THREATENED: Strong Community Opposition to Planned Demolition of Damen Silos (Chicago 7 2023)

The Damen Silos on Chicago’s Lower West Side on Aug. 22, 2023. The facility has been out of use since the late 1970s except for occasional movie shoots. Damen Silos, 1906, John Metcalf (civil engineer), 2860 S. Damen Ave. A 2023 Chicago 7 Most Endangered. Photo Credit: Trent Sprague/Chicago Tribune
Statement from Alderwoman Julia Ramírez in support of preservation and reuse of the Damen Grain Silos in posted on August 23, 2023. Image credit: Office of Alderwoman Julia Ramírez

“The immediate fate of the long-abandoned Damen grain silos will remain up in the air as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reviews plans to demolish the century-old concrete structures in Chicago’s Lower West Side neighborhood.

“Mayor Brandon Johnson’s office on Tuesday said the city will defer its decision on pending applications to demolish the silos until federal review is complete.

“Local preservationists and environmentalists have protested the silos’ November 2022 sale to MAT Limited Partnership and subsequent plans to dismantle the structures, which tower near the Stevenson Expressway from 2900 S. Damen Ave.

“A letter sent to the Illinois Historic Preservation office dated Sept. 27 states that the U.S. Army Corps has classified the demolition as an ‘adverse effect’ because ‘a complete demolition of the remaining site buildings would result in a loss of the context of the site.’

“Army Corps project manager Colin Smalley said that the finding doesn’t mean the Corps will deny the application to demolish. Instead, it triggers a public review process that he estimated will take at least 90 days.

“MAT purchased the site from the state of Illinois for $6.52 million last November. The company operates an asphalt plant across from McKinley Park’s eponymous park, which residents and activists have fought against since its opening in 2018.

“The McKinley Park Development Council, one of the organizations participating in the Corps’ public input process, welcomed coordination between government bodies to determine the fate of the silos, said council President Kate Eakin.” (Kubzansky, Chicago Tribune, 10/3/23)

“‘I stand with my community and their efforts to preserve the historic Damen Grain silos and to repurpose them in a way that will not only honor the legacy of industry on the Southwest Side of Chicago, but also create equitable economic development opportunities with recreational green space along the riverfront,’ “Ald. Julia Ramirez (12th) said.

“‘It is important that there be more community engagement and a real commitment by the city to consider alternative scenarios, and explore the possibility of expediting landmarking the site to help preserve the structure and create more public access to the site,’ she said in her statement.” (Savedra, Block Club Chicago, 8/25/23)

“Thomas Leslie, an architecture professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, suggested the Damen Silos property could be used as a riverfront park, with the preserved elevator as the centerpiece. ‘If you look at Rome’s Aqueduct Park, it’s just a giant open space that … has the remains of these aqueducts running through it, ’he said. ‘Those artifacts kind of energize the park.’

“The Damen Silos stand roughly 400 feet away from the southwest end of the Canalport Riverwalk Park, which runs from Ashland Avenue to the Santa Fe Slip, where boats and trains used to haul corn and wheat.

“’It’d be great to connect this to other green spaces and riverfront trails,’ Preservation Chicago’s Miller said. ‘It’s a great opportunity to talk about Chicago’s industrial past. If they’re demolished and pulverized, those stories are lost.’” (Loerzel, WBEZ Chicago, 9/25/23)

Preservation Chicago has been concerned over the fate of the Damen Silos for many years. Damen Silos site became a 2023 Chicago 7 2023, after the State of Illinois’ decision to sell the the site, and the recent demolitions of the Crawford Power Station and the ADM Silos. There is additional concern over the buyer of the site to the owners of MAT Asphalt which set up an unpermitted asphalt plant on Pershing Road adjacent to the Central Manufacturing District. The noxious odors from this plant have been a heavy burden on residents and is the direct cause for blocking a large-scale affordable housing reuse of a massive CMD building from advancing.

Preservation Chicago has been working closely with preservation partners, and has met with the Alderwoman and city officials to advocate to prevent the demolition of the Damen Silos. The MAT ownership has not disclosed what they intend to build on the site.

Preservation Chicago is not opposed to an appropriate industrial use on the site, but would like to see a public green-space ribbon park created along the riverfront to extend the existing Canalport Riverwalk Park.

Read the full story at the Chicago Tribune


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