Landmarks Ordinance tops Preservation Chicago's 2008 watch list

by Joseph Askins on 1/28/08

Click to enlargeIn its latest review of the city’s threatened historical places, Preservation Chicago moved beyond buildings and neighborhoods and added a set of laws to its endangered species list.

The Chicago Landmarks Ordinance topped the 2008 Chicago 7 most-threatened list following the dismantling of the Farwell Building at 664 N Michigan Ave, the attempted facelift of the Palmer House at 17 E Monroe St, the proposed construction of 29 South LaSalle at the site of the New York Life Insurance Building, and the use of Jewelers Row facades to mask a parking garage at 21 – 37 S Wabash Ave.

Preservation Chicago president Jonathan Fine said the same strain of facadism that preserved only the faces of Jewelers Row buildings now threatens the Chicago Athletic Association building at 12 S Michigan Ave (pictured above), inside the Historic Michigan Boulevard District. Developers have proposed to demolish the rear two-thirds of the building to make way for a new addition for Omni Hotels.

Fine urged the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to enact and enforce its design guidelines for the Historic Michigan Boulevard District and suggested the group consider giving individual landmark status to the Chicago Athletic Association building and its neighbors.

Future landmark ordinances also should define historic buildings as three-dimensional objects instead of historic facades, he said.

The other six entries in this year’s Chicago 7 are:

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

pk January 28, 2008 at 5:27 PM

The Chicago Landmarks Ordinance topped the 2008 Chicago 7 most-threatened list

There’s always hope, ask Barak.

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UptownR January 28, 2008 at 5:29 PM

Chicago’s Landmark ordinance needs more teeth. It’s getting ridiculous out there.

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pk January 28, 2008 at 5:34 PM

UptownR,
What’s ridiculous is that we give corrupt aldermen any power at all, and yet there are those who want to give them more.

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Joe Zekas January 28, 2008 at 6:10 PM

A query for irishpirate –

Do you remember the Preservation Chicago that ravaged Uptown for a while and skipped town leaving lots of folks holding the bag? One of its principals, when last heard from, was reportedly hiding out in a mental hospital in Florida.

On to a different subject. Who is this Preservation Chicago and why should we pay any attention to its pronouncements?

I’ve always thought our media was too much of a patsy for any group with a beneficent-sounding name. Skepticism seems to go out the window in that context. What do we know about this group’s motivations? What should we know? I’m asking simply because I know nothing – and have been around too long to accept at face value the proposition that their intentions are purely civic-minded.

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irishpirate January 28, 2008 at 6:39 PM

Joe,

that doesn’t sound even vaguely familiar to me. Perhaps I was drinking during that drama?

I’m not QUITE as cynical as you regarding large umbrella “Preservation” groups. I think they are often inhabited by people who genuinely believe in what they are trying to accomplish. That doesn’t mean they aren’t often wrong. However, they are often right.

Moreover, I’m using far too many commas.

When I tend to get more cynical is when people have a direct interest in “preserving” a property and they live nearby or own property nearby. Often then other factors may come into play. Sometimes financial, sometimes deeply personal, sometimes flat out “preference”.

The absolute last people who should be asked about changes in a neighborhood are the people who live there. If “neighbor” approval is needed virtually nothing will ever get built. Malls, schools, subdivisions, highway exits, whorehouses etc.

My main issue with some of these groups and their members is the blanket approach they take to preservation. Not everything that is old is worth saving. Sometimes it might be, but the costs are prohibitive. Sometimes the costs don’t justify the benefit. Sometimes what is to be gained by tearing down an older building is worth more than the building itself. I’m thinking of two lovely Brownstones on Huron at STATE.

On the 4100 block of Kenmore in Uptown there were two old nearly identical frame houses that were torn down a few years back. They were flat out ugly and in massive disrepair. Two relatively good looking condo buildings replaced them Good for everyone in my opinion. Yet some people literally cried over the old homes.

At Buena and Sheridan nearby an old frame mansion was torn down for a 30+ condo development. The condo building is one of the nicer ones around. Admittedly, that is not a high benchmark, yet some people still mourn the old frame mansion which was being used as a Funeral home in its last years.

There are many factors that need to be examined when “preserving” a building. I favor a more “holistic” approach. By “holistic” I mean knocking it down and creating a “hole” for something new if it isn’t truly worth savin’.

ARRRRRRRRRGH……..now I need to hit the post office. Twenty two minutes until closing at 7PM.

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Simon Deery January 28, 2008 at 7:41 PM

This group is nothing but a special interest group that curtails the free market system. Clearly, they have nothing better to do except to tell property owners what to do with their money. If they want preservation so badly, maybe they should put their money where their mouth is, and raise a fund whereby they purchase these properties and try to put them to their highest and best use. I wonder if they would value them at a premium for their purhase (I doubt it!). I am sick of alderman not having the guts to stand up to these special interest groups who clearly hark back to a socialist system of property ownership. Let the market decide what should be done with these properties!

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Jeff January 28, 2008 at 9:48 PM

“This group is nothing but a special interest group that curtails the free market system. Clearly, they have nothing better to do except to tell property owners what to do with their money. If they want preservation so badly, maybe they should put their money where their mouth is,”

Yes because the developers and lawyers are such people of integrity and there are no problems in this arena.:) I will bet you are an attorney or a developer, but odds are you will claim to be both, no? As much as people want to move forward, some of the best work and developments in Chicago is the result of preservation activities. We do not need more souless development, this is not Chicago.

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tomi January 29, 2008 at 7:43 AM

“This group is nothing but a special interest group that curtails the free market system…Let the market decide what should be done with these properties!”

So what you are saying is that we should be able to tear down anything that is cost-prohibitive and replace it with cinder-block castle or a concrete tower on an oversized podium.

It’s not like Chicago doesn’t have a rich architectural history or anything…in fact, it’s almost all we have. This is exactly why groups like preservation chicago are needed…the market went nuts here the last fifteen years and we need to make sure that we save some of the good stuff…save us from becoming Atlanta, Charlotte, or some other undistinguishable place.

Simon, please save your Ron Paul Econ 101 BS for people who do not know any better than to listen.

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Carter January 29, 2008 at 8:08 AM

I’d like to hear about this free-market system we allegedly have – in my experience the people who tout its value (and existence) usually possess a high school sophomore’s level of understanding of how incredibly byzantine and full of regulations, incentives, etc. our economy is.

Example one:

I want to put up a giant building that blocks someone else’s views of the lake. Why, that’s the free market, I should be able to build whatever I want, however I want!

Example two:

What do you mean you want to change the zoning to build a new building that blocks the lake views of the building I just built?! What are you, a communist? I have rights, I spent xxxxx amount of money for that builing’s land on the condition it would have unobstructed lake views, don’t you dare lower the value of my property on the free market!

Oh, and deducting mortgage interest from your taxes, please explain how that little fire-fueler fits in with the “free market,” or the Fed tinkering with rates, etc., etc., etc.

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Jeff Johnson January 29, 2008 at 8:41 AM

“some of the best work and developments in Chicago is the result of preservation activities”??? It was those same souless group who built it in the first place, so future generations of morons like you could “preserve” them.

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pk January 29, 2008 at 8:53 AM

Here’s the scoop on preservationists. IP is right about their ulterior motives at the neighborhood level, but the bigger umbrella groups probably are true believers. They are also scammers and tax cheaters.

The biggest one is Landmarks Illinois, formerly Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. They are a tax exempt, 501c3 not for profit corporation, and you can find their tax returns at http://tfcny.fdncenter.org/990s/990search/esearch.php

Their ’05 tax return reveals the following. Revenue for the year: about $2.4 million.
Net assets: about $7 million
David Bahlman’s salary: $200k
Andrew Fisher’s salary: $170k
Expense for D.C. based “policy consultant”: $280k

That’s all well and good except for one minor detail. To maintain tax exempt status, they are not allowed to attempt to influence legislation, yet that is exactly their primary activity.
On page 2 of Schedule A, they answered question 1 as follows:
“During the year, has the organization attempted to influence public opinion on a legislative matter?” Their answer: NO

Hey IRS. What the F?

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Joe Zekas January 29, 2008 at 9:18 AM

pk,

Some of us old-school types think it’s not “all well and good” for so-called charitable organizations to be paying these kind of salaries. I haven’t looked at the returns you cited, but the fringe benefits and perks in some of the charitable organizations are eye-popping.

The IRS simply doesn’t have the resources to monitor these organizations – and no one is going to give it the resources.

The hypocrisy of many of these groups is also stunning. They’ll defend the free market system violently when it comes to them getting theirs while screeching “unconscionable greed” at any developer who tries to do the same.

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Local Realtor January 29, 2008 at 9:33 AM

As a frequent attendee at St. Mary’s church at Buena and Sheridan, I am one of those who “mourned” the removal of the beautiful funeral home, with its lovely landscaped yard, and its plug-ugly condo replacement. The home and yard were a beautiful match for the church grounds, and made a nice oasis in what was then a pretty down-scale streetscape. The current monstrosity has virtually NO setback from the street, concrete has replaced green space, the units themselves are nothing to shout about (I’ve seen them), and now the inevitable has happened and the front fences frequently sport three or four “For Sale” signs.
If the mortuary was not making money any more (hard to believe in a neighborhood with so many churches nearby), then I can understand the owners wanting to sell the property. Too bad the buyers weren’t encouraged – or required – to keep a certain amount of the front lawn “intact” for both environmental and aesthetic reasons.

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UptownR January 29, 2008 at 11:55 AM

It’s not surprising that a site frequented by real estate agents and pro-development types would have such a hostile attitude towards Presevation Chicago. In my opinion, this just means that they are doing something right. If anything, Jonathan Fine has been good at getting media attention directed at preservation issues, and this is a good enough reason to give this organization money. They may get a little bit fanatical at times, but that sort of attitude is needed to counterbalance the crazed Libertarian types who believe that property rights are absolute.

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pk January 29, 2008 at 12:28 PM

UptownR,
When you refer to those who question the low standards of preservation activists as real estate agents, pro development types, and crazed libertarians, you intimate a certain set of motives that has nothing to do with concern for the built environment.

Here’s something that you’re not getting. There’s a strong argument that says minimizing government intrusion into aesthetic issues actually improves the city’s architecture and environment. History has shown that genius designers are often not appreciated initially. There can be no benefit from eliminating freedom of artistic expression. The result would be uniform banality. How could anyone ever look at Cabrini Green both past and present and say that heavy handed regulation that appeals to the lowest common denominator is beneficial.

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irishpirate January 29, 2008 at 12:32 PM

Beautiful funeral home?

It was a dilapidated mess. Of course local realtor referred to this as plug ugly. I like it. Not the best pics, but you decide. It is a beautiful building. Now the one just to the west is not as attractive and also partially came about because of the untimely demise of the deceased funeral home.

I think UptownR, who claims to be an architect to my landbased pirate, actually praised it one time.

By the way it is 40 units that replaced the funeral home. Let’s say $450,000 per unit. That is 18 million dollars of development replacing an old falling apart building.

Here is the soulless condo building that was mentioned.

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UptownR January 29, 2008 at 1:51 PM

I think I said I liked the furniture in one of the units. That’s pretty faint praise.

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irishpirate January 29, 2008 at 1:55 PM

Oh now I have to dig out the comment.

Perhaps I am wrong. It happened once back in the 70′s regarding oil prices. I thought you sorta liked the building at Buena and Sheridan.

GRRRRRRRRR

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irishpirate January 29, 2008 at 2:00 PM

I can’t find the comment on any easy searches so perhaps you never made it.

I seem to recall you saying good things about the Buena/Sheridan condo building. Even naming the architect or developer.

Maybe I was drinking.

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Local Realtor January 29, 2008 at 3:22 PM

HUH??? I clicked on the link to the “soul-less condo building” and what came up? An ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS restored vintage building at Clarendon just north of Irving Park!!! People, this is what quality renovation is all about! New mechanicals, opened-up kitchen area, etc. BUT also restoration of the crown moldings, decorated fireplaces, stained glass, pocket doors, etc. A wonderful combination of the best of old and new – kudos to Prairie Shores Properties.
I can hardly wait to show it to my quality-minded clients!

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irishpirate January 29, 2008 at 3:34 PM

GRRRRR.

if you use the link and then click one over the souless building appears.

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UptownR January 29, 2008 at 3:55 PM

Nope, never said it. The top floor units are pretty nice though–as seen on HGTV. I don’t like the exterior at all, but there are certainly uglier condo buildings around. At a glance It seems like a decent-quality construction project, though I haven’t seene the details first-hand.

I don’t remember the previous building on the site so I can’t comment on it’s worthiness. I probably drove past it before I lived in the neighborhood, but I’ve only been living in Uptown since 2005.

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irishpirate January 29, 2008 at 4:18 PM
Pat Barry September 21, 2008 at 5:04 PM

Hi Simon,I would be delighted if you could contact me.

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