Leader of Landmarks Illinois to move on

Preservationist pushed to save modernist buildings that were deemed ‘too new’

August 23, 2011

By Lynette Kalsnes

(WBEZ/Lee Bey)
Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital Building is on the current “most endangered” buildings list.

The head of the preservation group Landmarks Illinois is leaving his post at the end of October.

President and Executive Director Jim Peters will move on to consult and teach historic preservation at the University of Illinois at Chicago and other places.

Peters joined the group about ten years ago after working for Chicago's Department of Planning and Development, where he played various roles including director of Central Area Planning and, later, deputy commissioner of the Landmarks Division.

Under his leadership, Peters said he tried to diversify Landmarks Illinois’ annual list of “most endangered” buildings to include other structures.

“It's beyond the big houses of the rich and famous,” Peters said. “I think preservation’s moved beyond that quite awhile ago. You go in communities, you figure out what’s important in a community. Sometimes, it’s not houses and big buildings. Sometimes it's a structure, bridges or studios of an artist or archaeological sites.”

Peters also has focused on drawing attention to mid-century modern structures, what he likes to call buildings of “the recent past.” Peters named architects like Bertrand Goldberg, Edward Dart, Walter Netsch and Harry Weese as among those who did pioneering work in Chicago.

“They really broke the mold of what buildings looked like from the early part of the century,” he said. “They broke the box in a way. That’s what intrigued me. Their buildings had form that conveyed the form of what was happening inside.”

Yet, Peters said these buildings from the 1950s to the 1970s are almost forgotten. He points to the recently demolished campus of Michael Reese Hospital that Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius had a hand in designing. He also cites Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital Building, which is on the current “most endangered” list.

“The public fails to understand they’re significant – they’re too new,” Peters said. “Everyone’s used to saying, ‘We’ve got to save Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, old Victorians.’ These buildings are caught in the middle. People don’t realize these buildings are significant. They don’t strike them as old.”

Under Peter’s leadership, Landmarks Illinois also partnered with Richard Driehaus to provide funding to several counties to repair deteriorating courthouses, which Peters called “the great buildings” in these communities. He said the grants allowed repairs to key features like clocks and statues that were getting “short shrift” due to funding cutbacks.

In a press release, Board Chairman Shelley Gorson called Peters’ contribution “incalculable.”

“There is simply no one better at working with all interested parties in preserving our architectural treasures,” Gorson said.

A national search is underway for his replacement.  Board member Jean Follett will act as interim director.