Chicagoland Architecture Substack Blog: Why is Demolition Always the Answer?

“Well, there’s a logic to it. If you can’t build one as good as the one you’re tearing down. There’s plenty of chances to do modern architecture. There are plenty of parking lots to build on. There’s no use to tearing down our heritage. – Architect Harry Weese”

“The above quote came to mind when I was thinking about Chicago’s demolitions. Yes, I know that we can’t save every historic building. When the end result potentially includes more housing and increased overall density that’s a positive outcome for everyone. But what if an older structure is replaced with…nothing? *Poof* A piece of our architectural fabric is gone forever and, sorry to sound like a cliche, we paved paradise to put up a parking lot. As Weese said above, why take down our heritage, especially when there are countless parking lots possibly available for development? How many more vacant or underused pieces of land does the city need? Why do developers immediately resort to bulldozers instead of considering adaptive reuse? If you want to discuss density, then please explain to me why Chicago still permits the construction of strip malls and drive-thrus near areas with heavy pedestrian traffic? I could go on. We are currently living in a climate crisis. Do we really need tons more material ending up in our landfills? Especially when there isn’t a guarantee something will actually be built there. We’re just left with something worse, in my opinion. This is not what I’d call progress.

“American cities have enough vacant lots. Chicago must stop allowing developers to buy properties with no specific plans for redevelopment. What’s the latest example of this practice? On April 1st a demolition permit was issued for 720 North Wells (along with its rear neighbor at 207 West Superior), an Italianate-style building with a cast-iron storefront that was supposedly constructed for brewer Conrad Seipp in 1872, only one year after the Great Chicago Fire. 720 N. Wells was rated “green” due to its altered condition at the time it was included in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey, completed in 1995, which should have been updated a long time ago. Therefore, it had no protections. The rear building was ‘orange-rated,’ but it was released from the demolition delay list last August.

“On Twitter, local preservationist Andy Schneider shared an update on a property in the West Loop. Back in 2017, I remember feeling upset when I learned that the city was allowing yet another demolition of a well-known architect’s work. The Chicago Machinery Building at 1217 W. Washington Boulevard was designed by Daniel Burnham & Company in 1910. The eye-catching exterior was in great condition, adorned with bright red ornamentation depicting eagles and floral designs that contrasted with its glazed white brick.

“Instead of the structure being preserved, it was trashed and now six plus years and counting, the city is stuck with another vacant lot. Such a waste! As I tweeted at the time of its proposed demolition, one developer’s actions impact us all. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with facadism, in which a new building is erected behind or around a historic facade. At least the overall character of the streetscape survives.

”Or better yet, in the words of Preservation Chicago, ‘Demolition permits should be issued simultaneously with construction permits.’ How many times is the city going to allow developers to destroy our architectural heritage?” (Freundt, Chicagoland Architecture Substack Blog, 4/10/24)

Read the full story with many photos at Chicagoland Architecture Substack Blog


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