11 Most Endangered Historic Places

Michigan Avenue Streetwall

Year Listed: 2008
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Threat: Development


An enduring image of the Chicago skyline, Michigan Avenue stands as one of the world's most-recognized streets.  Its 12-block stretch of historic buildings—dating back to the 1880s—is a virtual encyclopedia of the work of the city's best architects including Daniel Burnham and Louis Sullivan.  Although this "streetwall" was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2002, its historic character is now being threatened by the inappropriate addition of large-scale towers that retain only small portions of the original buildings or their facades.  Should these development projects gain approval, they will render the local landmark ordinance ineffective as a tool for preservation of the district.

At present, the 1893 Chicago Athletic Association, designed by Henry Ives Cobb is slated for a rooftop addition.  These plans propose to demolish a significant portion of the vacant building's structure and several elaborate interior spaces to accommodate a multi-story, stepped, glass hotel tower.  While the building is protected by landmark designation and a preservation ordinance, the project has been justified on the basis that the new construction will not be visible from across the street.  However, because of the one-sided nature of the street, the mass of the tower would greatly disrupt the historic skyline as viewed from Grant Park, Millennium Park, and the lakefront.

If approved, preservation advocates fear that this project will set a precedent for similar proposals within the historic district, creating a domino effect of high-rise development on a street where landmark designation was established to prevent such a situation.  Chicago's preservation ordinance currently allows construction proposals to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, which has prevented a clear set of standards from being established. Consequently, an increasing number of projects in which only the façade of an historic building is preserved have been permitted.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has included the Michigan Avenue Streetwall on this year's 11 Most Endangered list as a way of adding a national voice to the listing of the Streetwall on Landmarks Illinois' Ten Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois, announced in April, 2008. The National Trust for Historic Preservation is working with Landmarks Illinois and other groups to encourage strict adherence to, and enforcement of, Chicago's historic preservation ordinance.  The campaign is seeking to persuade the city to issue appropriate design guidelines for this unique district, requiring all development projects to be held to the same standards.  Inappropriate additions also would have a negative impact on properties adjacent to the district.