From a gracious old tennis club that became a church on the city’s Far North Side to a sprinkling of handsome old remnants of a now-faded shopping district on the Far South Side, treasured buildings from Chicago’s past are in danger, according to a preservation group.
“We need to prioritize strategies that put preservation first in public policy and practice so the history that ties us to our communities and connects us to place can be protected,” Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said in a statement announcing the group’s 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered list.
The list includes an old power plant on the bank of the South Branch of the Chicago River that is well known to kayakers and architecture Instagrammers, the row of hefty red-brick buildings on Pershing Road that made up one of the nation’s biggest and busiest manufacturing districts in the 20th century and a strip of Michigan Avenue in Roseland that despite decades of disinvestment still holds some fine old commercial buildings.
Three of the places have been on Preservation Chicago’s list for a few years, their fate hanging in uncertainty as attempts to replace them grind forward. They are:
- James R. Thompson Center/ State of Illinois BuildingThe James R. Thompson Center office building on Randolph Street, making its fourth appearance as Gov. J.B. Pritzker becomes the second Illinois governor to plan selling off the colorful, love-it-or-hate-it postmodern structure designed by Helmut Jahn.
Preservation Chicago isn’t seeking to block the state from selling the building. “We understand the financial pressures that our legislature is working under,” the group’s statement says. It’s pushing for “the state to require the next owner to maintain the building’s character” via some sort of reuse or addition, instead of demolition.
- Jackson Park, South Shore Cultural Center Grounds & Midway PlaisanceJackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center, also making the list for the fourth time as the proposed Obama Presidential Center and a Tiger Woods-directed redesign of two park golf courses proceed slowly.
Preservation Chicago advocates for building the Obama center on a different site rather than one made historic as part of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The golf project, it suggests, should retain the two courses and rehab them but build the envisioned PGA-quality new course on the long-vacant former U.S. Steel Southworks site on the lakefront in South Chicago.
- Washington Park National BankThe Washington Park National Bank building, which has stood at 63rd Street and Cottage Grove Avenue since 1924 but is now threatened with demolition by developer DL3 Realty, which bought it through the Cook County Land Bank Authority.
The preservation group is urging DL3 to reverse its plan to demolish the building, and instead to find a way to adapt it for reuse, taking advantage of tax incentives to do so.
All three of these involve public agencies sanctioning ruinous changes to public resources, which Miller said “is of great concern.”The newcomers on the list are:
- Chicago Town & Tennis Club /Unity Church
- Chicago Union Station Power HouseThe streamlined design of the Chicago Union Station Powerhouse makes it a lively beacon along the Chicago River’s South Branch, where architecture tour boats headed from the Loop, water taxis headed for Chinatown and kayakers launching from Ping Tom Park get a good look as they pass. It was part of a network of structures related to Union Station built in the 1920s and 1930s and designed by eminent architecture firm Graham Anderson Probst & White, the preservationists report.
Amtrak, whose yards lie nearby, wants to demolish the building and put a maintenance shed in its place. Demolition alone would cost at least $9 million, Preservation Chicago estimates, to be paid by the taxpayer-owners of Amtrak, to create a train maintenance shed “with expansive views of Chicago.” The group is proposing that Amtrak look for ways to reuse the building, perhaps as a data center, or partner with an organization that would.
- Central Manufacturing District, Pershing Road (CMD)In McKinley Park, brick industrial buildings run along the south rim of Pershing Road for half a mile, peppered with terra cotta logos and trim. They’re reminders of Chicago’s central role in the nation’s industrial might during the 20th century. They once housed as many as 200 companies, including some Chicago powerhouses, like Wrigley, Spiegel, Standard Brands (a predecessor of Nabisco), and later, Ronco, creator of the Veg-o-matic food chopper and other gadgets seen in countless TV commercials.
Recent threats to the district include the opening of a highly polluting asphalt plant in 2018 and the stripping off and replacement of one building’s historical facade in 2019. Preservation Chicago encourages landmarking the entire district as prevention against further degradation of the historical character.
- Roseland Michigan Avenue Commercial DistrictFar south neighborhood Roseland is one of the city’s oldest, dating to the 1840s, but has hit hard times in recent decades thanks to the city’s segregation pattern and disinvestment. Along Michigan Avenue between 110th and 116th streets, Preservation Chicago spotted at least a dozen buildings left over from the strip’s heyday as a mid-20th century shopping and dining hub, with charming brick and terra cotta details intact.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Invest South West initiative to shore up some of the city’s rundown commercial areas could make a difference here, the preservation group says, and the time is right: Tourism is likely to increase in Pullman, east of this district, as improvements in that National Landmark neighborhood gather steam.The Chicago 7 list was released on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the original Chicago 7, protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, being sentenced to prison. The Feb. 20, 1970, convictions of Abbie Hoffman, Tom Hayden and five others were overturned in appeals court in 1972.
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The presentation was recorded and is still available for watching on the Preservation Chicago website.