Chicago’s endangered buildings, young and old

April 21, 2012

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Historic preservationists are in a strange spot these days: Some of them are fighting to save buildings younger than they are.

That’s according to Jonathan Fine, head of Preservation Chicago. His group released its annual list of the 7 most endangered buildings in Chicago earlier this month, and at least one of the picks on this year’s list is younger than Fine himself. (That would be 37-year-old Prentice Women’s Hospital, the Bertrand Goldberg-designed structure that made the list for a second year.)

Fine says he’s noticed other trends from year to year: vanishing urban corners, for instance, gobbled up by teardowns and replaced by chain pharmacies like Walgreens or CVS. Or churches, which as houses of worship subject to the separation of church and state, aren’t eligible for government assistance. And what Fine calls “meds and eds”-- buildings whose preservation becomes more difficult when powerful, clout-rich universities and hospitals want to expand their campus footprints.

This year’s list draws from some of those trends, and also features several buildings that will be familiar to readers of Lee Bey’s blog:

►A collection of five historic movie theaters, including the Portage, which recently received preliminary landmark status, and the West Side’s Central Park Theater, which according to Preservation Chicago, is thought to be the country’s first movie palace.

►Unity Hall, a building included in the city’s historic Black Metropolis-Bronzeville District, which honors sites significant to the African-American experience in Chicago and the Great Migration.

►Three hospitals, including Prentice and St. Anthony, which sits at the entry point to Douglas Park along the Emerald Necklace network of boulevards and will soon be vacated for a new campus. 

One structure on the list is notable precisely because it directly contradicts Fine’s crack about saving younger buildings: A construction date of 1869 makes Gethsemane Missionary Baptist Church one of the city’s few remaining buildings built prior to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, making it one of the oldest buildings around here. “To lose [a pre-fire building], regardless of the modesty of the design, would be a great loss to the city,” Fine says.

There will be a community meeting this Thursday, April 26, at Powell’s Books to help decide the fate of Gethsemane Church. In the meantime, listen to Fine’s description of the building’s history and the case for saving it in the audio above.

Dynamic Range showcases hidden gems unearthed from Chicago Amplified’s vast archive of public events and appears on weekends. Jonathan Fine spoke at an event presented by the Chicago Architecture Foundation in April. Click here to hear the event in its entirety.