From towering modernist skyscrapers like the Willis Tower to behemoth Art Deco era buildings like the Merchandise Mart, Chicago is is known around the world for its role in helping to shape modern architecture. However, at the same time, many of Chicago’s lesser known architectural gems are often left to deteriorate over the years, many of which ultimately face demolition or redevelopment that strip buildings of their architectural pedigree.
And to highlight these endangered historic structures, the organization Preservation Chicago releases a list every year of the buildings that it deems to be the most endangered. For this year’s list, the group has focused on a range of items from early public housing structures to public art works. While the future for some of these buildings remains uncertain, the hope is that they may be saved by raising awareness and by stressing their importance to and role in Chicago’s architectural legacy.
↑ Altgeld Gardens
Spanning a 157-acre site, the low-slung homes in the Altgeld Gardens public housing development built between 1943 and 1945 is a “testament to good public housing design ideals,” Preservation Chicago declares. While many of the existing homes designed by the firm Naess and Murphym have been renovated and are still being utilized as public housing, many others are vacant and have deteriorated over the years, causing concern over demolition of the mothballed buildings. In recent years, 15 buildings have been demolished and Preservation Chicago says that 25 more are slated for demolition.
↑ Cornell Store and Flats
Last year, Landmarks Illinois ranked the Cornell Store and Flats building at 1230-32 E. 75th Street as one of the most endangered buildings in the state, and this week, Preservation Chicago has included the old mixed-use development on its list of most endangered buildings in Chicago. The development, built in 1908, features a Prairie School design from architect Walter Burley Griffin and is notable for being a rare example of commercial Prairie School architecture. The building has been left to deteriorate over the years, and according to Preservation Chicago, there have been issues regarding its ownership and condition.
↑ Chicago Water Cribs
The old water cribs out on the horizon in Lake Michigan are something we’ve all seen and perhaps wondered about. Preservation Chicago highlights two of these structures—the Four Mile Crib built in 1894 and the Wilson Avenue Crib built in 1915—in this year’s list of most endangered buildings. According to Preservation Chicago, the city plans to demolish these aging two cribs as they have been out of use for years. And while they were engineering marvels of their day, they were also well constructed and featured aesthetically pleasing architectural designs.
↑ Chicago’s 20th Century Public Sculpture
Public art adds flair and culture to any dense downtown area, and the Loop is a great place to get an up-close look at large scale works from many of the great sculptors and artists of the 20th century. Alexander Calder’s “Flamingo” in the Federal Plaza, the untitled Picasso that stands over Daley Plaza, and “Monument with Standing Beast” by Jean Dubuffet are all great examples of the city’s great public installations by 20th century artists, however some of the changes underway in the Loop have caused concern about the future of some of the city’s great public artworks.
Perhaps the most alarming and most imminent threats is the possible sale and demolition of the Thompson Center, which could see the removal or destruction of the Jean Dubuffet sculpture that anchors the building’s outdoor plaza. Preservation Chicago also calls attention to Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons mosaic at the base of the Chase Tower which has faded over time due to its exposure to the elements. And while the news of a major renovation and expansion at the Willis Tower excited many, it leaves a major question as to what will become of the Alexander Calder installation that has long been a staple of the supertall skyscraper’s lobby.
↑ Jackson Park and the South Shore Cultural Center
Many big changes are on the way to Jackson Park. Major projects like the Obama Presidential Center and the new Tiger Woods-designed golf course are high profile projects that not only represent new investment, but they are expected to help activate the stretch of lakefront in Woodlawn and the South Shore and possibly even spur new development in these communities along the way. However, these new developments also represent major changes and deviations from Frederick Law Olmstead’s historic master plan for Jackson Park. In addition, Preservation Chicago has also noted concern about the lack of transparency and public input in the planning and development of these new projects.
↑ Madison Pulaski Commercial District
During the early decades of the twentieth century, this intersection was one of the biggest commercial hubs on the West Side. And because of its prominence during the period, the area features many ornate buildings from the Art Deco, Art Moderne, and Modernist eras by a mix of architects. The district’s Jens Jensen-designed Hotel Guyon has previously been threatened with demolition and has been highlighted on previous Chicago Seven lists by Preservation Chicago, but the organization fears that other buildings along the stretch may be eventually targeted for demolition if no plans for redevelopment or renovation surface.
↑ Union Station Power House
While the power house at Union Station has not been active since 2011, Preservation Chicago says that the building is notable for a number of reasons. First, its stoic and austere Art Moderne design from Graham, Anderson, Probst & White is an important work of architecture. However, the building also represents Chicago’s might and importance as a rail hub during the twentieth century. According to Preservation Chicago, Amtrak, the building’s current owner, is exploring various options for the site, including demolition.
- Preservation Chicago [official website]
- Landmarks Illinois Deems Three Cook County Buildings as Most Endangered in State [Curbed Chicago]
- Mapping some of Chicago's most endangered historic buildings [Curbed Chicago]
- The Eight Most Endangered Buildings in Chicago [Curbed Chicago]