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Natarus Pans Prentice in Vintage Style

By Ted Cox | November 2, 2012 12:07pm
 Burton Natarus brought his colorful rhetoric back to the City Council chambers Thursday in testifying against preserving Prentice Women's Hospital.
Burton Natarus brought his colorful rhetoric back to the City Council chambers Thursday in testifying against preserving Prentice Women's Hospital.
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City of Chicago/Burton Natarus

STREETERVILLE — The classic rambling debates of the Council Wars era returned briefly to the City Council chambers Thursday when Burton Natarus testified against designating the former Prentice Women's Hospital a city landmark.

"Thanks for letting me in the door," Natarus said in taking a seat at the microphone. "I think my credentials are pretty good. I was the chairman of the landmark committee for six years."

Natarus was never known to mince words in his 36-year career as 42nd Ward alderman, and he didn't on Prentice, the Steeterville hospital that has been vacant for five years. Natarus, 78, who was unseated by Ald. Brendan Reilly in 2007, said he was "in Northwestern's camp" in its bid to raze the Bertrand Goldberg structure because he had been treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in January.

"Northwestern brought me back. They're a tremendous hospital," Natarus said. "If they want to do research on that location, and they want to build a building, I'm for that."

He didn't just praise Northwestern's plan to build a biomedical research facility on the site, however. He criticized Prentice and Goldberg as well.

"I'll tell you what," Natarus said. "I was down there today. Why don't you go out and take a look at it today? If you think that the metal machinery on the top and the metal machinery halfway up is very, very wonderful and beautiful, well then you don't know what beauty is. This is not a good piece of architecture. It is not. It's unusual.

"Don't be fooled by these photographs," Natarus added. "Go out and take a look at the building yourself. And we have a Jewish word for it — farshimmelt. It's not a good building."

An online Yiddish dictionary defines farshimmelt as rotten, moldy, confused or mixed up.

Natarus came up with a constructive new idea on Prentice as well. "If you really want to preserve this, why don't you work out some kind of a system cutting it in half, picking up the tower and moving it somewhere?" he said. "And taking the bottom," he added, "and just wrecking it?"

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks eventually voted against granting Prentice landmark status.

Even those in favor of Prentice's preservation showed esteem for Northwestern as a hospital. Glenn Becker, a Marina City resident arguing in favor of old Prentice, opened his remarks by apologizing for being nervous. "But if I pass out," he added, "take me to Northwestern."