Archive | January, 2012

Chicagoans, To Armories!

31 Jan

Yes, I’ve still got armories on the brain.

New York's Seventh Regiment Armory. Photo by Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS)

Back in September 2011, I saw a great talk at Chicago’s Driehaus Museum on the Seventh Regiment (“Park Avenue”) Armory, designed by architect Charles Clinton and built on New York’s Upper East Side in 1880.  Architecture and design historian Chelsea Bruner gave a riveting presentation on this legendary building whose architecture and interiors were then and still are truly too incredible to believe.  Among the members of the Seventh Regiment who occupied the Armory were the sons of some of New York’s wealthiest and most powerful families, and that wealth and power can be read both in the citadel-like facade and in the luxurious common and company rooms furnished by exclusive American design firms like Associated Artists, Herter Brothers, Kimbel & Cabus, Louis C. Tiffany & Company, Marcotte & Company, Pottier & Stymus, and Alexander Roux (a freelance Stanford White also made his mark).  Currently in the works is a Herzog & DeMeuron-designed rehab of the Armory, one that plans to leave the remarkable Aesthetic style interiors intact.

I’ve already written a bit on Chicago’s nineteenth- and early twentieth-century armories and the role these imposing buildings played in the city’s early years as fortresses against raucous labor unrest, as venues for community (and sometimes regional and even national) athletic and social events, and as local landmarks that gave Chicago’s neighborhoods pride and identity.

Chcago's First Regiment Armory. Image credit Lake County Discovery Museum Collectons.

None of Chicago’s  surviving armories can claim that special kind of interior architectural spectacle that New York’s Seventh Regiment Armory can.  Still, we can claim a heritage of pretty astounding armory architecture.  Probably the best example of Chicago’s large armory complexes was the South Loop’s First Regiment Armory,  completed in 1890, constructed in the aftermath of and in response to the violence of the city’s 1886 Haymarket Riot.  Designed by Burnham & Root, the First Regiment Armory was built to protect of the city’s wealthy Prairie Avenue set, often the target of worker rage.  The Armory’s high thick walls could hold weaponry, men, and, if needed in times of real crisis, hundreds of Chicago’s wealthiest citizens.  The need for such desperate last-resort protection never arose and instead Chicago’s upper crust often enjoyed the Armory as the venue for some of the city’s most exclusive social events.  Long empty and neglected, the First Regiment Armory was demolished in 1967.

The Winter Garden Ice Rink before it became the "Broadway Armory." Image credit Chuckman's Collection.

Built a generation after the South Loop Armory, Chicago’s Fourth Regiment Armory at 5917 N. Broadway actually got it start as an entertainment hall.  Designed by architects Carpenter & Weldon and completed in 1916, the Winter Garden Ice Rink had a long column-free body with a flamboyant Baroque style stone entrance pavilion at its north end, and was to be the Edgewater community’s premier destination for warm-weather dancing and winter ice-skating.

Or at least that was the intended purpose for the Winter Garden Ice Rink building.  In fact, it is not clear whether the rink ever hosted dancers or skaters at all.  At the start of America’s involvement in World War I in 1917, just one year after its completion, the property was purchased by the federal government and outfitted as the Fourth Regiment Armory, its rink/dance floor quickly converted into a company drill hall.  For much of its life, the public rarely got a look inside the “Broadway Armory,” though like many such facilities, they were sometimes opened for community use.  Today the Armory is owned by the Chicago Park District and Chicagoans can finally enjoy the space as the recreation center it was built to be.


The “Save Prentice” Effort Boards the CTA

10 Jan

If Chicagoans don’t yet know about the movement to save Streeterville’s Prentice Women’s Hospital, many will be learning about it during their daily commute over the next few months.  Starting January 16, a new Save Prentice ad will debut on Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) “L” trains, letting the three-quarters of a million Chicagoans who ride local CTA trains everyday know just how important this modern masterpiece really is.

Prentice Women's Hospital shortly after it was completed in 1975. Photo source: Landmarks Illinois

A group of local architecture and preservation organizations including AIA Chicago, docomomo chicago midwest, Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and Preservation Chicago have joined forces to create the Save Prentice Coalition.  Their goal: to educate the public — and public officials — on the significance of architect Bertrand Goldberg’s innovative design for his 1975 Prentice Women’s Hospital.  Northwestern University, owner of the property, is still remaining tight-lipped about its plans for the site but many fear that demolition of the nearly-vacant “Old” Prentice is almost a sure thing.

“Old” Prentice’s Chicago-born architect Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997) is probably most famous for his Marina City project, a cutting edge mixed-use residential complex when it was first completed along the Chicago River in 1964 and still seen today as a pretty inspiring use of poured-in-place concrete.  However, Goldberg’s creative planning style and technological wizardry were best exhibited in his hospital designs from the 1960s and 70s.  His design for Prentice Women’s Hospital was one of his best and is the only one of his hospital designs built in his own hometown.

Goldberg's Prentice Women's Hospital today. Photo by John Cramer.

Efforts to persuade Northwestern to protect Prentice so far haven’t succeeded. This past year, Landmarks Illinois funded a series of reuse plans that Northwestern has rejected.  And the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has so far refused to discuss landmarking the building and even resisted bringing the issue up for a commission vote.  The Save Prentice Coalition hopes that the CTA ads will draw more attention to the significance of and threats to Goldberg’s work.

In a town that’s as proud of its twentieth-century buildings as Chicago is, it’s time that folks take notice of threats to modern masterpieces like Prentice and take action to stop they’re demolition.  It’s pretty clear now that if we want Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital to be around for at least another thirty-five years,  the public is going to have to make its voice heard.  With more Chicagoans standing up for home-grown modern architecture, it could persuade the Landmarks Commission to finally take a look  at the merits of landmarking such a significant modern building.

Visit to learn more about the building and what you can do to help save it from the wrecking ball.