Historic Preservation

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.

Bringing the Uptown Back to Life

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Last December, my blog asked the question “Can the Uptown be saved?” Earlier this month, that question was answered when the city’s Community Development Commission signed off on a $75 million plan to renovate the 93-year-old Uptown Theatre.

In a statement, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel said “The restored building will be the centerpiece of the new, revitalized entertainment district that will attract hundreds of thousands of show-goers while promoting continued economic growth for the surrounding neighborhood.”

The City of Chicago has worked to protect and preserve the Spanish Revival-style building for several decades. In 1991, it was designated a City of Chicago landmark to preserve its exterior and interior from alteration or demolition. The plan calls for exterior work to repair the building’s masonry and terra cotta and improve marquees and related signage, among other repairs and improvements. Interior improvements will include new elevators and concession stations, new mechanical, electrical, plumbing and life-safety systems. Restored decorative finishes, new seats and a reconfigured first-floor will increase total capacity from approximately 4,100 to 5,800 people.

According to The Chicago Tribune, the lead architects of the restoration will be the Lamar Johnson Collaborative.

“We are more than excited,” said George Halik, a principal at Lamar Johnson, noting that he'd been working on the Uptown project for more than 10 years under various different plans. “This plan is the right way to go. We’re working with the parameters of the existing building. And we’re putting the money where it will be of most use, both structurally and visually.”

Block Club Chicago posted some amazing photographs of the interior of the grand movie palace, portraying the size and scope of the work ahead. If all goes as planned, the restoration will begin in August 2019.

The Illusion of Architectural Permanence

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Earlier this month, The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin wrote a thoughtful column about the newspaper's upcoming move from the iconic building bearing its name: The Tribune Tower. He reminds readers about a quote by 19th-century English architecture critic John Ruskin that is featured in the building's lobby floor:

“Therefore when we build let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred.”

But as Kamin points out, buildings are commodities and the companies that create them rarely stay in them - and he raises the question if the building's new owners can "Change the use but maintain the character."

I often talk about my belief that every building has a story to tell. The Tribune Tower, completed in 1925, speaks volumes. As an example, the tower features carved images of Robin Hood and a howling dog near the main entrance to commemorate the architects, John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood. The top of the tower is designed after the Tour de beurre (″butter tower″) of the Rouen Cathedral in France. But perhaps more fittingly, the historical fragments embedded in the building's facade (collected from sites like The Parthenon and the Berlin Wall) remind us that nothing, in fact, lasts forever.

The newspaper's relocation and the Tribune Tower's conversion to a mixed used development seems to underscore the impermanence of a seemingly permanent structure. But with care and attention, the neo-Gothic structure at 435 N. Michigan will grace the Chicago cityscape for years to come. Like many of Chicago's landmarks, we hope the Tribune Tower has another durable, sustainable chapter in its ongoing story.

Can The Uptown Be Saved?

Earlier this year Preservation Chicago joined the effort to save a Chicago landmark - the Uptown Theatre.  The organization has asked those concerned with historic preservation, neighborhood vitality and the economic future of the city to sign and promote the “Mayor Rahm Emanuel: Restore the Uptown!” petition.

The Uptown is often described as a massive, ornate "movie palace" located in Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. It opened its doors on August 18, 1925. With 4,381 seats, the Uptown's interior volume is said to be larger than any other movie palace in the United States, including Radio City Music Hall in New York. It has been closed to regular audiences since 1981 and preservationists are concerned that something needs to be done now to prevent permanent ruin. "If this isn't resolved soon, this building will continue to deteriorate," says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

An article by Mark Guarino in last week's Crain's Chicago Business details plans that have yet to materialize. There are certainly barriers to it's restoration, but many are still working to overcome those barriers - including Friends of the Uptown. As Ald. James Cappleman, 46th Ward is quoted: "I believe that next chapter of the story of this great theater will be written very soon, and there has never been a better time for this project to move forward." We will see what 2018 brings.