by Michael R. Allen
The national publication The Architect’s Newspaper covers the San Luis Apartments demolition in its blog today. The coverage shows how the issue resonates on a national level, with its questions of preservation law, mid-century modern preservation and politics.
Amid reasonable quotes in the blog post, Alderwoman Lyda Krewson (D-28th) makes one error. (While I clearly have a major disagreement with the alderwoman here, I understand her perception of the political quandry of the matter and am not intending to attack her.) Krewson states that “it’s not a contributing building [in the Central West End Historic District]. Until recently, there was no outcry about the architectural wonders of this building.”
Actually, the building is indeed a contributing building in the Central West End Historic District. That local district was created by ordinance in 1974 and the ordinance does not exempt a single building from its standards. The standards laud modern buildings, expressly state that imitation-historic architecture should not be built in the district and require that parking be shielded by being placed behind or to the side of buildings and not visible from the street.
Krewson would be correct to point out that the San Luis is not noted as a contributing building in the 1979 certification of the district by the National Park Service. That certification, however, serves a different purpose than the local historic district: it defines which buildings are eligible for the use of state and federal tax credits tied to federal historic status. That’s it. Just because the San Luis, only 16 years old in 1979, was not considered contributing then does not exempt it from the provisions of a local law.
Also, the certification is out-dated and based on a 1979 rule of thumb. Why would the federal government permit the owner of a 16-year-old building to reap the benefit historic tax credits? The equation changes greatly when the same building becomes 46 years old and its architectural significance more clear across time. However, the local district ordinance (fundamentally a design ordinance) still applies.
I concur with Alderwoman Krewson that local preservationists should have been less reactionary on this issue, but why fault today’s crop for the inaction of a past generation? Additionally, the San Luis was hailed at the times of its construction, but that shall be the subject of another essay.