THREATENED: Demolition and Redevelopment Approved for Crawford Power Station

Despite strong community objections, the Chicago Plan Commission and Chicago Zoning Commission voted to approve the proposed demolition and redevelopment for the Crawford Power Station in Little Village. Chicago City Council will now consider the proposal.

The enormous Crawford Station, the electrical-generating coal-fired power station that was considered an engineering wonder of the modern world after its completion in 1926, received a demolition permit on the first day of the 90-Day Demolition Delay hold. The site will likely be cleared to make way for the construction of a giant semi-trailer distribution cross dock facility.

The Crawford Station was designed by architects Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, the successor firm to D. H. Burnham & Company. The firms’ commissions included many large scale and important buildings like Chicago’s Union Station, Soldier Field, The Field Museum, the Merchandise Mart (once the world’s largest building), Shedd Aquarium, and Chicago’s Main Post Office.

The Crawford Station innovative technology conquered the previously difficult task of employing steam engine turbine technology to create the world’s largest electrical generators. The massive electricity production allowed Chicago to grow and prosper at a magnitude not previously seen. The success of the Crawford Station was replicated around the world, but it all began in Chicago.

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 world power conference in London, England and the interest in Chicago’s new power plant.

The Crawford Station is composed 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 a 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.

Preservation Chicago is not opposed to a redevelopment plan for the site, but strongly encourages the 1926 portion of the 72-acre campus to be adaptively reused in any redevelopment plan. The historic structures incorporate some of the existing equipment to tell a story of Chicago’s place on the world stage in the history of electricity and the production process.

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. This was led by a consortium of neighborhood activists and organization such as Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Delta Institute, Sierra Club Task Force, and community activists. The massive truck staging facility will generate high levels of exhaust and noise pollution, and will restrict an extensive stretch of river frontage to an industrial use as opposed to converting this valuable riverfront acreage to cultural uses. It is even more tragic as the North Branch of the Chicago River is being activated for a dynamic mix of park space, residential, offices and transit.

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