Every year the city’s leading nonprofit preservation group, Preservation Chicago, announces the “Chicago 7”—a list of seven significant buildings, parks, or public artworks considered to be the most endangered. This year saw the lineup grow by one as eight sites were deemed worthy of recognition.
Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance, and South Shore Cultural Center
A carryover from last year’s list is Chicago’s Jackson Park, Midway Plaisance, and South Shore Cultural Center. With both the Obama Presidential Center and a tournament-grade golf course expansion in the works, major changes are likely for the adjacent South Side sites.
While many Chicagoans view the developments as enhancements that will draw more visitors and revitalize the local economy, preservationists argue that they come at a detriment to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux’s original vision for the historic green space.
Recent revisions to the plans illustrate a willingness to compromise on some of the more contentious aspects. For example, an aboveground garage proposed for the middle of the Midway Plaisance was scrapped in favor of a buried parking structure located below the Obama Presidential Center itself.
“Beyond minor and incremental changes to the plans, specific threats to the historic park landscapes remain,” reads Preservation Chicago’s list. The group’s suggestion that both projects consider different sites comes just one day after former President Barack Obama visited Chicago to sell residents on his proposed Jackson Park Presidential Center.
James R. Thompson Center
After topping the most endangered list in 2016, the Loop’s postmodern James R. Thompson Center is back for 2018. Designed by Helmut Jahn in 1985, the hulking State of Illinois building was controversial for both its design and operational headaches.
Over-budget and expensive to properly maintain, the state-owned structure has deteriorated over the years. In October of 2015, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner announced his desire to sell the property to developers as a means to raise money for the state and avoid a staggering $326 million maintenance bill.
While the postmodern style represents uncharted territory for many preservationists, groups like Preservation Chicago are ramping up efforts to landmark the building. The debate around the Thompson Center was the topic of a recent documentary short film titled Starship Chicago.
William Rainey Harper High School
Designed by noted architect Dwight Perkins, this four-story brick school opened in 1911 in Chicago’s Englewood community. It is among four local schools that will be closed in the coming years and consolidated into the upcoming $85 million Paul Robeson High School campus. Harper is expected to stay open until the new school building is completed in 2019.
Preservation Chicago hopes that the structure can find new life through adaptive reuse such as affordable senior or veteran housing. The concern is that it could fall into terminal disrepair if left vacant for too long.
Washington Park Substation
The South Side’s Washington Park Substation is facing what Preservation Chicago calls “demolition by neglect.” Constructed in stages between 1928 and 1939, the vacant utility building was designed by architect Hermann von Holst and sports a number of handsome features such as carved limestone roundels depicting lightbulbs and other electrical themed imagery.
The Washington Park structure is one example of many architecturally significant substations located across the city of Chicago. According to preservationists, adaptive reuse can be a great tool in saving these types of threatened buildings. The report points to the former substation turned $10 million single-family home at 924 N. Clark Street as a notable example.
Considered to be the predecessors to the modern shopping mall, arcade buildings are rare in Chicago and across the nation. Edgewater’s Woodruff Arcade is one of the city’s last.
Built in 1923 by architect Herbert H. Green, the building may not look like much from the outside. Inside, it surprises with a “delightful interior space” featuring a two-story sky-lit court lined with brick piers and terra-cotta floors. Though an online petition to save the historic structure collected hundreds of signatures, the outlook is pretty grim for the old arcade.
In a statement late last year, 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman said that Woodruff’s replacement—a seven-story residential building with ground floor retail—is too far along in the redevelopment process for the city to pursue protected landmark status.
Built in the 1927 near Garfield Park Conservatory, the West Side’s Hotel Guyon has been under threat for some time. The Moorish-revival style building appeared on Landmark Illinois’ endangered list in 2012 and Preservation Chicago’s lists in both 2013 and 2014.
Despite being listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the former hotel is in desperate need of repairs and could face demolition. To save the “landmark-quality” building, Preservation Chicago suggests developers follow a model similar to the recent rehabilitation of Bronzeville’s Rosenwald Courts into modern affordable housing units.
Though Chicago’s famous Union Station is protected as a city landmark, Preservation Chicago is keeping a close eye on major modifications proposed for the 1925 Beau-Arts building designed by architects Daniel Burnham and Graham, Anderson, Probst and White.
A $1 billion redevelopment plan calls for five new high-rises to be built on Amtrak-controlled land and air rights—including a pair of contemporary residential towers slated to rise directly on top of the historic headhouse and Great Hall.
Also of concern is the fate of the station’s last historic train shed. The Chicago Union Station Master Plan would see that structure demolished in favor of wider platforms and new stairs, escalators, and elevators.
Meanwhile, the future of Union Station’s twin-smokestack power house remains murky. The stand-alone Art Moderne structure has sat idle since 2011 and was featured on last year’s list of threatened buildings.
Chicago’s Brick Streets and Alleys
Though brick streets and alleys located within Chicago landmark districts are theoretically protected as a contributing feature, Preservation Chicago has noted a disturbing trend to pave over them with asphalt when they are damaged by utility repairs and private developments.
Aside from providing visual character, Chicago’s disappearing brick roadways have the added benefit of calming traffic and improving bike and pedestrian safety. The material also has a longer lifespan than its concrete and asphalt counterparts.
Preservation Chicago has called on the City of Chicago and CDOT to conduct a survey of the city’s surviving stock of brick and stone-paved streets and alleyways, pass a memorandum limiting future damage or removal, and require repairs to be made with in-kind materials.
- Preservation Chicago [official website]
- Mapping some of Chicago’s most endangered historic buildings [Curbed Chicago]
- Historic preservation archive [Curbed Chicago]