Prentice slated for demolition

By The Columbia Chronicle

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks has sealed the fate of the old Prentice Women’s Hospital, 333 E. Superior St., despite opposition from preservationists.

The decision to demolish the hospital and allow Northwestern University to move forward with its plan to construct a new medical research facility in its place was announced Nov. 1 during the commission’s meeting.

The Commission voted June 1 to suspend its decision regarding demolition to allow time for public input on what should be done with the abandoned hospital, which was built in 1974 from a design by world-famous Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg.

Although many members of the public voiced their concerns, their appeals were outweighed by Northwestern’s financial and political clout.

“What was truly sad about the outcome was that Northwestern acknowledged that Prentice was an important building designed by an influential architect, but they didn’t care,” said Jonathan Fine, executive director of Preservation Chicago, a group that fights for endangered buildings in the city. “What is more important is that Northwestern was proven to be able to expand at will, and therefore, no matter the importance of the building, the expansion of the hospital trumps [Prentice].”

As reported by The Chronicle on Oct. 15, the Save Prentice Coalition, composed of members from Preservation Chicago, Landmarks Illinois and other preservation groups, sought to achieve landmark status for the building based on its unique design.

An endangered building needs to satisfy two out of 10 criteria to be considered for landmark status, and Prentice met four, Fine said. However, the Commission still voted in favor of demolition.

In an op-ed piece published Oct. 31 by the Chicago Tribune, Mayor Rahm Emanuel voiced his opinion, asserting that while Chicago’s architectural significance is important, providing new medical facilities and job creation outweighs preserving the structure.

However, he did urge Northwestern to allow preservationists and architects to have a voice in the design of the new structure.

Members of the City Council also sided with Northwestern, including Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) who said sacrifices needed to be made to improve research at Northwestern, adding that the new facility would allow the university to make strides in medical research.

“It was clear that the only option for the building was demolition,” Reilly said. “We cannot limit the research abilities of any Chicago university, and sometimes sacrifices must be made to achieve that goal.”

Though Prentice is slated for demolition in the coming weeks, Fine pointed out that it is not Chicago’s only endangered building.

“At this juncture in the preservation movement, there is a tremendous misunderstanding and disrespect for buildings built in the mid-20th century,” Fine said. “The new movement is now debating the work of the second wave of Chicago architects. When you’re talking about a building that is only 30 to 40 years old, there isn’t a sense of appreciation of the building.”

Bonnie McDonald, president of Landmarks Illinois, said Chicago needs to re-evaluate its buildings by updating the 1940 historic research survey, a study that gives pre-1940s  landmarks legal protection against demolition. She said any structure built after that year could be at risk.

“We are working on a state historic tax credit that will catalyze preservation work and provide an incentive for businesses to preserve their buildings rather than moving or demolishing their old location,” McDonald said. “By working with multiple community members, we are working to promote preservation of all Chicago architecture.”