Charles E. Gregersen Obituary
Pullman National Monument Preservation Society
Mark Cassello with Ward Miller
Charles E. Gregersen passed away peacefully on November 20, 2022. Gregersen, a revered and award- winning architect and member emeritus of the American Institute of Architects (A.I.A.), dedicated much of his life to the cause of historic preservation and the Pullman Community of Chicago.
Fascinated by architecture from an early age, he persuaded his aunt to take him to the 1956 exhibition of the works of Louis Sullivan at The Art Institute of Chicago. Two years later, as a teenager, he met and befriended photographer and architectural preservationist Richard Nickel, who shared a passion for the works of Adler and Sullivan. Gregersen became the youngest member of The Chicago Heritage Committee, concerned with the preservation of Chicago’s historic buildings, which were being demolished at an alarming rate. Much of the work and actions of The Chicago Heritage Committee, inspired the formation of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and in later years, offered greater protections of these seminal structures.
Gregersen worked alongside Richard Nickel—and later with John Vinci, David Norris, Tim Samuelson, et al.—in noble, but unsuccessful efforts, to prevent the demolition of the Garrick Theater Building, originally known as The Schiller Theater Office Building (1891) and the Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1893). But thanks in part to their efforts and others, a movement began to preserve many of the buildings of the Chicago School of Architecture, as well as other notable buildings and great works of architecture. With the Garrick/Schiller Building and the Chicago Stock Exchange Building, despite their demolition, a new awareness of their importance was shared in a very public way and often by the media of the day, which began a larger acknowledgement of Chicago’s importance on the world stage. While lost to demolition, the architectural masterworks of the Garrick and the Chicago Stock Exchange, were documented extensively and much of their architectural ornament salvaged and placed in museums around the world. These institutions extend from The Art Institute of Chicago, and across the United States, and from The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and to the Musee d’Orsay in Paris.
In 1972, Gregersen with James Simek and Paul Petraitis authored The Commission on Chicago Landmarks report that led to the designation of the South Pullman Historic District as an official City of Chicago Landmark. This was Chicago’s second Landmark District or a group of historic structures to be designated. In the early 1990s, Charles Gregersen offered testimony, along with others, to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, for the consideration of North Pullman area as a designated Chicago Landmark District.
Gregersen applied his talents as an architect to document and restore Pullman’s architecture. He created detailed architectural elevations of the surviving half of Tenement “Block E” before its demolition in 1972. He executed painstakingly accurate drawings of Pullman’s demolished Water Tower. Gregersen completed detailed elevations of the Pullman “Clock Tower” Administration Building for the Historical Architectural Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1973. After the devastating fire in 1998, Gregersen’s drawings were integral to the reconstruction and restoration of the Administration Building, which now houses the visitors center for The Pullman National Monument.
Beyond Pullman, Gregersen was the architect for the restoration of the Gaylord Building (1838) in Lockport, Illinois. For this project, Gaylord Donnelly received the President’s Historic Preservation Award from Ronald Reagan in 1988. Today the building anchors the historic area of the Illinois & Michigan (I&M) Canal, and is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
In addition to his talents in architecture, Gregersen had an encyclopedic and analytical mind that made him a natural scholar and storyteller. In Dankmar Adler: His Theatres and Auditoriums (1990), he illuminates the role of Dankmar Adler, whose contributions tend to be overshadowed by his business partner, Louis Sullivan. In Louis Sullivan and His Mentor: John Herman Edelmann, Architect (2013), Gregersen looks at Sullivan’s formative years as an apprentice in Edelmann’s architectural office, exploring the influence of this experience on Sullivan’s later work.
Ultimately, Gregersen very much loved Pullman. He did everything he could to share his knowledge on Pullman, and to protect and preserve it because he had witnessed from an early age how quickly works of great historical and architectural significance could be lost. With the passing of Charles E. Gregersen, Pullman’s protection now falls to many of us in Chicago’s architecture and preservation community, along with the National Park Service and our other community and citywide partners.