Historic Preservation

A New Life for the Old Main Post Office

Photo credit: Liz Chilsen

Photo credit: Liz Chilsen

Twenty-three years ago, the United States Postal Service shut down operations at the Old Main Post Office at 433 W. Van Burn Street in Chicago. The well-known Art Deco building sat vacant and neglected for years until the property was acquired by developer 601W Companies in 2016. Work to bring the building back to life began shortly thereafter. According to a recent story in Curbed Chicago, the plan to transform the 2.8 million-square-foot-building “is the nation’s single largest adaptive reuse project currently under construction.”

It was built in 1921 and expanded in 1934, and designed by one of Chicago’s best known architecture firms, Graham, Anderson, Probst and White. According to Landmarks Illinois, “the massive limestone façade is a mammoth example of the Classic Art Deco style, and the main lobby features lavish details like white marble and gold glass mosaics. Since purchasing the massive structure, 601W has worked with global architecture firm Gensler to restore the Art Deco icon to its former glory.”

In 1997, Landmarks Illinois had included the Old Main Post Office on their list of Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois. After more than two decades of advocating for its reuse, Landmarks Illinois can point to the building as just one of many preservation success stories.

Landmarks Illinois Names 12 Historic Sites to 2019 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois

Yesterday, at a press conference in Springfield, Landmarks Illinois announced its 2019 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois, naming 12 historically, architecturally and culturally significant sites throughout the state to its annual list of threatened properties - including 6 Chicago-area buildings.

"A troubling trend with this year's Most Endangered sites is the number of historic places that face demolition despite strong and active community support for preservation," said Bonnie McDonald, Landmarks Illinois President & CEO. "People all over Illinois are working to save special places that help tell the unique stories and history of their neighborhoods despite the many challenges that stand in their way."

The 2019 list includes two sites Landmarks Illinois has previously called attention to on their Most Endangered program – the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago and the Rock Island County Courthouse. "These repeat listings demonstrate Landmarks Illinois' dedicated and ongoing efforts to help communities across the state find solutions to preserve our historic places," said McDonald.

Since 1995, the organization highlighted 242 threatened buildings and successfully preserved 113 sites and is actively supporting efforts to save 16 more.

Preservation Month Starts Tomorrow

The National Trust for Historic Preservation is reminding everyone that it is time to flex those preservationist muscles. Every year in May, local preservation groups, state historical societies, and business and civic organizations across the country celebrate Preservation Month through events that promote historic places and heritage tourism, and that demonstrate the social and economic benefits of historic preservation.

Preservation Month began as National Preservation Week in 1973. In 2005, the National Trust extended the celebration to the entire month of May and declared it Preservation Month to provide an even greater opportunity to celebrate the diverse and unique heritage of our country’s cities and states.

This year, the National Trust has suggested 31 ways to celebrate preservation month, including using the hashtag #ThisPlaceMatters on social media to share the list with friends and to celebrate the historic places that are important in your local community. The clock on the Marshall Field’s/Macy’s building, Marina City Towers and Water Tower have been among the places recently shared on Instagram. What place matters to you? How will you mark Preservation Month?

Chicago's 7 Most Endangered Buildings

The James R. Thompson Center and Chicago’s Roman Catholic churches are among Preservation Chicago’s 2019 list of the 7 Most Endangered Buildings. The annual list, just announced at an event at the Chicago Architecture Center, identifies architecturally significant structures that preservationists hope to save from the wrecking ball.

This year marks the 17th year the organization has compiled this list in an effort to draw the public’s attention to threatened elements of Chicago’s built environment.

This is the third time the James R. Thompson Center/State of Illinois Building, Plaza and Atrium has made the list. Preservation Chicago notes that since the Thompson Center was built in 1985, the building’s design and engineering challenges of the space have been a contentious topic for the city. However, it is an iconic representation of Post-Modern design by world-renowned architect Helmut Jahn and is worthy of preservation.

Many of Chicago’s Roman Catholic churches were designed by some of America’s greatest architects and most recognized architectural firms. The church buildings which have made the list are both gateways and landmarks in their communities; more than religious centers, but also community centers.

Throughout its history, Preservation Chicago has remained an organization committed to the idea that all preservation is local. You can learn more about the organization and the rest of this year’s list here.

Plan To Restore Congress Theater Approved

Three years ago, I shared that BTL Architects would be part of a project to restore the Congress Theater in Logan Square. Last week the Chicago Plan Commission gave the project the green light. The $69 million renovation project includes a seven-story, 72-unit residential building that the developer said was essential to the success of the overall project.

The Congress Theater, built in 1926, is noted for hosting musical acts such as Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis and was recently named to the National Register of Historic Places.

In a Chicago Tribune story that featured several photos of the building as it exists today, it was noted that the project’s delay was partly caused by the death of one of the developer’s partners. Watch this site for progress on the project and a revised opening date.