Chicago Historic Preservation Illinois

Preservation Chicago’s "Chicago 7" List Includes City’s Landmarks Ordinance

by Michael R. Allen

Preservation Chicago just released its annual Chicago 7 list of the city’s most endangered historic resources. Topping the list is not a building or bridge but the city’s Landmarks Ordinance. According to Preservation Chicago, “several recent redevelopment projects endorsed by the city’s planning department and approved by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks call into question whether the integrity of the ordinance itself is in danger of being destroyed.”

The ordinance date sto 1968 and has led to local landmark status for 255 buildings and 49 historic districts. Yet recent decisions by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to allow such travesties as the demolition of the landmarked Farwell Building and the reassembly of its facade on a new, much taller building call into question the level of protection the ordinance provides.

Rounding out the list are the American Book Company, Grant Park, the Devon Avenue commercial district, the Daily News Building, the Booker Building and Norwood Park. The full story is available here.

Chicago Documentation Media People

Past the Margins of Chicago

by Michael R. Allen

Rob Powers (creator of Built St. Louis) has launched A Chicago Sojourn to chronicle the non-iconic corners of his new home. In his first post, Rob writes that “I’ve always gravitated to the forgotten: in St. Louis, in Milwaukee, everywhere I go. And so it shall be here.”

Beautifully-designed Forgotten Chicago features photo essays on those traces of Chicago’s past few celebrate, let alone investigate. Recent topics the Schoenhofen Brewery, pre-1909 street numbering system and Chicago’s largest vacant lot, the site of US Steel’s South Works. Jacob Kaplan and photographer Serhii Chrucky are the editors.

Chicago Housing Mid-Century Modern

Preservation Chicago’s 2007 "Chicago 7" List

by Michael R. Allen

Preservation Chicago has released its annual “Chicago 7” list of endangered buildings. Far from a useless cry, the list has always been a measured and prescient examination of true threats to historic buildings of all ages and types. For Chicago urbanists, the list is a rallying cry. For those of us elsewhere, it’s the best reference for preservation issues in Chicago. (It’s also an inspiring model, much like Landmarks Association of St. Louis’ annual Eleven Most Endangered and Eleven Most Enhanced lists.)

One of the great things about the list is that its creators are flexible in what makes up a list item. Often, an item can be a district or neighborhood and this year has a few larger districts.

This year’s list features the following buildings:

  • Farwell Building
  • Rosenwald Apartments
  • Archer Avenue District
  • Wicker Park Commercial District
  • Julia C. Lathrop Homes
  • North Avenue Bridge
  • Pilgrim Baptist Church
  • I am delighted that Preservation Chicago is focusing attention on the Archer Avenue district amid Bridgeport’s gentrification boom, which may lead to massive demolition for admittedly urban new construction. And I’m doubly delighted to see anyone champion the Julia C. Lathrop Homes, an early low-rise federally-funded housing project that is a descendant of St. Louis’ Neighborhood Gardens Apartments. Chicago’s loss of the ABLA Homes went largely unmourned, although both the design and construction quality of mid-century low-rise housing projects make them great candidates for reuse.

    See the Chicago 7 list here.

    Chicago Rehabbing

    Rehabbing in Chicago

    by Michael R. Allen

    While searching for information online about coping tiles and flat roofs on historic buildings — we are preparing to make the leap and add them to our building, which likely has never had them — I found very few resources.

    No matter, because I stumbled upon the delightful Chicago Two-Flat, a rehab chronicle that deals with one couple’s efforts to restore one of the blog’s namesakes. Their effort is further along than our own, replete with permanent roof, floors one can walk across with bare feet and other comforts. However, their detailed and compelling accounts of the little projects that always overtake any notion of “completion” are so true to life that I can’t stop myself from reading despite being in a much more rudimentary stage of rehabbing.

    I’m astounded to find such a familiar project from Chicago, which doesn’t have the visible and well-organized do-it-yourself rehab community that St. Louis has. A relatively newer housing stock, higher prices and greater population density may keep Chicago from being a major rehab mecca that St. Louis has become, but that doesn’t mean no one there is trying. In fact, Chicago Two-Flat‘s blogroll offers links to other Chicago house blogs covering the twists and turns of taking old buildings into healthier lives.


    Another Lost Chicago Diner

    by Michael R. Allen

    I barely had time to appreciate DeMar’s Coffee Shop on Chicago Avenue in Chicago during the three months that I lived there, but I enjoyed my handful of visits. Chicago is a great city for diners and greasy spoons, ranging from the stand-by Golden Nugget chain to the excellent, now-shuttered Zorba’s on Halsted (which had Greek food in addition to diner mainstays) to the more obscure ones like DeMar’s. A city that gets as cold as Chicago had better be able to provide filling food at all hours.

    DeMar’s seemed to have everything the cinematic imagination desired: cheap food, salty wait staff, no crowds, a big menu, great coffee and one of the coolest neon signs I have seen. The only drawback was the hours, which had been cut from all-night to a fairly early close for a diner. Unfortunately, now there are no hours at all, because DeMar’s closed in 2005. I had not managed to swing by on subsequent trips to Chicago, but through Flickr I found not one but two photos of DeMar’s windows boarded by Chiacgo’s ubiquitous Buzy Bee Board Up.

    Alas, the little diners in Chicago seem to be dropping like the flies around the grill. Please tell me that Golden House in Uptown is still open.

    Chicago Fire Louis Sullivan

    Fire Strikes Adler & Sullivan’s Harvey House

    by Michael R. Allen

    Yet another Adler & Sullivan building burns in 2006, scarcely a week after the Wirt Dexter Building fire. This time it’s the George Harvey House, built in 1888 and the last remaining frame structure designed with either Louis Sullivan or Dankmar Adler involved. The house is a total loss.

    The owner of the home, Natalie Frank, had discussed demolition earlier this year, meeting with opposition from preservationists. She eventually announced plans to renovate the much-altered house using the full original blueprints Richard Nickel rescued from a previous owner.

    The Chicago Sun-Times has the bad news here.

    Lynn Becker has commentary here.

    Chicago Terra Cotta


    Terra cotta ornament, Stony Island Boulevard, Chicago. (Taken July 2005.)

    Chicago Demolition Louis Sullivan

    Demolition Started on Chicago’s Wirt Dexter Building

    by Michael R. Allen

    The Chicago Sun-Times reports that emergency demolition of the Wirt Dexter Building began today. The building, designed by Adler & Sullivan and built in 1887, burned in a huge fire on Tuesday.

    Try to stanch the pain of tragedy by reading Carl Sandburg’s poem “Skyscraper.” The poem invokes the golden age of American tall buildings, started by rapid architectural innovation in which the Wirt Dexter Building was an integral part. The roots of the American skyscraper pass back through what is now a blackened wreck and what will next week be nothing but rubble. Although the building is falling, it was one of many that — through narrow piers, wide windows, pronounced height and embrace of the metal frame — proclaimed to Chicago and the world that a new soaring architectural form was being born in America. That legacy remains vibrant, even as the Wirt Dexter building dies a senseless death.

    Chicago Fire Louis Sullivan

    Another Fire Hits a Sullivan Building

    by Michael R. Allen

    Tragedy strikes Chicago with yet another devastating fire at a building designed by Louis Sullivan. This time, the damaged building is the 1887 Wirt-Dexter Building on Wabash Avenue in the Loop, a formative work by Adler & Sullivan. The Wirt-Dexter Building possesses a lightness of form with vertical emphasis that Sullivan would develop further with the Wainwright Building in 1891. The building also has a unique exposed system of iron piers on its rear elevation, long before the expressed forms of Mies Van Der Rohe’s buildings and almost a century ahead of the postmodern exposed structure fad.

    There is no conclusive report on structural integrity after the fire. However, press quotes from Chicago Transit Authority head Frank Kruesi seem to indicate that the building, which abuts an El line, may be demolished soon.

    Read more about the fire and the building in an incisive essay by Lynn Becker, Chicago’s leading architectural critic.

    The Wirt-Dexter Building has been vacant for nearly twenty years, and there was little political will to find a new use for it. There may be Louis Sullivan key chains at the Chicago ArchiCenter gift shop, but that is no guarantee of the safety of any work designed by his hand. In today’s Chicago, time and time again we see that no pedigree guarantees protection of a historic building.

    Chicago Historic Preservation

    Time Out Chicago Publishes Preservation Issue

    by Michael R. Allen

    Time Out Chicago has an excellent preservation issue now out. Read it online here.

    There’s the expected section of endangered buildings, with featured sites ranging from worker’s homes in Humboldt Park (our neighborhood when we lived in Chicago two years ago) to the mid-century Meigs Field Terminal building to the Acme Coke Plant. Those are three examples not types often seen on preservationist lists. Then the magazine gives suggestions on how to lobby various officials and owners for preservation — very smart! The issue continues with examples of buildings rescued from demolition, and a longer article on a community center group that took a fire-damaged building on the brink of collapse and rebuilt as its home.

    The features here are positive and action-oriented. The writers aren’t particular preachy or condescending. Instead, they are presenting historic preservation as a cultural necessity, and showing that even those most damaged buildings can be brought back to life. Rather than simply tell the reader that old buildings should be saved, the writers of these articles show the reader that these buildings can be saved, and let the reader choose to act.

    This issue is some of the smartest preservation journalism that I have read lately. Wouldn’t it be great if a St. Louis newspaper did the same thing?

    (Found via The Place Where We Live.)