MAS Context: An Industrial Legacy Worth Saving, by Iker Gil

“On January 28, Preservation Chicago tweeted to alert the public about the threat of demolition of the Chicago Union Station Power House, an Art Deco-style industrial building designed by the renowned architecture office Graham, Anderson, Probst and White in 1931. Its owner, Amtrak, is requesting demolition approval in the next few days that would level the building to create a parking lot and a shed. The nonprofit preservation organization has created a petition to raise awareness of the situation and try to save the building.

“The news is, unfortunately, not surprising. The building, that has sat empty for a decade, was included in Preservation Chicago’s 2017 and 2020 Chicago 7 Most Endangered list, and in late 2019 there were articles in the news about the intention by Amtrak to demolish it. The building has a remarkable presence in the South Loop of Chicago, with its brick massing, vertical windows, and two towering black smokestacks. It is a building that exemplifies the role that Chicago has played as a hub of transportation, and more specifically, rail transportation since mid-nineteenth century.

“Before and around the time of the construction of the Chicago Union Station Power House, its architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White had completed some of the most important buildings in Chicago: the nearby Old Chicago Main Post Office (1921 and expanded in 1932), The Wrigley Building (1924), the Civic Opera House (1929), the John G. Shedd Aquarium (1929), and the Merchandise Mart (1930), the largest building in the world at the time, with 4 million square feet. During those years, the office also worked for the Chicago Union Station Company completing a series infrastructure-related projects that included the Union Station (1925), a building originally designed by Daniel Burnham (Graham, Anderson, Probst and White was the successor firm of D. H. Burnham & Company).

“This is the latest threat to the industrial architecture of Chicago that is disappearing in front of our eyes. Last December, there was a demolition permit issued for the Larkin Company Building, a vacant eight-story masonry building located in Chicago’s Central Manufacturing District. The 1912 building, designed by F. E. Lockwood, is one of the sixty-five contributing properties to the Central Manufacturing District–Original East Historic District, entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 2016. The Central Manufacturing District (CMD) was the nation’s first planned industrial district that emerged in the beginning of the twentieth century. As noted by Preservation Chicago in its 2014 Chicago 7 Most Endangered list, “in 1925 there were more than 40,000 people working at the CMD and the Union Stockyards with the CMD working as a private banker, business incubator and maintaining the general grounds of the development. It was once such an important and bustling district that it had its own police force and during the Great Depression the company extended credit terms and worked with firms at the CMD so that only a single company failed.” The Larkin Company Building is the last in a list of buildings in the Central Manufacturing District lost to fires and demolition, most recently the Wrigley Factory. Soon, a key part of Chicago’s history will be lost.”

Read the full story with many photos at MAS Context

An Industrial Legacy Worth Saving, Iker Gil, MAS Context

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