, and its placement within a historic park belonging to the people of Chicago for more than 130 years. The chosen location is also a lakefront site and subject to ordinances designed to keep the shoreline protected from private development and unnecessary non-public structures—and understood by many citizens to be “forever open and free,” even if this generally applies to lands near downtown in Grant Park. This “forever open and free” idea along Chicago’s lakefront, while revolutionary in concept for a large American city of the 19th and early 20th century, originated in 1836 with the establishment of Lake Park. These values and regulations are challenged and disputed every so often because of political pressures and speculation. It is once again challenged by elected officials who should represent the voice of the people and protect public assets for the public good and not make exceptions for a private development in the city’s parks, lakefront and greenspaces.
Aerial Photo of Jackson Park, Woman’s Garden, Midway Plaisance, Lagoons and Wooded Island with Museum of Science & Industry © Steve Vance
The proposed OPC campus is to be sited on about 20 acres of Jackson Park near the Midway Plaisance at 60th and Stony Island Avenue and extending southward. The plans from the very beginning were flawed, with the University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation, along with former Mayor Rahm Emanuel, suggesting and offering the Chicago lakefront park as a site for a private development in the park. This was an absolutely terrible idea, which has gained traction through political maneuvers and has literally imposed this proposed complex on the citizens of Chicago. Efforts to support this lakefront site in Jackson Park, by the City and officials, have resulted in spending countless taxpayer money – perhaps millions of dollars – in addition to City staff time and resources. This is all occurring when an abundance of nearby vacant land in Woodlawn, the Washington Park neighborhood, and other communities sits idle. The expedited process that saw the City approve the proposed OPC plans was neither transparent nor without controversy. It was simply and essentially a taking of public lands to extend private development on parklands that are considered sacred by the people of Chicago.
Due to this historic park site being selected by the Obama Foundation for the 20-acre Obama Presidential Center and its campus of buildings, this site is part of an on-going Federal Section 106 review process required by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. This is due to the park’s significance and listing on the National Register of Historic Places. It is also subject to a review process through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and to the Urban Park and Recreation Recovery (UPARR) Act administered by the National Park Service. However, we are hopeful that those agencies are clear in their vision and not swayed by political pressures, as some of these agencies have representatives from the City of Chicago leading hearings and thereby perhaps directing decisions.
In any case, negative and adverse effects on Jackson Park by the OPC have been determined by the City and several agencies, which also appear to be resigned to the destruction of Jackson Park, in addition to the loss of hundreds of trees, important landscapes and historic viewsheds. Combine that adverse impact with the consolidation of two historic golf courses into one (with plans to cut hundreds of trees), and the historic landscapes of two important parks and nature center will forever be adversely impacted by these drastic and insensitive proposed changes to Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center.Proposed Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park Towering Over the Museum of Science & Industry and Lagoons © Obama Foundation
We need our federal agencies not to falter. However, public opinion may also impact decisions, as the destruction of Jackson Park could also become part of national headlines in the future. Would New York City or New Yorkers allow such radical changes to or the removal of hundreds of trees from Central Park? Most likely not.
Additionally, there is an on-going lawsuit, and perhaps a series of them looking to the future, to protect Jackson Park and to further encourage another nearby location for the OPC. The legal action by Protect Our Parks, Inc. (POP) is once again before the U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, after a prior ruling in favor of the City of Chicago.
A tremendous amount of resources continues to be invested by both the City of Chicago and the Obama Foundation to place this new center and campus of buildings onto a historic Olmsted park and lakefront land where it does not belong. This proposed complex is contrary to Lakefront Ordinances and the public good, acknowledging for this site what has been upheld by Chicago for more than 150 years — that the lakefront should be “public ground. A common to remain forever open, clear and free of any buildings or other obstructions whatever,” with access to all.
In addition, South Lake Shore Drive is proposed to be widened, perhaps removing some of its boulevard characteristics, for modern-day highway standards as a result of removing two historic Olmsted Boulevards – Cornell Drive and portions of Hayes Drive – from historic Jackson Park. In addition, Stony Island Avenue is also proposed to be widened, and this land is to be essentially comandeered from Jackson Park along with a portion of newly restored prairie and countless trees — some old growth trees — lost to these proposed ill-conceived plans.Tree Cut and Removal in Jackson Park for the Widening of Cornell Drive in Following Citizen Protests in September 1965 © Nancy Hays
This proposed Presidential Center to be situated on public lands has also absorbed thousands of hours of City staff time over the past few years, as well as preparation of thousands of pages of documents required for the Federal Section 106-related hearings and U.S. District Court proceedings. Had the University of Chicago and the Obama Foundation chosen a site that was not historically significant, not on the National Register of Historic Places, and not on public lakefront lands, the time investment would have been significantly reduced. If the OPC were proposed for nearby private lands, the complex would have most likely already been under construction and completed and perhaps likely with significantly less investment of public resources. The City of Chicago and the University of Chicago own significant amounts of land at alternative site locations, and this viable option should be further explored.
Perhaps the most telling sign is the rising levels of Lake Michigan, which have led to the recent destruction of lakefront trails and pathways, seawalls and revetments in some places. The Chicago lakefront parks not only act as our collective green lungs, but they also serve as a buffer zone and at times wetlands and partially submerged land between beautiful Lake Michigan and the City’s built environment beyond. Even Frederick Law Olmsted and the South Park Commissioners in the 1870s thought the land on which Jackson Park exists resembled marshlands and wetlands, with plans proceeding first for the creation of Washington Park and the Midway. It was only later, and with additional funds, that Jackson Park’s partially submerged wetlands were realized as a park. To this day, Jackson Park has a high-water table and its tremendous landscape is lined with many lagoons, harbors and inlets, all bordering expansive Lake Michigan.
Referencing back to our parks and greenspaces as a buffer-zone between Lake Michigan and the built environment of Chicago. In locations where parkland does not exist, or is minimal, at South Shore on the South Side and Rogers Park and Edgewater on the North Side, we see extreme concerns relating to buildings, roadways and lakefront lands being destroyed by the forces of nature—and Lake Michigan. These legacy lakefront parks are important in so many ways looking to the future. They will continue to provide a buffer between Lake Michigan and the built-environment and also allowing for a flood plain or overflow lands if necessary, for water retention in the future. This is much like the lagoons, harbors and semi-marshlands already provide in some areas of Jackson Park and the Chicago Lakefront. The construction of a large 20-acre campus of buildings, will also adversely impact and perhaps further exacerbate water management and retention issues in the parks, with their prominent wetland areas.
It’s also important to remember and protect “the beauties of nature for its restorative health, stress relieving help” and this will be adversely and negatively affected, with the proposed impact of the OPC. This is simply the wrong place for such a development and it appears forced on these lands and in this park in every way.Jackson Park, South Shore Cultural Center & Midway Plaisance, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Chicago would not be the city we know and love without its expansive park system and its celebrated lakefront lined with public open space, beaches, parks, harbors and public access. This network of parks, green spaces and lakefront lands should not be compromised in any way by anyone or anything which would cause irreparable harm to these parks, landscapes and features so well associated with the City of Chicago. After all, the city’s motto is “Urbs in Horto” which translates to “City in a Garden.”
Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance and the South Shore Cultural Center are among the greatest historic and natural assets of Chicago’s South Side. The borders of these parks converge at South Shore Drive at 67th Street, and also at Stony Island Avenue and the Midway Plaisance, where Jackson Park connects to Washington Park, another remarkable Chicago treasure, also designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux.
All of the components of the green spaces and parklands are woven into a single brilliant series of ideas by Frederick Law Olmsted and his firm to extend and connect the lakefront and its parks. Tree-lined meadows, lagoons, islands and harbors are an integral part of the cityscape and provide a respite from the dense built environment and urban life. These magnificent parks allow public access to millions of people, both residents and visitors alike, to lush green landscapes situated among old-growth trees and gardens.
The historic significance of Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance and the South Shore Cultural Center are monumental and well known to most audiences, including national and international scholars of architectural landscape design, historic landscapes and cultural heritage. The sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and certain features, structures and buildings of both park sites are designated Chicago Landmarks. These designated Chicago Landmarks within the boundaries of the two parks include the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI) building, constructed as the Palace of Fine Arts in 1893, along with the Columbia/Darrow Bridge and the landscape features of the park surrounding the MSI building and bridge. The South Shore Cultural Center buildings, the Club Building, the Gatehouse, Stable, Pergola, and several outdoor terraces are also part of the Chicago Landmark designation.
The 500-acre Jackson Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, perhaps the most famous landscape designer of the 19th century and widely considered to be the father of American landscape architecture. Jackson Park was also the site of one of the most important events in Chicago’s history and arguably one of the most important cultural events of the 19th century, the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Jackson Park is connected via the Midway to Washington Park and then to Chicago’s Emerald Necklace of great parks and boulevards, forming one of the most magnificent networks of urban parkland in the country.
In addition, the proposed site of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park is to be located on the site and adjacent to Sophia Hayden’s Woman’s Building. This was the only building designed by a woman architect in 1893, among an assembled group of prominent male architects from across the nation. It was simply amazing that Ms. Hayden was selected to design such a building to celebrate the accomplishments of women, and this was a very forward idea on the world stage. It was Ms. Hayden’s only building, but it was a massive and impressive structure. It was almost unimaginable at the time for a woman to design such a building for a World’s Fair. This site is also the location of the Woman’s Garden, designed by the Chicago Park District’s first female landscape architect May McAdams, another remarkable achievement in 1937. It’s a beautiful, mature garden, and it is proposed to be destroyed—cut and backhoed for a construction staging ground for the Obama Presidential Center. The Obama Foundation then plans to build a new garden and incorporate it into a water management system. So, the Woman’s Garden would be completely destroyed while nearby private lands, including a University of Chicago-owned asphalt parking lot, remain accessible directly across the street on Stony Island Avenue at 60th Street. Why destroy and lose another important component of a historic landscape dedicated to women?
View of Central Entrance at Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park © Beautiful Scenes of the White City and the Fabulous Midway Plaisance, Farewell Edition, Laird & Lee Publishers, 1894 View of Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park © The World’s Columbian Exposition; Portfolio of Views, C.D Arnold and H.D. Higinbotham, 1893 View of Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park © Beautiful Scenes of the White City and the Fabulous Midway Plaisance, Farewell Edition, Laird & Lee Publishers, 1894 Interior View of Main Hall at Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Jackson Park © The World’s Columbian Exposition; Portfolio of Views, C.D Arnold and H.D. Higinbotham, 1893
Additionally, other structures were also located on the site of the proposed OPC, including the Children’s Building, the massive Horticulture Building and a number of other smaller structures. In all, when seven small investigative archeological holes were drilled into this site, it revealed 7,000 items from the Columbian Exposition—the World’s Fair of 1893. It is worthwhile to consider other nearby sites for this proposed private development that will not disturb these items or the seminal landscapes of a legacy lakefront park — a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and others of great note, with an amazing history, known and published around the world. Jackson Park is one of the great park landscapes of the United States and belonging to the people of Chicago for more than 130 years. This would potentially be another huge embarrassment to the City of Chicago, for years and decades to come, much in the same vein as the many Landmark buildings and Landmark-eligible structures we have allowed to be destroyed.
The Mediterranean Revival-style South Shore Cultural Center, situated at 71st Street and the lakefront, was originally designed as the South Shore Country Club by the notable Chicago architectural firm of Marshall & Fox and landscape designer Thomas Hawkes. It is one of the most grand-scaled and recognizable landmarks on Chicago’s South Side. In its more recent past, it was the site of Barack and Michelle Obama’s wedding reception.
The transformation of the site and buildings from an exclusive private club to a public park and golf course is a major community preservation success story. In 1975, South Shore, Hyde Park and Woodlawn neighborhood residents and activists famously rescued the former private South Shore Country Club from demolition. The Chicago Park District and City of Chicago had the foresight to purchase the grounds from the failing country club, but they had planned to demolish and clear the club and ancillary buildings. After a lengthy community preservation advocacy effort and under intense community pressure, the Chicago Park District relented to broad public outcry and decided not to demolish the historic buildings and in time renovated and restored the buildings. Ultimately the Chicago Park District supported the Chicago Landmark designation of most of the former country club structures and reversed a previous course of action that would have been as disastrous and heavy-handed as current plans for both Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center landscapes.
The creation of the South Shore Cultural Center as a public facility open to all visitors represents a victory for diversity and inclusion over the South Shore Country Club’s legacy of exclusion.
In 2017, a handful of local community groups came forward to advocate for changes to the proposed development plans for both the OPC and the proposed golf course reconfiguration. The number of organizations has grown exponentially, expanding well beyond the local stakeholders to include advocates from around the city and nation. Community organizations leading the advocacy effort include Jackson Park Watch, Save the Midway, Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, Coalition to Save Jackson Park, Blacks in Green, The Hyde Park Historical Society and Friends of the Park.
Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center are intertwined in a host of new proposals which endanger the Olmsted-designed Jackson Park and the historic Cultural Center’s grounds and Nature Sanctuary. The proposed 20-acre Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park and the proposed redesign and merging of two historic century-old public golf courses in both parks into one PGA-grade facility will significantly and adversely impact the historic features and the overall design, quality, appearance and the spirit of these world-renowned parks. It is almost unconscionable that our elected officials would further consider giving away lakefront lands and parklands to a private developer no matter how popular or accomplished the individual or organization may be. This action is leading to a privatization of Chicago Park District land, and that needs to come to a halt. Such ideas are very much in the same vein as the privatization of the failed Chicago parking meter deal which has strapped the City of Chicago of revenue and caused great penalties for more than half a century into the future.
The proposed OPC’s core of buildings is comprised of three structures. The main building stands about 235-feet tall – the height of a 20-story building – the tallest structure proposed for any Chicago park by more than 150 feet! The other two buildings stand two stories in height. An underground parking garage and a field house are also included in the plans and located to the south of the three-building complex. These structures were all designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.
This is to be a private museum and center, hosting both public and private events situated on public lands and owned by the City but operated by the Obama Foundation, which will charge entry and parking fees for operations of its facility.
Preservation Chicago and other advocacy groups remain concerned about the level of influence by privately held organizations in the management of public parkland, including the Obama Foundation, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, Project 120, and Smith Group JJR. As non-profits and private companies, they serve their respective boards of directors and owners and have their own priorities and objectives which may not align with those of our public and governmental agencies. These private organizations do not directly serve the public and have no obligation to include the public in the planning process. However, Preservation Chicago acknowledges that the Obama Foundation has hosted a series of public and consulting party/stakeholder meetings that have allowed public comments to be provided to the design team. The central challenge is that the control of public lands is being relinquished to private entities.
Without rigorous oversight, the protection of historic landscapes and structures can be significantly compromised. Last year, Preservation Chicago joined a wide consortium of advocacy groups, neighborhood organizations and community leaders in calling for a transparent, comprehensive and thoughtful planning process from the City of Chicago, Chicago Park District, Obama Foundation, Chicago Parks Golf Alliance and Project 120.
Additional threats to Jackson Park include the removal of the Olmsted-designed Cornell Drive, a widening of South Lake Shore Drive and a widening of Stony Island Avenue to accommodate a privately run museum complex. The proposed widening of South Lake Shore Drive will likely impact both Jackson Park (with the removal of more mature landscapes and trees) and the lakefront, along with access to Lake Michigan, the harbors, 57th Street Beach and 63rd Street Beach.
The OPC as proposed is a center and museum as opposed to a more traditional presidential library. The Obama Foundation chose to forgo the associated rules and regulations imposed by Congress on managing a presidential library on the site. Presidential libraries have specific requirements that regulate and limit the square footage and size of these institutions, specifically so they do not become too large and monumental to maintain. There are also strict financial requirements and obligations associated with funding presidential libraries. All of these rules and ideals set forth by Congress have been essentially ignored, and that is also troubling and perhaps a reflection of the future.
In lieu of an official presidential library, a Chicago Public Library branch is included in the OPC plans. This facility will be much like the 79 existing branch locations throughout Chicago’s 77 community areas. It is our understanding that this branch library is completely unrelated to President Obama’s documents, and it will be operated by Chicago’s library system and supported by taxpayer revenue. This appears to be a murky plan with essentially a notation of library attached to a “Presidential Center” yet not a true presidential library by any means, which was different than what was promised at the onset of the presentation proposal. The other question remains about what happens to all of the original presidential documents, which under normal circumstances would be included in a more traditional presidential library and archive? Those records will be digitalized and perhaps end up elsewhere in New York or Hawaii, as the former president once noted, as a branch of the Chicago center.
Additionally, several plans from the private for-profit design and planning contractors Smith Group JJR, also known as Project 120, have reappeared in some of the Chicago Park District’s South Lakefront Framework Plans. These include a proposed Jackson Park visitor’s center, large-scale music pavilion and other plans, which will completely and unequivocally destroy and change the character and design of this world-renowned park. Make no bones about these proposed changes to Chicago’s Olmsted-designed parklands — they will alter and both negatively and adversely impact the landscape, destroy huge volumes of trees and gardens, interfere with migratory paths of wildlife and impact broad viewsheds, both in and around the park.
These park projects are all heavy-handed design plans. If implemented, they could lead to the consideration of a de-listing of Jackson Park and perhaps the South Shore Cultural Center from the National Register of Historic Places. This would be much like what occurred at Soldier Field, another Chicago Park District re-visioning project with the City of Chicago. So many adverse modifications were made to Solider Field in 2002-2003 that it had to be dropped and removed from the National Register. If this same impact and loss occurred at Jackson Park and/or the South Shore Cultural Center, it would be a significant loss to the Woodlawn community, the City of Chicago and supporters around the country and world.
These are sacred spaces, coveted lands and landscapes that should be protected in perpetuity as an asset to the citizens of Chicago. This history and character should not be modified and manipulated over the decades until all that is left is a shell of what once was.
To realize how important our parks can be, look no further than the success of Millennium Park, a major tourist engine for Chicago which opened in 2004. Or consider the Museum Campus including the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium and Planetarium. These valued downtown assets were once railway and freight yards. We should consider for the OPC a location on underutilized land that does not negatively harm our cherished landscapes and public parks.
Without thorough oversight, the protection of historic landscapes and structures can be seriously compromised. Over two years ago, Preservation Chicago joined a wide consortium of advocacy groups, neighborhood organizations and community leaders in calling for transparent planning that allows ample opportunity for community voices to be heard and valued. Those efforts, led by the Midway Plaisance Advisory Council and Save the Midway, were successful in redirecting the planned multi-story parking garage on the Midway Plaisance to another location.
Multiple rounds of community input and design updates have shown key constituent requests largely dismissed to accommodate the programmatic priorities of the Obama Foundation and Chicago Parks Golf Alliance, casting doubt on the good faith and transparency of the public process.
Beyond minor and incremental changes to the plans, specific threats to the historic park landscapes remain. According to the Obama Foundation, more than 300 trees (many of which are old-growth) would be clear-cut on the narrowly defined footprint of the Center buildings, and a major regrading of the site would be undertaken for the construction of the OPC. The number of trees removed will be significantly higher if the impact of all the proposed road changes is implemented. An additional 2,000 trees would be clear cut and major regrading undertaken for the new fairways of an expanded golf course.Tree Cut and Removal on the Lakefront in Hyde Park for the Widening of South Lake Shore Drive in September 1965 © Nancy Hays
On September 20, 2018, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance that approved the 99-year lease of 19.3 acres in Jackson Park for a total of $10. Jackson Park Watch co-founder Margaret Schmid said, “The idea of leasing invaluable, irreplaceable public parkland to a private entity for $10 for 99 years is astounding in this era when public lands and natural resources are under attack in so many places. Besides, Chicago’s finances are extremely precarious.” (Sweet, Chicago Sun-Times, 9/18/18)
As part of this lease deal, the City agreed to reimburse the Obama Foundation for environmental testing of the development site. These testing costs were capped at $75,000. However, in the final language of the approved Ordinance, the taxpayers of the City of Chicago and State of Illinois are now fully responsible and liable for all costs related to any environmental remediation required or resulting from the construction of the OPC in Jackson Park. This language includes no cap for the total cost. Estimated remediation costs are not yet available, but it can be expected that the final remediation costs for this blank check will be substantial.
The City of Chicago and State of Illinois have also agreed to cover the cost of $175 million in discretionary road changes in Jackson Park. The oft-repeated argument is that the ultimate cost burden will be borne by taxpayers – both state and federal. Federal funds for road improvements are limited, and those resources should be awarded first to desperately needed roadwork and crumbling infrastructure elsewhere in Chicago.
While Preservation Chicago is not a party to the on-going lawsuits and future litigation by Protect Our Parks, we submitted an Amicus Brief along with the community-based organization Jackson Park Watch. The Brief clarified that most of Chicago’s institutions in the parks were built upon the footprint of former buildings and institutions within the parks, had reused or repurposed existing historic structures, or were constructed buildings on lands used for other purposes (e.g. railway yards). The parks have grown around these institutions over time. This is an important precedent as no Chicago parklands were given to a new campus of buildings — contrary to assertions by the City of Chicago and Chicago Park District.
The Art Institute of Chicago, by architects Shepley Rutan & Coolidge of 1893, was constructed on the former site of the Interstate Industrial Exhibition Building by W.W. Boyington at the same location from 1873-1892. The Museum of Contemporary Art, designed by German Architect Josef Paul Kleihues, was constructed on the site of the old Chicago Avenue Armory which was designed by architects Holabird & Roche. The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, designed by Ralph Johnson of Perkins & Will, was built on the site of the old Lincoln Park/North Shops buildings.
The Museum of Science and Industry is housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts building from the Columbian Exposition or Chicago World’s Fair of 1893 in Jackson Park. It is the only large-scale building of great magnitude in Jackson Park. Olmsted also redesigned Jackson Park around this structure following the World’s Fair, so this building has been part of the landscape of Jackson Park for 126 years.Jackson Park © Eric Allix Rogers
The DuSable Museum of African American History is housed in the former South Park Commissioners Building in Washington Park, designed by Daniel Burnham and his firm D. H. Burnham & Company. The DuSable Museum has continued to expand its facilities over time near its site, including a recent renovation and restoration of the former Washington Park Stables Building by architects Burnham & Root.
The National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture is housed in the restored and repurposed former Humboldt Park Horse Stables in historic Humboldt Park, designed by architects Fromman & Jebsen in 1895. The National Museum of Mexican Art reused and reconfigured former buildings in Harrison Park for this amazing institution.
The Field Museum of Natural History, the John G. Shedd Aquarium and the Adler Planetarium were all mostly built upon former railway lands, which had been part of on-going landfills over time. Burnham Park and Grant Park grew and extended around these institutions following their construction. Finally, the Chicago History Museum, originally called the Chicago Historical Society, was built upon a corner of the city’s old public cemetery at a commercial corner of Lincoln Park near Clark Street and North Avenue. This section of what was to become Lincoln Park still holds the remains of at least several individuals, including the mausoleum of Ira Couch and the grave of David Kennison, said to be the last survivor of the Boston Tea Party.
Preservation Chicago is also concerned about the redesign and co-joining of the historic Jackson Park Golf Course (18 holes), the oldest course west of the Alleghany Mountains, and that of the nearby South Shore Cultural Center (9 holes). This reconstituting will substantially impact the historic landscape, some features designed by architect Alfred Caldwell and Olmsted & Vaux, and remove and cut several thousand old-growth trees.South Shore Cultural Center Grounds © Eric Allix Rogers
Preservation Chicago joins the fervent support of the Obama Presidential Center locating in Chicago. It just should not be in Jackson Park. The Obama Foundation’s drawings for a site west of Washington Park would be a great location for the OPC. The University of Chicago, along with the City of Chicago, has been assembling acreage adjacent to Washington Park, and that area has great access to public transportation. This location is targeted for redevelopment and is adjacent to the Garfield Park “L” stop for the Green and Red Line trains. The OPC located there would be an extraordinary asset to the community, and the City and would make this remarkable monument to President Obama’s legacy more accessible to people throughout the area. In solidarity with the residents of the area, Preservation Chicago calls on the Obama Foundation to enter into a binding Community Benefits Agreement for this alternate site to ensure that promises made are kept to avoid displacement and provide more jobs.
The City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District need to develop plans that reflect the full range of stakeholders in this process and balance the interests of their constituents with the interests of private developers. They should prioritize an open and transparent process in determining the future of our public lands and green spaces. In the process, they should protect the historic integrity of these nationally and locally significant landscapes, structures and buildings so they may remain accessible assets for the people of the South Side, Chicago and the world for generations to come.
To help restore the area, the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District should consider narrowing the Olmsted-designed historic parkways instead of closing and removing them completely and retaining South Lake Shore Drive, with its current proportions and winding lakefront boulevard characteristics. This would render unnecessary the proposed widening of the other roadways and perhaps save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
Preservation Chicago reaffirms its commitment to providing a constructive, preservation-oriented voice in this large and complex conversation. As a consulting party in the federally mandated Section 106 review process, Preservation Chicago will continue to strongly advocate for the importance of protecting historic features, including the world-renowned Olmsted landscapes. We continue to work to ensure that any construction in the historic parks will be conducted with sensitivity to historic features, historic structures and historic landscapes. This includes archaeologically important sites such as the foundations and remnants of the Women’s Building designed by Sophia Hayden, the only female architect who designed a building for the Exposition; the Children’s Building; and other important structures and features from the World Columbian Exposition in 1893, likely hidden below the soil line. Also, this proposed construction would impact the Woman’s Garden, also known as the Perennial Garden in Jackson Park, designed by May McAdams in 1937, a noted female landscape architect.
We remain hopeful that the federal review process mandated by the National Historic Preservation Act will reinforce the importance of protecting the historic features of the park and minimizing the adverse effects of new construction. Specifically, we want to insure that the South Shore Cultural Center be included in the Section 106 process already underway or that a new Section 106 process be initiated specifically for the golf course expansion project at both Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center.
A formal survey of Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center trees, detailing type, age and caliper, should be conducted along with an assessment of which trees are planned to be cleared. The findings of this survey should then be released to the public for comment and discussion before any work begins. Also, while an inventory of historic structures in Jackson Park has been approved, there are a number of critical needs for historic buildings that require urgent repair to stabilize and return them to public use.
Preservation Chicago will continue to push for a written agreement from the Chicago Park District that some percentage of the many millions of dollars to be invested in these potential projects will be earmarked instead for the badly needed maintenance and rehabilitation of existing historic park structures. These include the South Shore Cultural Center main building and stables, as well Jackson Park improvements to the Comfort Station, the Iowa Building, the Columbia/Darrow Bridge, public paths and meadows, and ball fields.
There is significant Chicago history buried underground at Jackson Park. Archaeological explorations from seven borings on the site were shared at one of the Section 106 meetings. They revealed nearly 10,000 objects from the 1893 World’s Columbia Exposition. We understand that permanent concrete foundations for all the temporary buildings are also located below the soil line, and it is our opinion that these features should remain intact and should not be destroyed by heavy equipment, which will backhoe the site. The Women’s Garden, the approximate site of Sophia Hayden’s Woman’s Building during the World’s Columbia Exposition, should also not be disturbed. This was the only building designed by a woman architect for the 1893 Fair, which highlighted great strides and accomplishments by women all housed in a magnificent building, on scale with many of the large structures of the Fair. The garden honoring Ms. Hayden’s Woman’s Building, designed by a woman landscape architect, should remain intact.
1. Relocate the Obama Presidential Center to a nearby site outside of Jackson Park. Land just west of Washington Park provides great public transportation access, and a good deal of this land is already owned by the City of Chicago and the University of Chicago.
2. Repair and restore the existing Jackson Park Golf Course and the South Shore Cultural Center golf course. These currently serve the public well, but they are in need of some long-deferred maintenance.
3. Move the proposed TGR Golf Course concept for Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center southward to the new South Lake Shore Drive Extension, and extend it to the site of the former and now demolished United States Steel factories in the South Chicago neighborhood. This would be an economic boost to the South Chicago and East Side neighborhoods of Chicago, and it would result in three separate golf courses for a major city like Chicago. A large 18-hole golf course on the former U.S. Steel site, suitable for hosting PGA Championship games, would “green” this former industrial site as part of on-going efforts to retain publicly accessible parks and green space along the extraordinary and expansive Chicago lakefront.
4. Repair and Landmark the South Shore Cultural Center’s and Jackson Park’s existing historic buildings, structures, paths, meadows, and bridges (including the Columbia/Clarence Darrow Bridge—closed for almost a decade for safety reasons). These structures have suffered through enough long-deferred maintenance. One of the historic structures, the modest one-story Comfort Station at 67th Street and South Shore Drive, which is in terrible disrepair, had a partial roof collapse in the past year or so.
5. Narrow the Olmsted-designed roadways and parkways to their historic pre-1960s dimensions. The 1960s widening project was considered a misstep by the general public at that time and was part of numerous protests. A substantial number of trees were lost during that widening project. A narrowing of Cornell Drive, in lieu of total closure, could provide a correction of these missteps and help to again restore a tree-lined boulevard through the park. Everyone should be able to enjoy the pastoral setting of Jackson Park by various modes – walking, jogging, biking and driving.
6. Retain South Lake Shore Drive’s current proportions and winding lakefront boulevard characteristics, and retain the current proportions of Stony Island Avenue without unnecessary expansions.
7. The entirety of Jackson Park, the Midway and Washington Park—the Olmsted & Vaux parks, should be considered for a Chicago Landmark designation.
8. In its entirety, the Chicago Lakefront Park System should be considered as a National Monument or National Park. This would be much like the recent honor further recognizing the Indiana Dunes as a National Park, or the Pullman Historic District of Chicago as a National Monument. This would protect our valuable public lakefront parks from further attempts at parceling them out to private developers and would provide additional resources for maintenance and rehabilitation. This could be an amazing partnership if implemented with the National Park Service, the Chicago Park District and the City of Chicago all sharing the stewardship of Chicago’s lakefront parks.
This is the second time the Washington Park National Bank Building has been on our Chicago 7 Most Endangered list, first in 2018 and again this year. The massive four-story limestone and reinforced-concrete structure and its surrounding community, borrows its name from the historic and much celebrated 1880s Washington Park Race Track, site of the American Derby. This racing track was once located at 61st and Cottage Grove Avenue. The bank building name was also in reference to the Olmsted-designed Washington Park, located nearby.
Following a lengthy community engagement process conducted by the Cook County Land Bank Authority and the Metropolitan Planning Council, it was clear that the Woodlawn community wanted to see the long-vacant building restored and adaptively reused. There is an abundance of land in Woodlawn, and it is frustrating to the community and preservation advocates that decisions were made to demolish a viable historic building in favor of new construction.Washington Park National Bank, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
The Washington Park National Bank Building was designed by architect Albert Schwartz in 1924, as part of an expansion and relocation of the bank to a more prominent corner site. The building’s primary facades were constructed of Bedford or Indiana limestone and included retail shops on the 63rd Street side of the building, with the bank operating from the Cottage Grove frontage.
In its early years, the Washington Park National Bank Building housed a Walgreens Drug Store, anchoring a portion of the corner storefronts on the first floor. On the upper floors of the building, were a number of manufacturing and sales recruiters’ offices. Advertisements in the Chicago Tribune from 1931 show the bank’s tagline at the time: “As strong as the everlasting hills.” Washington Park National Bank closed on June 8, 1931. It was reported to be reopening as Park National Bank & Trust. In 1951, the Chicago Tribune reported that “Louis Alpern, former Kentucky distiller,” bought the building for $355,000. The article noted that the building “changed hands twice in 1944 – first for $125,000 and later for $210,000.” A 1952 Chicago Tribune ad hailed the Washington Park National Bank building as “South Side’s finest office building.”
The 63rd and Cottage Grove area, contained many great entertainment venues, hotels, ballrooms and theaters or movie palaces included the Tivoli Theater, which once stood across the street from the Washington Park Bank Building. It was a prominent center of the South Side. The racial make-up of Woodlawn changed beginning in the 1940s, to an African-American community, and the area continued to be a prominent location for Jazz-era clubs and all forms of entertainment and shopping, with the community flourishing into the 1960s.
In the decades that followed, the area experienced wholesale demolition and disinvestment. However, in recent years, there’s substantial renewed interest in the Woodlawn community, which is also reflected in its historical commercial core, near the Washington Park National Bank. The Woodlawn area also had many connections to the Civil Rights Era, with the family home of Emmett Till, located nearby. Also, several African-American organizations and movements were headquartered in Woodlawn well into the 1970s and 1980s.
A Structural Assessment Report of the Washington Park National Bank was completed as part of the RFP process by Probe Consulting Services in August 2018. While the report acknowledged that the building is littered with construction debris from decades of neglect, it concludes that “that the existing framing system of the building is structurally sound, intact, and still in good condition and that the building is salvageable and can be repaired to restore its full structural integrity.”
Washington Park National Bank Building, 6300 South Cottage Grove, Photo Credit: Indiana University Archives Washington Park National Bank Building, 6300 South Cottage Grove, Photo Credit: Indiana University Archives
Located adjacent to the 63rd Street elevated train station and terminal at Cottage Grove, The Washington Park National Bank Building has been a prominent feature of the Woodlawn community for nearly 100 years. The Woodlawn Community Development Corporation, under the leadership of the Rev. Leon Finney, Jr., owned the property for decades. During that extended timeframe and under that ownership, no apparent general or on-going maintenance, renovation or redevelopment work was evident on the bank building. And during that time, and extending to present-day, the bank building languished, as the building has now been vacant and open to the elements for an extended time period. In addition, substantial back tax debt, estimated to be $3.7 million over the past 20 years, was cleared when the Cook County Land Bank Authority took the property in 2016.
In recent decades, this once prominent intersection has experienced significant decline, and this amazing historical building has fallen into disrepair. While the Washington Park National Bank Building languished, with owners who were not able to restore the structure, other prominent buildings in the immediate area have been successfully restored and reopened – particularly the nearby Strand Hotel and the Cinderella Ballroom.
20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor has expressed opposition to demolishing the Washington Park National Bank building. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Taylor said, “It’s unfair that communities on the South Side do not get to preserve historic buildings like they do on the North Side.” (Ballesteros, Chicago Sun-Times, 3/31/19)Proposed New Development for Washington Park National Bank Site © DL3 Realty
We at Preservation Chicago, stand united with the members of the Woodlawn community, urging DL3 Realty to change its plans plans to demolish and destroy this building, worthy of preservation and protection, and instead focus on creative and community-forward reuse of this historic structure.
The architectural and design firm of CallisonRTKL prepared renderings for Preservation Chicago that allow for restoration of the first four floors of the historic building, along with a two-story new addition atop the building to accommodate additional square footage. This scenario reaches nearly the same leasable square footage of DL3’s design, while it retains an important part of the community’s history. The renderings indicate 69,492 gross floor area and 59,555 leasable area. If the building were to become a Chicago Landmark, it would be eligible for waiver of permit fees, a “Class L” (“Class L” stands for Landmark) tax incentive and competitive Adopt-a-Landmark funds. An experienced contractor familiar with adaptive reuse projects, estimates the cost for this restoration and new construction project to be in the $15 to $18 million-dollar range.Proposed Adaptive Reuse for Washington Park National Bank Building. Rendering Credit: CallisonRTKL
The Illinois State Historic Preservation Office has deemed this building eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places which would also make it eligible for federal and state historic tax credits. The City of Chicago should consider a designation of the building as a Chicago Landmark, enabling access to additional incentives available.
In addition to Preservation Chicago listing the Washington Park National Bank Building on our 2018- “Chicago 7 Most Endangered List,” our statewide preservation partner, Landmarks Illinois included the building on its 2019 “Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois” list.
The community, City and the Woodlawn community need only look to the nearby Strand Hotel as a model of transforming a neglected historic building and converting it to a viable use. Holsten Development successfully converted the former Strand Hotel, located directly across the street from the Washington Park National Bank Building, into a 44-unit apartment building. In the last few years, developers have managed creative ways to make the old Chicago Main Post Office, downtown Chicago and the Old Cook County Hospital as extremely viable restoration projects. We are certain that DL3 Realty, under the leadership of Leon Walker and his team, and can reach a viable solution that does not destroy this building’s history and further diminish the Woodlawn community. Profit and progress can be had with restoration of a building –moreso than with demolition and new construction when you factor the emotional, historical and environmental impacts.
There are a sizable amount of vacant lands within blocks of the Washington Park National Bank Building on both sides of 63rd Street, along with Cottage Grove Avenue and nearby streets, that would be ideal for a new construction project. This is a very impressive and historic building, and should be adaptively reused. The people of the Woodlawn community deserve to have their history honored and protected.
We look forward to working with DL3 toward a good preservation outcome, with the Washington Park National Bank Building, that meets requirements, while also being a profitable development. We also look forward to working with the Cook County Land Bank Authority going forward, to ensure it implements a “Preservation First” analysis with other historic buildings which become available to them in the future.
The Woodlawn community spoke in favor of restoration and resue. Preservation Chicago encourages DL3 Realty, under the leadership of Leon Walker, to respect the community’s perspective and wishes, while employing every tool and program it can, to save and reuse this incredible historic building. Such a project would become an amazing and continuing asset for the Woodlawn Community, well into the future.Washington Park National Bank, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
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The picturesque Tudor Revival style Chicago Town & Tennis Club building was designed in 1924 by renowned Chicago architect George Washington Maher and his firm, George W. Maher & Son. George Maher was a seminal figure in both the Prairie style and the Arts & Crafts style movements in Chicago and across America. His prolific and noteworthy architectural firm included Philip Brooks Maher, his son. Philip Maher was also a leading architect in his own right and had a distinguished career. Both father and son were responsible for the design of architecturally significant buildings throughout the Chicago region and Midwest including many buildings that have received prestigious Chicago Landmark designation. It is believed that both architects contributed meaningfully to the design of the Chicago Town & Tennis Club building.
The Chicago Town & Tennis Club building is located at 1925 W. Thome Avenue in Chicago’s West Ridge neighborhood. It is a beautiful, half-timbered structure with high gables, slate roof, and grand ballrooms. The building’s intrinsic qualities and its remarkable flexibility of design have allowed it to be repurposed over time. Originally built as a formal tennis clubhouse building, it was repurposed as a fraternal and social club for the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks also known as the Elks Club. The building later served as a religious use as Unity Church of Chicago. Flexibility of design is often a hallmark of buildings designed by great architects with good design principals, which can be re-outfitted to accommodate a change in use or desired programs.
In 2019, the Chicago Town & Tennis Club Building and its grounds and gardens were purchased by the neighboring Misericordia for $7.5 million. Misericordia is a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting individuals with developmental disabilities and is affiliated with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago. However, instead of repurposing the building yet again, Misericordia plans to clear the site for new construction. The proposed development plan covers the entire site and requires the full demolition of the historic building, the adjoining structures, and the mature landscapes and gardens.
The Tudor Revival building is orange-rated per the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. It is located upon a serene 3.1-acre property and includes the clubhouse, several ancillary structures, and elaborate and extensive gardens with gazebos and fountains. These elements would seem to be a beautiful and natural campus extension for Misericordia in its current configuration. Several large parking lots are present which could potentially accommodate the construction of new group homes and accommodate the protection and integration of the landscapes and historic structures into Misericordia’s 31-acre campus.
Misericordia plans to construct a series of low-density, free-standing housing units to accommodate individuals with developmental disabilities. This low-density design approach requires significant acreage to accomplish the desired number of new units, and nearly the entire site is required to accommodate the number of buildings. At one point but no longer, the plans contemplated that the City of Chicago would vacate the adjacent Thome Avenue to increase the buildable site and to integrate the new site with Misericordia’s main campus.
Preservation Chicago recognizes the need for Misericordia’s expansion and supports its efforts to supply additional housing units for the developmentally disabled. We also believe that there are multiple win-win approaches that would simultaneously accomplish both the construction of the new housing units and the preservation of the historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club building.
While the proposed alternate options are generally practical, achievable, and financially viable, they all require collaboration, an openness to creative alternatives, and a willingness to engage in a genuine dialogue between the stakeholders which include Misericordia, the West Ridge Community, 40th Ward Alderman Andre Vasquez, the Chicago Park District, and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation Division. The desired additional housing units for individuals with developmental disabilities will be built, but the extent to which the final development plan simultaneously embraces the wider desires and wishes of the West Ridge community remains to be determined. Through creativity and collaboration, we can achieve a preservation-sensitive solution that would accomplish both priorities and save this beautiful building.Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
The Chicago Town & Tennis Club was designed in 1924 by the seminal Chicago architect George W. Maher and by Phillip Maher, his son and also a distinguished architect. George Maher was one of Chicago’s preeminent architects and a contemporary of architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. Many of his buildings are designated Chicago Landmarks or considered Landmark-eligible. He designed numerous notable homes in the neighborhoods of Uptown and Kenwood, and in suburban Oak Park and Kenilworth.
The Chicago Town & Tennis Club was constructed in the Tudor Revival style during the 1920s enthusiasm in Chicago for athletic and social clubs. Specifically, it was inspired by the design of the Wimbledon Tennis Club in England and American tennis clubs such as The West Side Tennis Club at Forest Hills, Queens New York, which hosted more than 60 U.S. National Championships between 1915 and 1977. Originally overlooking 16 tennis courts and extensive gardens, the building served as a club house into the 1960s when the property was sold. It served as an Elks Lodge before a period of vacancy and its eventual restoration as Unity Church.
Unity Church of Chicago purchased the building and site in 1989. They engaged Vinci-Hamp Architects to carefully restore portions of the building in 2002. They converted the dining room into a sanctuary and other rooms into an art gallery and a social hall. Fortunately, the building retained much of its original historic character and details including its stained glass, decorative tile, and ornamental plasterwork. The exterior of the building with its high gables, half-timbering, slate roof and decorative brickwork remains highly intact, notably including the original stone carvings depicting a pair of tennis rackets. The building is orange-rated per the Chicago Historic Resources Survey which confirms its important architectural significance to the West Ridge community and the City of Chicago.
Unity Church played an important role in the history of LGBTQ rights in Chicago and Illinois. After years of efforts, on June 1, 2014, the first day that same-sex marriage became legal in Illinois, 40 same-sex couples were married or renewed their vows at Unity Church.
At one time the Unity Church congregation had about 1,500 members. However, a recent decline in membership necessitated the sale. The 3.1-acre site and building was sold to Misericordia for $7.5 million, and the congregation was allowed to remain in the building and on the grounds until October 2019.
Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
On December 20, 2019, Misericordia applied for a demolition permit for the Chicago Town & Tennis Club and to move forward with their development plans. A few weeks later in early January 2020, a community meeting was held by Alderman Andre Vasquez to allow Misericordia to present their plans. Because the building is orange-rated on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, a 90-day demolition hold was placed on the permit application which was due to expire in March 2020 at which time a demolition permit could be issued. The 90-day demolition hold has now been extended for another 90 days through mutual agreement and is set to expire in mid-June 2020. As reported in the press, Misericordia does not anticipate the new units to be completed until 2021, so the rush to demolish the historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club Building is not being driven by the construction schedule.
Founded in 1921 and operated by the Sisters of Mercy, Misericordia Heart of Mercy has occupied its 31-acre campus in West Ridge since 1976 and currently houses 600 children and adults with developmental disabilities. Their wait list includes 300 families, illustrating the significant need for additional housing for individuals with developmental disabilities.
Due to the need to build additional housing, in 2018 Misericordia purchased the 3.1 acre site immediately south of their campus across Thome Avenue which includes the Chicago Town & Tennis Club, a parking lot, and extensive gardens. They propose to build 16 new group homes on the site which would house 8 to 15 residents each. The plan is to build a low-density housing cluster for approximately 150 residents. This plan includes the demolition of the beautiful and historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club and gardens.
Preservation Chicago supports Misericordia’s important mission and appreciates the need for additional housing. However, we would prefer one of the alternate solutions that would both increase the housing available and prevent the demolition of an architecturally significant building that has been an important part of the West Ridge community for nearly 100 years.
To maximize the buildable site and to secure the new parcel within their existing campus perimeter security fence, Misericordia had requested that the adjacent stretches of Thome Avenue and Winchester Avenue contiguous with their main campus be vacated by the City of Chicago. However, neighbors from an adjacent building who regularly park their vehicles on these city streets vocally objected to losing their free parking, and Misericordia appears to have withdrawn this request.
A zoning change within a Planned Development is required to allow for the community-style housing, as the current zoning does not permit this use. The alderman has signaled his preliminary support for the zoning change.
Preservation Chicago made initial contact with Misericordia leadership in March 2018, approximately 2 years earlier, to alert them to the building’s historic significance and orange-rating and to request consideration that the historic building be retained in their development plans. Misericordia evaluated the option of adaptive reuse for a residential use but ultimately chose to pursue demolition.
Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Recognizing the architectural significance of the Chicago Town & Tennis Club, Preservation Chicago is advocating for an alternative that would allow both the new supportive housing to be constructed and the historic building to be preserved. To accomplish a win-win solution that achieves all stakeholder priorities, it is necessary to work in partnership and good faith with all stakeholders including Misericordia, the West Ridge Community, 40th Ward Alderman Andre Vasquez, the Chicago Park District, and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation Division.
To this end, Preservation Chicago has been in communication with decision makers while exploring several options that could potentially yield all objectives, thus allowing all stakeholders to enjoy a positive outcome. The proposed alternate options are generally practical, achievable, and financially viable. They all require collaboration, an openness to creative alternatives, and a willingness to engage in a genuine dialogue between the stakeholders and the Chicago Department of Planning and Development’s Historic Preservation Division. The new additional housing units for individuals with developmental disabilities are a constant in every scenario. Through creativity and collaboration, we can also achieve a preservation-sensitive solution that would accomplish priorities for all stakeholders and save the Chicago Town & Tennis Club Building.
Additional time is also critical as all of these alternatives require time to be pursued and implemented. On December 20, 2019, Misericordia applied for a demolition permit for the Chicago Town & Tennis Club, which started the 90-day demolition permit delay process for the orange-rated building. This permit delay will expire in March 2020 at which time the demolition permit could have been issued. However, in the spirit of partnership and a willingness to consider an alternative solution, Misericordia has agreed to delay demolition for an additional 90 days. Fortunately, the new construction is not scheduled to begin until late 2020, so this delay does not impact the construction schedule and delivery of Misericordia’s new units.Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Serhii Chrucky
Misericordia’s current plan anticipates approximately 150 new residents, but its waitlist includes more than 300 individuals. If the zoning change were to allow for higher-density buildings, more units could be built. By allowing a higher-density zoning on the Chicago Town & Tennis Club site and within the main Misericordia campus, Misericordia could potentially build out more that the 16 new residential group homes currently planned and serve more people in this development and potential future infill development on their campus. Higher-density new construction on the Chicago Town & Tennis Club site could be developed on the current parking lots and deliver all the desired units without requiring the land where the historic building and garden currently stand.
Misericordia’s preferred housing module is reflected in their current proposed development plan. However, if granted a higher-density zoning, the design architects could explore more compact site plan layouts. Additionally, a higher-density zoning would allow for narrower streets, less on-site parking, narrower setbacks between buildings, and taller building heights.
Misericordia already has community spaces within their existing campus. However, if Misericordia desired, the historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club building could relatively easily be converted for use as a beautiful community center for the new residents and existing 600 residents living on the adjacent campus. The building is in good condition and the first floor is at grade level, but the addition of a hydraulic elevator and ramps would be necessary to make it ADA compliant. This option would only be viable for Misericordia if the development program could deliver the same number of new units and a preferred building design.
In addition to using the historic building for its own programming throughout the week, Misericordia could rent out the venue to generate additional revenues to support their nonprofit mission and operations. Following a model similar to the Greenhouse Inn Restaurant currently operated by Misericordia on their main campus which provides residents with developmental disabilities valuable work experience through restaurant employment, the historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club building could be rented out for weddings and events which could provide residents with developmental disabilities valuable work experience through event-related employment. This potential use could generate significant earned income for the non-profit and would serve to better integrate the Misericordia and West Ridge communities.Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
If Misericordia did not wish to own and operate the historic building, the portion of the site where the historic building is located could be subdivided and sold to a private, third-party developer. The millions of dollars generated from the sale of the valuable historic building would partially offset the original $7.5 million purchase price, and this new source of funds could be used to build additional housing units.
This approach requires higher-density zoning and the design architects creating an acceptable more compact site plan with a preferred housing module focusing the new construction on the parking lot. If the parking lot site could not accommodate all the desired new units, perhaps the proceeds from the sale could be used to purchase land elsewhere along the perimeter of the main campus or be used to create additional infill housing on underutilized parcels or parking lots within the main campus.Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Another option to consider would be for Misericordia to conduct a land swap with the Chicago Park District and the adjacent Emmerson Park. Emmerson Park was once part of the Chicago Town & Tennis Club grounds, so reconnecting the park land and the original historic clubhouse would be a natural choice. Misericordia could give the Chicago Town & Tennis Club building and gardens to the Chicago Park District. The Chicago Park District in exchange would give to Misericordia the equivalent amount of land from Emmerson Park.
In this scenario, the Chicago Town & Tennis Club building would become the new Emmerson Park Fieldhouse which would provide much-needed programing to the West Ridge community that the Chicago Park District’s current modest shed building/public bathroom facility is simply too small to support. New fieldhouses often cost tens of millions of dollars, so the potential value of this first-class historic building to the Chicago Park District and West Ridge communities is significant. A public use for the Chicago Town & Tennis Club building would be an ideal outcome.
This option would directly benefit Misericordia as the land swap would save the estimated $250,000 cost of demolishing the historic building. Access to the historic clubhouse could also economically benefit the park and the Chicago Park District, as the former Chicago Town & Tennis Club building is remarkable with beautiful interior ballrooms and would be a desirable and lucrative event and wedding venue that would generate much-needed park revenues.
The Chicago Park District already runs a robust business of leasing event spaces in historic park district buildings throughout Chicago for weddings and other celebrations. It could easily add the Chicago Town & Tennis Club to its list of offerings. This would be an amenity for the wider Chicago community and could generate significant income for the Chicago Park District to support ongoing operations. Other than the need to provide elevator ADA access to the second floor, the historic building is in good condition. This use could be quickly implemented as it has successfully hosted events and celebrations for decades as Unity Church.
The relative location of the building, park and campus present challenges to this option. The historic building is located at the northern edge of the block. Emmerson Park is a long and narrow park which runs along the southern portion of the block. Connecting Emmerson Park to the building would require significant square footage and leave the remaining bisected building site inefficient for new development.
Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Alternate #4A Move Only Chicago Town and Tennis / Unity Church, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Alternate #4B Move and Rotate.
Another option would be to physically move the historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club building from its current location approximately 250 feet due south across the parking lot into Emmerson Park. Initially, this idea seemed the least plausible due to cost, but after Preservation Chicago received multiple competitive bids for the cost of building moving that were much lower than expected, it might be the most compelling alternative.
Although more logistically complicated, moving the historic building into the park would provide a substantial benefit to both Misericordia and the wider West Ridge community. It would save a first-class historic building and provide Misericordia with a clear site to allow more flexibility in their development site plan. Additionally, the estimated $250,000 cost of demolition would be avoided. Perhaps these savings could be used to offset a portion of the cost to move the historic building.
Preservation Chicago has received bids from two well-established, large-scale building moving firms. Both bids are similar in size and scope. They indicate the cost to move the building into Emmerson Park to be approximately $550,000. To prepare the foundation to receive the building would likely cost an additional $550,000. Additional miscellaneous repairs, adding an elevator, and bringing the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act are estimated at $400,000. So for approximately $1.5 million, the Chicago Park District could own a historic building that would serve as a magnificent new fieldhouse.
Chicago Park District fieldhouses often cost $20 million or more to build new. If Misericordia pledged the $250,000 of budgeted demolition funds towards costs of moving the historic building, the difference could be paid for by the Chicago Park District, TIF funding, or private philanthropy. Given this extraordinary opportunity, it is likely that the funds would be forthcoming. For perspective, the Chicago Park District is currently spending $15 million to renovate historic Clarendon Park Fieldhouse and $1.5 million in TIF funding to upgrade heating, ventilation and air conditioning at the Revere Park Fieldhouse. Preservation Chicago is already working with foundations and individuals potentially interested in providing funds necessary to underwrite the cost of moving the building.
One challenge with this plan to move the historic building into the park is that Emmerson Park is physically a narrow park at only 125-feet wide. The location in the park where the historic building could be relocated would reduce the already limited green space. However, if Emmerson Park was slightly widened, the historic building could be oriented along Winchester Avenue with minimal negative impact to the current greenspace.
Misericordia had initially requested that the adjacent public streets of Thome Avenue and Winchester Avenue be vacated by the City of Chicago. Their campus is a gated community for the safety and comfort of their residents, and Misericordia would likely prefer to include the new site behind the fence. This request was withdrawn after neighbor objections to loss of street parking. A possible alternative could be a 1:1 swap between the City of Chicago and Misericordia. Small portions of Thome Avenue and or part of Winchester Avenue could be vacated by the City of Chicago, become part of Misericordia’s property, and seamlessly connect the new building site to the main campus. In exchange for this valuable city-owned property on the northern edge of the construction site, Misericordia would donate the equivalent total square footage on the southern edge of the construction site to the Chicago Park District and Emmerson Park. This would enlarge the park, protect some of the existing mature trees and lovely gardens earmarked for demolition, and provide a good site for the relocated historic Chicago Town & Tennis Club building. This approach would provide a powerful win-win for both Misericordia and the West Ridge community.
Neighbors in an adjacent private residential building have voiced concern over losing access to free street parking. The current public street right-of-way covers 1.5 acres. Some modest loss in street parking will not have a material impact on parking. Additionally, the possibility of a limited conversion of a city-owned vehicular street into city-owned park green space could provide greater flexibility in the ultimate configuration of Emmerson Park to accommodate the move of the historic building. In general, Preservation Chicago strongly supports the conversion of parking lots into public parks.
Preservation Chicago recognizes the demand for Misericordia’s extraordinary housing and services programs and strongly supports this noble and important work. These recommendations are intended to preserve and honor Chicago’s historic built environment and Landmark-quality buildings, while simultaneously supporting the construction of new housing residential units for the developmentally disabled at Misericordia’s West Ridge Campus.
We hope that all stakeholders will engage in a robust and fruitful conversation and that together we can find a win-win solution that meets that needs of all stakeholders.Download Original PDF
Chicago was once the railroad center of the nation, linked to a network of substantial passenger and freight railroads, many crisscrossing the country through our city, and often terminating at one of the great railway stations. These railroad structures, terminals, power plants, office buildings and stations at one time dotted downtown Chicago and its perimeter. Since the 1970s, many of these buildings have been lost to demolition. With those losses, our City’s strong connection to the railroads, and its shared history, has been almost completely obliterated.
The iconic and austere, Chicago Union Station Power House is truly a significant building, worthy of preservation, protections and reuse, with its streamlined Art Moderne/Art Deco facades and smokestacks. The building exemplifies the story of Chicago’s growth as a railroad and transportation center beginning in the pioneering days of the 1850s.
The Union Station Power House, also known originally as the Union Station Boiler Plant, is part of a network of buildings, systems, and rail tracks constructed in the 1920s and 1930s by the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White for the Chicago Union Station Company – CUSCo. Their work also included Chicago’s Union Station, its Great Hall and grand Waiting Room, along with the separate and expansive Beaux-Arts Concourse Building, which was senselessly demolished in 1969. The Chicago Union Station Power House has been out of service since 2011, is currently mothballed, and is being advanced by Amtrak for demolition to make way for a storage and maintenance shed.Union Station Power House, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Chicago’s central role in the national rail network was unparalleled by any other city in the nation, with the highest amount of passenger and freight traffic. This allowed for early industries to flourish, ranging from coal and raw products for manufacturing, to agriculture including wheat, corn, grains, and meat packing. Chicago’s robust rail system also affected the city’s residential population. As industrial business expanded in Chicago, its population also expanded as laborers and their families came to the city to work and live. Chicago’s location at the hub of the national railroad network established Chicago as the capital of the Midwest.
Today, most of Chicago’s grand terminal train stations have been demolished, including:
- The old Northwestern Terminal by architects Frost & Grainger, completed in 1911, with the largest Guastavino tile arch vault ceiling in the world. The grand station, with its columned Waiting Room, was considered for Chicago Landmark designation, but denied under the Mayor Jane Byrne administration and demolished in 1987. It was a great tragedy which could have been avoided;
- The LaSalle Street Station with its tower offices above, also designed by architects Frost & Grainger of 1903, which was senselessly razed in 1981;
- The Illinois Central Station by architect, Bradford L. Gilbert in 1893. This station was the gateway railway station for the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to Chicago and beyond. It was demolished in 1972.
- Grand Central Station, with its soaring stone tower and adjoining hotel, by architect Solon S. Beman. The station operated from 1890 until its demolition in 1969;
- The Pennsylvania Railroad Freight Terminal, once the largest in the country, was designed by architect William Lightfoot Price in 1915-1918 and located at 323 W. Polk Street until its demolition in 1974;
- The massive Concourse Building of Chicago’s Union Station, designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and opened in 1925. It was replaced with two commercial buildings in 1969; and
- The original Illinois Central Depot, also known as The Great Central Depot, constructed in 1856 by Otto Matz for the Illinois Central (I.C.) and Chicago & Alton Railroads and located at South Water Street and Michigan Avenue—below current grade. The station was used as an I.C. freight terminal from about 1893 until its demolition for the Illinois Center complex in the late 1960s or early 1970s.
Demolition has erased most of our railroad-related buildings and terminals with the exceptions of the great passenger terminal buildings in the Chicago Union Station Headhouse & Waiting Room/Great Hall and Dearborn Station, which is no longer a rail terminal but Landmarked and repurposed as a small office and retail center. It is simply tragic that these once grand buildings and industry, with it transportation-related facilities, which helped to build Chicago, have been destroyed.
In contrast to the more Beaux-Arts style Chicago Union Station complex, the Union Station Power House was designed and constructed in the Art Moderne and Art Deco styles, reflecting the streamlined style of the time. The building, with its large volume and strong vertical massing, also exemplifies the industrial might associated with generating and supplying power to operate a system of train-related infrastructure and buildings.
The architects of the Union Station Power House were Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, a firm that descended from the legendary architectural firm of Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root and D.H. Burnham & Company. The firm designed many of Chicago’s most iconic buildings and designated Landmarks, including the Wrigley Building, the Field Building/Bank of America Building, and the Merchandise Mart – once the largest building in the world. The firm also designed the old Chicago Post Office, once the world’s largest; the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago; and Illinois Merchants Bank Building/Continental Illinois Bank/Wintrust Bank. The list also extends to The Straus Building, Pittsfield Building, John G. Shedd Aquarium, Chicago Civic Opera House, Insurance Exchange Building and many other notable structures, both in Chicago and across the United States.
The strong verticality of the Union Station Power House, from its linear groupings of parallel window bands to its tall chimneys, emphasizes the building’s strength. Its massive cream-colored brick walls, horizontal stone banding and austere ornament create additional visual impact. Unique in form, this is a rare example of power house industrial design by Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, an architectural firm of great note.Union Station Power House, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Amtrak is the successor passenger railway system, which condensed 20 passenger railroads across the nation into one semi-governmental or quasi-public corporation body, under the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Railroad Administration. Amtrak was formed by the Congressional Rail Passenger Service Act of 1970 and began train service on May 1, 1971. Amtrak is officially recognized as The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, and the entity receives a combination of state and federal subsidies but is managed as a for-profit organization. Since its founding, and since the consolidation of service occurred and with these mergers, many of Chicago’s railway-related buildings have succumbed to disuse and demolition.
Only recently, and through a long-term lease to a developer, has Amtrak invested in decades-long repairs to Chicago Union Station and its Great Hall, including the 1980 fire-damaged Fred Harvey space. We commend the recent restoration work to one of Chicago’s most amazing interior spaces to Union Station and want to encourage the same type of commitment to the Union Station Power House.
Amtrak is the current owner of the Chicago Union Station Power House and has determined that this structure is no longer necessary for its operations. Therefore, they are about to again conduct federally mandated Section 106 hearings to make determinations, including if it may be eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. However, these hearings do not rule out demolition of the structure in the future. Demolition would be an expensive option, ranging in cost between $9 million and $13 million of potentially taxpayer funds to create a maintenance shed with expansive views of Chicago adjoining the Chicago River.
Amtrak’s plan for a maintenance shed on the site is problematic. Such a shed could most certainly be built along the vast rail yards – extending for miles which it controls in Chicago’s South Loop. It appears that there was a direct effort to again replace a significant historic structure, with another non-descript building, which will most likely cost millions of dollars to construct, in addition to the demolition of a historic structure, which could be repurposed. Losing an iconic and historic building to a maintenance shed along the Chicago River is tragic.
Noting recent Chicago’s Union Station switching and communication failures issues, and the National Public Radio article which reported on an wheelchair-bound passenger being charged a $25,000 fare for a 136-mile ride to Bloomington, Illinois for the removal of seats and special accommodations to meet ADA requirements, it appears that Amtrak priorities are not aligned with Chicagoans’ priorities.Union Station Power House, a 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Preservation Chicago recognizes the limitations of the site due to the railroad tracks to the west and the South Branch of the Chicago River to the east. To minimize access issues, we are encouraging a adaptive reuse of the building and site by either a data center, a possible chilling center, or another use. This building is across Roosevelt Road from plans for The 78 just to the south. This could even serve as an amenity for the many nearby residents and commercial enterprises relocating to Chicago’s South Loop. The idea of a third-party use could stimulate long-range plans for addressing the riverfront along this stretch of the South Branch and could catalyze the creation of riverfront access, riverfront green space and perhaps even a future Riverwalk, in addition to the reuse of a potential Chicago Landmark.
The building could be reused and repurposed by Amtrak or a private developer for a data center, or a control center relating to Amtrak’s Midwestern and Chicago operations. At one point, Amtrak entertained selling the building and issued an RFQ that did not yield any bids. Preservation Chicago continued to actively seek potential new users and recently identified a well-capitalized, highly experienced Chicago developer with excellent credentials for large projects who desires to reuse the building as a data center. Amtrak has refused to consider any purchase offers at this time and is pressing forward with the process toward demolition of a National Register-eligible building and a potential Chicago Landmark. Because of its eligibility for the National Register, demolition of the Power House may impact potential federal funding for the agency.
The Union Station Power House’s connection to Chicago’s incredible railroad and architectural history makes it a prime candidate for a Chicago Landmark designation. A Chicago Landmark designation for this unique building would ensure its preservation and reuse. A preservation outcome for this building would be a win-win for Chicago, Amtrak Rail Systems, and future generations of Chicagoans.Union Station Power House adn “78 Development. Rendering Credit: Related Midwest with notations by Preservation Chicago
Available for adaptive reuse as a data center, chilling center or other use, the Union Station Power House by one of Chicago’s greatest architectural ﬁrms is in close proximity to central business district. Amtrak has plans to demolish the building at an estimated cost of $13 million and replace it with a maintenance shed.
• Solid masonry ﬁreproof building
• Zoned: DS-5
• Height: 115’
• Footprint: 9,000 sf (95’x95’)
• Potential square footage: 100,000
• Central Location Close to Central Business District
• Close proximity to exchanges, ﬁnancial district and tech ﬁrms
• Proximity to ﬁber optic trunk lines
• Adjacent to Chicago River for low-cost cooling plant option
• Adjacent to ComEd electric substation
• 20% Federal Tax Credits
• Illinois Historic Tax Credits
• Adopt-a-Landmark Funds
• Class L Tax Designation
• Permit fee waivers
Roseland’s South Michigan Avenue Commercial District, is the commercial center and heart of this Far-South Side community, located approximately 15 miles from downtown Chicago. Situated on a hilltop-ridge, the corridor extends between 100th Street and the viaduct just south of 115th Street, with the central core of the existing commercial district located between 110th and 115th Streets. Once referred to by local residents as “The Avenue,” the street’s viability as a commercial corridor began to deteriorate and fade in the mid-1970s. Over the decades, some historic buildings have been remodeled and covered with new facades, and many other iconic and significant commercial buildings, which further helped to define the district, have been lost to demolition. However, it is important to protect, restore and reuse the remaining structures—many of them noteworthy in their overall design and materials, to honor the legacy and history of this remarkable community and encourage a holistic approach to further promote economic revitalization along the South Michigan Avenue commercial corridor.State Theater, South Michigan Avenue, Roseland, Photo Credit: Paul Petraitis
The Roseland community was established with settlements in 1849 by Dutch immigrants mainly from the villages of Eenigenburg and Schoorl, in the Netherlands. The initial group of early Dutch settlers traveled to America on a ship called the Massachusetts of Boston. While journeying in route from France to New York, an outbreak of Asiatic cholera impacted the ship, with 17 members of the original 64 passengers lost. Arriving in Buffalo, New York, they headed to Chicago on a steamer ship through the Great Lakes, and docked at the Chicago River. From that point, they travelled a series of long roads southward from the city center, and settling in the unincorporated Calumet Region. The initial settlements were perched on the west ridge of Lake Calumet, and located near both the Grand Calumet and Little Calumet Rivers, and nearby to Lake Michigan. The area being part of a vast prairie and nearby wetlands. Noting this geography of their settlement on the natural ridge, the early Dutch settlers called the area “High Prairie” and were later to be known as “the Hollanders of High Prairie.” The initial settlers, now remembered and honored as the “Nine Founding Fathers of Roseland” included Johannes Ambuul, Jakob and Pieter Dr Jong, Klaas and Pieter Dalenberg, Jan Jonker, Cornelis Kuyper, Jan Ton and Leendert van der Sijde, along with their families. They purchased land along an “old Indian Trail,” also known as “Chicago-Thornton Road,” “Holland Settlement Road” and “High Road,” which later became South Michigan Avenue in Roseland.
Further settlement came in 1852, with the establishment of the Michigan Central Railroad and the Illinois Central Railroad in the area to the east, and the Calumet (later known as Kensington) Station, which later became part of a vast switching yard for the trains. In 1860, the Lincoln administration appointed the first postmaster for the area, naming the post office Hope, Illinois.
Dutch residents of Roseland supported President Abraham Lincoln, vowing to help the Union, where possible, during the American the Civil War, 1861-1865. According to the book Down An Indian Trail in1849: The Story of Roseland, “It is well known that [Kornelius/Cornelius] Kuyper’s home was a station on the Underground Railroad and that he was a valuable member of that organization. As an Abolitionist and local Magistrate, he helped many fleeing slaves, seeing that they were safely conducted to the home of [Roseland settler] Jan Ton on the Little Calumet River, thence to Hammond, Indiana, Tremont, Indiana, Detroit, Michigan, and finally Canada.” Other important Roseland figures in the Underground Railroad included Charles Volney Dyer (1808-1878), who was a prominent abolitionist and “Stationmaster,” hosting many freedom seekers, along with the Dalton Brothers (Charles and Henry) and both Jan/John Ton (1826-1896) and his wife Aggie Vander Syde-Ton, who resided on a farm the north bank of the Calumet River from 1859 to 1867.
In 1873, Colonel James Bowen (1822-1881), known as “The Father of South Chicago,” and a real estate developer, was the first president of the Calumet and Chicago Canal Dock Company, suggested the area be renamed “Roseland” because of all the beautiful flowers, roses and gardens that abounded, planted by the Dutch settlers. Bowen also renamed other nearby areas including Kensington (formerly called “Calumet”/” Calumet Station”), Riverdale and Burnside in 1873. In 1880, Bowen sold thousands of acres of land to the Pullman Land Association for the Pullman Car Works, also referred to as the “Chicago Works of the Pullman Palace Company.”
In 1883, four-thousand of acres of land, became the planned industrial town of Pullman, which was established by American Industrialist, George Mortimer Pullman (1831-1897) for the manufacturing of passenger railroad cars. The town of Pullman, was planned for a site just east of Roseland, and designed by architect Solon Spencer Beman (1853-1914) and landscape architect, Nathan Franklin Barrett (1845-1919). Pullman was opened with much fanfare and was a model industrial town, where the factory workers lived in nearby residences, built, controlled and operated by Mr. Pullman and the Pullman Company. However, many workers and their families were restricted by Pullman’s commercial and residential offerings, and this further secured nearby Roseland to the immediate west, as a popular destination. South Michigan Avenue in Roseland, became an alternative to the various limited businesses and services in nearby Pullman, within the Beman designed Pullman Arcade Building (demolished in 1927) and Market Hall (partially extant, following various fires). With this new industrial town of Pullman nearby, Roseland and its commercial districts, especially along South Michigan Avenue thrived. Both Pullman and Roseland were annexed into the City of Chicago in 1889.
Roseland was an important aspect for Pullman and the two communities are linked from their earliest days. Roseland being a well-established community, at the time of Pullman’s construction and offering goods and services, in addition to restaurants and saloons, which were frowned upon by Mr. George Pullman in pursuit of his idyllic and picturesque company town. In later years, when Pullman itself faced challenges in the 1930s to the 1960s, as its neighborhood image appeared to fade, Roseland one again provided relief and resources to that once aging community.
However, in the 1960s and early 1970s, the town of Pullman was once again recognized, honored, and given National Register Designation, followed by a Chicago Landmark Designation, for its architectural, labor and Civil Rights histories and links. It was designated the Pullman National Monument in 2015 and is expected to draw many additional tourists with this designation, along with the reinvestment of private developers and the National Park Service in the community.
Roseland and historic South Michigan Avenue, along with neighboring Pullman have the opportunity to again assist one another towards redevelopment projects. Pullman, once a bit faded, prior to the 1970s, as a National Park and Monument, will attract many visitors, expected to be in the hundreds of thousands over the course of a year. Roseland, which since the 1970s has seen vast racial changes, and extreme disinvestment, can rely on Pullman to some extent, with a draw of visitors’ tourism dollars and a place to once visit, as part of a Pullman-Roseland destination.
The First Reformed Church of Roseland, was for many decades a centerpiece of the early community, beginning in about 1855. It was rebuilt in brick by the early Dutch settlers or “Hollanders” in 1887, with Jan Kleinhuizen and Hendrik DeJong as the contractors. Located at 107th and Michigan the new church (still extant), replaced an earlier frame church adjacent to the immediate north. As the community transitioned rapidly from predominantly Caucasian to predominantly African-American in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the “Dutch Reformed Church Building” became the Lilydale Progressive Missionary Baptist Church in 1971.
Early houses, including the 1849 home of Cornelis Kuyper (demolished), mentioned earlier as part of the Underground Railroad, stood just south of 103rd and Michigan Avenue. Another early house, belonging to Pieter Boone at 10057 S. Michigan Avenue c. 1870 (still extant), and part of a later wave of Dutch immigrants, was constructed from locally made DeJong Brick, and represent some of the early structures of Roseland. Both the First Reformed Church of Roseland, now Lilydale Church and the Boon House, should be considered for Chicago Landmark Designation and protection.
As jobs left the steel mills, auto plants and the Pullman Car Company, the decline of the Roseland community and surrounding areas began to accelerate. “White flight,” enhanced by illegal “real estate block-busters,” were prominent in Roseland and nearby communities. Racial violence occurred in the past, dating back to August of 1947 when African-American veterans and their families moved into the Chicago Housing Authority’s (CHA) Fernwood Park Housing Development at 104th and Halsted. Similar events occurred in Altgeld Gardens, a Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) development, further south. Police were at first said to be non-responsive to the violent protesters, but eventually sent in large forces to quell the groups of people.
The once thriving commercial corridor along Michigan Avenue continued to deteriorate. Suburban business owners opened shop in the commercial corridor, but it appeared that they had little interest in helping the community thrive and prosper. Private investors were no longer investing money into the commercial buildings along South Michigan Avenue. As evidenced, the City did not invest equitably in the needs of the Roseland community, and with that the condition of homes, businesses, schools and infrastructure declined rapidly. With a constant glimmer of hope, there are strong block clubs throughout the community that have successfully promoted stabilization of their housing stock and strengthening of community networks.Roseland Commercial Corridor, Eric Allix Rogers Chicago 7 2020
A great number of historic buildings along South Michigan Avenue in Roseland, have been lost over the past fifty years, and much of what remains is in poor or fair condition. Without the necessary investment and upkeep, the historic character buildings are more likely to be at risk of “demolition by neglect.” The greatest threat to this commercial corridor is building owners who often further defer maintenance and investment in their properties and buildings.
Since 2015, Preservation Chicago and our staff, has been working closely with organizations in Roseland and with the City’s youth in the community. This has been in coordination with the One Summer Chicago program, Phalanx Family Services, Alderman Anthony Beale and organized by Andrea Reed, Executive Director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce and Preservation Chicago. In the summer of 2019, Roseland community members and Preservation Chicago, conducted an electronic survey of buildings and parcels along Michigan Avenue between 103rd and 116th Streets. Vacant parcels and parking lots mark portions of the district, along with areas where a great amount of the historic fabric that has already been lost along Michigan Avenue. While that demolition is more abundant between 100th and 110th, south of 111th Street, has still retained much historic fabric, along with some viable and legacy businesses. The overall current condition of many of the existing commercial buildings is fair to poor. The Loveland survey graphics indicate the story of how many parcels are vacant, how many buildings in the corridor appear to be vacant, how many buildings are in poor or fair condition, and how many historic character buildings are in poor or fair condition.
Sadly, during the course of planning and surveying properties along South Michigan Avenue, the iconic Gately’s People’s Store was lost to fire — another reminder of the fragility of these buildings and the urgency to turn the course toward revitalization. There are at least 12 historic buildings along the Michigan Avenue corridor that are in extremely vulnerable condition.
While only about 30 historic character properties were identified as in good or excellent condition by surveyors, that is promising for what is possible for the other historic character buildings along the commercial corridor. There are great and vibrant exceptions, including several legacy businesses, which include Ware’s Ranch Steakhouse at 11147 S. Michigan and Old-Fashioned Donuts at 11248 S. Michigan Avenue. This commercial corridor once met the shopping and consumer needs of surrounding communities including Pullman, Kensington, Fernwood, Gano, Burnside, West Pullman, Riverdale and Altgeld Gardens. With revitalization happening all around the area, it is time to invest the energy and resources into reviving Roseland’s commercial corridor.Roseland Commercial Corridor, Eric Allix Rogers Chicago 7 2020
Historic properties along Michigan Avenue in Roseland exceed those reflected in the Chicago Historic Resource Survey completed in the 1990s, and more than 60% of those properties are in fair to poor condition.
Chicago has an extraordinary opportunity to invest in the South Michigan Avenue commercial corridor between 103rd and 115th Streets, along with to revitalize the remaining historic buildings and develop vacant lots so that they complement that historic character.
It is time to use historic preservation as an economic development driver along Michigan Avenue. Of the original 17 buildings listed on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, only 12 remain today. Without swift and effective investment, the deterioration and demolition will continue.
With a growing number of visitors expected to visit the Pullman National Monument site adjacent to Roseland, Roseland has a great opportunity to capitalize on those visitors by investing in its existing historic buildings, enforcing building code violations by negligent building owners and sensibly development vacant parcels along the corridor.
Priority should go first to preservation. Underneath layers of facades that were added in later years, there are solid and unique buildings along Michigan Avenue that have the potential to inspire full revitalization along the commercial corridor.
PlaceEconomics, a national organization that does city-level preservation impact studies, notes that historic preservation is an excellent tool to drive downtown revitalization, heritage tourism, improved property values and jobs and income. Investing in historic buildings has a substantially more economic impact than other industries. PlaceEconomics’ research finds that heritage tourists spend more money on lodging, transportation, food/beverage, retail and recreation as compared to regular visitors.Roseland Commercial Corridor, Eric Allix Rogers Chicago 7 2020
SPECIFIC RECOMMENDATIONS for South Michigan Avenue and the Greater Roseland Community:
- Special and specific funds for local investors to acquire and revitalize vacant buildings.
- The assistance of the Cook County Land Bank Authority to make troubled properties available to responsible investors.
- Additional financial and capacity building support for community economic development agents like the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce.
- Establishment of both a Landmark District and a Neighborhood Character District to honor, restore and protect the historic character of Michigan Avenue. Neighborhood Character Districts are a new tool being created by the City of Chicago to protect the scale, massing, setback and character-rich features of an area that does not meet the threshold as a full Landmark District.
- Job training, entrepreneur development and small business loans to grow and keep more wealth in the Roseland community.
- Strict enforcement of code violations to ensure that all Michigan Avenue property owners are responsible business and community partners.
- Façade improvement grants or low-interest loans to restore building character, along with program requirements that make these funds more accessible to building owners and perhaps residents as well.
- Investment in new construction on vacant parcels that respects and contributes to the historic integrity of the commercial corridor.
- Grants or low-interest loans for existing building owners to invest in more welcoming security gates for their buildings.
- Investment in affordable housing on the upper floors of mixed-use buildings.
“We realize this kind of transformation will take time, but Roseland is ready to start now,” said Andrea Reed, Executive Director of the Greater Roseland Chamber of Commerce. “Michigan Avenue was once known as the ‘Jewel of the South Side,’ and we need to get it back to that place.”
The City of Chicago, through its “Invest South|West” and other programs, needs to strategically and comprehensively commit to “righting the disinvestment wrongs” in Roseland over the last part of the 20th Century, especially its commercial corridors. Progress is moving along well in Pullman just to the east in Pullman, and now it is Roseland’s opportunity to attract more attention. And by attention, we mean investment of capital, grants small business and entrepreneur development, along with protections for its historic built environment, for the benefit of the Roseland, its surrounding communities, and for greater Chicago and its residents.
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The Central Manufacturing District (CMD) was the first planned industrial district in the nation which experimented in large-scale land development, capitalized on new technologies in construction and power production, and became the national model for the post-World War II industrial park. The first buildings in the Original East District (OED) were constructed in 1902. Construction began along the Pershing Road Development in 1917. The area was ideal for its large tracts of available and inexpensive land, with access to railroads and the proximity to a large, working-class population. Rail line spurs connected the main tracks to each building making shipping and transportation of goods and products more efficient. Both Districts were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2015 and 2016.Central Manufacturing District, Pershing Road Eric Allix Rogers Chicago 7 2020
The Central Manufacturing District (CMD) was originally envisioned in response to economic and geographic pressures in the Central Business District and to enhance business opportunities along Chicago’s flourishing network of national rail lines. Frederick Henry Prince, an East Coast investor, was behind the CMD concept. Within 10 years’ time, more than 200 firms were operating within its boundaries. The early years of the CMD were so successful that Prince expanded the development west on Pershing Road. It was anchored by a beautiful 11-story Tower Building, also called the Water Tower, designed by Samuel Scott Joy which measures 50 feet wide and 38 feet deep. The Water Tower and clock is emblazoned with “Central Manufacturing District,” and the Tower is surrounded by a series of tall, reinforced-concrete buildings sheathed in red brick, stone, terra cotta and a cementitious stucco. These industrial buildings share a unity of scale, volume, design and various detailed features. This model of the planned industrial district took off across the country. The founding company still maintains ownership of a later industrial development in the Chicago suburb of Itasca, Illinois.
In 1925 there were more than 40,000 people working at the CMD, and the complex provided a private bank, business incubator and ground maintenance as part of the development. It was once such a successful business operation that it required its own police force, and telephone operations. During the Great Depression, the company extended credit terms and worked with firms at the CMD so that only one single company in the entire complex failed. It housed big name companies like Wrigley, Goodyear, Westinghouse and manufacturers of all kinds of goods. It also housed warehousing and distribution facilities for the U.S. Army.
The CMD buildings are constructed of reinforced concrete and sheathed with red brick, terra cotta and limestone and are built in a variety of architectural styles including Classical Revival, Late Gothic Revival, Prairie, Art Deco, and even Mid-Century Modern. Many of the buildings have articulated corner towers with decorative terra cotta, further emphasizing the versatility and massive scale of the development.
The impressive streetwall along Pershing Road fronting McKinley Park is both breathtaking and massive in scale, as the buildings appear to “march down” Pershing Road for almost a half-mile. Visiting the District, one will observe many company logos and names emblazoned on the buildings. It’s all reflective of an era in our nation’s industrial history when America’s industrial and manufacturing might was at its zenith.Central Manufacturing District, Pershing Road Eric Allix Rogers Chicago 7 2020
Many buildings comprising the Central Manufacturing Pershing District are currently underutilized, under capacity or vacant. In 2019, Aberdeen Development removed the entire façade off the U.S. Cold Storage Company Building at 2055/2129 W. Pershing Road. While Aberdeen insisted a structural assessment was completed which indicated an imminent threat of brick falling from its facade, neither Aberdeen or the City of Chicago have been able to produce documents confirming this information. The building is “orange-rated” in the Chicago Historic Resource Survey (CHRS) under the 2129 W. Pershing Road address, which would have mandated a 90-day demolition delay and closer scrutiny by the Department of Planning and Development. However, building permits were submitted using another numerical address, 2055, which is not recognized by the City of Chicago on its “orange-rated” building list.
McKinley Park residents and community leaders were caught off guard in 2018 when MAT Asphalt set up operations at 2055 W. Pershing Road. The community was not given advance notice that an asphalt plant would be coming to the neighborhood. The IEPA issued a 1-year construction permit for the operation of the facility located directly across the street from the community’s namesake park and residential neighborhood boundaries. Neighbors for Environmental Justice, a group as diverse as the McKinley Park community in which it works, organized to stop operations at the asphalt plant or at least minimize the pollutants and odors that linger throughout the area. At times, the noxious smell and toxins emitted from the asphalt facility overwhelms the ability to enjoy recreation in McKinley Park, which is also part of the Chicago Park Boulevard System Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places. The asphalt plant is also feared to threaten development prospects for the remaining historic buildings in the CMD. Sadly, none of these National Register designations protect the area from being neglected, demolished or adversely altered.
Hispanic Housing Development Corporation has plans for affordable housing at 2159 W. Pershing Road. They also plan to lease the building at 2139 W. Pershing Road with commercial, residential and retail space. While the development team has committed to preservation of the building and restoration of its original lobby, there is currently no protections in place to ensure that they follow such plans. Aberdeen Development owns a second building at 1950 W. Pershing, the only building on the north side of Pershing in that district. The 1950 W. Pershing building previously served as a United States Post Office Station “C” (Governmental) and the Central Manufacturing District Inn.
In January 2013, the Pullman Couch Factory in the Original East Central Manufacturing District nearby caught fire in subzero temperatures that made it almost impossible to extinguish. It smoldered for days before being ultimately demolished. Chicago Fire Department officials noted at that time that vacancy is a great danger to these buildings, and it will be a serious and ever-present issue until new uses are found for the structures.
The recent demolition of the Wrigley Factory at 35th and Ashland, also in the Original East Central Manufacturing District nearby, illustrates a particular danger: that the district will be disassembled piecemeal. It deserves protections and an overall plan for the reuse of the historic buildings.
Cushman & Wakefield’s 2020 Industrial Outlook report forecasts continued growth in the market for 2020 and 2021. “Industrial has been the investors’ darling in recent years, and there is no indication of this love affair coming to an end any time soon,” the report noted. The square footage of industrial space will grow nationally, rents are expected to increase, and vacancy rates are expected to stay around 5%. With this demand for space in more densely populated areas, the buildings in and the community around the Central Manufacturing District are especially vulnerable.Central Manufacturing District, Pershing Road Eric Allix Rogers Chicago 7 2020
During recent community development meetings held by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP), an overwhelming majority of neighbors expressed support for protecting the CMD historic buildings. The community vision is for equitable growth that will continue to make New City/McKinley Park a great community and preserve the character of the residential core of the neighborhood.
While the National Register designations make the buildings in the Central Manufacturing District eligible for both federal and state historic tax credits, they offer no protection for the buildings. The only tool available in Chicago to offer protection against demolition and adverse and inappropriate alterations is a Chicago Landmark District designation.
12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas has stated publicly and in private meetings that he supports a Chicago Landmark District Designation for Pershing Road-CMD complex of buildings. We at Preservation Chicago look forward to working with him in the near future to make that Landmark District a reality. The area can be protected and still offer excellent economic opportunities for future developers.
Given the number of properties and the distinct development time periods for the buildings, it would be ideal to have a Landmark District for the Pershing Road Development Historic District. While further degradation has occurred since the National Register nominations were written, it would be relatively easy to convert the research and documentation from that nomination into a Chicago Landmark District nomination.
The Central Manufacturing District defines McKinley Park. Neighbors there wonder when their history and historic built environment will be honored and protected like historic sites downtown and in other areas of Chicago. It is the right time for the Central Manufacturing Pershing District to be considered for a Chicago Landmark District designation to keep this important part of our city’s industrial history intact and to ensure that the community and all stakeholders will have more control over how the area can be developed in the future.Download Original PDF
Preservation Chicago has selected the James R. Thompson Center/State of Illinois Building, for a fourth year, to our Chicago’s 7 Most Endangered List. The Thompson Center is an iconic and integral component to Chicago’s downtown and its municipal core. The building is noted for its prominent curvilinear corner and polychromed exterior facades, its many public spaces, open plazas and arcades, its voluminous 17-story interior atrium, its concourse-level food halls, pedway, CTA transit center and public art.
The potential sale and deaccession of a public governmental building, determined by elected officials to be too expensive to repair, is cause for great concern. The potential loss or destruction of the Thompson Center would also be a huge embarrassment to both the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois, as this building is well documented, published and recognized as an architectural landmark in many architectural circles. Designed by Helmet Jahn, an architect of great note on the world’s stage, the potential loss of this building would be tremendous, ranking among the many notable structures which Chicago has allowed to be wantonly demolished. Many of the demolished buildings were great works of art and architecture lost forever and among Chicago’s most notable missteps of the past. Jahn’s extensive commissions extend from his Chicago-based office to buildings and projects around the world. These consist of mostly tall buildings from Chicago to Europe, Asia and beyond. The enormously successful and popular Sony Center in Berlin, Germany, opened in 2000, was modeled in part on Chicago’s Thompson Center. Both the Sony Center and the Thompson Center are among the few mid-rise structures by the firm and both are an integral part of Berlin and Chicago’s city centers.
The recent action to appoint an advisor for the imminent sale of this one-of-a-kind structure, following Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker’s signature on SB 886 to sell the building, allows the process to proceed forward. This action brings great concerns for the building’s future, which at this time in unclear. However, former Governor Rauner had publicly discussed demolition, and to date there has not been a published sales listing for the Thompson Center to outline any requirements of the sale. Once again, we are compelled to spotlight the building in 2020.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
Since its construction in 1985, the building’s design and engineering challenges of the vast 17-story atrium and adjoining public spaces and offices, have been a contentious topic. However, no one can deny The Thompson Center is an iconic representation of Postmodern design by world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn, and the firm of C.F. Murphy-Murphy/Jahn.
The building’s architecture includes the transition between the flat plane and curvilinear-stepped glass curtain wall, along with the vertical plinth-like columned structures, which once held granite slabs and were designed to appear to continue outward from the building. These free-standing elements or structures are almost fragmentations, and a visual extension of the building line to the perimeters of the open plaza. Such ideas, as the building appearing to deconstruct or flay, are elements and features sometimes seen in the Post.odern Deconstructivist Movement. These features helped to define the plaza, with its T-shaped forms and members, attached to the cylindrical columns, along with portions of the stone on the LaSalle Street façade until removed in a past remodeling. Such ideas as this extension of the structure were popular with other architects of the period, and this may indeed be one of the first examples of Deconstructivist architecture noted in a Chicago building.
Preservation Chicago encourages the City of Chicago to work with the Governor and the State of Illinois to consider a Chicago Landmark designation of this building, in order to protect its historically significant elements and overall design. While SB 886 authorizing the sale of the Thompson Center did not require any future purchaser to retain the historic Post-Modern structure, it does ironically mandate that any future development on the property must bear in whole or in part the name of former Governor James R. Thompson.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
The structure also serves as an important transit hub for the Chicago Transit Authority and connects essentially all of the rapid transit lines at one central location. Selling the Thompson Center appears to be short-sighted, and public assets like State-owned buildings should not be sold to the highest bidder by our elected officials.
It should not be overlooked that the Thompson Center Building is also part of an important governmental center in the heart of the Loop—Chicago’s central business district. Also, several of the buildings comprising this center are designated Chicago Landmarks. These buildings include Chicago City Hall—Cook County Building, the Richard J. Daley Center & Courthouse and the George Dunne Building/former Brunswick Building, which is the only structure not Landmarked. However, even that structure by Myron Goldsmith (1918-1996) and Skidmore Owings & Merrill would fit Landmark criterion.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
The Thompson Center/State of Illinois Building’s futuristic design and program was unique and progressive for its day in the 1980s, which in part diminished the barriers between a traditional government building and a more public building with its amenities and spaces. The public plaza, the covered arcades, the vast 17-story atrium, retail shops on the first two levels, the concourse level of restaurants, and the transit center were all integrated into a public building—“a people’s palace” — with governmental offices located above. This was an extraordinary and revolutionary departure from both the design, program and public interfacing of government buildings of the past.
A vast number of more traditional government buildings throughout the country embraced a pared-down and streamlined Classicism in the last half of the 20th century, while structures in larger cities like Chicago took on a more International-Style approach of a glass building, rectangular in form, and more restrained and formal in overall design. Perhaps in a place like Chicago it was in response to the work of modern masters like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius and followers of the New Bauhaus. The Thompson Center, in comparison, took a new approach which was much more exuberant in its overall design – its shape, its Deconstructivist appearance, where the building’s hard lines and elevations on three facades soften with broad curving forms at the building’s principal elevation at Clark and Randolph Streets.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
Yet all of the elevations were glass, and the main entry and principal elevation were transparent suggesting a more open, transparent and interactive government between State officials and the people of the State of Illinois. This is accomplished while still referencing and emulating the grandiose and magnificent large, public buildings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Architect Helmut Jahn specifically noted in a public lecture in the 1980s on the building’s design that it recalled the massive dome and vast interior atrium space of the old Chicago Federal Building and Post Office. That domed structure was completed in 1905, and located on the block bounded by Dearborn, Adams and Clark Streets and Jackson Boulevard. The old Federal Building was designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb and demolished in 1965.
The unique design of the Thompson Center has curvilinear walls comprised of irregularly shaped glass panels which presented distinct challenges to the building construction methods of the 1980s. This resulted in construction costs being more expensive than originally projected. As mentioned previously, the Thompson Center inspired Helmut Jahn’s much-acclaimed and vibrant Sony Center in the heart of Berlin some 20 years later.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
The Thompson Center was architect Helmut Jahn’s most significant public building at the time. It was a bold design idea to represent the State’s Chicago offices. Recognized internationally for its architecture, it served as a “second state capitol building” intended to project the State’s influence in the largest and most populous city in Illinois. It was designed to capture the viewer’s attention and signal its importance as a seat of government. The building’s futuristic styling generated, and continues to generate, both support and criticism.
The structure’s grand, 17-story atrium is topped by a vast skylight and stepped glass curtain-wall which spans the corner entry, extending across most of the building’s Randolph and Clark Street facades. This effect essentially creates a large public plaza both inside and outside the building’s main entry and extends to the concourse level of the building. It was intended to welcome the public into a government building, with accessible public spaces on multiple levels and extensive glass curtain walls to represent an open and transparent government.
The State of Illinois Building and its atrium were originally conceived to mix governmental offices with various services and retail, which was intended to reinvigorate the City’s business district along Randolph and Clark Streets. At one time, public music concerts were held in its grand atrium space. This area of the Loop had once been the center of its theater and entertainment district informally referred to as Chicago’s “Rialto District.”Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
The “Rialto District” once included such entities as the Bismarck/Palace Theater, the Garrick/Schiller Theater (demolished), the Woods Theater (demolished), the United Artists/Apollo Theater (demolished), the Oriental Theater (now known as the Nederlander Theater), the Colonial/Iroquois Theater (demolished), the Erlanger Theater (demolished), and the RKO Grand (demolished). Additional theaters included the Harris and Selwyn/Michael Todd Theaters (now the Goodman Theater) around the corner on Dearborn, the Chicago Theater, the Roosevelt Theater (demolished), the Loop Theater (demolished), State-Lake Theater (demolished), the Capital (demolished), and the Randolph Theater (demolished) on nearby State Street. Nearby and within a few blocks also was the Clark Theater (demolished), the Monroe Theater (demolished) and the Today Theater (demolished). The Rialto District was supported by a vibrant collection of famous Chicago restaurants, including Henrici’s, Toffenetti’s, Old Heidelberg, Holloway House, South Pacific, Mayor’s Row, Hoe Sai Gai, Stouffer’s, Pixley & Ehler’s and the Blackhawk, extending eastward to Wabash Avenue.
The site of the Thompson Center/State of Illinois Building was previously occupied by the legendary 1,700-room Sherman House Hotel, which stood mothballed from 1973 until its demolition prior to the construction of the State of Illinois Building. Founded in 1837 and renamed the Sherman House in 1844, it was a great landmark in Chicago since its earliest years and was home to the College Inn, various hotel restaurants, and many jazz venues. The State of Illinois Building was intended to channel the energy of “The Sherman” and reinvigorate the faded Randolph Street Corridor, one of the oldest sections of the Loop’s business and entertainment district.
The Thompson Center building never achieved the vibrancy envisioned by Helmut Jahn and former Governor Thompson. Its retail tenants have become more mundane over time and deferred maintenance has negatively impacted its appearance.
The State of Illinois Building was renamed the James R. Thompson Center in 1993 to honor the longest-serving governor of Illinois who served from 1977 to 1991. Governor Thompson was a strong proponent in the selection of Helmut Jahn as the architect for the new state office building. Additionally, Governor Thompson was instrumental in selecting the most extravagant and grandiose of Jahn’s design options for the building. For pop culture fans, the building is featured prominently in the climatic ending of the movie Running Scared starring Billy Crystal and Gregory Hynes.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
Governor J.B. Pritzker signed legislation to move forward with plans to sell the James R. Thompson Center. While former Governor Bruce Rauner estimated the sale would generate $300 million in revenue, that number is both questionable and perhaps short-sighted. In addition, the budget numbers compiled to repair the Thompson Center appear to be very high estimates, and it is possible those numbers could be lowered if a second estimate were prepared by another independent firm.
that the public listing of the building for sale has not yet been released, there is concern the building will be sold to a developer seeking to demolish it and maximize height in a newly constructed building on the site.
The scale of the Thompson Center and its vast, open plaza and public interior atrium spaces add to Chicagoans’ quality of life by allowing light and air into a dense section of the Loop. If sold to the highest bidder, these benefits are almost certain to be lost. Additionally, the soaring central interior atrium was built by and for the people of the State of Illinois and, therefore, should remain accessible to the public as a public building. Conceptual drawings that increase density but retain the historic building have also been advanced by Helmut Jahn and Landmarks Illinois. The “Postmodern People’s Palace” should remain in the realm and domain of the people of Illinois.
Also, of great note on the site is one of Chicago’s great public sculpture works by an internationally recognized artist of the 20th Century. The “Monument with Standing Beast” sculpture located in The Thompson Center’s public plaza was created by one of the world’s most noted Modernist artists, Jean Dubuffet. It was a gift to the citizens of Chicago and Illinois and must be protected. We have seen important works of 20th century Chicago public art removed (Henry Bertoia’s Sonambient), whitewashed (All of Mankind mural by William Walker), destroyed (top surface mosaic of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons), placed in storage (Alexander Calder’s The Universe) or sold at auction (Henry Moore’s Large Internal-External Upright Form). 20th century Chicago public art was a 2017 Chicago 7 Most Endangered, and it is imperative that this great Dubuffet sculpture be protected.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
Our 2020 call to action is twofold: first to the City of Chicago and then to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield and the Governor’s office.
Preservation Chicago urges the City of Chicago to move quickly to designate the Thompson Center/ State of Illinois Building as a Chicago Landmark. A Landmark designation could protect this building, plaza and public sculpture, ensuring that these will be retained in any redevelopment of the site.
Chicago Landmark designation requires a building to meet two of seven criteria. We believe the Thompson Center would meet exceed that minimum threshold for designation. These include:
- Criteria 1: Value as an Example of City, State or National Heritage for “its value as an example of the architectural, cultural, economic, historic, social, or other aspect of the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois or the United States.”
- Criteria 4: Exemplary Architecture for “its exemplification of an architectural type or style distinguished by innovation, rarity, uniqueness, or overall quality of design, detail, materials, or craftsmanship.”
- Criteria 5: Significant Architect or Designer for “its identification as the work of an architect, designer, engineer, or builder whose individual work is significant in the history of development of the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, or the United States.” Criterion 5, would apply to Helmut Jahn and C.F. Murphy/Jahn, for a world-renowned architect and the firm’s exemplary work.
Jahn’s career began in Chicago and is now celebrated around the world. This is a building of the people, built as a monument and open to all, with many public spaces that should be forever open to all. Efforts to both protect its architecture and vision and activate the building should be implemented.
We remain hopeful that prevailing political opinions will work to retain the building as a State-owned facility for the people of Illinois. Alternative ideas could even consider the lease-back of office space to the State as part of a sale at a reduced rental rate, or for the State of Illinois to be a co-owner or stakeholder in a partnership that controls ownership of the building. Such funds derived from a partial sale of perhaps the commercial portions of the building could possibly help underwrite the necessary monies and funds to restore and repair the building.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky
Even if the building were to be sold to fill a portion of the budget and to address existing pension deficits, it would be a drop in the bucket toward that goal and a short-term drop at that. It would most likely take the equivalent to the sale of 500 Thompson Center buildings to balance the budget, so why continue to sell a historically significant State asset at all? The Illinois Governor’s Mansion and the Illinois State Capital Building have both been in various states of disrepair in recent years. These two buildings were restored using various funding sources, to the tune of millions of dollars, to take care of deferred maintenance issues that had built up over the years.
If it does go through with a sale, we call on the State of Illinois to prioritize preservation into its specifications for the proposed sale of the property. As residents of the state, we understand the financial pressures that our legislature is working to address. Utilizing revenues from the sale of the James R. Thompson Center would make a small dent in the unfunded pension deficit. We understand the State desires to sell the building, but it does not need to be demolished as a part of that sale? There are preservation-sensitive ways to offer developers the density they require to make the project feasible.
The State of Illinois and the City of Chicago need to work together to protect this significant building. A comprehensive redevelopment plan could correct the deferred maintenance issues with the building. A tower-addition and other studies by Helmut Jahn’s design firm recently released indicate the flexibility and has suggested that the existing building could accommodate new construction that would add square footage while remaining sensitive to the historic building, atrium and public space. As of now, we want to see the building preserved in its entirety along with its public spaces, plazas and artwork.Thompson Center © Serhii Chrucky Download Original PDF