THREATENED: Washington Park Substation Added to 90-Day Demolition Delay List (Chicago 7 2018)

Crawford Station, Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst and White , Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers
Crawford Electrical Generating Station , Historic Photo Credit: Library of Congress

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 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 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.

In a community meeting following the closing of the Crawford Plant, neighbors supported the idea of preservation and reuse to include cultural, environmental and educational programs, with one important focus being issues surrounding clean air and water. A community oriented reuse of the complex is especially important considering its historical impact on human health through releasing toxins that impact air quality.

“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)

According to a news release from Mayor Emanuel, “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.

The impressive and architecturally significant orange-rated Crawford Station will be demolished and in its place a massive 1 million square foot truck staging, cross-dock facility will be constructed on the 72-acre site 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. This was lead 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 pollution, noise pollution, and restrict an extensive stretch of river frontage to an industrial use as opposed to converting this valuable riverfront acreage to cultural uses, green space and a riverwalk. 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.

Crawford Station’s Turbine Hall could be the site of an incredible museum similar to the model of the Tate Modern in London. The Tate Modern with its dramatic Turbine Hall is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the UK and attracted over 6 million visitors in 2017. A Crawford Station museum could become a regional draw, attracting, attracting many visitors and tourists to these sites if developed properly. Situated on the banks of the south branch of the Chicago River, it would provide access to and active this important waterway for recreation and park space for the Little Village, South Lawndale, lower West Side, Archer Heights, Brighton Park, and McKinley Park communities.

The Crawford Station is also listed as orange-rated on the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS). Due to the significant historic value orange-rated buildings, the designation 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.

“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.

Additional Reading

Column: Former Little Village coal plant to be demolished, replaced with distribution center, Ryan Ori, Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2018

Facing New Threats and Development Plans, Little Village’s Fight For Environmental Justice is Escalating, Martha Bayne, Social justice news Nexus, 8/28/17


2018 Demolition Delay List 2.0 for Architecturally Significant, Orange-Rated Chicago Buildings


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