2018 Retrospective for Chicago Historic Preservation

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1501 W 18th St. Part of Preliminary Recommendation for Pilsen District [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

In years past, our yearly retrospective of architectural preservation in Chicago consisted of mostly losses with a few small wins. In 2018, however, a few significant victories changed the tone of how the city’s historic resources are maintained and preserved.

Some of same trends from years past continued in 2018: the loss of late 19th century Italianate homes and flats in near-NW side neighborhoods and Victorian cottages in places like Lakeview and Lincoln Park. Some of these erasures are stories of displacement, as long-term residents in older buildings are pushed out as developers erect expensive single-family homes and 2/3 flats in the place of existing buildings.

But on the plus side, two themes emerged in 2018: new landmarks and community action.

[This yearly retrospective is by Rachel Freundt and John Morris with additional photographic contributions by Eric Allix Rogers, Noah Vaughn, and Neil Arsenty.]

Significant Wins

[John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Pilsen District

The biggest development in 2018 for Chicago’s historic resources is the proposed Pilsen Historic District Landmark designation. The new Landmark District designation is one part of a multi-pronged approach to protect the character and long-time residents of Pilsen and Little Village.

Preliminary Pilsen District, via Chicago DPD

Along with new the Landmark District, the Affordable Requirement Ordinance will be expanded to require more affordable units in new large residential projects. The area will also be prioritized in efforts to reduce rent burdens for renters and provide property tax relief for existing homeowners. More details available via the Department of Planning and Development’s Pilsen and Little Village Preservation Strategy.

Uptown Theater, 2015 [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Uptown Theatre Renovation Approved

Decades of efforts–led by Landmarks Illinois, Preservation Chicago, and Friends of the Uptown–finally paid off in 2018 as plans came together for the Uptown Theatre to come back to life.

December saw the Planning Commission approve a $75 million rehabilitation, $3 million of which coming from the Adopt-a-Landmark Fund.

Cook County Hospital in 2014 [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Cook County Hospital

Another massive vacant building, the Cook County Hospital, began a new chapter in life as restoration efforts began in July to transform the building into a new hotel.

The plan to redevelop the county hospital, empty since 2002, is valued at more than $1 billion, and the developer has secured about $135 million in financing, Preckwinkle’s office said. Developers will first do interior, nonstructural demolition for the project, and begin restoring the building’s facade in July, officials said. […]

A dual-branded Hyatt House/Hyatt Place hotel is slated to open in 2019 and 2020, officials said.

–Gregory Pratt, Chicago Tribune

Village Theatre

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Originally built as the Germania in 1916, the Village Theatre had been divided over the years and little of the original interior design remained before it closed for good in 2007. Luckily, the red brick and beige terra-cotta facade was still intact.

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

The Landmarks Commission anticipated the old movie house would one day be threatened, so in 2009 the facade was officially landmarked. Although it would have been great to see this historic 102-year-old theatre restored back to a single screen and reopened for business, the building and its neighbors at North and Clark were demolished to make way for the Fifteen Fifty on the Park condo building, which will preserve the theatre’s facade into a new two-story retail space. Some might not see this as a win, but it’s better than a total loss.

Harley Clarke

Harley Clarke Mansion [Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

In July, Rachel Freundt documented the controversial series of events which led to the landmarked Harley Clarke Mansion to face demolition by the Evanston City Council, which was to be financed by a privately funded group of fifty “concerned citizens” called Evanston Lighthouse Dunes.

After months of contentious city council meetings and an outpouring of support in the community, a non-binding referendum was put on the ballot, organized by a volunteer preservation group Save Harley Clarke, resulting in overwhelming support for reuse.

In mid-December, the tides turned and Evanston City Council voted 9-0 after motion to appeal was denied.

Significant Losses

While the feeling of 2018 was mostly positive in terms of historic preservation wins, there were a few notable losses, including parts of city infrastructure.

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Chicago Avenue Bridge

One of Chicago’s most visible landmarks (especially in the center city) is its movable bridges, but we now have one less due to a short-sighted decision to replace it with a nondescript immovable bridge.

Chicago Avenue Bridge [Eric Allix Rogers/Chicago Patterns]

Under the Chicago Avenue Bridge [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

The bridge was initially offered for free to anyone that would move it, but the offer was essentially meaningless due to the short timeline and monumental effort required to relocate it.

Built in 1914 by the Ketler-Elliot Erection Company of Chicago, the historic Chicago Avenue Bridge is scheduled for demolition and replacement with a new non-movable, concrete bridge. As part of this process as the historic Chicago Avenue Bridge was determined eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, the City and the Chicago Department of Transportation are required by law to offer to give away the bridge to anyone interested in taking it. The underlying law was intended to protect valuable historic assets, but the offer rings hollow with the City of Chicago’s clear lack of genuine interest in seeing this iconic bridge protected, saved or reused.

–Preservation Chicago

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Belmont Flyover

Fourteen historic homes and businesses situated around Clark Street in Wrigleyville were demolished this past spring and fall for the controversial “Belmont Flyover,” an overpass bridge that allows Brown Line trains to cross over the Red and Purple Line trains to save 20-30 seconds per ride.

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Many residents tried to stop the project claiming it would destroy the soul and character of the neighborhood. This project, along with the redevelopment or some would say the suburbanization of Wrigley Field a few blocks away, has permanently disfigured most of the historic Clark Street streetwall.

Roscoe and Clark [Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

The buildings lost to modernization include the ones located on the west side of Wilton Avenue, between 3240 and 3252 N. Wilton Avenue; four on Clark Street, including 3334-3344, 3346-3348, 3366 and 3401-3407 N. Clark Street, plus 947 W. Roscoe Street. Four more buildings on Clark, including 3328, 3413, 3415-3419 and 3421, were razed a few months after the first ten.

Houses along Wilton Avenue {Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]


House on Wilton Avenue torn down for “Belmont Flyover” [Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Carbit Paint Company

In early 2018 the former Carbit Paint Company Building, built in 1910, was demolished to make way for a brand-new six-story mixed-used development, although the historic structure with original red brick, arched windows, and clay tile roof contributed to the National Register’s Chicago Park Boulevard System Historic District. Located at 2942 W. North Avenue across from Humboldt Park, the building was just outside the boundaries of the Logan Square Boulevards Chicago Landmark District, which would have provided better protection against demolition. Logan Square Preservation tried to work with Wilmot Properties to at least save the historic facade, but the developer wasn’t interested. Now the corner building directly west might meet the same fate.

Lost Historic Cottages

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Last year we brought the good news that the developer who owned the 1886 Victorian cottage with millwork and stained glass at 4636 N. Paulina had backed out of his demolition plans after working with the Ravenswood Neighbors Association. The results from their survey showed an overwhelming response against razing the beautifully restored structure. This summer it was finally torn down, soon to be replaced by a two-flat.

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

The wood frame cottage stood near the corner of Clark and Wellington for 140 years, making it one of the oldest surviving homes in Lakeview, when the neighborhood was still outside the city limits. Unfortunately the house wasn’t included in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey. Therefore, it had no legal protection and instead of being restored, the 1870s cottage was demolished in April for a multi-unit residential building.

[John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Two 1870s homes (above), also in Lake View, were demolished this past summer to make way for new condos:

Developers are proposing an eight-unit condo building on a Lakeview site on Melrose Street that now holds two 19th century houses—one of them, the oldest on a three-block stretch, that’s believed to predate the Chicago Fire of 1871.

According to Cook County Assessor records, the two-story wood frame house at 734 W. Melrose St. was built in 1870.

–Dennis Rodkin, Crain’s Chicago Business

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Good Housekeeping Stran-Steel Home

In late 2017 MJK Homes planned to tear down an old home in Wilmette when suddenly they were informed by town officials the modernist design might be the original model built by the Stran Steel Company for Chicago’s Century of Progress World’s Fair of 1933. It was moved from Chicago to Wilmette by real estate developer Robert Bartlett in 1934.

[Marshall University]

Very much intact, the home still had its original interior fixtures, including the iron staircase railing, stainless steel bathtub surround, and dining room mirrors. Though it had no landmark status, the developers “wanted to do the right thing” and spent most of 2018 trying to find a preservationist who they would pay to disassemble and move the steel-framed house. There were no takers. In mid-November dismantling of the home began, saving as much as possible, including steel panels and windows along with original fixtures. Reassembly is possible, especially as the entire house was documented with drawings and catalog numbers by architect Charlie Pipal and his students at the School of the Art Institute.

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Boston Store Stable [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Boston Store Stable

Late November saw the demolition of the last remaining neighborhood warehouse and stable for the Boston Store. The modern (for its era) brick building designed by Holabird & Roche served the South Side as goods were delivered by horse to customers of the Boston Store.

More recently the building housed as an Elks Lodge that hosted community events and musical performances.

Neighbors on 43rd St. discuss new developments

Though the building eventually came down, the process brought together neighbors and stakeholders along 43rd and King Drive. In collaboration with Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois, the group is working toward documenting places with the goal of identifying potential Landmark Districts and resolving at-risk buildings earlier in the process.

New Morning Star M. B. Church [Noah Vaughn]

Original New Morning Star M. B. Church

In Wicker Park, new condos will replace a former church and synagogue:

Home to the Original New Morning Star M. B. Church since the 1970s, the 2-story brick building was constructed in 1902 and was originally a Jewish synagogue, according to “Wicker Park, from 1673 Thru 1929 and Walking Tour Guide” by Elaine Coorens, a local historian and journalist.

— Alisa Hauser, Block Club Chicago

New Morning Star M. B. Church [Noah Vaughn]

Other Losses: Small Businesses, Neon Signs, and Mosaic Tile

Marquette Photo Supply

Late last year Joe Herbert, the owner and proprietor of one of Chicago’s last remaining independent camera stores passed away. His passing also meant the end of Marquette Photo Supply with the large Kodak neon sign.

In July of this year the family of the late Joe Herbert threw a final goodbye. Friends and family gathered at Marquette Photo to reminisce about Joe, his love of photography, and the camera store he ran for over 70 years.

The sign was lit for one final time during the gathering. It has since been sold to a private collector in the suburbs.

[John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Six Corners Neon

In April the Irving Hotel sign near Six Corners was dismantled.


[Neil Arsenty, Look Back Chicago]

And couple months later, the “Girls Work Near Home” sign also near Six Corners came down.

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Lee Lumber

Lee Lumber, Chicago’s largest family-owned lumber yard and a piece of Canaryville history, closed in October after 66 years in business. Not only did they have a great old neon sign made by iconic Chicago company White Way, but their name was spelled out in glass blocks on the building’s colorful facade. Everything, including the neon sign, was auctioned in November.

Illinois Terrazzo and Tile Company mosaic in 2015 [John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Downtown, the mosaic tile entrance to the former Illinois Terrazzo & Tile Company was erased, leaving one less colorful link to the past.

Places to Watch in 2019

River North Rowhouses

Every year more and more 19th century rowhouses in River North are threatened with demolition, and 2018 was no exception. An ongoing preservation battle has been raging over the 1870s Italianate structures at 42-46 E. Superior, targeted last year for redevelopment – a 60-story project called “The Carrillon.” Alderman Brendan Reilly rejected the plan, which led to a lawsuit filed by 90 Chinese investors, and proposed down-zoning the site. In December, demolition was pushed back a few months as Preservation Chicago tries to push for a new landmark district for the handful of original buildings left in the area, which was once known as McCormickville.

[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Chicago Town and Tennis Club/Unity Church

Originally designed by Prairie School architect George W. Maher in 1925, the orange-rated Unity Church located at 1925 W. Thome Avenue behind Emmerson Park in West Ridge, is now threatened with demolition as the site has been sold to Misericordia Homes, which plans to construct a brand new residential building. Carefully restored by Vinci-Hamp Architects, the Tudor Revival structure still has its original stained glass, tile, and plasterwork as well as exterior stone carvings that depict tennis rackets (the building originally overlooked sixteen tennis courts). Preservationists are hoping Misericodia will save it and build elsewhere on the 3.5 acre site.

[John Morris/Chicago Patterns]

Prairie School Substation

One of Hermann V. von Holst’s Prairie School-styled substations in Bronzeville is a new addition to the Demolition Delay List, providing a 90-day reprieve from demo while interested parties can seek to find an alternate outcome.

Preservation Chicago is working with the same group of neighbors in Bronzeville to seek adaptive reuse rather than demolition:

ComEd has successfully transferred old substations in Chicago to private owners for residential and community use. This architecturally significant building on East 40th Street deserves that opportunity for an adaptive reuse. We look forward to working with ComEd and community residents to see this building restored.

— Mary Lu Seidel, Preservation Chicago


[Rachel Freundt/Chicago Patterns]

Wayman AME Church

Completed in 1889, the former First Swedish Baptist Church was built in what was then a Swedish neighborhood called Swedetown. A rare piece of history, it is now surrounded by brand new development. Since 1920, the red-brick, Romanesque church building at 509 W. Elm St. has been home to the Wayman African Methodist Episcopal congregation, which acted as spiritual haven for the residents of nearby now-demolished Cabrini-Green. Its nearly three-acre sold in less than 24 hours. After the sale, the listing agent said that “demolishing the church is a near certainty.”


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