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Three Questions for Jonathan Fine, Executive Director, Preservation Chicago

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Last Tuesday, historic preservation group Preservation Chicago released its annual list of Chicago's seven most endangered buildings. This year's round-up includes a South Side church, an art deco commercial space, and a Moorish Revival hotel in West Garfield Park, to name a few. We chatted with the group's executive director, Jonathan Fine, to find out more:

Curbed: How would you describe the scope of this year's Chicago Seven list in comparison to previous years?

We're starting to focus more on buildings of the midcentury. The one built in 1949 is the old Allstate insurance company headquarters. It was the first skyscraper built in the city after WWII in the city and it incorporated such pioneering features as air conditioning and florescent lighting, so the actual configuration of the building reflects that — you don't have as many windows because they had artificial lighting and you didn't need as much ventilation because you had the air conditioning.

And then the other Midcentury we have is the 1959 Harry Weese bank, the State Bank of Clearing. That's a really important one after the whole Prentice battle last year. The preservation movement is evolving to incorporate buildings that were built within the last 50 years so I think that was kind of the wake-up call about the importance of buildings of the post war era.

This is another one of our great Midcentury modernists; I call them the Masters of Concrete: Harry Weese, Bertrand Goldberg, and Walter Netsch. All of their work is so undervalued and underrated.

The thing we kept hearing last year and the year before when we were fighting the Prentice fight was "Well, [Goldberg] did Marina City and you've got Marina City," and that's such a dumb argument. It's like saying "Well you've got that one Monet; how many more do you need?" It's an ignorant argument and we're kind of tired of hearing it. The problem is these midcentury Masters of Concrete as I call them, their work is just now starting to be studied and starting to be understood and starting to be dissected and the true irony is that back in the fall of 2011 the Art Institute did that huge retrospective on Bertrand Goldberg and at the very same time they're tearing down one of the most important pieces of that body of work. We picked the bank as the sort of poster child of this movement, preservation of the Midcentury Modern buildings.

Curbed: Two of the sites on this year's list have been listed on previous years' lists. What makes a building worthy of being listed more than once?

We don't really like to do that, because one of the purposes of the Chicago Seven is to bring attention to places that the general public wouldn't be aware of, but sometimes we're forced to repeat. Obviously Prentice was repeated multiple times just because it was such a major issue. Cook County Hospital, I think we did that back to back. We did a church that we repeated.

And this year we did Lathrop Homes. We first listed it back in 2007 with this whole redevelopment plan first came to light and because the Chicago Housing Authority was moving so quickly in late 2012 and 2013 to consummate a redevelopment plan, we ended up putting it back on the list. And the reason we did is because it is of such critical importance architecturally, socially, from a landscape design perspective, the fact that it's one of the most beautiful, if not the most beautiful public housing complexes ever built in Chicago. Because it had such a dream team of wonderful architects. Because of the social history, because of the fact that it was the only successfully integrated housing complexes with black and white and Hispanic all living together side by side. If we were just talking about the landscapes and the architectural history, it would be an important complex, but socially and what it meant for the people who first lived there and the people that live there now, it's such an important part of Chicago's history as a melting pot, as a port of entry for people struggling to make it in the United States. And it's such an important part of the North Side: here you have this public housing complex surrounded by basically upscale market rate housing. Nobody's saying that it didn't have its problems back in the day but the fact is you don't have to bulldoze 31 acres and rebuild it to make it a better place. You can rehab it, you can restore it, you can green it, and you can make it work.

And then there's the Century & Consumers building that we listed just back in 2011 and again the reason we put those on is because basically nothing has been happening with them and the GSA that owns them, which is basically the federal government, they didn't really do anything. You've got two vacant Chicago School skyscrapers just sitting there generating no tax revenue. And it's like, well what is the plan? What are you doing? I think the citizens of Chicago have a right to know what the master plan is, if any. Even from an economic point of view, two multi-story skyscrapers vacant just don't make any business sense. So that was the impetus for that.

Curbed: Why seven?

We use the "Chicago Seven" [a reference to seven activists put on trial for their roles in the Chicago Democratic National Convention protests in 1968] to keep it controversial and to keep that lexicon because people considered us radicals even though we never considered ourselves radicals. Everyone else was doing 10 and we wanted to be a little different, and we thought well if it's just one city maybe we can concentrate on something fewer than 10 and it was my cofounder who came up with the idea of the Chicago Seven so that's how that came about.
·Preservation Chicago Releases 2013 Most Endangered List [Curbed Chicago]
·Lathrop Homes Coverage [Curbed Chicago]
·Old Prentice Coverage [Curbed Chicago]
·Curbed Q&A [Curbed Chicago]
·Preservation Chicago [Official]