Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tonight: Mayor Richard M. Daley's Scorched Earth Obsession About to Obliterate Michael Reese?

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley wants to destroy this:
and this:
and this:
and this:
We've written before about how the rich legacy of Bauhaus inspired architecture on the former Michael Reese Hospital campus is living on knife edge waiting to be sacrificed to the mayor's Olympic vision. Now it's crunch time.

How casually our mayor comes to the international Olympics table in the role as a destroyer of world culture. Let us count the desecrations:

1. A century of Chicago Jewish culture, as embodied in on of its most enduring and important institutions.
2. All manifestations of a critical decision point in Chicago history where, in the mid 20th Century, Michael Reese chose not to abandon the city, but commited itself to be a key mover in the plan to rescue a desperately troubled south side.
3. Some of the most beautiful landscapes in the city, from the hand of famed designer Hideo Sasaki.
4. Chicago's richest repository of Bauhaus-inspired architecture, a worthy mirror to the Mies van der Rohe designed IIT campus from the same era, in buildings bearing the unmistakable imprint of the involvement of Walter Gropius, one of the most important architects of the 20th century.

Destroy it all, our mayor decrees. Grind it into the dust and leave no trace behind.

And it gets worse.

The Gropius in Chicago Coalition has already reported that the commemorative plaques - to Gropius, to donors, to the spot where softball was invented at the old Calumet Club - have all disappeared. Now added to the pile is Pillar, a sculpture by renowned Chicago Afro-American sculptor Richard Hunt, which vanished between June 30th and July 3rd.
Far too heavy and large for amateurs to remove, the sculpture was surely uprooted from the fenced-in site by one of the various contractors. The GCC has been attempting for the last week to locate the sculpture, without luck. At the present time it is considered stolen, and joins several other irreplaceable historic artifacts in this pathetic category. On June 30th, a source at the hospital informed the GCC that demolition contractors had wanted to remove the important Richard Hunt sculpture so that it could be sold as scrap metal. If anyone has any knowledge of the sculpture’s whereabouts, please contact us immediately.
We are told we have no choice but to do this, to provide an athletes' village for the 2016 Olympics. This is, of course, a lie. The Michael Reese location is a very capacious 37-acre site. It would not be hard to strike a balance between preserving Chicago's rich history and supporting a better future.

But our Mayor is desperate. Cities all across America have no alternative but to keep coming up with innovative ways to survive in an often gravely uncertain economy, but at a July 8th press conference Mayor Richard M. Daley declared he has but one idea - the 2016 Olympics. "This is the only economic engine," said Daley, adding that he has "nothing else up my sleeve." There is no Plan B. Daley gives us but one choice for securing Chicago's economic future, a choice between stagnation and an Olympics that lasts all of several weeks during one summer seven years away. He's become like the drunk telling his family that their only salvation is, not in his sobering up and getting a grip, but in the lucky lottery ticket he's just purchased.

Specifically, he is desperate to find a developer willing to commit over $1 billion dollars to build the Olympic Village, and he apparently believes if he gives them a clean-as-a- whistle tabula rasa site they'll forget to ask themselves basic questions such as how they'll be able to unload up to 5,000 units after the village is converted to condo's when there were only about 4,400 sold throughout the entire downtown area in the peak year of 2005.

Yes, this is the Chicago of legend - tough as nails, cynically corrupt, where, for those with money and power, anything goes.

That is not my Chicago. It is not the Chicago of the millions of non-insiders who love this city and its history, and see its culture as something to be cherished, not pitched in the nearest dumpster.

Tonight, Tuesday, July 21st, 7:00 p.m., at Olivet Baptist Church, 31st and King Drive, the 4th ward's alderman, Toni Preckwinkle, will join officials from the city and Chicago 2016 in unveiling the grand plan for demolishing Michael Reese. The activists of the Gropius Chicago Coalition will be there, as well, "for a polite showing of support in favor of a more sensitive plan." You're invited, too. You get to declare which Chicago is your Chicago, and probably do it with a lot more grace and diplomacy than I've shown here.


marko said...

The near southside mid century urban renewal was an epic failure. The faster we bulldoze this swath of the city, including Mies's failure of a campus futher south, the better. It will live on in pictures and books.

Lynn Becker said...

Ah, urban nihilism - how convenient for the mayor. Are there any other parts of the city not to your taste that you'd like us to destroy while we're at it?

The last time I looked - as in, a week or two ago - Lake Meadows and Prairie Shores remained vibrant communities. The IIT Campus is - or at least will be once the break is over - teaming with life The CHA high-rises were failures, IIT and Michael Reese were not.

Matt said...

Marko, the gross hypocrisy in your post would be amusing if this werent such a serious matter.

Anonymous said...

I feel that the Reese campus is something that we should be trying to preserve, in some way... but in reality, the hospital is bankrupt, there is little or NO interest for development in this neighborhood, and there are still questions about Gropius’ actual contributions to the campus. You have turned up the drama to a soap opera level.

Saying an Olympics that lasts all of several weeks during one summer seven years away is completely asinine! Show me one mayor, governor, senator, that is NOT desperate (except in Texas). The Olympics is going to create thousands of new jobs, bring Chicago out of the recession, and revive this neglected neighborhood. If only we could find a balance and preserve just a few of the existing structures... but the timing couldn’t be worse and the economy more desperate.

Lynn Becker said...

1. No one can look at all the documentation that Graham Balkany has unearthed and say that Gropius's involvement was hypothetical.
2. Desperation calls for intelligence, not more desperation. When the mayor says he has no plan B for Chicago's future, he is declaring bankruptcy for the city. Yes jobs will be generated, and exactly where will all those people find work after the Olympics is over, when the city has done nothing to secure our economic base, and the construction market grinds to a halt as the city tries to absorb those 5,000 units. If the Olympics were part of a larger plan, they would make sense, but Daley has now made clear that the Olympics ARE the plan - his only plan, and in this context the city will not be stronger afterwards, but desperately behind those cities who actually had to come up with real, substantive economic policies rather than depending on a one-time windfall.

Anonymous said...

The thousands of jobs, piles federal money and major improvements in infrastructure coming into Chicago is a huge benefit that can not be ignored. I invite you to describe the Plan "A" that other mayor's, gov's, civic leaders have...

I am just so tired of hearing people blame Daley for all of Chicago's problems. There are positives and negatives this entire discussion. I would like to see buildings on the campus stay, but this terrible timing.

Additionally, I have spoken with architectural preservationists that even ridicule mid-century modern buildings… probably because they were trained to preserve the Beaux-arts… so Reese has many hurdles.

Anonymous said...

Gropius or not, they are beyond ugly. That "style" or look has had 60 years to earn people's admiration and it hasnt worked yet. Now in addition to looking bad, they also are looking dirty and old with major weatherization and envelope issues. Bring in the dozers and the games! Naysayers be dammed.

Lynn Becker said...

Yes, saving the buildings face many hurdles. No one disputes that.

And yes, probably any mayor would welcome the Olympics windfall (at least until they contemplate what a nightmare of overruns the Olympics have been for city after city), but making it plan "a" is as gross a dereliction of duty as one can imagine. It's not planning: it's methadone. And it's not free.

Lynn Becker said...

Beyond ugly: Yeah, just like Adler & Sullivan's work had 60 years to be accepted by the 1940's, when it was considered old, ugly and decrepit. The only reason they didn't destroy the Auditorium was that it was too expensive to wreck, but there was no shortage of nihilists like you, then as now, lusting to push the process along.

Anonymous said...

Lynn - check out the complete and utter devistation of the near southside lakefront. The campus literally destroyed block anfter block of city. Real city - the kind with variation and texture. Look at some of the pictures and ask yourself couldnt only a nihlist love the bleak and barren landscape brought about by such urban renewal modernism? Only souless, Godless nihlists of the imported European variety could have destroyed so much in so little time.

For Michale Reese Hospital Karma is going to be a bitch.

Anonymous said...

Heres some pictures


Lynn Becker said...

I'm not sure what kind of nostalgia trip you're on, but the south side at the time of the renewal was anything but a Jane Jacobs idyll. It was one of the worst slums in the city, where blacks who had come to the city as part of the great migration were segregated into a small strip of land into crowded conditions in crumbling buildings.

This is not to say the institutions were blameless. IIT, as I'm sure you know, was actually the owner of the historic Mecca Flats and let it degenerate into a massively overpopulated mess before tearing it down for Crown Hall.

But to suggest that the actions of the South Side Planning Board were a cynical exploitation of the area is absurd. In fact the board included local community organizations. It's easier, in hindsight, to realize that their kind of scorched earth tabula rasa approach is now seen as not necessarily the right way to go, but at that time it was seen as the shining hope. It's important to remember, as Joseph Fuerst as documented, that even the CHA projects were seen as major reforms - and highly desirable housing - when they were first built. To suggest that destroying everything at Reese is a kind of happy kharmic revenge for displacing area residents, mostly living in slums, is a very Balkan kind of thinking that results only in an ongoing vicious circle of revenge and destruction.

And I should also mention that the entire point of the Forgotten Chicago page to which you link for the photographs is their advocacy for saving the buildings.

Anonymous said...

Thats what makes this so amusing! The pictures of buildings offered up for support of their saving does nothing more than fuel the fires for their destruction by spreading their ugliness to people who would otherwise not have been able to see for themselves!

The Olympic Village will be a much better use of the area and offer a better foundation from which to build a real legacy and neighborhood.

I dont recall anyone arguing against Lake Meadows or Prarrie Shores but they could be included this discussion on South Side renewal although they are actualy successful whereas Reese and IIT can be looked at as failures. Reese being an isolated windswept no man's land and IIT being a vortex of failed ideals.

In many ways the "gehttos" that were raised were also the incubators that gave us such talent as Lou Rawls, Gwendyln Brooks and Lois Armstrong. Such teathing slums surely cant be tolerated since they cant be saved. However the slums of the same area such as Old Town or Near West Side or West Town and East Village werent completely raised and we are more the better for it today.

We should forget this terrible experiment from the age of the "Big Idea" and acedemic planning and usher in a new era for the city via the games of the 2016 Olympics.

Lynn Becker said...

Those who destroy history are doomed to repeat it.

Anonymous said...

"..usher in a new era for the city via the games of the 2016 Olympics"

Oh, please. We'll see just where Chicago stands, come October.

The people arguing to save SOME of the buildings, landscapes, and history of this site are to be applauded. No one is arguing that Michael Reese is a perfect place - but it is beyond foolish to argue on the one hand that urban renewal was a horror, then to advocate for what amounts to a total urban renewal scheme on the other. Let's build on what we have... wasn't that the main lesson we've learned from the past?

And all of you who are looking at pretty pictures with your wistful imaginations need a serious reality check... go get some real histories and read them before you pass judgment.