As could be expected, on Thursday the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, like Pontius Pilate, washed their hands of responsibility for the fate of the Bauhaus inspired buildings, designed in part by famed German architect Walter Gropius, which have the misfortune of residing on the former Michael Reese Hospital that Mayor Richard M. Daley wants obliterated so he can build an athletes' village for his 2016 Olympics. The Commission was responding to a nomination by activist and scholar Grahm Balkany of the Gropius in Chicago Coalition to place the campus on the National Register of Historic Places.
As reported by the Trib's Blair Kamin, the repulsion was accomplished with such sweet reason - who could object? The boundaries of the nominated district were "poorly drawn" and the individual structures subject to additions and alterations down through the years.
It seems to make sense, until you remember that just two years ago this same commission approved demolishing the landmark Farwell building and replacing it with a completely different building on which the old facades would be pasted, without the commission finding any "structural integrity" issues worth worrying about.
Those with the clout rewrite the rules to their benefit. In the Farwell case, it was a clouted developer basking in the very public favor of city hall. In the case of Michael Reese, it's the seemingly inexhaustible clout of the mayor, himself. So now "structural integrity", later additions to intact buildings, in most cases reversible, has become an immovable obstacle on which the commission justifies its inaction on Michael Reese.
And, of course, the Commission covers itself in the usual dishonest intimations of fair mindedness. Blair actually wrote the following sentence, apparently swallowing the kool-aid whole: "Despite the "no" vote, there was a glimmer of hope for the Gropius coalition when commission members and staff commented publicly that a revised plan might win their support." Both commissioners Phyllis Ellin and director Brian Goeken were quoted as speculating that that an unnamed someone might be able to put together a revised plan that would meet their approval.
Wait a second: as the prime protectors of Chicago's architectural legacy, isn't that their job?
Any third-string reporter could tell you what's really going on here:
1. No matter how important the best of the Michael Reese buildings are, the Commission, under the thumb of its parent, the former city planning and development department, has never had any intention of risking offending the mayor by doing anything to protect any of the modern Reese buildings.
2. Although the threat to the Bauhaus inspired architecture at Reese has been a very public issue since March, there is no evidence that the Commission has ever lifted a finger to consider this issue, despite the fact that all these buildings are in imminent peril of being lost forever.
3. It is only because of the nomination that Balkany filed with the National Register that the Commission was forced to take up the issue of Michael Reese.
4. There is no evidence that the Commission has any intention of moving a muscle to create the kind of alternative plan that would gain the acceptance Ellin and Goecken dangled before our eyes on Thursday.
5. The Commission will do nothing. If forced to do something, it will delay, knowing that if they hold off for just a few months, the campus will be demolished and all issues will be moot. Problem solved!
On a related note, also yesterday, the Sun-Times revealed that the city, in addition to borrowing $85 million to acquire the Michael Reese site, also intends to create a new TIF district that will siphon off at least $100 million in tax revenues from the surrounding neighborhood to co- finance the Olympic Village.
Mayor Daley's 2016 Olympics: the gift that keeps on taking.