Daley's Bulldozers vs. National Register

Race is on to save Gropius buildings

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    NEWSLETTERS

    TK
    www.savemrh.com

    It's a race against time and Mayor Daley's bulldozers.

    As the city continues to demolish the campus of the former Michael Reese Hospital, preservationists are trying in vain to save the buildings there designed by the famed founder of the so-called Bauhaus School, Walter Gropius.

    Late last week, the Illinois Historic Advisory Council voted 10-0 to recommend the Gropius buildings for the National Register of Historic Places. This week, the National Park Service said it will fast-track its consideration of the proposal.

    But it may all be for naught.

    Preservationists still face long odds, according to Chicago Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin. Even with fast-tracking, the lag time for a decision leaves plenty of time for more destruction.

    And even then, placement on the national register is symbolic; it may create political pressure on the mayor, but it doesn't stop him in his tracks.

    Daley has already torn down four of the eight buildings in question, even though the city lost its bid for the 2016 Olympics; the Reese site would have housed the Olympic Village.

    With no clear plan for the site now, preservationists are apoplectic that the mayor is continuing the demolition. The state historic advisory council accuses him of committing "cultural vandalism."

    Daley said over the weekend that "We cannot save all buildings. It costs a tremendous amount of money. How are you going to reuse it? Who's going to pay for it?"

    Somehow there's always money for the projects the mayor wants to fund, though.

    But Daley isn't the only bad guy here, according to ArchitectureChicago Plus blogger Lynn Becker. Despite its vote last week, Becker says the state advisory council fell down on the job.

    "[I]s all a bit of a scam," Becker writes. "The IHPA had their opportunity to act all the way back in May, months before the demolition, but they did nothing, finding on a convenient technicality that they had no standing in the case. Now the Friends building is gone. The Serum Center is gone. The Laundry building is gone. The Power Plant is gone, or almost gone.

    "And, surprise, surprise! With half of the buildings ground into dust and the rest halfway into the grave, the IHPA bravely takes a stand."

    You can visit the website of the Gropius in Chicago Coalition for a taste of what we're losing.

    Steve Rhodes is the proprietor of The Beachwood Reporter, a Chicago-centric news and culture review.