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Big plans for Michael Reese

Again Mayor Daley touts a “world-class technology park” on the nearly vacant site of Michael Reese Hospital.

As Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago said here in September, “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?”

Not just handy lab buildings, either – the most significant collection in the nation of buildings whose design was guided by Walter Gropius, one of the major architects of the 20th century.  Blair Kamin called the demolition at the hands of Daley and Toni Preckwinkle “cultural vandalism.”

Lynn Becker recently pointed out that the 2009 demolition of Reese and the 1989 demolition of Block 37 – which included the landmark 1872 McCarthy Building, John Peter Altgeld’s 1892 Unity Building, the 1921 United Artists Theatre designed by Holabird and Roche, and the 1928 art deco Hillman Building with the venerable Stop & Shop gourmet emporium – are the “twin bookends” of Daley’s reign.

There was big talk of big plans back then too, but not until 16 years later was anything built, and what we got was a “sad, ‘better-something-than-nothing'” compromise on the original visions.

And much like Reese’s labs, the Stop & Shop would have suited today’s new Loop-dwellers, and the United Artists Theatre “would have provided a much-needed smaller capacity venue for the mayor’s revived Randolph Street district,” Becker points out.

Along the way he gives a fascinating view of the arc of Daley’s career, from “Dirty Little Richie” to the conciliator of his early mayoralty — till “the nasty habits of his youth returned: the bullying, the intolerance of dissent, the constant ridiculing of any ideas other than his own, the incoherent, angry rants.”

Says Becker: “The mayor’s most willful initiatives were often his most embarrassing blunders.”  Put Reese in that category.

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.]

Daley and police reform

Mayor Daley told the Sun-Times that the increase in killings is attributable to police fears of civilian complaints and media coverage of police misconduct.

“It’s preposterous,” said journalist and activist Jamie Kalven.  “It’s almost hallucinatory — it’s Alice in Wonderland.”

For one thing, the kind of coverage the Mayor complains about — aside from what he terms “beating up police” by airing video of a drunken off-duty officer beating up a woman bartender — is nearly impossible.

Police officers are “always afraid of beefs because, once they get a beef, you write about it,” Daley told Fran Spielman, reciting an imaginary press account: “‘He has 25 C.R. numbers [complaints registered], all unfounded.’ You say, ‘Why? This fella must be a problem’. And you find out most of them are gangbangers and dope dealers [who] filed charges. And they didn’t show up in court or administrative hearings.”

But no one’s informed when a complaint is filed against a particular officer.

Those kinds of numbers are only available in the course of criminal trials and other legal proceedings against rogue police officers — most often after prosecutors have decided “this fella must be a problem” — as Kalven points out.  He’s sued the city for documents on police misconduct including a list of officers with over ten complaints.  In that case, the city has appealed a federal court order to release the documents; a hearing before an appeals court panel took place last month.

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