Chicago 7 Most Endangered Buildings - 2018
Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance, & South Shore Cultural Center
Jackson Park, Osaka Gardens, Photo Credit Eric Allix Rogers
James R. Thompson Center / State of Illinois Building
Chicago 7 2018
James R. Thompson Center / State of Illinois Building, 100 W. Randolph Street, Photo Credit Gabriel X. Michael
William Rainey Harper High School
Chicago 7 2018
William Rainey Harper High School Photo Credit Eric Allix Rogers
Washington Park Substation / Gaitan Building
Chicago 7 2018
Washington Park Substation, 6141 S. Prairie Avenue Photo Credit Eric Allix Rogers
Brick Paved Streets and Alleys
Chicago 7 2018
Brick Paved Streets and Alleys, Photo Credit Preservation Chicago
Woodruff Arcade Building
Chicago 7 2018
Woodruff Arcade, 6361 N. Broadway, Chicago, Photo Credit Ward Miller
Chicago 7 2018
Hotel Guyon, Photo Credit Gabriel X. Michael
Chicago Union Station
Chicago 7 2018
Union Station, Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Woman’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition Photo Credit © The White City, Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition of 1983, Chicago Historical Society/ Chicago History Museum
Eastern Veranda of the Woman’s Building
Photo Credit © The Dream City, A Portfolio of Photographic Views of the World’s Columbian Exposition
We at Preservation Chicago welcome the Barack Obama Presidential Center to Chicago’s South Side. We would strongly support a proposal to construct the Center on private land to avoid impacting the Olmsted-designed Jackson Park.
Jackson Park, with its connecting Midway, and South Shore Cultural Center appeared on Preservation Chicago’s 2017 Chicago 7 Most Endangered list. A year later, while a few of the details of the proposals have changed, the overall threat to these important parks remain, so they have been included for a second year.
Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance, and the South Shore Cultural Center, fronting Lake Michigan, are among the greatest historical and natural assets of Chicago’s South Side. Their borders meet at South Shore Drive and 67th Street, and also at Stony Island and the Midway Plaisance. The future of these parks have become more directly intertwined with several interlocking, multi-million dollar, new construction proposals being overseen by the Chicago Park District, city agencies, and an array of non-profit organizations and private contractors.
Jackson Park is the proposed site of the Tod Williams and Billie Tsien-designed Barack Obama Presidential Center (between 60th and 63rd to the north and south, and Cornell Drive and Stony Island Avenue to the east and west) being constructed by the private non-profit Obama Presidential Foundation. One of the most significant recent changes is that the complex will not include the Barack Obama Presidential Library. Instead, the proposed development to be built on public park space will include a private museum, Obama Foundation office suites, event spaces and a variety of community spaces of which only some will be free and open to the public. The planned Obama Presidential Library has been replaced with a local branch of the Chicago Public Library. This change will possibly shift the burden of long-term operating costs of the proposed public library and other related structures from the Federal Government and Obama Foundation to the taxpayers.
Other significant impacts are the closing of Cornell Drive, originally known as West Lagoon Drive and Bridal Path, which is an original Frederick Law Olmsted feature of the park, and which was greatly expanded in 1960, from a modest and beautiful-winding recreational parkway drive and carriageway. This closure if approved for a private entity, would also result in a significant widening of both South Lake Shore Drive, originally called Shore Drive and Harbor Drive in the Olmsted Plans, and South Stony Island Avenue, which will adversely affect the Jackson Park landscape and these other roadways, in addition to being a great cost and burden to the taxpayers with initial costs estimates of $175 million, according to the City of Chicago.
The Chicago Park District has proposed a $30 million plan to combine two golf courses, the Jackson Park 18-hole and South Shore Cultural Center 9-hole golf course into one larger 18-hole course, suitable for hosting PGA Championship games. A private non-profit group, the Chicago Parks Golf Alliance has been selected by the Chicago Park District to fundraise and commission the course design, which is being developed away from public view by private contractor Tiger Woods’ TGR Design firm. This design may also result in the cutting of approximately 2,000 trees, including many old-growth trees, according to initial estimates from the design team. The golf course should be reconsidered for another site in Chicago, perhaps along the south lakefront, from the Lake Shore Drive Extension to the former U.S. Steel Site, thus providing three golf courses for a city the size of Chicago. Additionally, this would result in a unique and spectacular lakefront golf course for Chicago, and extend the park system southward along the lakefront.
Recently, Jackson Park was also the site of improvements sponsored by another private non-profit organization, Project 120, which included a Yoko Ono sculpture installed outside the historic Osaka Garden. Project 120’s website also includes suggested plans for a variety of major changes to the park landscape including a visitor’s center, music pavilion, and others. The combined impact of the proposals would result, not in minor modifications to one small section, but in widespread and major changes throughout Olmsted’s great masterpiece.
In the past year, some of the proposals originally presented by Project 120 have re-appeared in the Chicago Park District’s South Lakefront Framework Plan, the development of which is being conducted largely by private, for-profit design and planning contractors Smith Group JJR.
Because portions of both Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, a Federal “Section 106” review process mandated by the National Preservation Act and was triggered in fall 2017. This review process is being managed by the City of Chicago Department of Planning and many of the proposals it is tasked with reviewing have already been publicly endorsed by high-ranking City officials, raising concerns regarding the ability to conduct a rigorous and transparent review process.
The historical 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. Both sites are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and certain features, structures and buildings of both sites are Designated Chicago Landmarks. 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.
The Mediterranean-revival South Shore Cultural Center, originally the South Shore Country Club, was designed by the notable Chicago architectural firm of Marshall & Fox and landscape designer Thomas Hawkes, and is one of the most recognizable landmarks on Chicago’s South Side. In its more recent past, it was the site of Barack and Michelle Obama’s wedding reception. Its transformation from a private club to a public park is a major community preservation success story. In 1975, South Shore, Hyde Park and Woodlawn neighborhood 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, yet plans called for the demolition of the club and supporting buildings. After a lengthy community preservation advocacy effort and under intense community pressure, the Chicago Park District decided not to demolish the historic buildings, and in time renovated and restored the buildings. Ultimately, they supported the Chicago Landmark Designation of most of the former country club structures.
The creation of the South Shore Cultural Center as a public facility open to all visitors represents a victory of diversity and inclusion over the South Shore Country Club’s legacy of exclusion.
The threats to Jackson Park and South Shore Cultural Center are multiple and interrelated. They include the construction of the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park, the expansion and total redesign of the golf course, and various other development proposals which appear in the South Lakefront Framework Plan. Additional threats include the removal of Olmsted-designed Cornell Drive, a widening of South Lake Shore Drive, and a widening of Stony Island Avenue to accommodate a privately-run museum. The proposed widening of South Lake Shore Drive will likely impact both Jackson Park and the Lakefront, and impact access to Lake Michigan, the harbors, 57th Street Beach, and 63rd Street Beach.
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 are perhaps motivated by a different set of priorities and objectives than those of the 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 have been 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. The South Lakefront Framework Plan was presented as an effort to create an open and deliberate planning process and a way to ensure that the various infrastructure changes being proposed by multiple private organizations would be coordinated under the publicly-accountable umbrella of the Chicago Park District, and to allow the voices of Chicagoans to be heard and acknowledged in this process. Unfortunately, the South Lakefront Framework Plan has added another layer of meetings, contractors, plans, and organizational timelines and the benefits have been limited.
Community voices at the South Lakefront Framework Plan forums, increased public outreach to community stakeholders from the Obama Foundation, and the tireless advocacy of two local community groups, 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.
Furthermore, 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, approximately 300 trees (many of which are mature old-growth) would be clear-cut, and a major regrading of the site would be undertaken for the construction of the Obama Presidential Center. An additional 2,000 trees would be clear-cut and major regrading undertaken for the new fairways of the expanded golf course. 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 will be bulldozed, and the findings 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 requests that the City of Chicago and the Chicago Park District take into account the full range of stakeholders in this process and balance the interests of their constituents with the development of private entities. We request that they prioritize an open and transparent process in determining the future of our public lands and green spaces. Additionally, we request that they 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 and Chicago for generations to come. This would include consideration of narrowing the Olmsted-designed historic parkways, instead of closing them and removing them completely, and retaining South Lake Shore Drive, with its current proportions and winding Lakefront Boulevard characteristics, along with Stony Island Avenue as they currently exist. This would render unnecessary the proposed widening of the other roadways and perhaps save hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars.
In 2017, a handful of local community groups had come forward to advocate for changes to the proposed development plans. 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 of the Midway, Midway Plaisance Advisory Council, Coalition to Save Jackson Park, Blacks in Green, The Hyde Park Historical Society, among others, and the city-wide parks advocacy organization, Friends of the Park.
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 historic 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 archeologically important sites such as the foundations 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, 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 Preservation Act will reinforce the importance of protecting the important 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 a new Section 106 process be initiated specifically for the golf course expansion project at both Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center.
Furthermore, 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 for the badly-needed maintenance and rehabilitation of historic park structures, such as the South Shore Cultural Center main building and stables and in Jackson Park, including but not limited to, the Comfort Station, the Iowa Building, the Columbia/Darrow Bridge, public paths and meadows, and ball fields, many of which are crumbling.
1. Consider relocating the Obama Presidential Center to another nearby site, outside of Jackson Park, and another location other than the historic Frederick Law Olmsted-designed parkland and greenspace which belong to the people of Chicago. Perhaps this Presidential Center could be considered for a site nearby on property owned by the University of Chicago, or the approximately nine acres of long-vacant parcels next to the Green Line, adjacent to Washington Park.
2. Consider repairing and restoring the Jackson Park Golf Course, said to be the oldest public golf course west of the Allegheny Mountains. This would be in lieu of a major reworking and combining of two golf courses with 27 holes, into one professional PGA-level golf course of 18 holes and destroying approximately 2,000 trees, some of them old growth trees and even predating the Olmsted-designed park.
3. Consider moving the proposed TGR Golf Course concept for Jackson Park southward, to the new South Lake Shore Drive Extension and extending to the site of the former and now demolished United States Steel factories in the South Chicago neighborhood. This would be a third golf course option for a major city like Chicago, in lieu of just one golf course and an economic boost to the South Chicago and the East Side neighborhoods of Chicago. Perhaps a large 18-hole golf course, 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 this extraordinary and expansive Chicago Lakefront property. This idea would be an amazing and forward-thinking option along South Lake Shore Drive and Lake Michigan and correct missteps and brownfields of the past, in allowing this land for private steel manufacturing industrial use, for more than a century.
4. Repairing and landmarking Jackson Park’s existing historic buildings, structures, paths, meadow, bridges, including the Columbia/Clarence Darrow Bridge; and the South Shore Cultural Center, which have suffered long-deferred maintenance.
5. Narrowing the Olmsted-designed roadways and parkways to their historic pre-1960s dimensions. Widening was considered a misstep by the general public at that time and were part of numerous protests, resulting in the loss of many trees. 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, which everyone could enjoy, including motor vehicles. Everyone should be able to enjoy Jackson Park, by various modes, walking, jogging, biking and driving through this pastoral setting.
6. Commit to retaining South Lake Shore Drive current proportions and winding Lakefront Boulevard characteristics and commit to retaining the current proportions of Stony Island Avenue.Download Original PDF
Considered one of Chicago’s most controversial building projects of its era, the State of Illinois Building now known as the James R. Thompson Center, is one of Chicago’s most iconic late 20th century buildings and represented a radical departure from the design of conventional government office buildings of its time. Designed by world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn, the glass and steel building is an important Post-Modern building.
The Thompson Center is currently threatened with sale and demolition by Governor Rauner and his administration. Preservation Chicago encourages that this building be protected and considered for Chicago Landmark Designation.
The building’s design was meant to suggest a more open and transparent government, while referencing the grand 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, designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb, completed in 1905 and demolished in 1965.
The unique design of the State of Illinois Building, with its curved walls comprised of irregularly-shaped glass panels presented distinct challenges to the building construction methods of the 1980s. This resulted in construction costs being more expensive than originally projected.
The State of Illinois Building was architect Helmut Jahn’s most significant public building at the time, and a bold idea in its design to represent the State’s Chicago offices. It served as a “second state capital building” to project its influence in Illinois’ largest and most populated city, recognized internationally for its architecture. 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 public 17-story atrium is topped by a vast skylight and stepped glass curtain-wall which spans the entry and extends across most of the building’s footprint. This effect essentially creates a large public plaza both inside and outside the building’s Clark and Randolph entry. It was conceived 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”, which included the Bismarck/Palace Theater, Schiller/Garrick Theater, the Woods, the Apollo/United Artists Theater, and the Oriental Theater. Additional theaters included the Harris and Selwyn/Michael Todd Theaters around the corner on Dearborn, and the Chicago Theater, Roosevelt Theater, Loop Theater, and State-Lake Theater on nearby State Street. The Rialto District was supported by a vibrant collection of famous Chicago restaurants, including Henrici’s, Toffenetti’s, Old Heidelberg, Holloway House, Mayor’s Row, Hoe Sai Gai, Stouffer’s, and the Blackhawk, extending eastward to Wabash Avenue.
The site 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 Thompson Center. The Sherman was a great landmark and home to many jazz venues, including the College Inn and various hotel restaurants and had been a vibrant part of Chicago since its earliest years. The State of Illinois Building/Thompson Center was intended to channel the energy of The Sherman House and reinvigorate the faded Randolph Street Corridor, one of the oldest sections of the Loop’s business and entertainment districts.
The State of Illinois Building never achieved the vibrancy envisioned by Helmut Jahn and Governor Thompson. Its retail tenants have become more mundane over time and deferred maintenance impacted its appearance. The State of Illinois Building inspired Helmut Jahn’s much acclaimed landmark and highly vibrant Sony Center in the heart of Berlin, some twenty years later.
The State of Illinois Building was renamed the James R. Thompson Center, to honor the longest-serving governor of Illinois from 1977 to 1991. Governor Thompson was a strong proponent in selecting and advocating for Helmut Jahn as the architect for the new State office building and instrumental in selecting the most extravagant and grandiose of Jahn’s design options for the building.
Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has repeatedly requested that state lawmakers pass a bill allowing him to sell the Thompson Center/ State of Illinois Building. He has cited deferred maintenance and operating inefficiencies, and is drawn to the potentially high sale price of the land. To maximize value, Governor Rauner has requested that the City of Chicago relinquish zoning and land use controls to allow the State of Illinois to command the highest possible price for the sale.
Preservation Chicago believes that zoning, planning and land use controls should not be surrendered by the City of Chicago to another governmental body or private developer. New construction and demolition have significant impact on the livability of Chicago now and into the future, so many factors must be considered in the decision making process regarding planning and development.
Preservation Chicago believes that the scale of the Thompson Center, along with its open plaza and public interior atrium space adds quality of life to Chicagoans 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.
Furthermore, the Jean Dubuffet sculpture, Monument with Standing Beast, by one of the world’s most noted Modernist artists in its sweeping public plaza, is a gift to the citizens of Chicago and Illinois and must be protected. We’ve seen important works of 20th century Chicago public art removed (Henry Bertoia’s Sonambient), 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, so it is imperative that this great Dubuffet sculpture be protected.
Preservation Chicago suggests that the City of Chicago move quickly to designate the Thompson Center/ State of Illinois Building as a Chicago Landmark.
This would protect this building, plaza, and public sculpture designed by one of the Chicago’s most famous contemporary architects, whose career began here and whose work is now celebrated around the world from Chicago to Berlin to Shanghai. 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, and efforts to both protect its architecture and vision and activate the building should be implemented.
We urge the State of Illinois and the City of Chicago to work together to protect this significant building. A comprehensive redevelopment plan could correct the deferred maintenance. A tower-addition study by Helmut Jahn’s design firm 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.Download Original PDF
Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Board of Education are moving forward with a plan to close four Englewood community area high schools, including William Rainey Harper High School, and replace them all with one single, $85 million state-of-the-art campus projected to open in 2019. More recently, Chicago Public Schools announced that the closing of Harper will be delayed until the new school building is completed. However, the future of Harper High School and its building remains uncertain.
HARPER HIGH SCHOOL HISTORY:
Harper High School, located at 6520 S. Wood Street in the Englewood community of Chicago, opened in 1911. The school was named in honor of William Rainey Harper (1856-1906), a legendary educator who served as president of both the University of Chicago and Bradley University, and who was a champion of modernizing the facilities and standardizing the academic curriculum of the Chicago Public Schools .
Designed by celebrated architect, Dwight Perkins, the four-story brick structure is bold in its execution, with its well-organized composition expressing its strong massing and verticality. This effect is further emphasized by wide brick piers and accentuated with large flat masonry surfaces, at both the corners and uppermost portions of the building. Within these flat-plane surfaces are elaborate patterns of intricate brickwork which are integrated with bands of ornament. The interlaced and accentuated fenestration of the facade further emphasizes the verticality of the structure. This is an amazing and very creative use of a two-toned patterned brickwork to create a beautifully ornamented façade with inexpensive materials; thus reducing the amount of expensive materials like limestone or terra cotta required for construction.
Portions of the building’s base and entries project from the building’s surface and create a composition of a defined base, middle and top-section, much like the tall and refined commercial buildings of the period and following the principals and methodology of architect Louis Sullivan and the Chicago School of Architecture. The overall effect of the design creates a very sophisticated and beautiful series of elevations and facades that visually enhance the building and surrounding neighborhood.
Being one of several such designs in this similar genre, William Rainey Harper High School, along with Grover Cleveland Elementary School on the Northwest Side, were among the first to be constructed by the Chicago Board of Education/Chicago Public Schools in this style, employed by architect Dwight Perkins. Others constructed in a similar style followed in the coming years included Noble, Gary, Jefferson, and Corkery which all vary slightly. However, this is one of the finest examples of Perkins’s work using this artistic patterned brickwork composition and in this style.
DWIGHT PERKINS HISTORY:
Dwight Perkins left school to work in the Chicago Stock Yards after the untimely death of his father, but soon found employment as an apprentice with an architecture firm. After receiving his degree in architecture from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Perkins returned to Chicago and began working for the architectural firm of Burnham & Root. His talents were soon recognized and he became a highly-valued employee. Perkins was entrusted with running the prestigious and busy office after John Wellborn Root’s unexpected death from pneumonia in 1891 and with Daniel Burnham heavily involved in preparations for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893.
During this period, he supervised the completion of the Root-designed Monadnock Building, Chicago’s tallest masonry skyscraper and a Designated Chicago Landmark. In 1894, Perkins left to start his own architectural practice. His first commission was an 11-story office building at 64 E. Van Buren Street with an 850-seat theater for Steinway Piano Company, which later became known as Steinway Music Hall/Ziegfeld Hall, an outstanding building demolished in 1970. Perkins’s architectural office was located in Steinway Hall which became a magnet for innovative architects inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement and the writings of Louis Sullivan, such as Robert and Allen Pond, Robert Spencer, Walter Burley Griffin, Perkins’s cousin Marion Mahony, and Frank Lloyd Wright, a core group of architects who kept offices in the building and who would later develop the Prairie School style of architecture.
In 1905, with stellar recommendations from Daniel Burnham, Dwight Perkins was appointed as the Chief Architect to the Board of Education. He served in this capacity for five years during a productive time for the construction of public schools. Perkins designed 25 schools throughout the city for the Chicago Board of Education, and made drawings for school building expansions and additions for up to 40 more.
The most recognized of his school buildings is Carl Schurz High School, built in 1910 on Chicago’s Northwest Side, and a Designated Chicago Landmark. Another Perkins-designed building, Lyman Trumbull School on Chicago’s North Side in the Andersonville community is in the process of being reopened as a private school after being closed for five years, and this extraordinary building is being considered for Chicago Landmark Designation.
Construction of Harper High School in Englewood began in 1909 and the school opened in 1911. Perkins incorporated his sense of humanity and progressive attitude into his school designs and brought about some important changes to school architecture. He wanted the buildings to serve as community centers after regular school hours, so he placed auditoriums on the first floor to make them accessible for community functions.
Perkins widened stairways and hallways to reduce overcrowding. Additionally, he placed bathrooms on every floor and maximized natural light in the classrooms. These were innovative design concepts that have since become standard features of contemporary school design.
Perkins was a strong advocate for children’s playgrounds and open space, which were radical ideas in his day. Most schools of that period were built close to the street and often without playgrounds. In his commissions, he provided more generous setbacks, more extensive landscaping, and created more open-space around the school buildings for larger playgrounds.
Perkins’s advocacy for open space led to him to be appointed as a member of the Special Parks Commission headed by prominent Chicago architects, and in 1904, he became the first president of the Chicago Regional Planning Commission, which later evolved into the Cook County Forest Preserve. His leadership contributed to the formation of the Cook County Forest Preserves along with his friend and colleague, Jens Jensen, the celebrated landscape architect for Chicago’s West Park System. Dwight Perkins continued to serve on the Chicago Park District and Cook County Forest Preserve Boards until his retirement.
Despite his remarkable contributions, Perkins was forced to leave his role of Chief Architect to the Chicago Board of Education for political reasons, presumably his refusal to direct over-priced contracts to politically-connected contractors. Returning to private practice, Perkins remained busy designing settlement houses, park buildings, and private residences. At the Lincoln Park Zoo, he designed the much-beloved Lion House and Cafe Brauer, both Designated Chicago Landmarks, and North Pond Cafe (originally a warming station for North Pond skaters).
Some of his other existing public school buildings are Moos, Hayt, Stewart, Cleveland, Pullman, Jahn, Tilton, Trumbull, Pullman, Bowen, and Schurz High Schools.
HISTORY OF ENGLEWOOD:
The history of Englewood begins in the 1850’s at the crossing of two rail lines, near what is now 63rd and Wentworth. The early settlers were primarily German and Irish railroad workers and truck farmers who settled near the railway junction. The Stock Yards opened in June of 1865, a few miles to the north, and many of the people who were employed there found homes in Englewood. In 1889, the City of Chicago annexed Englewood and investment in the community expanded significantly with the construction of brick two flats, apartment buildings, banks, schools, hospitals, churches and other institutions among the existing older wooden cottages. The city’s street car system extended into Englewood, and in 1907 Englewood got its own “L” line extension into the community, now known as the CTA’s Green Line.
The South Side community of Englewood has seen many changes since it was annexed into the City of Chicago in 1889. What was once a thriving residential and commercial area, centered around 63rd and Halsted Streets, has suffered decades of disinvestment and population loss. The community continues to struggle to overcome a host of challenges and reverse these declines.
In late 2017, Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Board of Education announced they will be moving forward with a project that would close four Englewood schools: Harper High School, Hope College Prep, Paul Robeson High School, and TEAM Englewood. The latest proposal by the Chicago Board of Education is to demolish Robeson High School and use the site to construct a new $85 million high school campus. The remaining three schools will be closed over the next few years, and their futures remain unknown.
This comes on the heels of the Chicago Board of Education’s decision to close 49 public schools in 2013. At that time, Mayor Rahm Emanuel created the “Advisory Committee for School Repurposing” in an effort to create a plan and to implement that plan for repurposing these buildings.
Some of the schools are being used for new schools or administrative offices. Others have been sold to developers for adaptive reuse. However, many of the closed schools remain unused with an uncertain future, such as the Perkins-designed Francis Scott Key School in the Austin Community.
There are reports of a possible sale of two of the Englewood schools, but Preservation Chicago worries that if William Rainey Harper High School remains empty, it could fall into disrepair. If Harper High School is not used as a school, Preservation Chicago recommends that the building be adaptively reused for affordable housing, senior housing, and/or veterans housing. Classrooms could easily be converted into housing units. Additionally, Harper High School has a large auditorium, an indoor pool, and a gymnasium which could be utilized as a community fitness center and community gathering space, possibly a Chicago Park District field house.
Recently, there has been positive development in the Englewood shopping district at 63rd and Halsted Streets, including a new Whole Foods and other smaller investments. The repurposing of this significant Dwight Perkins designed school building would be a highly visible investment that could serve community members and catalyze further investment in the Englewood community. Additionally, reuse would protect and celebrate the neighborhood’s existing historical and aesthetic resources. We further recommend that Harper High School be considered for a Chicago Landmark Designation to protect it from possible demolition or harm in the future.Download Original PDF
In the early 20th century, electrical substation buildings were built across Chicago to electrify the city. They were built in various architectural styles, including Prairie School, Art Deco, and Classical Revival, and their unique ornament often celebrated the innovative new technology.
Electrification was extraordinary innovation that allowed a tremendous leap forward in the quality of life for city dwellers. The novelty and excitement around the distribution of electricity has faded and today’s electrical infrastructure is largely utilitarian.
Constructed by Samuel Insull’s Commonwealth Edison utility conglomerate, many of the early electrical substation buildings were truly architecturally magnificent. They were designed to be assets to their surrounding communities and present Commonwealth Edison in a positive light. Many electrical substation buildings remain in operation in conditions that range from good to poor, while others are vacant and endangered. As the utility grid has been modernized over the years, we hope that these marvelous buildings will be repurposed and preserved.
The history of electric power in Chicago begins with multiple electric generation companies in the 1880s, followed by utility baron Samuel Insull consolidating many of these companies into his Chicago Edison (later Commonwealth Edison) company in the 1890s.
Insull’s first substation was opened on the Near North Side in 1899 which transformed power generated from its efficient generating plants to home-use voltage in an area nearest the largest load demand. The substation concept was a huge success, and Insull began constructing substations all over the city, initially in rented property, and then beginning in 1901 in purpose-built structures. This concept created efficiencies in power generation and distribution that resulted in falling electricity rates, more subscribers and massive expansion of the metropolitan region over the next 30 years.
These purpose-built substations, particularly from the 1910s, were mostly built of a high quality by notable architects including Holabird and Roche; Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge; and particularly Hermann von Holst, whose firm Von Holst & Fyfe and his own independent practice designed a majority of the substations built between the 1910s and 1930s, many in a unique Prairie School style. These substations were constructed of durable materials and were designed to house heavy electrical equipment. Other substations were constructed for the streetcar and elevated railroad companies, as well as municipal agencies, and many are of a similar architectural pedigree and quality.
One substation, in particular, faces a threat of demolition by neglect.
The Washington Park Substation at 6141 S. Prairie Avenue is an excellent example of the many substations built across the Chicago region, and it currently faces a threat of “demolition by neglect”. This substation is larger than most as it was built to distribute higher voltages to neighborhood substations.
Constructed in stages between 1928 and 1939, it was designed by prolific substation architect Hermann von Holst. It features unique power-related ornament, including carved limestone light bulbs on its façade.
Unfortunately, it currently sits vacant and is currently listed for sale
6141 S. Prairie Avenue is orange-rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey.
Preservation Chicago recommends that the City of Chicago seek a Landmark Designation for significant substation buildings as part of a larger Thematic Chicago Landmark District. The best examples of different eras and styles of substation construction across the city should be identified and protected.
Also, the city and utility company should be proactive in finding new uses for substation buildings that are obsolete or no longer in use, such as the building identified above on Prairie Avenue in Washington Park. These structures are a unique part of Chicago’s built environment and their story and architectural pedigree, as well as their distinctive interior spaces, make them ideal candidates for landmark protection and adaptive reuse.
The von Holst substation located at 924 N. Clark Street in Gold Coast has been beautifully renovated and converted into a single family home and is being marketed for $10 million.Download Original PDF
Joni Mitchell sang “you don’t know what you’ve got, ‘til it’s gone”, and Chicago’s brick-paved streets and alleys are almost gone. In the era before asphalt and concrete, Chicago had hundreds of miles of brick paved streets and alleys. Most of Chicago’s brick paved streets and alleys have been destroyed and hauled off to landfills, but some remain buried beneath the asphalt, and a few remain in use today.
The precise number of brick paved streets and alleys is unknown as, to our knowledge, there has never been an accurate survey of this endangered resource. An important first step toward preservation would be a city-wide survey, followed by a moratorium on further damage or removal, and a requirement that repair to brick paved streets and alleys be made with like materials.
The brick streets and alleys located within Designated Chicago Landmark Districts are theoretically protected as a significant and contributing feature of the Landmark District’s historic identity. However, construction from utility repairs (gas, electric, sewers) and homeowner projects (new garages and driveways) takes a heavy toll. Contractors are not required to restore the brick paving they disturb, so brick paved historic alleys are often covered with a patchwork of asphalt and concrete repairs. Eventually, the condition becomes so degraded that the brick paved streets or alleys are paved with asphalt, rather than repairing and resetting the brick pavers.
Chicago has a few remaining wood block streets and alleys, most of which have been asphalted over. A few historic sandstone sidewalks remain, which are frequently removed and discarded as part of sidewalk replacement programs. These also require attention and protection.
Many municipalities, Oak Park for instance, have protected their sand stone sidewalks because of their beauty, rarity and durability; qualities which are seen to enhance property values.
Originally, Chicago streets were packed dirt, which turned to thick mud when wet and were a constant source of frustration for early Chicagoans. Dirt roads were initially paved with inexpensive wooden planks and later with wooden blocks; however, this practice was largely phased out after the Chicago Fire of 1871. Between the 1880s and the 1910s, brick pavers were widely used throughout Chicago’s highly traveled streets, as they were much stronger, highly durable, fire-proof, and remained functional when wet or snow-covered. These new brick paved streets proved up to the challenge of the wear and tear from steel rimmed wagon wheels of pre-automobile street traffic.
Chicago’s street pavers were typically fired-clay bricks made from the tough clay abundant under the prairie grass. Heavier solid granite pavers were also used, especially in commercial and industrial districts where the streets were built to withstand incredibly heavy loads. In some instances where the granite pavers have been removed and hauled off to landfills, the contractors left the granite pavers in place under the medians to serve as the foundations for new concrete curbs due to their incredible strength and durability.
Brick Paved streets present immediate and long-term benefits to Chicago including: reduced long-term maintenance and replacement costs, reduced potholes and emergency pothole repair costs, reduced street patches, reduced traffic speeds, significantly increased pedestrian and cyclist safety, ADA accessibility, environmental benefits, and visual benefits.
Economic Benefits: The approximate lifespan of asphalt is 10 to 15 years and concrete is 20 to 30 years. The approximate lifespan of brick roads is over 150 years. In fact, the over 2,000 year old cobblestones laid down for Rome’s Appian Way are still in use today.
While the per square foot cost is higher for brick pavers than asphalt or concrete, the lifespan of brick pavers can be 6 or 10 times as long, which makes a powerful argument for the long-term economic advantage of brick pavers.
Reduced Potholes: Unlike asphalt and concrete roads, brick paved roads are not prone to potholes, as gaps between brick pavers allow snow, ice and moisture to drain underground. An increase of brick paved roads would directly reduce the high cost associated with emergency pothole repair, lessen a significant burden on the City of Chicago, and reduce the frustration of Chicagoans with flat tires caused from potholes.
Perhaps even more destructive than Chicago winters, the high frequency of underground utility work (gas, electric, water, and sewer) leaves recently paved asphalt streets with unsightly and pothole-prone patches. When concrete and asphalt fail, removal, hauling off, and full replacement of the road surface is required.
Eliminate Street Patches: Brick paved streets are highly durable and easily repairable. When the construction crews complete their underground work, the gravel bedding layer can be re-compacted and the original pavers reset. It is often impossible to see where the pavers were disturbed. When brick pavers crack, that individual paver can simply be replaced.
Safety: Another benefit of brick paved roads is increased safety by significantly reducing traffic speeds. According to one study, the average speed dropped from 41 mph to 29 mph following a brick installation project. This represents 30% decrease in speed, but more significantly, the risk of death when a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle is approximately 4 times higher at 40 mph versus at 30 mph.
In 2017, 46 pedestrians and six cyclists were tragically killed after being struck by cars and trucks. The increased safety offered by brick paved streets to Chicago’s children, pedestrians, and bicyclists would be significant.
ADA Compatibility: Brick pavers are highly compatible with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines. There are hundreds of examples across the nation where brick paved streets, curb ramps, and adjacent sidewalks full comply with ADA requirements. Furthermore, crosswalks across brick pavers streets do not need to be brick pavers, though, there are many examples where brick pavers are intentionally used for crosswalks to visually distinguish the crosswalk for reasons of aesthetics and safety.
Environmental Benefits: Rain water seeps down between the pavers into the ground below, which serves to slow and filter the water, thus reducing polluted runoff that builds up on our streets and sewers, and which ultimately ends up in Lake Michigan and Chicago’s drinking water. Additionally, by reusing brick pavers, the tonnage of petroleum-saturated failed asphalt and concrete hauled off to our landfills would be significantly reduced.
Visual Benefits: Brick and granite paving reflects a certain quality of construction and refinement within a neighborhood. They relate seamlessly to Chicago’s historic architecture and are perhaps more authentic in reflecting the time period in which many of these historic buildings were constructed.
Nationally, internationally, and in the immediate Chicago-region, brick paver roads have consistently proven to be highly durable and remarkably resilient. Large cities such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia and St. Louis maintain brick paved streets. There are a number of examples where Chicago suburbs have found high levels of success. Wilmette restored seven blocks of roadway to brick pavers formerly covered by asphalt. Other communities such as Forest Park and Downers Grove have taken measures to restore their existing brick streets.
Preservation Chicago applauds the City of Chicago and the Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) for their preservation and restoration of granite paved streets in the Fulton Randolph Market District along Fulton Street.
Preservation Chicago recommends that the City of Chicago and CDOT recognize the value of brick paved streets and alleys for reasons of improved economics, safety, aesthetics, and sustainability. Necessary next steps should include:
1. An accurate survey of brick and granite paved streets and alleys.
2. A City Council moratorium preventing further damage or removal of existing brick paved streets and alleys.
3. A requirement that repairs to brick and granite paved streets and alleys be made with in-kind material.
4. Enforcement to ensure that utility repair crews and private contractors repair the brick paving they disturb.
5. Brick paved streets should be considered for installation in all Designated Chicago Landmark Districts.Download Original PDF
Completed in 1923, the Woodruff Arcade, at the north edge of the Edgewater neighborhood, is the one of the last arcade buildings remaining in Chicago. Development pressure from its proximity to Loyola University’s Rogers Park campus has resulted in the current demolition threat to Woodruff Arcade and its proposed replacement with a new residential building. The Edgewater Historical Society, Preservation Chicago, and other local neighborhood groups are advocating for its preservation and protection through Chicago Landmark status. The online petition to save the historic Woodruff Arcade has collected approximately 800 signatures to date.
Shopping arcades are a rare building type, both in Chicago and across the country. The predecessors to the modern shopping mall, these enclosed structures featured retail spaces arranged around a central court. Popularized first in Europe, many were built in American cities, beginning in the 19th century. One of the nation’s earliest and most significant arcades is the Westminster Arcade in Providence, Rhode Island, which opened in 1828. After a considerable effort by the Providence preservation community, it was successfully and sensitively reused, and now includes a mix of retail, restaurants and affordable housing. Other notable arcades exist in cities such as Cleveland, Nashville, Ann Arbor, and Watertown in upstate New York.
The Woodruff Arcade was completed in January 1923 for W.J. Woodruff and designed by architect Herbert H. Green. While it appears as a 1920s business block on the outside, the unsuspecting visitor who ventures inside discovers a delightful interior space with a beautiful sky-lit, two-story central court with face brick piers and terrazzo floors. The Arcade originally housed a bank, grocery stores, and other retail establishments. Prior to the displacement of Woodruff’s tenants late last year, it primarily contained small retailers, professional offices, and medical and dental offices.
One of the most notable Chicago examples of the arcade building type was the Pullman Arcade, designed by Solon S. Beman in 1882 and demolished in 1926. Much of the Pullman community is now a National Monument but this architecturally significant arcade has been lost. Nearly all of Chicago’s arcades have been demolished, except for the Woodruff Arcade.
The Woodruff Arcade building faces an imminent threat of demolition. It stands near Loyola University’s Rogers Park campus and development pressures related to the university have continued over time. This development pressure has caused the demolition of other significant buildings at this historic gateway over time, including the much beloved Granada Theater, one of Chicago’s grandest movie palaces before its tragic demolition.
Already sold to a developer, a seven story building is currently proposed for the site. Ironically, this proposed development is being marketed as “The Arcade.” The proposal does not include saving any part of the existing structure, and its fourteen businesses have already been forced to move.
48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman does not oppose the proposal and suggests that the development is too far along for the City to consider a Chicago Landmark Designation for the building. As the developer is planning to work within the existing zoning limits (as-of-right), there is no requirement for public meetings or Aldermanic approval. Like so many historic buildings under threat, the discrepancy between the existing historic structure and the site’s more permissive zoning results in an economic incentive to destroy historic resources.
Preservation Chicago and preservation partners have reached out to Alderman Osterman to encourage the developer to save the facade and the arcade, and to encourage development above or behind these existing features. To date, the only concession from the developer has been the offer of a commemorative plaque.
Preservation Chicago strongly advocates for the preservation of the Woodruff Arcade. The rarity of this building type in Chicago makes this structure a strong candidate for protection, and perhaps Chicago Landmark Designation. Preservation Chicago believes that this is an important gateway building to Rogers Park to the north, Edgewater to the south, and the Devon Street commercial corridor to the west.
The Woodruff Arcade is an important community feature and it could be an asset for the Rogers Park and Edgewater communities for years to come. It should be preserved, restored, and reused.Download Original PDF
Conceived in the 1920s as a magnificent hotel on a grand scale, the Hotel Guyon was part of a robust commercial, business and entertainment district, centered near Madison Street and Pulaski Road (originally known as Crawford Avenue), on Chicago’s West Side. The Hotel Guyon was a famous destination for many residents of and visitors to the West Garfield Park neighborhood and adjacent shopping district. The hotel is also located a short distance from one of the City’s largest West Side attractions, Garfield Park with the Garfield Park Conservatory, one of the largest plant conservatories in the United States, and located along Chicago’s famous tree-lined boulevard system.
Decades of disinvestment in the West Garfield Park Community has made more challenging the rehabilitation of this magnificent hotel and rare example of Moorish-Revival architecture in Chicago. Constructed of red and cream brick with deep red terra cotta detailing, the Hotel Guyon is a visual landmark in the community—towering over the nearby streets and neighborhood. It was also a radio broadcasting center in its early years and the site of the founding of the WFMT Radio station, which continues its classical music format and public broadcast programs to this day. The hotel structure has experienced multiple owners over time and was converted from a residential hotel to single-room-occupancy (SRO) apartments in the late 1980s.
Hotel Guyon was included in 2012 on Landmarks Illinois’ Endangered List, and included in 2013, 2014, and again in 2018 on Preservation Chicago’s 7 Most Endangered List. Hotel Guyon is the only building that has been included three times on the Chicago 7 Most Endangered List. The hotel’s reuse has been part of many ongoing discussions over the past number of years, however, the Guyon’s sheer magnitude makes it a formidable building to renovate and reuse.
The Hotel Guyon was designed by architect Jens J. Jensen (no relation to the famed landscape architect, Jens Jensen) in 1927, and was commissioned by J. Louis Guyon, the local businessman and ballroom dancing impresario. Guyon was a dance instructor, a club owner, and the proprietor of the adjoining Guyon’s Paradise Ballroom and Dance Hall, located to the north of the hotel. It’s been said that, “his dream was to create and control the West Side’s largest single concentration of entertainment venues.” However, Louis Guyon found little success in the hotel business and was not able to complete construction of his various projects, beyond the ballroom and the hotel, which was sold to others in time.
Louis Guyon was one of the original investors and promoters of the lavish 3,500-seat Paradise Theater, a grand movie palace constructed down the street from the Hotel Guyon, at 231 N. Pulaski (Crawford) Road. The Paradise Theater, designed by architect John Eberson and operated by the Balaban & Katz chain, opened in 1928 and was billed as “the world’s most beautiful theater” and “the most elaborately decorated theater ever built in Chicago.”
The Paradise was designed to compete with the nearby Marbro Theater, which opened a year earlier in 1927. With almost 4,000 seats, the Marbro Theater was one of the largest theaters in the City at that time and was operated by the Marks Brothers from their offices at 4110 West Madison Street. The Paradise was demolished in 1956 and the Marbro was lost in 1964.
The centerpiece of this entertainment district, the Hotel Guyon was built for $1.65 million dollars ($22 million in today’s dollars) and remained under the ownership of Guyon until 1934, at which time it was sold. The hotel transferred ownership again in 1964. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, Chicago’s West Side suffered from disinvestment and increased commercial vacancy which negatively impacted the viability of a large structure like the Hotel Guyon.
Over the past 30 years, the Hotel Guyon endured multiple attempts at upkeep and rehabilitation efforts. It was rehabilitated in the early 1980s by a non-profit affordable housing developer, but the failure of various systems, including the elevators, HVAC and others contributed to the building’s abandonment. Its most famous resident was likely former President Jimmy Carter, who stayed here for a week while working with Habitat for Humanity in Chicago. Today, the Hotel Guyon stands vacant, deteriorating, and in need of a redevelopment plan.
In recent years, the City of Chicago has attempted to allocate funds to demolish the building. Despite being landmark-quality, a court order is in place to demolish this once proud gateway building to the West Garfield Park community. Preservation Chicago continues to advocate for more time. We continue to encourage reuse in conversations with multiple developers, along with our sister preservation organization, Landmarks Illinois. Meanwhile, the Hotel Guyon remains vacant and in need of restoration, redevelopment, and investment. Though the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it is not a Designated Chicago Landmark, and therefore has no legal protections against demolition.
The award-winning recent renovation and restoration of the Rosenwald Apartments on Chicago’s South Side, also known as the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, is a successful model for affordable housing development in long-vacant historic buildings. Designated as a Chicago Landmark in 2017, the Rosenwald renovation was championed by 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell. While discussions continue with numerous City agencies and developers regarding a plan to save and reuse the Hotel Guyon, there appears to be a $10 million-dollar funding gap preventing this project from moving forward.
Preservation Chicago encourages the City of Chicago and the Chicago Housing Authority, as well as elected officials to come together and find a way to encourage a reuse of the Hotel Guyon for affordable housing, perhaps for seniors and/or veterans. The Rosenwald was an expensive development, but well worth the effort and funding to make that development an outstanding success, and which has had a profound and positive impact on the Bronzeville community. The same level of support and funding, along with the support of elected representatives and 28th Ward Alderman Jason Irwin, would encourage a restoration of the exterior facades and a renovation of the interior of the Hotel Guyon for Chicago’s West Side. The Hotel Guyon is currently listed for sale.Download Original PDF
Union Station is Chicago’s finest and last connection to an era and an industry that played a major role in Chicago’s growth and history. Celebrated Chicago architect Daniel Burnham envisioned a conceptual design for Union Station in his 1909 Plan of Chicago. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, Chicago experienced a building boom and Burnham proposed the consolidation of train stations to increase operating efficiencies and free up acres of land for new development. In 1913, five railroads formed the Chicago Union Station Company (CUSCo) to build a new central rail terminal called Union Station.
Unfortunately, Burnham died before construction began on the station and Burnham’s successor firm, Graham, Burnham & Company, later known as Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, took over the design. After twelve years of planning and construction, the Beaux-Arts style Chicago Union Station was widely celebrated when it opened in May of 1925, with its magnificent Great Hall/Waiting Room and massive Corinthian-order travertine columns. The dramatic train station of magnificent proportions proved a source of civic pride. It has been featured in many prominent architecture books and scholarly periodicals. In addition, its design became an ideal setting for large functions and the grand staircase featured prominently in the 1987 film The Untouchables and other movies.
“Union Station is considered to be one of the most historically significant passenger railroad stations in the nation for its planning and grand architectural design”, according to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks in the 2000 Landmark Designation Report.
HISTORY AND IMPACT:
Chicago grew from a small town to a major city in the second half of the 19th century and railroads played an integral role in this rapid growth. In 1890 Chicago’s population was around 500,000. Two decades later, Chicago’s population exploded to over two million in 1910. Chicago became a major transportation hub and the crossroads of the nation. In 1874, five of Chicago’s railroads agreed to build a “Union Depot” at Adams and Canal Street, immediately north of present-day Union Station. Construction was completed in 1881 and supported increasing levels of ridership. Following the opening of Union Station, the Union Depot was later demolished. Carl Condit, renowned Chicago historian of urban and architectural history, stated that every day 1,300 trains carrying 175,000 passengers were passing through Chicago’s grand terminals in 1910. The ridership peaked at 270,000 a decade later.
The National Railroad Passenger Corporation was formed by Congress in 1970 and began operations under the name Amtrak. Congress gave Amtrak the responsibility to reroute all passenger trains starting from and terminating at Chicago’s six grand stations, LaSalle, Dearborn/Polk, Grand Central, Chicago & North Western, and Illinois Central into Chicago Union Station. While Amtrak was rerouting all trains into Chicago Union Station, it began cutting its passenger rail network in half. This significant decrease left the remaining Chicago stations with limited train traffic. In May 1984, Amtrak purchased the remaining ownership shares of CUSCo, ending any Chicago ownership stake.
The original Chicago Union Station terminal complex spanned a total of nine city blocks which consisted of a Headhouse building, occupying an entire city block between Canal and Clinton Streets; the Concourse building, located to the east of the Headhouse; and numerous glass, concrete, and steel train sheds. Between the 1920s and 1960s, Union Station was truly a city within a city.
In 1929, CUSCo sold the air rights over the tracks and platforms for the construction of the Chicago Daily News building, a few blocks to the north of the Concourse building. This was one of the earliest examples of a development which took advantage of air rights, a new type of legal vehicle. Then in 1932, air rights were sold over the southern tracks for the new Chicago Main Post Office. Both of these buildings were located close to the tracks to accommodate easy access to freight trains.
All that remains today is the Headhouse building and one block of the historic train sheds. All of the other buildings and structures have been demolished and redeveloped over time, including the spectacular Concourse building, “Chicago’s Penn Station” which was the initial gateway to Chicago for millions of visitors with its soaring arched trusses and expansive glass skylights.
In 1968, CUSCo demolished the limestone-clad, steel-and-glass, Classical Revival Union Station Concourse building with its lofty grand spaces, arched steel members, and sky lit atrium modeled after New York City’s Penn Station’s Concourse. Air rights above the site were sold and two new office building structures were built. The loss of the Concourse building deprived train travelers of a grand entrance into Union Station and forced them into a subterranean maze of column-filled, utilitarian tunnels.
Union Station’s interior spaces and commuter experience have never recovered from the demolition of the soaring Union Station Concourse building.
In the early 1980s, the Fred Harvey restaurant in Union Station was damaged by a fire, and this dramatic two-story space has never reopened.
In 1991, the pedestrian flow of train passengers was diverted, thus denying commuters the opportunity to pass through the grand and majestic Great Hall/Waiting Room on their walk to and from work. Ironically, at a time when more passenger train passengers were being routed through Union Station, the opportunity to experience the heroic grandeur of the historic station had been significantly diminished.
“Penn Central, the owner of the Grand Central Terminal, leased the building to a company that planned to construct a 50-story office tower on top of it. However, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission had designated the terminal as a historic landmark, and the commission refused to allow the building’s exterior to be altered by the planned tower. Penn Central sued the city, and the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court.” (New York Times, 6/27/1978)
In 1978, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a landmark decision that New York City could block the construction of a 53-story office building above Grand Central Terminal as the tower would significantly alter the terminal’s status as a historic landmark. New York City successfully argued that any additions to a landmark should “protect, enhance and perpetuate the original design, rather than overwhelm it.”
Six years later in 1985, a plan for two towers above Chicago Union Station was proposed but never materialized. This proposal followed the original Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White concept and continued the building’s materials, ornament, window size, window spacing, and cornice treatment. One of the original Graham, Anderson, Probst and White design renderings contemplated a single, limestone-clad, 12-story tower over the Headhouse building. Though the tower was never built, the original building structure was said to be designed to accommodate future tower construction. Unfortunately, the Chicago Landmark Designation of Union Station included a possible provision for the addition of a tower on top of the Headhouse. However, if constructed we fear that the proposed towers will adversely effect the historic building.
After decades of demolition and deferred maintenance, significant recent preservation-sensitive restoration work at Union Station has reversed this trend. Several important interior spaces and features have returned to public use, such as the Women’s Lounge, now known as the Burlington Room, and the Men’s Lounge and Barber Shop, which now form a series of passenger lounges. The restoration of the Great Hall/Waiting Room is underway, along with a comprehensive restoration of the Great Hall Skylight. Preservation Chicago has played an active role as a consulting partner in this process with Amtrak, the City of Chicago, and design teams, and we both recognize the challenges and applaud these amazing accomplishments.
A massive one billion dollar redevelopment proposal was presented by Amtrak for Chicago Union Station in May 2017. Mayor Emanuel and Amtrak CEO Wick Moorman unveiled the Chicago Union Station Master Plan which includes five new high-rises proposed to be built over existing railroad tracks and the Headhouse building. The proposed plans will consist of three phases and are expected to take six years to complete.
Chicago-based Goettsch Partners leads the project design team. The Chicago-based Riverside Investment and Development was selected to lead the project with joint venture from Convexity Properties. Riverside Investment recently finished the 150 N. Riverside Plaza office tower and Convexity Properties recently completed the Robey Hotel in Wicker Park’s historic Northwest Tower. Goettsch Partners was also the design team behind the recently restored Burlington Room and the ongoing renovation of the Great Hall skylight under the direction of its historic preservation design team led by Len Koroski.
Of paramount concern to Preservation Chicago is the proposed addition of a pair of non-conforming contemporary residential towers atop the Chicago Landmark Union Station Headhouse building designed by Daniel Burnham and Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. The new construction will certainly have a profound visual impact on this historic building.
There is serious concern regarding the use of a nearly 100-year old building structure to construct two new high-rise towers.
Another outstanding, yet overlooked feature of Union Station is its train shed design. The train sheds were designed with a “heart-shaped” truss over each column and an approximately 50 foot horizontal span. This innovative design helped to provide structural integrity with lighter gauge girders to support the roof load. The train shed’s height of 28 feet above the platform provided more effective natural lighting and better ventilation, and was a remarkable engineering and design feat for its time.
The Chicago Union Station Master Plan also includes proposals to demolish the last of the remaining historic train sheds and build new wider platforms to accommodate increased traffic during peak hours. Stairs, escalators, and ADA-compliant elevators would add new access to the platforms.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for high-speed rail service between the Loop and O’Hare Airport. In the RFQ, Union Station is included as a possible terminus. This is still in the conceptual stage, but if this option were to be chosen, an extensive construction program would follow, and could further threaten the remaining historic train sheds.
Preservation Chicago is concerned that the proposed two contemporary towers will be an inappropriate addition to a highly significant Chicago Landmark building. If the developer proceeds with the building tower proposal and the City of Chicago permits an addition atop a Designated Chicago Landmark, the design should be highly compatible in form, massing, material, and scale, and follow the original Daniel Burnham and Graham, Anderson, Probst and White conceptual design as precisely and accurately as possible and seamlessly continue the historic building’s materials, ornament, window size, window spacing, and cornice treatment.
Chicago bears the unique shame of having an important designated historic building stripped of its National Register status in the case of the Holabird & Roche-designed Soldier’s Field. This public embarrassment must be prevented from happening again.
The impact of construction of two new towers above the Great Hall/Waiting Room is unclear. The risks to the nearly 100-year old Union Station building are significant and could jeopardize the structural integrity of the historic structure which would cause a profoundly negative and adverse effect.
Preservation Chicago supports the criteria for designation by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and the historical and architectural features identified in the Chicago Union Station Landmark Designation Report which include “all the exterior elevations and rooflines of the building, including the Jackson Street and Adams Street porticos and the internal vehicular drive/drop-offs, and all interior features of the Great Hall main waiting room, including but not limited to the vaulted skylight and ceilings, columns and walls, floors, and the allegorical statues of ‘Day’ and ‘Night’ and the principal public spaces connecting to and opening onto the Great Hall, including the Canal, Jackson and Adams Street entrances, stairs, lobbies and balconies.”
Preservation Chicago advocates for restoring the former Fred Harvey restaurant space, a first-class dining room and restaurant, located adjacent to the Great Hall/Waiting Room. Recently other former Fred Harvey restaurant spaces have been fully restored in Kansas City and Los Angeles train stations. The restoration of this area of the station with a high quality restaurant would further reinvigorate and reactivate Union Station.
Preservation Chicago advocates for the preservation of the natural light-filled platforms and historic train sheds, an engineering marvel of its day. Any plans to widen platforms to accommodate for increased passenger traffic could include creative solutions that could protect and reuse the existing metal, glass and concrete structures.
Preservation Chicago has advocated for the restoration of Union Station’s grand interior spaces and continues to advocate for the restoration of all remaining historic features. Any significant modifications to what remains of Chicago’s last standing grand train station and a Designated Chicago Landmark must be handled with the utmost sensitivity and caution.Download Original PDF