OLD TOWN — Local residents and citywide preservationists are out to save the facade of the historic Piper's Alley building that was home to Adobo Grill before a fire at the restaurant damaged it last year.
Attorney John Brady applied for a demolition permit on behalf of owner Thomas Tully earlier this month to "substantially rehabilitate an existing mixed-use building damaged by fire, including the demolition and removal of the front projecting bays and turret and construction of a new 4th floor addition."
Yet it's precisely that facade with its bay windows and distinctive witch-hat turret that made the building an Old Town landmark as the entry to the old Piper's Alley complex known as something of a hippie haven in the '60s and '70s. As the building has already received consideration from the city for possible preservation, there's a mandatory 90-day hold on demolition to allow public debate on the matter.
Also, in the spirit of the season, before Adobo Grill it was home to That Steak Joynt, which was said to be haunted, and played host to seances in the '80s.
"We realize there was a fire here," said Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago. "We realize there could be some real damage to the building. But what we'd really like to see is to have that material replicated if it needs to be removed or repaired.
"We don't want to get involved in trying to save a building that's a liability, a hazard to people's lives," Miller added. "We just want to see that building remain as part of this great story. We're not trying to fight it, per se. We're trying to encourage the city and the owner to do whatever's necessary to repair the building, but realize it's significant and ask that the building be reconstructed to look as it did prior to the fire."
More recently, however, Hopkins said Monday that the Department of Buildings has inspected the site and "has determined that the structure can't be saved and it's an existing hazard that has to be torn down."
Hopkins said he was there on site to watch the fire last year and saw the damage done. "It doesn't really surprise me that the building engineers have determined that the building is beyond repair," he added. "My hope is that the historical character of it could at least be preserved."
"It is the last remaining facade of the original Piper's Alley and dates back to just after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871," said Karl Hjerpe, of the Old Town Triangle Association. "The loss of this iconic building will forever alter the streetscape here, much like the rampant development happening south of North Avenue."
Hjerpe predicted "great community opposition to this," but said the association is "still building support right now."
According to Miller, the building dates to the origins of Old Town as home to Piper's Bakery. By the time the '60s rolled around, however, it became known as Piper's Alley, a collection of shops and attractions he called "ground zero for the counterculture movement in Chicago."
It was home, Miller said, to "numerous wax museums, like Ripley's Believe it or Not, the Royal London Wax Museum and others, in addition to the restaurants, poster shops, the original Crate & Barrel, candy shops, counterculture stores, comedy clubs and novelty shops."
For "counterculture stores," read "head shops" if that helps set the scene.
"A small passage was turned into a real shopping Mecca for creative arts and tied into Second City," Miller said.
"Old Town being what Old Town is, there's always a concern about the character of the neighborhood," Hopkins said. "i hope that it will continue to be an attractive building and it'll preserve the character of the neighborhood and also allow for retail and office space," as it did before.
Hopkins said he has not yet seen the plans for the building, but that the owner does not intend to change the zoning, so he will not have the usual aldermanic prerogative over changes. "I'm interested to see what the plans will be," he said.
Brady did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Miller, the 90-day delay on a demolition permit grows out of a 1996 city report on architecture that designated some precious buildings as red, indicating an international landmark on the order of the Rookery, and others as orange, indicating "potential landmarks." The Piper's Alley building rated orange on that scale, setting a mandatory 90-day delay for any demolition.
Miller said that "really allows time for the city and landmarks communities and elected officials to come together and determine if these are potential landmarks or not."
There's no set hearing process, Miller added, but it does allow time for local residents and preservationists to rally what opposition they can.
The demolition permit for 1610 N. Wells was applied for Oct. 4, meaning that it could get final approval the first week of the new year.
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