Friday, September 07, 2012

Prentice on Landmarks Agenda "sometime". So why am I depressed?

Both Deanna Issacs of the Chicago Reader and Ron Grossman of the Chicago Tribune report that at Thursday's meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, chairman Rafel Leon said Prentice will be on their agenda by the end of the year. 

This should be a major victory.  Why does it smell to me like a death knell?

1.  Issacs uses the phrase, "will be on the commission's agenda"; Grossman "will address the issue". If "address the issue" is what Leon actually said, it leaves open the possibility of something short of normal consideration.
2. Leon's statement was a stratagem to preface his announcement that he would again forbid any discussion of Prentice at Thursday's meeting.
3. No date for discussion has been announced.  Why?  If you're going to do it, why play games about when?
4. Explaining why Prentice was yanked off the agenda in June of 2011, Leon said, according to Grossman, "Mayor (Rahm) Emanuel was in office less than two weeks"  This is contradicted by a June 2, 2011 report where the Trib's Blaim Kamin wrote  . . .
Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said he got a call from Chicago's landmarks chief, Brian Goeken, at 10 a.m. informing him of the news. Fine said Goeken told him that Northwestern University requested that old Prentice be taken off the agenda.
5.  Grossman quotes Leon again claiming that the Commission, Northwestern and preservationists have been working behind the scenes, but a Tuesday report by Grossman quoted Landmarks Illinois President Bonnie McDonald that there was only one such meeting, over a year ago, and that Northwestern continues to refuse to consider alternatives to demolition.
6.  Grossman also reports that the manager of Purple Strategies Chicago office, Chris Mather, is a former Rahm Emanuel press spokesperson.
7.  42nd Ward alderman Brendan Reilly again on Thursday declined to take a stand on Prentice.

Brendan Reilly has surprised me before, when in 2008 he announced a deal that sidetracked Northwestern University from its stated intention of demolishing Jarvis Hunt's Lake Shore Athletic Club for a Lucien Lagrange highrise.

I'd like to be surprised again, but what I'm seeing in all the points above is that the fix is in.  All those "behind the scenes" meetings which McDonald denies really took place probably did take place.  Preservationists were not invited, and the agenda was not how to save Prentice, but to how best spin its destruction.

When Rahm Emanuel rebuilt the Landmarks Commission with his own six appointees, none were architects.  The closest he got was the re-appointment of the extraordinarily talented landscape architect Ernest Wong. who, the last time the Commission was faced with a contentious issue - all the way back in 2008 - abstained from the vote that defeated a proposal to demolish the landmark Farwell Building, and then when the matter was brought up again two months later, was one of three commissioners to change their vote to "Yes" to sanction demolition.

Emanuel's other appointments were a former alderman, a former assessor, a professor of obstetrics and a restaurateur.

Right now, here's what I'm thinking.  The reason that Prentice has been kept off the Landmarks Commission agenda is because Emanuel didn't have the votes.  Using the Landmark's ordinance criteria for qualifying for landmark designation, Prentice is close to a slam dunk, and with the grassroots effort to save Prentice in full flower, commissioners would have a hard time to vote, in good conscience, against preserving it.

I'm thinking that in those fifteen months of delay, the city has been working with Northwestern to provide cover for Prentice's destruction. 

I would not like to be a member of the landmarks commission right now.  My bet is that the screws are being put to those people big time.  The massive PR campaign being mounted by Northwestern (in Grossman's report, a "city hall source" makes a point of declaring they've gotten 1,200 emails and letters from that campaign) is diverting attention from what should be the legal focus (does or does not Prentice Hospital qualify for landmark protection) to absurd but time-tested apple-pie contentions that if Prentice isn't destroyed, jobs will vanish, Northwestern's new research center will evaporate, and thousands will die from cures never found.

And when - and only when - they know they have enough commissioners in their pocket, the city will put Prentice on the Landmarks agenda, and Leon will preside over a meeting in which landmark designation is defeated.  The Commission on Chicago Landmarks will again prove itself an empty shell, and reveal that it's purpose is not to save landmarks, but to provide cover for their destruction.

I want badly to be proven wrong. 

1 comment:

Richard P., New York said...

I very much fear you are on the right track about the fix. NW has made itself a cultural cretin with an absurd, vapid argument in the extreme. Did we all only reach the 4th grade?? I'd rant; but others more worthy have already done so -- besides I need to give my heart a rest from its fury over the Wright archives.