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City grants demolition of historic West Loop building

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Attempts by preservationists to save the building were unsuccessful

City of Chicago

A historic West Loop building, believed to be designed by D. H. Burnham & Company in 1910, was approved for demolition by city officials on Tuesday.

Last year the demolition was put on a temporary hold, but now its certain that the 3-story building at 1217 W. Washington Boulevard will be wrecked and removed. A minimum 90-day delay is triggered when a demolition permit is issued for a historic building. It allows the city to consider preservation with the goal of ensuring important buildings aren’t destroyed. Although, it’s not a guarantee.

What’s especially notable on this building’s ornamental exterior is the glazed white brick contrasted with deep red window arches and decorative cornices. It’s one reason Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, was fond of the building.

“At least the facade should have been saved. It’s tragic these buildings people look up at and think are beautiful can’t be saved,” Miller said.

When the city originally surveyed Chicago for historic buildings in the 80s and 90s, this particular site was earmarked as orange, Miller said. The designation meant there was some historical significance to the site, usually churches, institutions or homes fall into this category. The next level up would be red, which includes buildings such as The Rookery or Marshall Fields.

After researching the property during the demolition hold, Preservation Chicago discovered that the Daniel Burnham’s architecture firm was responsible for the design of the structure which was built for Chicago Machinery Exchange. The organization hoped that this, and the city’s orange designation, would be enough to save at least part of the building.

While developers sometimes integrate parts of the historic building into the new structure—such as wood or brick details as decorative elements—Miller doesn’t think that will be the case here.

Phil Denny of Peppercorn Capital, which owns the building, did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday morning. Peppercorn also owns a number of other historic industrial properties that now function as retail or offices.

According to Miller, the West Loop is home to a number of historic buildings that could possibly make up a new historic district.

“We’re seeing a number of beautiful buildings come down on Washington Boulevard that could be part of a larger [historic] district. The city and staff are overwhelmed with landmark designations and just don’t have the capacity,” said Miller.

Currently there aren’t any blocks in the West Loop that have a historic designation. In 2015 a portion of Fulton Market was given landmark designation, but that process was met with quite a bit of resistance from property owners and businesses.