Midcentury preservation

Talk about your perfect storm for losing a piece of architecture! This building on S. State Street has it all: it’s in a busy area, it’s a retail facade, and it’s Midcentury in origin.

133 S. State Street

It’s slated to be remodeled into something forgettable. Blair Kamin wrote a an excellent summation of the who, what, why, and why-it-shouldn’t.

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Loyola says goodbye to an old… friend? Acquaintance, maybe?

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I’ve seen quite a few campus buildings meet the wrecking ball, mostly at my own alma mater but elsewhere as well. But seldom have I seen a campus demolition greeted with such a quirky, open, mixed bag of emotions as that of Loyola University’s Damen Hall.

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From the layman’s perspective, Damen Hall is the quintessential 1960s building – big, bland, banal, ugly, and horrible. Designed with no operable windows, looming massively over everything around it, utterly bereft of ornament – Damen is a hard building to love. Students and faculty likened it to a radiator, a toaster, and a prison, and it’s hard to argue with those assessments. Even I, the all-things-Midcentury guy, never bothered to get a full-body shot of the place in life, only snapping a few details that caught my eye. Demolition prep work is well underway, so it’s a bit late now.

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But despite its reputation as a monstrous pile of awfulness, Damen’s impending demolition has inspired an outpouring of affectionate commentary from the Univesity community.

While the building was still in use, a 3-minute video tour was produced, a sardonic pastiche of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous that manages to be informative, fond, wry and hilarious all at once. The University ran a contest to see who should be the last Loyolan to leave the building and lock its doors. The building has its own Facebook page, lamenting its own impending demolition and missing the days when students filled its corridors and strange elevator system.

Much of this is probably just the result of the building as a shared experience, a minor trial that most students had to endure at some point in their career. But I’d like to think that underneath it all, there’s some wisps of appreciation for the building’s genuine merits, for it did have a few.

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For starters, those marching concrete columns are a powerful statement, and the play of light across them is beautiful. I never saw that massive auditorium, but as shown in the video link above, it’s a stunning piece of Midcentury space.

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And then there’s the front lobby. The lobby and its grand tile mosaic mural was one of my first Midcentury discoveries in Chicago. There wasn’t much to the space: the mosaic on one side, two wall of glass on the other, a row of vintage seating that Mies van der Roes would have welcomed on the IIT campus.

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“Wonders of Creation” is a 1966 work designed and executed by Melville Philip Steinfels. The mural is a delight, an abstract plunge through the natural sciences as filtered through a 1960s lens.

Loyola University Chicago

The mural is gone now, bare concrete block walls left in its wake. It will be relocated to Loyola’s medical campus, in the inner southwest suburb of Maywood.

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You can see more details of the mosaic, and read the artist’s thoughts on the work, in the Loyola Nursing School’s Annual 2008 Report. The main Loyola campus, meanwhile, will be diminished for its loss.

A coda: I’m not too keen on the new building that will go up in Damen’s place, either; it’s a historicist replica that mockingly apes the oldest buildings on campus, rather than bringing any new ideas to the table (this is marketed as “complimenting” the older buildings.) Designed to be ultra-modern in technology and function, it hides those attributes as though they were badges of shame. Resorting to this sort of neo-historicist pastiche, as so many other universities now do, is a sad admission that our age has nothing of substance to say in built form; all we can do is copy ideas from a hundred years ago, badly.

Friday Photo Special: The Remains of Bensenville

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Orchard Avenue, August 2009

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Orchard Avenue, April 2010

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Orchard Avenue, June 2010

With clearance obtained, the demolition of Bensenville has proceeded with astonishing speed. Two months after the work began, every single house is gone. The only survivors are a 1920s gas station, and the apartment complex at the east end of the area.

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View east from Orchard Avenue

North of Irving Park, the land is almost clear of everything except streets.

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Orchard Road

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Garden Avenue

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Garden Avenue

Okay, sure, I would have photographed those railings anyway, ’cause they’re poetic and pathos-evoking and all that… but mainly I photographed them because they were the only identifiable landmark left on this side of the road.

South of Irving Park, there’s a lot more rubble. Some foundations remain, and piles of salvaged scrap metal remain in the streets.

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Garden Avenue

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Pershing Avenue

Victims of the revolution

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The behemoth that is O’Hare International Airport has been hungry for land. After a protracted legal battle, it seems its appetite will soon be satisfied, as a large chunk of suburban Bensonville is being torn down to make way for airport expansion.

Dozens of homes are being sacrificed to appease the monster. I paid a visit to them last summer, at a point when perhaps 90% of the homes had been vacated, with only a handful of recalcitrant holdouts remaining. It was an eerie environment, with tidily kept yards and houses standing shoulder-to-shoulder with lots that were rapidly becoming overgrown.

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A holdout next to a long-vacant house.

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More recently I returned, and found that with the legal hurdles cleared and the holdouts gone, demolition of the entire area was underway. An entire neighborhood had been fenced off and was prepped for systematic destruction. Trees are down, fences are ripped out and piled in the street, grass has been stripped away, and the houses are looking pretty ragged.

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The other bizarre casualties of the expansion scheme are two cemeteries that have already been ingested by O’Hare. The two will have to be relocated, but for many months they have stood as untouched islands in a vast construction project.

Yes, that's a jet engine.

Fine Arts Building Annex coming down

The lovely thin little building attached to the back of the Fine Arts Building is being demolished. Already mostly gone is the dull skyscraper that stood alongside it.

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December 2006

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April 2010

Dumb. Wasteful. Unlikely to be an improvement in the short or long run. Most unfortunate.

The thick metal framing in front of the Annex indicates an intent to either disassemble the facade for later reconstruction, or else preserve it in place while a new structure goes up behind it. Either way, it’s the dreaded facadectomy, and is likely to lose the impact of this tall, thin facade with an incredibly long, thin building behind it. Nor will it preserve the old tiki restaurant sign painted on the side walls.

* Link: Landmarks Illinois lists the building in its Chicagoland watch list, 2008.

Michael Reese demolition

In recognition of Landmarks Illinois’s release of their annual 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list today, let’s look back at the single most endangered architectural place in the city of Chicago: Michael Reese Hospital, being destroyed even as I write.

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Michael Reese demolition

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With the demolition of the these buildings, Chicago can lay claim to yet another of its vaunted firsts: it has destroyed more Walter Gropius buildings than anywhere else in the world! Truly a feat to brag about.

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The demolition has magically caused a big retaining wall, a truck trailer storage yard, six railroad tracks, an 8-lane highway, and half a mile of distance to spontaneously vanish from the face of the earth, and now Bronzeville is suddenly connected to the lake, just like the city promised it would be when those dumb old hospital buildings were finally out of the way.

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The city, meanwhile, has announced no development plans for the site. This is almost certainly because so many developers are frantically beating down their door and desperately trying to one-up each other that the city fathers just can’t make up their mind which one to take up.

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Too bad there weren’t any buildings already on the site. Then they wouldn’t have to go and build a bunch of new ones!

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Preliminary Demolition Underway at Michael Reese

The first signs of demolition work have appeared at Michael Reese Hospital.

The round Wexler Pavilion has had two of its windows removed, with Dumpsters placed beneath the openings. Large-scale debris is piled up in the lobby. Recessed light fixtures in the exterior overhangs have been ripped out, likely as part of abatement.

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The main entry and glass lobby of the Laz Chapman Pavilion (handsomely captured by Lee Bay) has been sealed up tight with plasterboard.

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Most alarming, the lovely twin lamps which have long graced the entry of the main building have disappeared. As you can see by the dates here, this is a very recent development, and I’d bet whatever you like that the removal wasn’t legally sanctioned — in other words, somebody stole the lamps.

Michael Reese Main entryway
March 22, 2009

Something's missing!
May 2, 2009