Is Chicago Experiencing a Historic Preservation Crisis? By AJ LaTrace in Chicago Magazine

Lots of buildings flagged by preservationists for their importance have come down in recent years. 2018 could be just as bad.

In the West Loop, excavators can still be seen at the site of what was just a few weeks ago a rare industrial building designed by D. H. Burnham & Company, the storied firm led by Daniel Burnham, the legendary Chicago city planner and lead architect for the 1893 World’s Fair. Built over 100 years ago, the three-story masonry building at 1217-1227 W. Washington Boulevard was unceremoniously demolished in April, with its elaborate ornamentation and glazed brick reduced to a pile of rubble.

Developers often harken back to Burnham’s famous “make no little plans” screed when unveiling new proposals for Chicago, but what are Burnham’s words worth when little to no value is attached to the buildings crafted by his firm? Despite the 2015 passage of a new landmark district in the area to protect buildings exactly like this one, the property somehow slipped through the cracks.

The West Loop is not alone however, as several other Chicago communities have seen one-of-a-kind neighborhood buildings demolished without much warning or fanfare this year….

…The data helps to illustrate that Chicago’s neighborhoods are experiencing a true preservation crisis, says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. Despite the 90-day hold on demolition permits for buildings determined to be historic by the city, Miller says that some city council members have used aldermanic prerogative to fast-track the eventual destruction of significant structures. But more often than not, Miller says that communities and preservation advocates simply do not have enough time to line up a buyer or produce a plan for adaptive reuse when demolition threats surface….

…Miller also suggests that new development and preservation don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but says that the Chicago Historic Resources Survey exists as a tool to help plan for a community’s future. However, neighborhood preservation advocates have been stretched beyond capacity in recent years, overburdened by frequent demolitions, says Miller.

“I think we’ve experienced that crisis for a number of years now, but idea of working within the framework of historic buildings and investing in them really does create a more complex, more beautiful idea that forces one to go back to the drawing board to get things right.”

Link to full article in Chicago Magazine

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