THREATENED: Superior Street Rowhouses to Receive 90-Day Reprieve from Demolition Due to an Extension of the 90-Day Demo Delay!

42, 44 & 46 East Superior Street Rowhouses, Photo Credit: Taylor Moore / Block Club Chicago
42, 44 & 46 East Superior Street Rowhouses, Photo Credit: Taylor Moore / Block Club Chicago
Etching from Andreas’s History of Chicago showing the 4th Presbyterian Church that stood east of the rowhousess until 1914 when it was replaced by the extant Methodist Book Publishing House. The houses are visible in the image. Image Credit: History of Chicago; From the earliest period to the present time, by A.T. Andreas, 1885
42, 44 & 46 East Superior Street Rowhouse Extended Demolition Delay Notification, Photo Credit: City of Chicago

With only days remaining until the expiration of the 90-Demolition Delay hold after which time the City of Chicago is obliged to release a requested demolition permit, the Superior Street Rowhouses have been granted an additional 90-day delay on the demolition. The extension of the demolition delay is often difficult to achieve and requires the support of the alderman, the City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development staff, and the consent of the owner/developer.

In early November 2018, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly took the important preliminary steps to formally request that the City Council downzone the Superior Street Rowhouse properties. Preservation Chicago applauds Alderman Reilly for his strong leadership and his proactive steps to protect these authentic, beautiful, and charming historic Chicago rowhouses from being bulldozed. Concern is increasing for the adjacent seven-story Art Deco limestone building and historic four-story red brick Giordano’s building, also known as the Methodist Book Concern Building by Thielbar & Fugard.

“It’s really important to keep the human scale and historic character of these buildings,” If we’re not careful and we allow another high-rise, we’re going to kill that golden goose”, said Ward Miller of Preservation Chicago in reference to the desirability of the surrounding residential area. (Crain’s, 10/10/18)

Downzoning is one of the only planning tools available to aldermen to be able to influence the direction of new development. In the case of the Superior Street Rowhouses, Alderman Reilly told Crain’s Chicago Business that he used the downzoning “in order to essentially get the developer’s attention and ask them to voluntarily extend the demolition deadline so we can look at those properties with (the Commission on Chicago) Landmarks and the city to determine whether or not they need to be landmarked and preserved. It’s not intended to be a permanent zoning classification, but I needed to use this to slow them down a bit and have them come back to the table and give us some more time to look at those buildings.” (Crain’s, 11/1/18)

In addition to Alderman Reilly, Preservation Chicago wishes to recognize and applaud the Chicago Department of Planning and Development Landmarks Staff, our preservation partners, and the nearly 5,000 Chicagoans who signed the petition to support the protection of these architecturally significant Chicago rowhouses. Each component is essential for conducting an effective preservation effort that yields a positive outcome.

While the 90-Day Demolition Delay extension is a critically important and very positive step forward, the reprieve is temporary and the Superior Street Rowhouses remain very much imperiled. Preservation Chicago continues to proactively advocate for the creation of a Designated Chicago Landmark District that would protect the Superior Street Rowhouses and the few remaining original 19th century homes within the neighborhood that have survived until today.

“Walking past these structures, one experiences both the history and story of the neighborhood over time, and a sense of place. They have a beautiful human scale to them, a sense of charm, and have always made the community more livable, with their fine craftsmanship and green spaces,” said Ward Miller. (Loop North News, 10/24/18)

“These are all really wonderful buildings and they could make part of a landmark district,” said Ward Miller. “To ensure the protection of these buildings, Preservation Chicago is hoping that area residents will help push for the creation of a new landmark district. This is ‘McCormickville’. This is where the McCormick family lived before and after the Great Chicago Fire. And with the continued demolition of other shorter, older buildings in the area, there are only a handful of the original McCormickville buildings left. We need to value every inch of space where there are historic buildings that tell the story of the neighborhood.” (Curbed Chicago, 12/8/16)

“The new landmark district could protect a dozen or so structures interspersed from Ohio Street north to Superior Street and State Street east to Rush Street. The proposed landmark district of these buildings would complement landmarks such as Chicago Water Tower on North Michigan Avenue, Holy Name Cathedral on North Wabash Avenue, and St. James Cathedral on East Huron Street. All the buildings were constructed between 1869 and 1883. Several of the residential structures were home to Chicago’s most prominent industrialists of their time, including the McCormick family, which owned McCormick Harvesting Machine Company,” said Ward Miller. (Loop North News, 10/24/18)

“If these three orange-rated townhouses are demolished, much of the scale and character of the Near North Side, Gold Coast and McCormickville District will be lost. These smaller buildings add a distinct character, quality, craftsmanship, history and elegance to the community, which is close to being completely lost to overdevelopment in the vicinity,” said Ward Miller. (Block Club Chicago, 10/30/18)

“New York City also has groups of these types of buildings on several of its side streets on both the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, some which comprise large Landmark Districts and they give that city a certain quality as well. Collectively, we often don’t appreciate those kinds of buildings in Chicago and their reuse of fine quality former residences in that same way or on that same scale as other cities like New York and Boston, and that’s tragic too!” said Ward Miller. (Skyline, Peter vol Buel)

“These buildings also provide unique opportunities for small businesses and provide ‘an envelope’ for all sorts of creative things to happen from within these historic structures. They really do encourage unique small businesses, and add a livability quality to the community. At one time, there were many such small elegant restaurants and shops housed in these types of buildings from the Chicago River to Oak Street. As a matter of fact, it was often these beautifully crafted buildings that initially gave Oak Street its unusual character and success. Some of those buildings still exist, but they are becoming more and more rare. Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever!” said Ward Miller. (Skyline, Peter vol Buel)

Preservation Chicago is actively working “on the ground” with neighborhood organizations and other stakeholders to generate support for a Designated Chicago Landmark District. Preservation Chicago researchers are hard at work discovering and assembling as much historic material as possible about these and the handful of other similar surviving buildings in the neighborhood.

Preservation Chicago strongly opposes the demolition of these three, architecturally significant, orange-rated East Superior Street Rowhouses dating from the 1870s and 1880s. The adjacent seven-story Art Deco limestone building and historic four-story red brick Giordano’s building are also endangered. The three 1880’s-era rowhouses at 42 E. Superior Street (George A. Tripp House), 44 E. Superior Street and 46 E. Superior Street (Hennessey Houses) were added to the 90-Day Demolition Delay List on September 12, 2018. The George A. Tripp House at 42 E. Superior Street has been the long-time home to Sunny Side Up Brunch and Coffee Shop.

The twin houses at 44-46 E. Superior were built sometime between 1871 and 1876 as a pair of attached single-family homes. The residents of 44 E. Superior were Richard Hennessey (1845-1920) and his brothers. Richard was a building contractor along with his brother Patrick Martin Hennessey with the firm of Hennessey Bros. His brother Peter J. was a distiller and Thomas Hennessey was a soda water manufacturer.

The other half of the building at 46 E. Superior was occupied by the family of Michael W. Kerwin (1835-unknown) who owned a liquor business. It appears likely that the Hennessey brothers played a role in building the double house. The Hennessey Brothers worked during the early 1900s with several notable architects, so it is likely that the double house was designed by a notable architect. The house at 42 E. Superior was likely built around 1880-1885 for George A. Tripp and his family.

Newly uncovered historic research indicates that two nearby residential buildings at the southwest corner of Superior and Rush Streets were designed by the notable Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb. Henry Ives Cobb was a principal of the firm Cobb & Frost which is better known for designing numerous important Chicago landmark buildings including the Chicago Athletic Association, the Newberry Library, the Chicago Historical Society Building (Tao Chicago), the Chicago Varnish Company Building (Harry Caray’s Restaurant), the old Chicago Federal Building, the Ransom-Cable House, the Potter Palmer “Castle”, and many of the historic buildings on the University of Chicago campus.

716 N. Rush Street was Cobb’s own personal residence and 720 N. Rush was the home of William Blair, of the William Blair Financial Advisors and a relative of the McCormick family. These buildings could be combined with the Superior Street rowhouses as part of a new McCormickville Landmark District. 720 N. Rush Street is currently the site of Rosebud Restaurant. (Special thanks to Matt Wicklund for this historic research.)

At the public meeting held by Alderman Reilly in March 2017 regarding the proposed development, Ward Miller’s passionate statement in support of preservation was met with an enthusiastic round of applause from the over 300 neighbors and residents in attendance.

In April 2017, Alderman Reilly rejected a proposal by Symmetry Development to build a 60-story tower on the northeast corner of Superior Street and Wabash Avenue. Alderman Reilly opposed the development in part because of the widespread community opposition due to the traffic issues it would cause and issues of preservation. This victory was only temporary and the developer is moving forward with its plans to bulldoze and clear the site.

Perhaps the developer’s strategy is that the urban blight created from a vacant lot will help ease the process to push through a future plan for a large parking garage and glass-box tower on the site. We have no specific knowledge in this instance, however there are many examples of other developers and owners who have strategically demolished significant historic buildings prior to requesting or receiving approval for new development or prior to listing properties for sale.

Preservation Chicago strongly encourages the City of Chicago to take additional steps to withhold releasing the Demolition Delay Hold or demolition permit until AFTER the public approval process for the new development has been completed. There are many examples, the most notorious being Block 37, in which significant time passed between the demolition of the existing historic buildings and the start of construction on the new building.

Preservation Chicago, along with many community members, are encouraging the preservation of these structures and the creation of a Chicago Landmark District in the area, most of which are orange-rated and are already considered highly significant. A new McCormickville Landmark District comprised of the handful of remaining historic buildings would be a powerful tool to protect this neighborhood’s historic building fabric and strengthen the vibrancy of this community. Preservation Chicago had suggested the McCormickville Landmark District to be considered for designation in the past.

Preservation Chicago remains very concerned over the increasing frequency and recent losses of low-rise historic Near North Side buildings. As development pressure grows and as surface parking lots are being developed, developers have begun to actively target remaining clusters of intact, low-rise, historic buildings as development sites.

“We are at a tipping point,” said Miller, “where the community may become a high-rise canyon, deprived of sunlight, negatively impacting quality of life issues, which [ultimately] may impact the desirability of the community.” (Loop North News, 10/24/18)

Additional Reading
Join nearly 5,000 supporters and Sign the Petition to Save These Victorian Rowhouses from Demolition!

Alderman moves to downzone River North site; Ald. Brendan Reilly yesterday moved to reduce the zoning allowance at 42 and 44-46 E. Superior St., hamstringing a development group, Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business, 11/1/18

Can preservationists save these River North buildings?

A New York developer wants to raze two buildings at 42 and 44-46 E. Superior St., where it planned a 60-story condo-hotel tower—until it was rejected by Ald. Brendan Reilly., Alby Gallun, Crain’s Chicago Business, 10/10/18

19th century Superior Street row houses threatened with demolition, Peter von Buol, Loop North News, 10/24/18

Developer Behind Failed High-Rise Plan Moves To Tear Down Historic Row Houses Near Mag Mile… Again;The row houses “add a distinct character, quality, craftsmanship, history and elegance to the community,” preservationists say, Taylor Moore, Block Club Chicago, 10/30/18

River North’s 60-story ‘Carillon’ tower shot down, shorter high-rise still possible, Curbed Chicago, Jay Koziarz, 4/10/17

Rejected! River North’s Tallest Planned Tower Since Trump’s Gets Blocked, DNAinfo Chicago, David Matthews, 4/12/17

Neighbors rebel over proposed 60-story high-rise in Cathedral District, Loop North News, Patrick Butler and Steven Dahlman, 3/15/17

Near North Side residents air opposition to proposed 60-story tower, Chicago Tribune, Gail Marks Jarvis, 3/14/17

Plan for 725-foot River North skyscraper revealed, Curbed Chicago, Jay Koziarz, 3/14/17

Preservationists want a new landmark district in River North, AJ LaTrace, Curbed Chicago, 12/8/16

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