Saturday, May 01, 2010

Chicago Streetscene: Ritz Pit

When complete, it will be ultra high-end, but for now, a worker climbs out of the foundation work for Lucien Lagrange's Ritz-Carlton Residences on Michigan Avenue
click on images for larger view


Scott said...


Might I suggest revising the headline to read:

"Another Lucien LaGrange abomination about to ascend"

Mike said...

I'm curious about the building that was on the corner - thought it was to remain then suddenly gone...

Scott said...

Or, "Ritz is the pitz"

Lee said...

The corner building, known as the Farwell Building, had its fascade painstakingly removed prior to demolition of its severely deteriorated framework. All the pieces were put into storage and will be completely restored on the new interior core in the final phases of construction.

Lynn Becker said...

Lee, what you say is true, but you are too kind. The Farwell is, in fact the focus, of one of great hijackings of a "protected" landmark to give a develop a staging area for a building that's far too large for its narrow site. The Farwell has set the precedent that, according to the Landmarks Commission, there is absolutely no difference between a protected landmark, a completely new building being put up in its place, and the facade of the old building being slapped onto what is, to a large degree, a parking garage.

Lee said...

Lynn, wasn't there an issue of deterioration that was significant enough to make the only other alternative complete demolition? I agree it is always a shame to see a revered landmark disappear, but preferable to having pieces fall off and endanger pedestrians below. Also where was the money to preserve it otherwise going to come from? To my knowledge no other party stepped forward with a better plan AND the funding to restore.

Lynn Becker said...

The case of the Farwell was an egregious fraud. No one denied that the facade was in bad shape. The developer leveraged this into a scam that the only course of action was demolition of the building.

(I believe the developer was actually prepared to present an "expert" to testify what had never been contended throughout the process to that point - that the building itself was structurally unsound. As the fix was already in, that proved unnecessary.

If you have the money, you can find an expert to testify to whatever you're looking for. In this case, the developer actually did put forward another "expert" who actually testified that the decimation of the Farwell met the National Trust's standards for preservation. Unfortunately, the Midwest Head of the Trust was actually on hand, and wasted no time in telling the "expert" she didn't know what she was talking about.)

Lucien Lagrange actually may have been the most honest man in the room as he patiently described the real reason for demolishing the Farwell, how much more difficult it would have been creating the parking if the Farwell survived.

Where was the money for preservation to come from? Let's be clear about this. This was no embattled non-profit. This was a development for condo's to be sold at a price point exceeding that of Trump Tower. If this developer can cry poor, then there isn't a building in the city where the owner can't claim economic hardship to nullify landmark protections.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks has not saved a single building that a clouted politician or developer found inconvenient. In the case of the Farwell, the Commission, on a tie vote, voted down the Farwell proposal. Unlike, however, the process to protect a building through landmark designation, where "double-dipping" is not allowed, developers get to double dip as often as they need, and a second meeting was called for no other purpose than to reverse the vote of the first.

Having proven it had no spine, the Commission could have taken the honorable route, which would have been to simply admit landmarking the Farwell was a mistake and revoke the designation, allowing the building to be demolished. If negotiations saved the facades to be remounted, the new building could be reconsidered for designation, much the same as Soldier Field was stripped of its National Trust designation when it was rebuilt, for no other reason than it was no longer the same building.

What the Commission did, instead, was simply approve the demolition of the building, the construction of an entirely new structure, and the slapping on it of the old facade, while continuing the fiction that all three things were the Farwell Building of the original landmark designation.

This is a subversion of the law - and of the English language - that hands people like Albert Hanna - on a silver platter - just the ammunition they're looking for to prove that the landmarks ordinance and its enforcement is vague, arbitrary and discriminatory, and hence, illegal. The recklessness of the Farwell affair puts the very idea of landmarking in jeopardy.