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Cuneo Memorial Hospital Should Stand, Says Son of Famous Architect

 A developer has a plan to save the former Cuneo Memorial Hospital from the wrecker's ball.
Can Cuneo Be Saved
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UPTOWN — The son of the famed Chicago architect who designed the endangered Cuneo Memorial Hospital building has a message for the Uptown community: Let the building "stand."

The former hospital could see the wrecking ball as part of JDL Development's plan for building luxury apartments in the Montrose/Clarendon tax increment finance district, which includes a $32 million request for TIF assistance.

"Cuneo can be utilized — it takes somebody with an imagination to do it though," said Jim Belli, son of Edo Belli, an influential architect who founded Belli and Belli Architects & Engineers and designed Cuneo, which opened as a children's hospital in 1957.

Belli and Belli specializes in Catholic ecclesiastical architecture and is credited for designing several acclaimed Catholic hospitals and school buildings in Chicago, including St. Patrick High School and St. Joseph Hospital.

"I don't know how much weight this carries with the general public but for us it was the first hospital building that was done at Belli and Belli," Jim Belli said. "Because of it being the first that we had done, I'd like to see it stand."

JDL indicated from the start that the building had no place in project plans.

But preservationists say Cuneo, a modernist work with a roof line likened to an artist's palette, is an example of Edo Belli's whimsical yet contemplative designs, which injected fresh concepts into Chicago's Roman Catholic architecture. Supporters call the building an architectural treasure.

It appears, however, that Cuneo will soon be rubble because neither Ald. James Cappleman (46th) nor a majority of the zoning and development advisory committee he created have shown much interest in saving the building.

The 46th Ward Zoning and Development Committee voted last month to demolish the hospital and donate the land to the Chicago Park District.

Friends of Cuneo, a group advocating for the building, says that the decision was made without a full exploration of what benefits the building could offer in a restored state.

Friends of Cuneo has mentioned almost a dozen ideas to DNAinfo Chicago for reuse of the building. The ideas include an Uptown historical museum, library, a community center, and “workforce housing,” with below market rent affordable to artists, teachers, food service workers and others who work in the area but might struggle to pay rent in Uptown.

Jonathan Fine, Friends of Cuneo member and executive director of Preservation Chicago, said advocates are "hoping that we will have the opportunity in the very near future to be able to present an alternate proposal for that site in regards to an adaptive reuse.

"All we're asking is that the alderman and the community listen," Fine said.

But Cappleman chief of staff Tressa Feher said she was not sure if Fine will get his wish. "It's up to the committee if they want to revisit [Cuneo]," Feher said.

"But at the last meeting, it didn't seem like they wanted to," he added, citing the vote.

The next committee meeting will be in April. A meeting scheduled for Monday was canceled because the 46th Ward officials forgot to put it on the ward's online calendar and wanted residents to have more of a heads up, staff said.