"Forgotten" Goldberg: Does Marina City architect's work @ Elgin Mental Health Center have a future?

September 15, 2010


(photo by Landmarks Illinois)
 

The two buildings–a medical building and a laundry facility–were constructed at the state-run Elgin Mental Health Center. A departure from an architecturally modern medicine box of the time, Goldberg’s medical building (above) is a five-story cylindrical concrete tower that, according to some experts, influenced hospital design–including that of Goldberg’s own Prentice Hospital at Northwestern Memorial. The laundry facility is a prefab concrete structure with an expansive, column-free interior and the ribbed shape of an old-fashioned steam radiator.

Marina City has become one of most visible and recognizable pieces of modern architecture in the world, but preservationists fear Goldberg’s Elgin buildings–disused, aging, and largely hidden from public view on Elgin’s vast campus–might be lost to demolition. The state-owned medical building has been empty since 2002; the laundry closed in the 1990s and was sold six years ago to nut purveyor John B. Sanfilippo & Son, Inc. which uses the structure for storage. Elgin Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Bill Briska is frank about the difficulty of preserving the buildings, particularly the medical tower:

“The building is not even being given basic maintenance to mothball it.  It will soon begin to deteriorate more rapidly,” he said. “The interior layout and construction techniques make it difficult to retro-fit for other uses.  Better and cheaper office space and industrial properties can be found in Elgin.  Access for trucks is very poor.”

Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for the preservation group Landmarks, Illinois visited the site last month. The group is looking to work with the state, Elgin city officials and the Sanfilippo company She agreed finding a use for the hospital will be difficult. The laundry, however, “would make a great Elgin sports facility,” she said. “Tennis court center, basketball courts, swimming pool, running track. And it;s very close to Elgin’s existing health/sports center. Would be nice to see it integrated into that campus via trails through the adjacent forest preserve.”

Let’s look around…


(photo by Landmarks Illinois)


(photo by Landmarks Illinois)
 

Here is the tower of the medical building:


(photo by Landmarks Illinois)
 

The rotten‚  economy could help preserve these buildings in the short-run. The state lacks the money to demolish the hospital and the Sanfilippo company two years ago sought a zoning change to rebuild on the laundry building's site, but the plans seem to be in limbo now. But buildings can still be lost by neglect. And at a time when research in Goldberg's work is at high interest--what with a new book on his work this year and an Art Institute retrospective on his work planned for the fall--these Elgin buildings are worth watching.