by Michael R. Allen
Chicago salvager, photographer, historian and activist Richard Nickel was killed thirty-five years ago on April 13, 1972 while salvaging at the Chicago Stock Exchange Building. Thirty-five years later, Nickel’s legacy is evident in the contemporary preservation movement. Today architectural salvage, systematic photographic documentation, appreciation of commercial and industrial buildings and concern for the effects of widespread demolition are widely understood as important components of historic preservation — even if not as widely implemented as they should be.
Edward Lifson, himself an interesting interpreter of architectural history, commemorates the anniversary of Nickel’s death and celebrates the new book Richard Nickel’s Chicago in a segment from NPR that ran earlier this week.
Although not as famous as many contemporaries, Nickel sparks an intensity in people as they consider his haunting images, fiercely-argued writings and the awareness he kindled in people still alive today. Years later, for American historic preservation, Nickel stands as a pioneer whose accomplishments have not been fully considered (or even recorded) and whose ideas will provoke our minds for generations.