Literally surrounded by high-rise development on all sides, the fate of one of Chicago’s most compelling commercial districts is presently undecided. The River North area encompasses some of Chicago’s oldest commercial buildings designed by many noteworthy architects. The narrow,
Victorian buildings that define many of the area’s streetscapes give the area its unique character, but they also make it particularly vulnerable to various forms of decay. Several of these smaller buildings have been demolished in recent years for parking lots, while others are being targeted by developers as a means to assemble large parcels for large-scale development. As each of these streetscapes relies on the coherence of a solid line of buildings, each successive loss greatly diminishes the character of the entire district. In no other part of Chicago can one examine the growth of medium-sized commercial architecture during the critical periods immediately following the Chicago Fire.
It was for that reason that Preservation Chicago recommended that the area be considered for landmarking in 2003.
Update: Shortly after taking office in 2007, Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd) explored the idea of creating a landmark district for the collection of 1870’s buildings in the district. Although meetings with property owners were held and the Landmarks Commission staff prepared a preliminary report on the architectual integrity of the district, no action has been taken and the project remains on indefinite hold.