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.

Historic Preservation Illinois Metro East Southern Illinois

Venice Public School Campus Disappears

by Michael R. Allen

The Metro East city of Venice is continuing to demolish its historic public school campus. The 1917 Venice High School has been gone for a month now, while the adjacent 1938 addition partly remains. Once the Tri-Cities of Granite City, Madison and Venice were thriving cities with populations of workers in the numerous steel mills and metal fabrication shops of the area. Things have been different for awhile now, and Venice’s population hovers at about 2,500.

Still, the section of Broadway where the public schools buildings stood features many well-kept homes on whose lawns children play. With a moribund downtown and few noteworthy employers, though, Venice’s chief assets may be its location and its stock of small frame homes. The city has a lot of potential.

The demolition of the schools, though, erase some of that potential. The buildings are among a handful of historic landmarks. These were solid buildings with adaptive reuse potential, standing right off of the newly-reopened McKinley Bridge. New use may have been just a few years away.
As of last weekend, when I took these photos, the 1938 addition retained its basic form enough to demonstrate how pointless its loss is. The building features a restrained art deco program of ornament, executed in polychromatic geometry that is gorgeous. The basic body of the building is unadorned machine-raked brick in different shades of brown and red. The bow-truss gymnasium at rear relieves the boxiness of the school building, providing some variation in the form.

Alas, by now the building is further diminished and reuse is a lost dream. Like its earlier neighbor, the building departs the real world to live only in the fickle realm of public memory.

As the Metro East adapts to its post-industrial and decentralized life — a process that will continue and accelerate once the new Mississippi River Bridge is built — we will continue to watch such losses. Without economic hope, there will be no concerted effort at cultural resource planning in the Tri-Cities or East St. Louis. Time is money, after all, and planning takes a lot of time. And money. What incentives exist in the Metro East for careful planning and historic preservation? Few, so long as Illinois remains one of those states without a historic rehabilitation tax credit.

(Kudos to 52nd City, Curious Feet, St. Louis Patina and Metropolitan Rural for covering the Venice High School demolition earlier.)

Abandonment Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois Southern Illinois Theaters

Massac Theater Crumbles in Metropolis, Illinois

by Michael R. Allen

The charming art deco Massac Theater graces Main Street in Metropolis, Illinois, a small town at the southern tip of Illinois well-known for DC Comics’ designation of the town as “Hometown of Superman” in 1972. Although the front elevation appears well-maintained, the theater has been completely abandoned since the late 1980s, when a radio station using the front section of the building moved out. The theater screened its last film, Superman, in 1978.

The Massac Theater opened in 1938 with 537 seats, a large size for a town the size of Metropolis. The front and side elevations were laid in buff brick; polychrome cream and blue terra cotta disrupt the front elevation with vertical finial-topped piers to each side of the entrance joined a ribbon of portal windows. A jazzy marquee, still intact, further enhances the exterior. Entrances on each side of a box office lead to a low-ceilinged front lobby which expands into a larger lobby space. Although the partition between the lobby and the auditorium is now gone, twin staircases with fine metal rail detailing, probably leading to a missing balcony, indicate some sort of atrium in the lobby. Past the staircases is the bow-trussed auditorium, now cordoned off with a plywood wall.

Here is a view of the lobby.

The view below looks toward the front entrance from inside of the theater. Note the staircases.

The auditorium is shocking — the walls are stripped down to backing block, the seats and flooring missing, and the roof is largely collapsed. Weather-beaten sections of roof deck cover the floor of the auditorium.

Condemned by the city government, the theater sits forlorn. The radio station left behind myriad record, files, desks and other furnishings. No one knows what the future will bring here. Metropolis has not had a movie theater since the Massac closed, but with access to nearby Paducah and its multiplex theater on sprawling Hinkleville Road, the demand for reopening a single-screen downtown movie theater is low. Most of the entertainment in Metropolis nowadays takes place at the giant Harrah’s casino that blocks the downtown area from its riverfront on the Ohio River.

Illinois Metro East Planning Southern Illinois Urbanism

Re-Centering Downtown or Doubling Sprawl?

by Michael R. Allen

A new house rises amid hay bales on Red Brick Lane outside of Columbia, Illinois (July 24, 2005). I grew up across the road from this field. Is this development somehow any different or more desirable than what has been built in St. Charles County?

Downtown Illinois

Ahead of Being Behind the Times

by Michael R. Allen

Travelers taking Amtrak between St. Louis and Chicago pass two baseball stadiums. Both are of the souless “retro” style, with masonry panels and oversized steel entrance arches attempting to convey a supposedly old-time feel. One is in downtown St. Louis and serves as home field for the major-league Cardinals. The other one is in Joliet, Illinois and serves as home field for the minor-league Jackhammers.

The difference? The stadium in Joliet opened in 2002, while the St. Louis stadium is still under construction.

With the retro style, does that make the Joliet stadium more authentic because it is older? Or less, because it came earlier and is thus a less refined version of the product?

The rules of retro architectural style are determined by pastiche (more like parody), so perhaps Busch Stadium’s large and undistinguished bulk is more in keeping with the rather utilitarian stadiums of yore. (At least Joliet’s stadium has its main entrance at a chamfered corner, which adds visual interest.) Yet the references are so strained in each stadium that they come across more as tribute to the commercial architecture of the 1980’s than the baseball stadiums of the early 20th century.

Architecture Historic Preservation Illinois

More Demolition at Manteno State Hospital

According to The Manteno Project, wreckers demolished the Todd Cottages at the Manteno State Hospital last month. The Manteno State Hospital is a former mental hospital located in Manteno, Illinois, about one hours south of Chicago, Illinois. The Georgian-Revival-style hospital was constructed in 1928 and is a unique example of the cottage-style mental hospital popular after the more-famous Kirkbride style fell from favor. The cottage-style plan placed patients in small cottages — Manteno had 38 — located away from larger administrative and medical buildings. The State of Illinois favored this construction plan after the state prototype, the Bartonville State Hospital in Peoria, received much renown.

The northern half of the Manteno complex was converted into an Illinois State Veterans’ Home years ago, while the southern half was left empty longer. This part has been undergoing a steady transformation in the last three years, with many of its old buildings being converted to business use and new homes constructed around the complex. Sadly, some its abandoned buildings have been demolished recently. In June, Manteno lost a major structure, the Mechanical Shop.

Fortunately, we visited Manteno State Hospital in May and photographed the Mechanical Shop and both the interior and exterior of Todd Cottage. Still, the demolitions leave major holes in this impressive campus.