The 600 block of North Michigan Avenue is in for some big changes, some temporary, some grand, and one a potential time bomb that could decimate Chicago's rich architectural legacy.
First the temporary. Just as the leaves turn crimson just before they fall, the building formerly housing the entrance to the Terra Museum of American Art on went red over the last week to house a "pop-up" store for Project Red, the initiative launched by rocker Bono to help bankroll the Global Fund to Fight Aids. The store, which sold merchandise tied in with the campaign, is the subject of an interesting article on this archenewsnow webpage.
The Museum, founded by industrialist Daniel Terra to showcase his extensive collection of American Art, closed in 2004, eight years after Terra's death, following an acrimonious and ultimately unsuccessful battle to move the museum to Washington, D.C. The property was put on the block, and ultimately acquired by Prism Development, which plans to erect The Ritz-Carlton Residences, a 40 story tower designed by architect Lucien Lagrange containing just 86 high-end residences. The building site includes two other parcels. To north, there's a small structure that is best known for being the long-time home of the city's legendary Stuart Brent booksellers. (A Starbucks now claims the space.)
More crucially, another parcel to the south contains the Farwell Building, an officially designated Chicago landmark, a graceful classical 1920's high-rise in Indiana limestone, designed by architect Philip Maher, that is one of the few suriving examples of the kind of elegance that dominated Michigan Avenue before it was overrun by often ghastly new construction such as 600 North Michigan and the Marriott Hotel.
The Farwell is the center of a truly astounding proposal - one that somehow actually made it onto the Commission on Chicago Landmarks' October agenda - calling for the "Proposed dismantlement, demolition and facade reconstruction of the Farwell Building." In plain English, this means that Prism Development is seeking to remove the facades from the Farwell, demolish the building, erect a new structure and face it with the old Farwell facades, which would then have blind windows fronting a parking garage.
It's hard to decide which is more outrageous - that any developer would even attempt such a proposal, or that a Chicago architect of the caliber of Lucien Lagrange, who makes his home in one of the city's few surviving Louis Sullivan buildings, would allow himself to be aligned with such a project. The proposal was yanked from the October Landmarks Commission agenda at the last minute, and is not on the November agenda as currently published. Still, it's inevitable Prism will be back, and this much is certain: if the Commission gives Prism its way, it means the effective end of landmark protection in the city of Chicago.