By Michaela Schirra
The recent release of the seven most endangered buildings in Chicago added to looming preservationist fears about the city’s architectural heritage.
Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, presented the “Chicago 7 Most Endangered” structures to a sold-out audience at the recent Chicago Architecture Center program.
Despite Chicago’s rich architectural history, many legacy buildings across the city go unnoticed. Preservation Chicago hopes to encourage the public to recognize these buildings that should be preserved or repurposed, such as the James R. Thompson Center downtown and Chicago Town and Tennis Club on Chicago’s North Side.
Board member Jack Spicer hoped that this annual event would have a role in educating the public on needs across Chicago, not just the masterpieces along Chicago’s Riverwalk and Loop.
“This is about normal people,” Spicer said. “Those lives are important and the buildings that they live those lives in are important.”
Before the unveiling of this years’ threatened locations, Miller reflected on some of the success stories since 2003, such as the Union Station makeover. A few of the sites have been on previous endangered lists, but the organization hopes for issues to be resolved after this additional appearance.
1. James R. Thompson Center, State of Illinois Building, 100 W. Randolph St.
Situated at Randolph and Clark streets, this space opened in 1985 and was designed by Helmut Jahn. This structure currently houses state transportation services and other state offices as well as shops and welcomes thousands of visitors every year. Due to its popularity and variety of uses, Miller said that Preservation Chicago wants to advocate for the building to achieve landmark status.
“It really does lend itself to big, public spaces [that] let light and air into the Loop,” he said.
2. Jackson Park, South Shore Cultural Center and Midway Plaisance, 6401 S. Stony Island Ave.
Miller said the lakefront park has “belonged to the people for 130 years” and should remain in public hands. Located close to the University of Chicago, the park has served as a getaway within the city since its creation in the late 19th century, the location of the 1893 orld’s Columbian Exposition.
For Jackson Park Watch Co-President Margaret Schmid, this location holds great importance. The possible building of the Obama Presidential Center and merging of the two golf courses would encroach on public access to the park.
“It’s very important for the neighbors and for the region to have these big, open, green parks,” Schmid said.
3. Chicago Union Station Power House, 301 W. Taylor St.
This power house was built in 1932 as the boiler plant for the train station during the golden era of train travel. Chicago ruled as the nation’s railroad hub.
“We’ve lost that great legacy,” Miller said, referencing the closing of train stations across the Chicago area.
According to Miller, this site continues to represent the on-going history of Union Station and the migration to the city and should be saved.
4. Chicago Town and Tennis Club, Unity Church at 1925 W. Thome Ave.
The George W. Maher & Son building, located in the West Ridge neighborhood, was recently purchased by Misericordia, the nearby residential care facility. The company plans to demolish the 1920s structure and transform the building into housing for patients, causing Preservation Chicago to search for a middle ground.
“We’re just trying to figure out how to balance their mission and also save a really incredible building,” Miller said.
5. Washington Park National Bank, 6300 S. Cottage Grove
Designed by Albert Schwartz, the 1924 Woodlawn bank was named for the racetrack that formerly stood in its place in the 1800s. The unused, neoclassical building will soon fall into the hands of developers, most of whom plan to demolish it. As a long-standing building in the community, Preservation Chicago had plans drawn by CallisonRTKL to preserve and reuse the building without destroying it.
6. Central Manufacturing District, Pershing Road between Ashland and Western avenues
Located adjacent to McKinley Park, the Central Manufacturing District was designed by Samuel Scott Joy and Abraham Epstein, providing work spaces for thousands of people in the 1920s. Now, much of the space is vacant and some has fallen into disrepair, raising talk of demolition by developers. This conversation caused Preservation Chicago to place the area on the endangered list.
7. Roseland Michigan Avenue Commercial District, 107th to 115th on S. Michigan Avenue
The once crowded shopping district in Roseland on Chicago’s South Side, has lost some buildings to demolition within the last week due to dangerous conditions. To save other buildings from the same fate, the preservation organization is pushing landmark-status for some of the historic buildings along the commercial stretch.
Preservation Chicago board member Jack Spicer said that people do not ask enough questions about the history of buildings they pass on an everyday basis.
“People have a tendency to be blind,” Spicer said. “An event like this, I think, helps people begin to focus on the everyday things.”
For more information on the buildings at risk and ways to contribute to the causes, visit preservationchicago.org.
Photo at Top: Ward Miller presents the “Chicago 7” endangered buildings and places at Preservation Chicago’s talk calling for action to protect them. (Michaela Schirra/MEDILL)