Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Emanuel Destroys Prentice

What we pretty much expected all along has now come to pass.   In an article/letter in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has signed the death knell for destroying Bertrand Goldberg's landmark quality Prentice Hospital.  Barring a last-minute action in the courts, which seems unlikely, the building is toast.

Chicago ain't ready for the rule of law yet.  The Chicago Landmarks Ordinance requires agendas to be posting 48 hours before each meeting.  While agendas are usually posted on the Commission's website a week in advance, the agenda for this Thursday's meeting, now less than 48 hours away, has not.

Chairman Rafael M. Leon promised earlier this fall that Prentice would be on the Landmarks agenda this fall.  He lied.  Even if it finds its way onto an agenda in November or December, it will, given the mayor's pronouncement, be meaningless.  Chairman Leon, please spare us the farce of Commission members - all but one of them non-architects - either falling over themselves to justify and praise Emanuel's decision to circumvent the legal process for determining whether a building qualifies for protection, or the equally repellent alternative of the commissioners voting to landmark, knowing full well it's doomed in the City Council Emanuel controls.

Update:  Prentice is on the agenda for this Thursday.  Usually, this would involve one of the Commission staff's excellent reports on the building being presented, and the agenda item would say something like "Resolution to recommend preliminary landmark designation for X and to initiate the consideration process for possible designation of the building as a Chicago landmark".  Here, there's no such reference.  The agenda item "Preliminary Landmark Recommendation" is followed immediately by the item "Report and Recommendations from the Department of Housing and Economic Development and Resolution Pertaining thereto."  I'm betting "thereto" will recommend Prentice's destruction.  Wouldn't want to have an actual debate on whether Prentice qualifies under the Landmarks Ordinance criteria, would we?

Same as it ever was, there are two set of rules in Chicago.

One is for the unconnected.  If the Landmarks Commission decides to designate your home as part of a new landmark district, it doesn't matter how much you don't like it, that's the way the law works.

The second is for connected mega-institutions like Northwestern, where you get to pick and choose the laws you follow.   Don't want Prentice to go through due process for landmark designation?  Just ask, and it will not only be yanked from the Landmarks agenda, but it will kept off - for over a year and a half, while mayoral spokespersons talk about mythical "ongoing talks" that manage never to involve anyone from the broad-based, grass-roots coalition - including many of Chicago's and the world's leading architects - making the case for saving Prentice.

It's kept off to give you time to hire the Chicago office, run by a former Emanuel operative, of a beltway lobbying firm best known for defending Big Pharma and Big Chemical from being accountable for their more toxic actions, and for receiving over $43 million to create the kind of right-wing attack ads that have been flooding our airwaves as never before during this election cycle.  And, for your benefit,  the city will continue to keep Prentice from the Landmarks Commission agenda so you can work with those lobbyists to spend millions of dollars creating a deceptive PR campaign based on misleading, one-sided half truths, astroturf support, and polls carefully engineered to arrive at a desired result.

And finally, to make absolutely sure you're happy, when the Mayor of Chicago announces his decision in your favor, he will do so by repeating all your canned talking points so perfectly, you'd swear he was working for your lobbyists, himself.

There's a story about Harry Cohen, studio boss of Columbia Pictures during the golden age of Hollywood, once saying,  "When I'm alone in a projection room, I have a foolproof device for judging whether a picture is good or bad. If my fanny squirms, it's bad. If my fanny doesn't squirm, it's good. It's as simple as that."  To which Herman Mankiewicz, the screenwriter who co-authored Citizen Kane with Orson Welles, replied.  "Image:  the whole world wired to Harry Cohn's ass!"

The loss of Prentice Hospital is tragic, but it's a reminder of how "The City that Works" works.  Chicago voters had their chance, when Richard M. Daley retired after a pair of increasingly destructive terms, to take an alternative path, but they chose, instead, to elect another emperor.  It's a hard habit to break.  And so, for the foreseeable future, for better or worse, the fate of all things Chicago are, ultimately, wired to Rahm's backside.  And in the case of Prentice, it just squirmed.

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