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One of City's 'Architectural Treasures' Could Be Demolished in TIF District

By Adeshina Emmanuel | January 7, 2013 7:26am | Updated on January 7, 2013 10:47am

UPTOWN — The former Cuneo Memorial Hospital — an architectural treasure to some — faces demolition if the community approves a $220 million development plan proposed in an Uptown tax increment financing district.

The building caught a break early in 2012 when a development proposed by Sedgwick Properties at the former site of Maryville Academy, which includes Cuneo, fizzled in the face of stiff community opposition. Another Sedgwick proposal had failed the year before.

But Cuneo might be on the chopping block again in 2013. Another proposal for the defunct Maryville site seeks community approval, and the developer wants to break ground within a year.

JDL Development, in collaboration with retail specialist Harlem Irving Companies and Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture, has a plan to build a luxury residential and retail complex near the lakefront at West Montrose and North Clarendon avenues in the Montrose/Clarendon TIF district.

 The inside of one of Cuneo Memorial Hospital's rooms
The inside of one of Cuneo Memorial Hospital's rooms
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Preservation Chicago

The glassy high-rise development would include 796 high-end units — with at least 5 percent of its units reduced from the market rate for tenants meeting affordable housing income requirements.

[Read about the affordable housing issue here.]

Cuneo architect Edo Belli designed the endangered building, which opened in 1957 as a women's and children's hospital. It closed in 1988 and reopened the same year as a children's shelter. Cuneo, a modernist work with a roof line likened to an artist's palette, is an example of Belli's whimsical but contemplative designs, which Preservation Chicago said injected fresh concepts into Chicago's Roman Catholic architecture.

"I think it's a very underappreciated architectural genre," said Preservation Chicago Executive Director Jonathan Fine about Mid-Century Modern architecture. "It's an architectural movement that was based on minimalism, so I think there's a lot of people who look at some of these buildings, and they say they're not really impressed."

The latest public review of the plan was in December, when JDL President James Letchinger said that Cuneo would be demolished. Few people there complained other than Fine.

Letchinger said the plan, including the reduction of affordable-housing units, reflects the wishes of residents.

"Like with the whole process, it's up to the community as a whole," Letchinger said this week.

Some community members have said they want the parcel to be used as restaurant or retail space. Some want the land razed and given to the Chicago Park District, although 46th Ward Ald. James Cappleman's office said conversations with the park district indicated the agency was not eager to take on more land and the costs of upkeep given its current financial struggles.

Preservation advocates, on the other hand, are pushing for an adaptive reuse of the building that features residential units renting under and at market-rate prices. Rent would be affordable for "nurses and waiters and schoolteachers," and other "working-class people," Fine said. "The people we value in our community should be able to afford to live in our community," he said.

Fine said he aired his concerns to Letchinger at the December public plan review but that "the idea was not positively embraced." Fine also said he believed that destroying the building despite the opportunity to reuse it would be wasteful.

 An old view of Cuneo Memorial Hospital's lobby
An old view of Cuneo Memorial Hospital's lobby
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Preservation Chicago

But he emphasized that Preservation Chicago is first concerned with saving items of architectural relevance and cultural value.

Cappleman was unavailable for comment, but his chief of staff, Tressa Feher, noted that the building is not protected by any special historic or landmark status. She emphasized that Cappleman would remain mum about his position on the project until the community review process is completed.

The proposal's next test is at the 46th Ward Zoning Board and Committee meeting on at 7p.m. Jan. 28 in the Weiss Memorial Hospital Auditorium.