UPDATE: For over a decade, a coalition of community activists fought to close two coal burning power plants that contributed significant air pollution into Chicago and created significant health impacts for individuals living close to these facilities. Finally, in 2012, the plants were closed down and the source of pollution was stopped. Mayor Rahm Emanuel promised that any new development would be environmentally-sustainable and that the community would be involved. According to a news release from the mayor’s office, “when we closed down Chicago’s last two coal plants, we committed to creating a cleaner, brighter and more sustainable future for Chicago’s neighborhoods.”
What has been proposed for the 72-acre site Crawford Station site is a massive 1 million square-foot diesel truck staging, cross-dock facility by developer Hilco Redevelopment Partners. This industrial reuse plan is tragically ironic, considering the extraordinary 12-year effort to close the Crawford Station to eliminate the toxic pollution it generated. The massive truck staging facility will produce high levels of exhaust pollution, noise pollution, and restrict an extensive stretch of water frontage to an industrial use as opposed to converting this valuable water-front acreage to cultural uses, green space and a riverwalk. It is even more tragic as the North Branch of the Chicago River is currently being activated reimagined for a dynamic mix of park space, residential, offices and transit.
“There have long been serious concerns about heavy trucks and diesel emissions near schools in Little Village. The fine particulate matter released by diesel trucks is linked to several threats to health including increased risk for cardiac and respiratory disease and cancer. For an organization that closed a coal plant, an increase in diesel emissions produced by trucks would reverse a major community victory on air quality.” (Bayne, Social Justice News, 8/28/17)
In recent community meetings following the closing of the Crawford Plant and with regard to the proposed cross-dock facility, Preservation Chicago was instrumental in helping to empower residents to speak and be heard. In a recent “divide and conquer style” community meeting, Preservation Chicago redirected the meeting towards a single, large circle conversation to empower the voices of the community. Given this different forum, the community spoke out and strongly opposed a new use that would create another source of dangerous pollution. They also supported the idea of preservation and reuse of the complex of buildings with the possibility of including cultural, environmental and educational programs.
The new proposed use is highly contrary to the wishes of the community and the plan calls for the existing buildings to be demolished, including the architecturally significant Crawford Station buildings. The building is orange-rated on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS) which requires a 90-Day Demolition Delay to provide an opportunity for alternate plans to emerge that might protect the historic building from demolition. A request for a demolition permit was submitted on Monday, March 26, 2018. The demolition permit was released the following day on Tuesday March 27th, precisely one day later. “Orange-rated buildings are supposed to have a 90-day hold for this reason. Expediting the demolition of historic buildings really defeats the purpose of having the Chicago Historic Resources Survey,” said Ward Miller.
The Crawford Station was designed by architects Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the successor firm to D. H. Burnham & Company. The firm’s others commissions included many large scale and important buildings such as Chicago’s Union Station, Soldier Field, The Field Museum, the Merchandise Mart, Shedd Aquarium, and Chicago’s Main Post Office. Many of their designs have become cherished Chicago landmarks and world-class cultural attractions.
Preservation Chicago strongly encourages the adaptive reuse of the historic building into a redevelopment plan, with new construction located elsewhere on vast the 72-acre site.
The historic Graham, Anderson, Probst and White buildings, along with its incredible Turbine Hall is an asset that should be recognized, valued and protected. The Crawford Station is comprised of red-brick, stonework masonry, modern gothic forms and renaissance-revival detailing to create an eclectic mix of historic styles, now termed “Industrial Gothic.” The main Turbine Hall is a stately, massive red-brick building, resembling the front façade of church or religious structure with its large flanking towers dominating the front facade. A mammoth three-story-arched window opening is divided with slender brick piers.
In London, a once shuttered coal-fired plant built in 1947 was adaptively reused and is now the celebrated Tate Modern. This river-front art museum has become the third most visited attraction in the UK with 5.8 million visitors in 2016. Prior to its reuse in 2000, the structure repeatedly threatened with demolition since it was closed in 1981.
Crawford Station’s Turbine Hall could be the site of an extraordinary cultural center, community center, art center, or museum. Perhaps even highlighting the history of the complex and issues of water and air pollution, and the story of a community coming together to address environmental and health issues. If developed properly, the creative reuse of Crawford Station could become a regional draw, attracting many visitors and tourists to Little Village. Situated on the banks of the Sanitary and Ship Canal, it could provide access to and active this important waterway for much needed recreation and park space for the Little Village, South Lawndale, Lower West Side, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, and McKinley Park communities.
After its completion in 1926, the enormous Crawford Station electricity-generating coal-fired power station was considered to “be an engineering wonder of the modern world”. Engineering Magazine in July of 1925, noted that “probably no power station ever built has commanded greater interest during the period of its construction than has Crawford Avenue Station in Chicago”. The magazine made numerous references to the interest in Chicago’s new power plant at the world power conference held in London, England.
Crawford Station’s innovative technology conquered the previously difficult task of employing steam engine turbine technology and created the world’s largest electrical generators. The resulting massive electricity production proved essential to Chicago’s to massive growth and the resulting prosperity. The successful model of the Crawford Station was replicated around the world, but it all began in Chicago.
Plans To Modernize Little Village’s Industrial Corridor Stir Concerns Among Residents; The city wants to address health, environment, land use, transportation and sustainability, but residents are worried it’s being done with little community input, Mauricio Pena, Block Club Chicago, 8/18/18
Semi-Trucks Are Taking Over Little Village, Neighbors Say – And Giant Warehouse Plan Will Make It Worse; At the meeting, several residents said they opposed the proposed $100 million, 1 million-square-foot warehouse that would bring more trucks to the neighborhood, Mauricio Pena, Block Club Chicago, 5/15/18
Fed-up Residents on South, West Sides Fight City Hall Over Influx of Polluting Industries; Residents protest distribution centers, a metal scrap recycling plant and an asphalt maker — businesses other communities shun. The city has to change the way it permits heavy industry from locating near schools, parks and homes, they say, Brett Chase, Better Government Association, 8/6/18