On March 8, Preservation Chicago announced the 2023 Chicago 7, its list of the most endangered places in the city. Since 2003, the Chicago 7 Most Endangered program has identified imminently threatened historic buildings and other public assets in Chicago to elevate awareness, mobilize stakeholder support, and develop preservation solutions. This year’s list contains buildings from across the city.
For the second consecutive year, the Century and Consumers Buildings, located on the southwest corner of State and Adams Streets adjacent to the Dirksen Federal Building, were named to the Chicago 7 endangered list. The subject of a $52 million federal appropriation earmarked for demolition of both buildings, the General Services Administration is currently undertaking a review process (Section 106) to determine the buildings’ fates. This follows the 2019 cancellation by the Lightfoot administration of a $141 million rehabilitation and reuse of the buildings. The loss of these buildings designed by Holabird & Roche and Jenney, Mundie & Jensen is unnecessary and will harm the State Street Corridor, which would greatly benefit from the 429 apartment units and reactivation of the ground floor spaces that were proposed under the rehabilitation plans.
Most notable for its cultural heritage, The Warehouse was included in the Chicago 7 due to its association with the history of Chicago’s LGBTQ+ Black community, its incredible story of house music, and the groundbreaking impact of its resident DJ, Frankie Knuckles on the sound of modern music. For more than five years after this music club’s opening, Knuckles honed a new style – a revolutionary dance sound that blended disco, electronic, soul, and gospel music. The Warehouse became known in Chicago as one of the best places to hear this developing sound which later became known as “house music.” While of somewhat modest architecture, The Warehouse exemplifies that the identity of Chicago is inextricably linked to our historic buildings and the stories they tell.
The Chicago 7 included terra cotta buildings throughout Chicago. Chicago’s rich pool of terra cotta commercial buildings are an important and endangered category of buildings. While many well-recognized “Chicago School” buildings of the Central Area are designated as Chicago Landmarks, the many terra cotta buildings located in neighborhoods across the city do not have the benefit of any protections. As a result, the city is slowly losing these buildings due to lack of maintenance and demolition. The importance of these buildings goes beyond their beauty and architectural style. Each tells an important story in the development of the city. After the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, fireproof brick and stone building cladding was frequently used, but the cost of stone ornament was prohibitive. Terra cotta emerged as an ideal alternative being highly versatile, inexpensive, lightweight, and fire-proof.
Theater buildings are often a source of concern as neighborhood commercial districts change. The Jeffrey Theater Building and Spencer Arms Hotel in South Shore was completed in 1924 to the design of architect William P. Doerr. Located on East 71st Street and Jeffrey Boulevard, it was an anchor of a vibrant commercial district. These two structures still evoke the glory days of the district, despite alterations made during decades of disinvestment. Today, the buildings face demolition for redevelopment of the site. Preservation Chicago urges the city to designate the structures as landmarks to ensure they are incorporated into any new development.
Modernist structures are often overlooked or diminished in importance by the public and even some experts. The University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) campus was designed by Walter Netsch of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. The concrete and brick structures of the campus are the largest collection of Brutalist style architecture in Chicago and are considered one of the crowning achievements in Netsch’s career. Taft Hall, located near the center of campus is a simple but powerful building with rhythmic bands of pointed concrete grilles between which light passes into the hall’s interior spaces. In October 2022, UIC announced plans to renovate Taft Hall, including the complete demolition of its historic façade. Undeniably in need of rehabilitation, Preservation Chicago believes a modernization of the building can be accomplished in a way that achieves sustainability goals and maintains its one-of-a-kind architectural vision.
Rounding out the Chicago 7 list are four industrial buildings including the Werner Brothers Storage Building in Rogers Park, and three Southwest Side Industrial Buildings – Continental Can Company Building, Damen Silos, and Fisk Power Station. Each of these buildings are facing demolition – Werner Brothers for affordable housing, Continental Can for a new cold storage facility, and the Damen Silos and Fisk Power Station for yet to be determined redevelopment. It is more likely that the silos and power station sites will remain vacant for many years if demolition is undertaken as planned. According to Preservation Chicago, more significant consideration must be given to reuse of each of these unique buildings.
The Chicago 7 is an important program by Preservation Chicago to raise awareness of buildings, building types, and neighborhoods throughout the city. It is also evidence of a long and winding road to a solution that includes neighborhood residents, government officials, community organizations, sympathetic owners and developers, and other organizations such as Landmarks Illinois. None of the successes come in a vacuum and instead require lots of work beyond the endangered building listing.