Chicago To Raze 1907 Building on Michael Reese Hospital Campus
By Margaret Foster | Online Only | Dec. 7, 2010
Not long ago, the city of Chicago dreamed of hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics. Of course, every host needs an Olympic village, and last year, Mayor Richard Daley convinced the city council to spend $86 million to purchase the 37-acre Michael Reese Hospital campus, co-designed by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school. The idea was to raze the campus and replace it with state-of-the-art housing for athletes.
Then Chicago lost out on the Olympics, with the 2016 summer games awarded to Rio de Janeiro. But any relief felt by preservationists quickly dissipated when the city proceeded to demolish seven Gropius-designed buildings anyway, hoping to sell the land to developers. And though Daley had promised to spare the 1907 main building of the campus (a high rise designed in the Prairie Style and a structure unaffiliated with Gropius), last month, the city announced that due to severe deterioration, the main hospital building could not be saved after all. Its roof leaked, and squatters had vandalized the structure, stripping it of valuable copper.
"The Chicago Fire Department, following an inspection of the main hospital building, determined that it posed an actual and imminent danger to the public and recommended it be demolished," Erin Lavin Cabonargi, executive director of the Public Building Commission, said in a statement last month.
In preparation for the main hospital building's demolition, a two-month abatement process will begin next week, and demolition should be completed in about four months, according to commission spokeswoman Mimi Simon.
"It was a surprise," says Jim Peters, president and executive director of Landmarks Illinois, which fought to save the main hospital building and the Gropius-designed structures. "We've long felt that this was the one building that was safe."
The city estimates that it would cost $13.2 million to stabilize the main hospital building (designed by Chicago architects Schmidt, Garden & Martin) and $2 million to raze it.
"The city did precious little to secure the building from squatters and the rain," Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin wrote last month. "The building is crumbling (because the city let it crumble), so now the city has to tear it down."
Landmarks Illinois is currently turning to another surviving building: the 1950 Singer Pavilion, a collaboration between Chicago architects Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett and Walter Gropius and his Cambridge, Mass.-based firm. The preservation group is asking the city's Public Building Commission to develop a plan to mothball or stabilize the pavilion.
The Michael Reese Hospital's location—in the South Side neighborhood of Bronzeville, a place long afflicted by urban renewal—contributed to its demise, Peters says. "Many people just didn't know about this," Peters says. "Unless you went there, you never saw it, so it's been very hard getting the public's attention."
Losing the Michael Reese structures, Peters says, is "kind of a black eye for preservation. Unfortunately it's at the end of a 20-year term of a mayor who otherwise has been a tremendous advocate for historic preservation."
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