Preservation Chicago has just announced its “Chicago 7 list, highlighting buildings and neighborhoods at risk throughout the city.
Of particular interest to me personally is Devon Avenue, the Indian/Pakistani/Jewish commercial street in the city’s far northern reaches. It’s not very far from where I live, and I pass through fairly frequently. The street’s aged buildings, thick infrastructure, and frenetic, multilingual signs give it a charm and intensity unmatched anywhere else in the city. With its dense immigrant population, a visit to Devon Avenue is often like stepping into another country.
The street is also home to some fine architecture, including several unusual buildings that straddle the line between Streamline Deco and International Style. More traditionally styled buildings abound as well, in an array of styles. All of it’s buried to some extent beneath the plethora of signs that festoon the various stores and restaurants, but it’s certainly worth keeping.
The survey rather vaguely cites a proposal for new development, but says little in the way of specifics, aside from a rather gaudy new facade (building?) intended for 2552 W. Devon. Without knowing who’s planning what, it’s hard to say much of anything about the issue.
More generally, though, I can say this: architects and planners love to sanitize things. Devon Avenue is the kind of jumbled, messy, and furiously successful commercial district that could easily be totally screwed up by some planner looking down, God-like, from his lofty paper perch. Devon Avenue isn’t broken by any stretch of the imagination, so it begs the question: who on Earth thinks it needs fixing?