Now and Then

March 3, 2006 Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments Off on Now and Then 948

Preservation is a fundamentally conservative notion, that places more faith in the past than the future, or so it seems. So many historic preservation battles pit a glorious past against a cheapened, money-grubbing future or celebrate the accomplishments of long-dead forbears, implicitly denying the ability of current persons to reach such heights.

This thought came to me last week reading Thomas Friedman’s history of the 21st century “The World Is Flat.” He said we need a positive view to succeed in the future. I wondered – does that make all preservation a demi-nihilistic “things were better before and can never get better than they were” sort of enterprise? Continue Reading

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Modern preservation

February 28, 2006 Interpretation, Vision and Style Comments Off on Modern preservation 972

Pilgrim Baptist Church’s walls are salvageable (yay!)

The restoration of Carson Pirie Scott Building is almost complete (yay!)

A developers proposal to demolish 17th Church of Christ Scientist (boo!) was leaked by Phil Krone.

Last week I read about the decay and demolition of hundreds of modernist landmarks in Moscow (boo!).

17th Church of Christ Scientist was built in 1968 by noted Chicago architect and preservationist Harry Weese. It is a flying saucer of High Modern delights, a washer and nut bolting down the bend in the river where Wacker Drive turns sharply toward the Michigan Avenue bridge. The quarter-round plan was innovative (although if I were a persnickety architectural historian I would point out a precedent published in Liturgical Arts in 1942) and the result was a building that is interesting in and of itself and also urbanistic, making its surroundings more interesting. So far the congregation have resisted the developer’s advances, but you never know – every church has its price. Continue Reading

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A Deal Falls Through

February 16, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments Off on A Deal Falls Through 914

Strange things always happen in the People’s Republic of Oak Park, a tenacious, opinionated and privileged suburb just west of Chicago – the only suburb with two CTA rapid transit lines.

The other shoe has finally fallen in the Downtown Oak Park development saga, some of which is visible at www.oakpark.us.

Oak Park was embarrassed last year when they adopted a whack plan by Portland firm Crandall-Arambula. I happened to be one of the random telephone interviews during the summer of 2004, so I know how bad their methodology was. The questioner kept asking me to choose between historic preservation and economic development. DUH! Historic preservation IS economic development I tried to say, but their script did not allow this. 250 grand wasted. Continue Reading

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The Expense of Preservation

February 9, 2006 Chicago Buildings, Economics Comments Off on The Expense of Preservation 944

Preservation is often characterized as expensive. Why? Because it is a good excuse, even for the richest.

One of the preservation tragedies we have been awaiting these last few years is the demolition of Bertrand Goldeberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital in Chicago, a mighty and evocative design from the 1960s, the last era of optimism. A Quatrefoil in plan, it took the stem-and-petals constructional idiom of Goldberg’s signature Marina City and evolved a powerful flower of a building, four cylindrical lobes of beautiful 60s concrete studded with rounded windows – for a guy Goldberg was pretty good at channelling the lost feminine tradition in Modernism and he was certainly an intellectual leader in recapturing that tradition from the Miesian hegemony.
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Why The City Won’t Landmark Berghoff

February 1, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments Off on Why The City Won’t Landmark Berghoff 851

One of my former students felt sorry for the Berghoffs and wrote me a note saying they should be allowed to cash in their building since they worked hard for 107 years. Indeed, they survived Prohibition and worked hard and built a business successful enough to save a landmark building. If we had that fabulous Italianate building sitting empty today, we would have to invent a business as successful as the Berghoff in order to keep it going. I’ve worked hard too, and like most humans who work hard, I will never earn what the Berghoffs earn. So I don’t feel sorry.

The City of Chicago won’t landmark the Berghoff building, despite its extremely rare status as a Loop 1870s building. In the Chicago Landmarks ordinance there is a “second bite” amendment that says you can’t landmark a building if you failed to landmark it before – unless there is a serious change in evidence or circumstances. Continue Reading

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Lazy Money

January 30, 2006 Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 1136

My student Dorothy Bobco wrote me a marvelous note the other day about “lazy money”. Here is a quote:

“I think I have figured out why people get so upset when they think their property values are going down. They are losing free money, lazy money. You can buy a house and do nothing and the value will probably go up. If anything happens that changes that, they lose money that they did not have to work for. That is what makes them mad, losing money they did not have to work for. It is laziness and greed that drives the real estate market. ” Continue Reading

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Historic Districts

January 29, 2006 Economics, Historic Districts Comments (0) 964

We are starting a class on Historic Districts tomorrow – looking at how they evolved and what motivates people to designate their community as an historic district. Historic districts are a fascinating combination of two postwar movements – the broadened historic preservation movement, which was inching beyond associative and architectural history to start looking at the state of cities, towns and rural places in a bigger way; and the community planning movement, which was trying to wrest control over development decision-making from the urban experts who began to radically refashion cities after World War II.

We will be looking at a lot of different cities and districts and I hope that the students help me to understand the whys of the historic district, especially why people choose it – or fight it. For those ideological free market types, historic districts are a bit more fair than traditional individual landmarks, because they put a whole area – or “market” – under the same set of rules, as opposed to individual landmarks, which are seen to be at a development disadvantage from their neighbors. Yet historic districts are also mechanisms for community empowerment, allowing a group to control the form of its environment in a manner more precise – and perhaps less predictable – than zoning, which regulates use and density. Continue Reading

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More Fires

January 17, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 1034

It has been a busy holiday season for landmarks in the Chicago area, but that is not surprising.

If you want to spring a landmark surprise/demolition gambit like the Berghoff, it is best to do it over the holidays when fewer people are paying attention.

Fires are also more likely to happen in winter, even a ridiculously mild one, although the big fires lately were avoidable – the reports today on the bargain-basement roofers who ran away from the fire that destroyed Pilgrim Baptist Church are maddening.

Blair Kamin’s article calling for the restoration of Pilgrim Baptist (reconstruction really) on Sunday was also welcome and echoed what I said two blogs ago. We are going to get our students together once school starts next week to discuss this. Continue Reading

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Fire Away

January 12, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments (2) 899

Well, it didn’t take long for the politics to come sweeping into the debacle of the fire at Pilgrim Baptist. The Governor promised a million dollars to rebuild and now Tribune columnists and 1980s atheists are whipping up the separation of church and state.

This would not be the first time the State of Illinois gave a million dollars to a church. For that matter, the state has given HUNDREDS of millions to the White Sox and the Bears, whose rituals and devotions rival those of more spiritual organizations. Continue Reading

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The Fire Next Time

January 9, 2006 Chicago Buildings Comments (0) 842

I was coming into O’Hare from New York Saturday night and I saw the headlines – Landmark Church destroyed by Fire. I looked and a wave of anguish sucked my guts. It was Pilgrim Baptist Church, a landmark in so many ways you don’t know where to begin.

The birthplace of gospel music. That would be enough.

A rare surviving masterpiece by Louis Sullivan, who invented modern architecture. That would be enough.

A centerpiece of African American culture, not only for Chicago. That would be enough.

An acoustical marvel decorated with ornament by Sullivan and murals by Scott that witnessed the premier of Mahalia Jackson. That would be enough. Continue Reading

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