Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Building Smashes Wrecking Ball: Jarvis Hunt's 1927 Lake Shore Athletic Club Survives

In a signature victory for preservationists and independent 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly, both Crain's Chicago Business and the Sun-Times David Roeder are reporting that Northwestern University has struck a deal for Integrated Development Group LLC to acquire the former Lake Shore Athletic Club, a 1927 work of architect Jarvis Hunt.

Back in April, the University had filed for a permit to demolish the building, in order to sell the cleared site, for a reported $40 million, to Fifield Companies, for the construction of a Lucien Lagrange highrise. The proposal drew the opposition of local community groups SOAR (Streeterville Organization of Active Residents) and the Lake Shore Preservation Group. The Athletic Club had been named by Preservation Illinois to its 2007 Ten Most Endangered Historic Places list. Grass-roots group Preservation Chicago made saving the building the focal point of several initiatives, including a June 3rd rally, attended by the newly elected Reilly, where many participants dressed in athletic gear.

That same month, Fifield SVP Alan Schachtman, seeing a threat to developers' accustomed unchallenged status in the city, sent a letter to his compatriots urging them to pressure Reilly not to get in Fifield's way, because it would guarantee the property "will not be redeveloped due to the economic unfeasibility to do so . . . the building would remain empty and unused." Reilly was unmoved, and in July announced his opposition to the demolition.

Preservation Chicago's Michael Moran relates how the group helped turn back another pro-demolition lobbying effort. "After Northwestern sent out an ill-conceived postage-paid postcard directed to Alderman Reilly, we encouraged residents to send this postcard to Alderman Reilly but with a twist. We encouraged residents to scratch out that they supported Northwestern's plan and to write in that they OPPOSED Northwestern's plan. Northwestern unwittingly paid the postage for these anti-demolition postcards!"

Integrated Development Group was formed only last year, and the Lake Shore Athletic Club would appear to be its first major project. With a projected $80 million cost for renovating the property into 150 residences for seniors, plus a purchase price that may not be much less than the $40 mil Fifield was offering, a lot of money would appear to be at stake for such a new company. However, company president Matthew Phillips is a former executive at Hyatt Classic Residences, the lodging behemoth's senior housing arm, so it could happen. David Roeder reports Integrated is expected to close on the property by the end of next January.

Reilly told Crain's that "we have found a way to preserve almost all of the exterior and much of the interior, historic components of the building." Exactly how that will play out is still to be determined. The Lake Shore Athletic Club is not a city landmark, and enjoys none of the protections of designation.

"We are hopeful," said Preservation Chicago's Moran, "that the new proposal will include preservation of as much of the interior spaces as is possible. The beautiful staircases and dining rooms, the elegant lobby, and the great original woodwork are all important. The reuse of the building as a senior residences seems like a great option for this property."

Booth Hansen has been named architects for the renovation.


Yellow Dog Democrat said...

Great photos Lynn, and a story well told.

There were alot of skeptics when Reilly first announced that he was opposing the demolition of Jarvis Hunt's 1927 Lake Shore Athletic Club.

On July 11th, you wrote:

"The smart money still has to be against Reilly and the club's survival. Too many powerful interests feel the need to stop what he's doing in the bud, before the contagion can spread.

If Reilly doesn't come up with alternative developers with the resources and commitment to preserve the current building, he can please the developers and still play the good guy - "Hey, I tried," he can say, as the wrecker's ball crashes. The stand he took today proves that he's brave. The next two months will determine if he's effective."

My point at the time was a rephrasing of F.D.R.'s "We have nothing to fear, but Fear itself." Business-as-usual only continues because people of good conscience are afraid to stand up and be counted. The minute we do, we find we have a powerful voice when we speak in unison.

Let's hope that people of good conscience continue to rise up in ever-increasing numbers, whether its saving Grant Park, or laying John Burge to rest, or ensuring that every Chicagoan has the tools and the opportunity she or he deserves to achieve their potential, to put an affordable roof overhead, to save for retirement.

Every neighborhood deserves safe streets, quality schools, and good-paying jobs. But too often Chicago politicians try to divide us against one another, instead of reminding us that ultimately, we're all in the same lifeboat, and we have a moral responsibility to our neighbors.

As always Lynn, a well-researched, well-written, and thought-provoking piece. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

Point of fact: Preservation Chicago and Landmarks Illinois had been working long and hard before SOAR voted to support preservation early May.

The Lake Shore Club was also threatened in 1999, when NU considered selling it as a part of the LR development around the corner on Pearson Street—so this was not a new issue for the community and SOAR.

Also the Youtube film with David Lowe, Cheryl Kent, Jay Stewart and Todd Palmer, which has had about 1200 views is another pro Lake Shore Club preservation initiative worth mentioning.

Anonymous said...

The soft real estate market is what changed directions on this.

Anonymous said...

If that's true 9.21am, then its time to move on the other endangered properties in the city. Cook County Hospital anyone?

Anonymous said...

For Cook County Hospital, put together a plan and raise some money, and you can probably have it. That's the ethical approach to saving the structures you consider endangered.

Anonymous said...

"For Cook County Hospital, put together a plan and raise some money, and you can probably have it."

is laughable. The County has held this building hostage for years, had plenty of offers on it which would preserve the interesting architecture, but never accepted any of them because the right crooks were not being paid off.

There is probably more graft to be had from demolishing it and building another state sponsored boondoggle than by privately developing the property. Guess which way the County will go?