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Michael Reese buildings threatened

Despite 24-hour security, two remaining buildings at the historic Michael Reese Hospital campus are being stripped by scavengers, who have taken all copper and aluminum and much of the iron, along with radiators and air ducts, according to the Hyde Park Herald (September 22).

Now, with a cleanup fund nearly exhausted, radioactive chemicals have been discovered on the site.

Reporting on a meeting with residents of the nearby Prairie Shores development on September 16, the Herald says Ald. Toni Preckwinkle “appeared receptive to neighbors’ calls to tear down the remaining buildings,” though she “declined to state explicitly that she was considering” demolition.

Last year Preckwinkle and the city agreed to preserve the Old Main Hospital Building, a prairie-school structure built in 1907, as preservationists fought demolition of over two dozen buildings designed by and with Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius.

Demolition proceeded, even as the Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council endorsed the nomination of the campus to the National Register of Historic Places.

In addition to the 1907 building, one Gropius building remains, the seven-story Singer Pavillion.  The rest of the site is completely bare, including lush landcapes created by world-renowned designers, now stripped away.

The city bought the campus last year for $86 million – with $32 million rebated to pay for cleanup – expecting to sell it to developers who would build an Olympic Village there (see last year’s Newstips report).  It now appears nothing is to be done with the 37-acre site.

Mayor Daley recently floated the idea of developing a biotechnology center there, but it has generated little enthusiasm.

“Wouldn’t it have been nice if they came up with the idea of a technology park while all those laboratory buildings were still there?” said Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.

Fine questioned the city’s commitment to preserving the remaining buildings and challenged the quality of security there.  “Taxpayers are paying for security and they’re not getting it,” he said.  “It reeks to high heaven.  They’re using this to justify their own cultural vandalism.”

What are the lessons of the Reese debacle?  “First, that haste makes waste,” Fine said.  “Second, that arrogant, unilateral urban planning serves no purpose.  Third, that the people who have been elected to watch out for the City of Chicago’s financial interests have failed miserably.”

Hospitals are a major focus for preservationists at the moment, Fine said.  They’re keeping an eye on plans to redevelop the old Cook County Hospital building as medical offices.  And they’re gearing up an effort to save the “old” Prentice Women’s Hospital, designed by Bertrand Goldberg in the early 1970s; Northwestern University wants to tear it down to make room for a new research center.

Metropolis Magazine has a report on Prentice.  Blair Kamin reports it will be included in an October 9 Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of Goldberg buildings called “Architecture in the Round.”

[Correction:  Northwestern University and Bertrand Goldberg were misidentified in an earlier version.]



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