Sunday, January 27, 2013

Let's Kill it Twice! Chicago Landmarks Commission Set to Vote (Again) to demolish Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital

click images for larger view
[Update: Monday, January 28, 10:20 a.m.] Read the Save Prentice Coalition's response to the DHED report seeking the demolition of Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital, at the end of this post.

As I've written before, most people think that the job of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks is to safeguard Chicago's precious architectural legacy, and if you look at its long history and list of protected landmarks, as well as the outstanding work done, day in and day out, by the Commission's superb staff, you could be forgiven that conclusion.

In actually, however, the most fundamental role of the Commission is to make sure landmarking never gets in the way of connected developers.  Once upon a time, the Commission fought a long and ugly battle with developer John Buck over the destruction of Mies van der Rohe's Arts Club building for the marzipan nightmare that is 600 North Michigan.  The Commission lost. And it learned its lesson.

Farwell Building
Ever since, whenever there's a true battle for preservation, the odds are the Commission will find some way to be MIA, whether it be the case of the landmark Farwell Building, where the Commission just kept taking votes until it finally did the Daley administration's bidding of allowing the structure to be razed . . .

. . . or the Walter Gropius, Bauhaus inspired buildings of the Michael Reese Hospital campus, which the Commission willfully refused to even consider as Richard J. Daley executed a desperate scorched-earth demolition for a Chicago Olympics that would never be.
Kaplan Pavilion, Michael Reese Hospital
As the battle to save Bertrand Goldberg's landmark Prentice Hospital raged, the Commission did the bidding of new mayor Rahm Emanuel and yanked the matter off of its agenda, and kept it off, for over a year.  During that time, Mayor Emanuel actually counseled uber-connected, ultra-powerful Northwestern University on how to best counter a pesky, increasingly effective grass-roots campaign to save Prentice, guiding them to a former Emanuel operative who launched an astroturf campaign on Northwestern's behalf.

Then, in an act of truly dazzling cynicism, the Commission suddenly scheduled Prentice on its December agenda and in a matter of minutes unanimously granted preliminary landmark designation to Goldberg's masterpiece, and then gave its blessing to the building being destroyed.
A current exhibition at the Chicago Architecture Foundation, Reconsidering an Icon: Creative Conversations about Prentice Women's Hospital, includes a large number of often incredibly detailed alternatives for re-using the hospital building and integrating it into the University's need for a new Research Lab, and architect Jeanne Gang came up with still another compelling proposal for re-use.
image courtesy Studio/Gang, Jay Hoffman
[Update: Monday, January 28, 10:20 a.m.] The Save Prentice Coalition this morning issued its response to the DHED report seeking demolition of Prentice Hospital.  Read it at the end of this post.

They clearly give the lie to the claim that Prentice and future needs can't co-exist in a mutually beneficial way, but Northwestern can't be bothered.  Why should they, when they have the Mayor of Chicago firmly in their back pocket, cheerleading their fervent but ultimately specious mantra, “Goldberg must be destroyed!”

Court challenges have resulted in a stay in demolition, with preservationists having to refile their lawsuit - and have it accepted by Circuit Court Judge Neil Cohen - by a date in early in February to keep the bulldozers at bay.  

In preparation for that event, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks is set to again vote for Prentice's demolition at their next regular monthly meeting February 7th.  “God is in the details”, someone once said, probably while puffing on a good cigar, and it's telling that while the Commission's agendas have always been signed by secretary and long-time commissioner John Baird, February's Prentice-killing agenda is signed by a new secretary, Ex-Officio member and Housing and Economic Development head Andrew Mooney, lest anyone be the least bit confused as to who's really running things over there.

The court has intimated that the Commission voting for landmark designation and then voting against landmark designation in immediate succession just might be a violation of what the landmarks ordinance intended when it talked about open public process, so now we have this new charade in which the Commission will vote to rescind designation again, this coming February 7th.  Zero public hearings have been held, but now there's an entire month between the vote to designate and a vote to revoke designation, so we've made it all look legit, right Judge Cohen?

As usual, the draft resolution re-condemning Prentice to the dust reads as it were written by Northwestern itself.  You can check it all out for yourself here.

The Save Prentice coalition's response, after the break . . .

Statement from Save Prentice Coalition Regarding the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ Feb. 7 Agenda

Chicago – January 27, 2013 – The Save Prentice Coalition issued the following statement today in response to the Commission on Chicago Landmarks’ agenda for their February 7, 2013 meeting:
The City has acknowledged that the November 1, 2012 meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks was deficient. Indeed, the presiding judge found that the amount of time and notice given for the Nov. 1 meeting was “arbitrary and not transparent.”

The Save Prentice Coalition has presented four detailed reuse plans that meet the research needs of Northwestern, create 1,560 more jobs than Northwestern's plan, and preserve a vital piece of our city's architectural heritage – Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice. Regrettably, the University has refused even to discuss these options. Instead, the institution that owns 44% of Streeterville claims that options do not exist.

Meanwhile, the City’s revised DHED report, released Friday, merely rejects the Coalition’s economic projections with one paragraph, while parroting Northwestern University’s unsubstantiated assertions throughout the entire five-page document.

Currently, the meeting and proposed rejection of a preliminary landmark recommendation for Prentice violate the Landmarks Ordinance. The Landmarks Commissioners must hold a full hearing on Prentice, allow the Coalition to present evidence regarding the architectural value and integrity of this unique architectural milestone, and base their decision on the criteria set forth in the Ordinance. The Coalition encourages the Commission to keep this process transparent and non-preordained, to base its decision on the proper considerations, and to follow the letter and spirit of the Landmark Ordinance with respect to this important and historic building.

About the Save Prentice Coalition
Save Prentice is a coalition of organizations that includes AIA Chicago, DoCoMoMo, Landmarks Illinois, The National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Chicago. Our mission is the preservation and reuse of the iconic – and now threatened – Prentice Women’s Hospital designed by noted Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg in the early 1970s.


Urducell said...

Great Work.......

Unknown said...

Spot on, as usual. While we are revisiting this, would someone please teach the newscasters on WBEZ how to pronounce Goldberg's first name?