Prentice Again Denied Landmark Status by Commission

By Ted Cox on February 7, 2013 4:54pm 

 Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital was denied landmark status Thursday.
Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital was denied landmark status Thursday.
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Flickr/TheeErin

CHICAGO — The Commission on Chicago Landmarks repeated its decision not to preserve Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital Thursday.

In a standing-room-only session at the Cook County Board meeting room, the commission voted unanimously 8-0 to deny recommending landmark status for Prentice.

The commission acted at the end of a four-hour meeting full of public comment with a bare minimum of discussion, only a few clarifying questions over less than five minutes, before the vote.

"We have been put in a very difficult position," said Commissioner James Houlihan, who voted "with some reluctance" in favor of affirming an economic-impact study basically sentencing the 1975 structure to the wrecking ball.

Several in the architecture field offered alternative-use plans trying to adapt the existing structure to Northwestern University's proposed $1 billion research facility. But, while Houlihan had maintained the body would be open to such concepts, they fell on deaf ears.

Jonathan Fine, of Preservation Chicago, said he had reviewed a proposal for the reuse of Prentice and found it viable. "Northwestern says it can't save Prentice," he said. "We say it can."

"We have found those proposals to be wanting," said Commissioner Andrew Mooney, who represents the Department of Housing and Economic Development on the board.

Michael Rachlis, attorney for Landmarks Illinois and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said the three-minute limit placed on each public comment as part of its regular meeting made it impossible for the commission to genuinely weigh the reuse proposals. "We maintain our objection to the forum," he said, saying the failure to grant Prentice a separate hearing allowing cross-examination was a "statutory overreach by the commission."

Those arguments are sure to resurface when Rachlis pursues his case against the commission later this month. That suit stems from the commission's finding that Prentice met basic standards for landmark status in November, only to immediately turn around and rescind that status on basis of an economic-impact study by the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

 Chairman Rafael Leon listens to Commissioner Andrew Mooney make the economic case against preserving Prentice.
Chairman Rafael Leon listens to Commissioner Andrew Mooney make the economic case against preserving Prentice.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

The commission reconsidered that vote on Prentice in part to address concerns raised by Judge Neil Cohen. Chairman Rafael Leon said, "I've been advised" to ask for public comment, time and again, before the commission made its final vote.

Christina Morris, of the National Trust, said the agency had declared Prentice a "national treasure" and that it had been placed on its list of the 11 most endangered places in 2011.

Lisa DiChiera, of Landmarks Illinois, said the agency had placed it on its list of the 10 most endangered places and had been working for a decade for preservation.

"This was a revolutionary building in its time," said architect Gunny Harboe, who worked on the rehabilitation of the Rookery and the Sullivan Center, the former Carson Pirie Scott Building. He pointed to how the commission voted unanimously that it met basic standards for landmark status and urged it to reject the economic-impact study that subsequently countermanded that finding.

Yet architect Jeff Case countered that Prentice had "outlived its useful life," which lasted only 30 years, and had not passed the test of time. "The building has moved on and so should we," he said. "333 E. Superior will not be missed."

Several Northwestern medical representatives, union groups and business agencies argued against preservation and in favor of development.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) have both endorsed Northwestern's plans for a completely rebuilt medical-research facility.

Christopher Reed, who cast the only vote rejecting the economic-impact plan, resinged at the of 2012.

 

 It was standing room only in the Cook County Board meeting room for the Commission on Chicago Landmarks Thursday.
It was standing room only in the Cook County Board meeting room for the Commission on Chicago Landmarks Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

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