Michael Reese rests in piece(s); what, then, is the epitaph?

February 25, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

Apologies for the poor photo quality above. I shot this picture of the demolition of Michael Reese Hospital earlier this week through the greenish tinted windows of a moving Metra Electric train.

The building in the foreground--the one with its carcass laid open--was once the Meyer House, a four story neo-classical brick pavilion with a facade as graceful as a 1920s apartment house.‚  The 13-story women and children's hospital from 1970 that sits behind Meyer will dance at the wrecker's ball soon enough.

The void to right of photo above was where an arched Gothic/Prairie/Deco bridgeway connected the 1926 Meyer House building to the 1909 Main Reese building. Main Reese will be saved, but the bridge is gone. Here's what the link between the two buildings looked like in 2006:


(photo by Lee Bey)

In addition to Main Reese, the Singer Pavilion--a 7-story building at 29th and Lake Park that is one of what once was a cluster of postwar Reese structures with designwork aided by Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius--will be saved.‚  Twenty-six other buildings are being demolished now.

Preservationists are rightfully upset about the architecture that is being lost at Reese.‚  Members of the Chicago's green community quietly lament the "greenest city in America" razing--rather than reusing--more than a million square feet of nicely-planned brick, mortar, concrete and steel. Including a power plant.

(And frankly, I was mad the Simon Wexler Pavilion, designed by Ezra Gordon and Jack Lavin wasn't saved. Couldn't this have been reused as a school? A day care? Something?)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

What should be the final word that rises‚  from all this dirt, dust and rubble?‚  We are losing architecture and in a city that prides itself on its built environment, that is sin enough.

But is the story simply that the Gropius buildings are being demolished? Or is there a bigger issue: That an institution with the might and‚  prestige to draw the country's top medical professionals and Gropius to the South Side of Chicago--a hospital that was a civic asset of the first order--went on the fade, then vanished in plain sight. The buildings fell because Michael Reese was no longer the top-shelf (and well-funded) research and teaching hospital it once was--and frankly, it hadn't been for years.

We bury the body today, but the spirit of Michael Reese departed a long time ago...

As I figure all this out, we'll drop in on what's happening at Reese from now until the demo's scheduled wrap-up near the end of the year. I'll share some of the images I've shot over the past four years of photographing the last days of Reese, also.