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Landmarks Board Saves, Then Rejects Prentice

By Ted Cox | November 1, 2012 5:03pm | Updated on November 2, 2012 11:02am
 The Commission on Chicago Landmarks made a preliminary ruling on whether Prentice Women's Hospital should be saved from the wrecking ball.
The Commission on Chicago Landmarks made a preliminary ruling on whether Prentice Women's Hospital should be saved from the wrecking ball.
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Flickr/TheeErin

STREETERVILLE — The Commission on Chicago Landmarks agreed Northwestern's former Prentice Women's Hospital met initial criteria for preservation, only to reject that position on economic grounds in a marathon meeting Thursday.

The nine-member board made a preliminary ruling on preserving the former Prentice Women's Hospital Thursday, finding it meets set criteria for being granted landmark status. But hours later, it rejected the preservation campaign, citing a report by the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Those arguing for preservation of the building, designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg, cried foul. Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois, termed it "an execution." She said it was "disingenuous" of the board to grant the case for Prentice's landmark status, only to "immediately sign its death warrant."

 Lisa DiChiera, of Landmarks Illinois, argued unsuccessfully Thursday for the preservation of the former Prentice Women's Hospital.
Lisa DiChiera, of Landmarks Illinois, argued unsuccessfully Thursday for the preservation of the former Prentice Women's Hospital.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago, accused the board of following "a procedure that has been scripted for you" and urged the members to "resist the unnecessary haste."

Yet, after a public-comment section before the preliminary vote, and another after the economic report was delivered, the board voted without additional debate to reject landmark status. The initial vote was unanimous to recognize that Prentice meets basic standards for a landmark. Only Commissioner Christopher Reed voted against the second measure to rescind that status on economic grounds.

The hospital faced an uphill battle for preservation after Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) both came out recently in favor of demolition by Northwestern University, which seeks to build a new medical research facility on the property at 333 E. Superior.

Commission staffer Matt Crawford found that Prentice met four of seven key criteria for preservation. At least two are necessary for the preliminary status to be granted. He testified to its value as an example of the city's architectural heritage and its exemplary and unique architecture, and noted that it was the work of a significant architect. The commission unanimously endorsed that position.

Yet, a subsequent report by the Department of Housing and Economic Development, delivered by Managing Deputy Commissioner Michael Jasso, determined: "In addressing the conflict of values between the preservation of an important building and the need for a modern research facility, the department concludes that the civic and economic impact of Northwestern's proposed research program outweighs the relative importance of maintaining the former Prentice as an architectural landmark."

Reilly monitored the hearing and said all along he did not expect the hospital to get landmark approval from the commission on economic grounds. He said the issue would likely never get to the City Council for final approval, and now it appeared it never would.

Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president for business and finance at Northwestern University, testified the new building would create 2,500 construction jobs and 2,000 full-time positions at a facility generating $150 million in federal research funding. He also released a written statement immediately after the final vote stating the university was "pleased" the commission had rejected the landmark bid.

Christina Morris, senior field officer for the Chicago office of the National Trust for Historical Preservation, had countered that Prentice was "a national treasure," and many other architecture aficionados and Streeterville neighborhood residents echoed the call for preservation. But the commission ultimately rejected that position.

With its clover-leaf design, featuring "neighborhoods" of patients organized around a central nursing station, Prentice has influenced numerous hospitals since it was built in 1975, most recently the extension to Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. Goldberg is also famous for designing the Marina City towers.