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Can Michael Reese Preservation Preserve Mayor Daley’s Reputation?

Phil Krone 30 November 2009 One Comment

I plead guilty to have done nothing to save the Gropius and related buildings on the old Michael Reese Hospital complex. In fact I remember having been there not more than two or three times to visit a patient. But sometime last week the publicity about the destruction of the buildings somehow grabbed my attention to the degree that I sought out the young man leading the effort to save the buildings.

Last Thursday, he drove me to the campus and I saw first hand what was going on, and it suddenly hit me. The destruction of these buildings might possibly not just destroy a great architectural legacy which cries out for adaptive reuse, but also the reputation of Mayor Daley internationally, who to a great degree has been Chicago’s number one preservationist and certainly up to now its most effective!

I rationalized my previous lack of interest because I actually had not known that Gropius had been the master planner of the Reese complex as well as the architect of some of its most important buildings (arguably as important an architect as Frank Loyd Wright or Louis Sullivan — internationally even more important than Sullivan). The reason for this is understandable. First, Gropius was not licensed in Illinois, so he worked with a local firm, and secondly there had not been much scholarship on the subject, a void being filled by the young architect Grahm Balkany who is leading the effort to stop the demolition and save the remaining buildings. I did explain to him that some may have to come down, and he was amenable, though not enthusiastic to such a compromisel.

Another reason I had not been as involved as I have been in previous situations, even in saving less important (vernacular) works such as the Hotel St. Benedict Flats or the block on which I live, is because I thought that clearing that site was necessary to securing the Olympics. Retrospectively I believe that had we emphasized the adaptive reuse of most of the Gropius buildings as the core of the Olympic Village it would have made a more compelling case for Chicago to get the Olympics. For young athletes from around the world to say that they had lived in Chicago for a month in housing that has originally been designed by the founder of the German Bauhaus, a school closed by Hitler, would have been a wonderful thing to boast about, and a great memory of a lifetime.

But now that we did not receive the Olympics for 2016, though did receive the high honor of being one of the four finalists, along with Tokyo and Madrid and the winner Rio de Janeiro, to lose this asset would be unfortunate indeed.

Some people have told the Mayor that open space will be easier to market. As perhaps one of the leading experts on historic redevelopment I say absolutely not. Not only are there great economic advantages to restoring properties which have been designated historic, there are very oppressive sanctions against those who destroy buildings which have not only been designated, but those which have been deemed eligible, as these have been.

There is a more than adequate photographic record of all the buildings which have been destroyed, but how much better it would be to have the original buildings. A great case in point, would be to have the Chicago Stock Exchange Building today instead of the 30 N. LaSalle Building.

As a long time supporter of Mayor Richard M. Daley I hate to see his international and permanent reputation destroyed over this act of vandalism. Wreckers are destroying the buildings as we speak. I beg him to stop the destruction and allow a group of developers, preservationists and academics (myself included) to conceive a workable plan which will not only increase the value of the total project but help create the path of development from the Loop to the University of Chicago. The Gropius Reese complex and the Mies van der Rohe IIT campus together constitute one of the greatest examples of Bauhaus architecture, perhaps as great as Berlin, and as important as the world heritage site in Tel Aviv.

Grahm Balkany who is one of the most calm and understanding individuals I have met is more than willing to designate Mayor Daley a true hero for what would now be saved and not castigate the Mayor for what has happened up to this point. Frankly, it is people like myself who deserve the blame, but rather than curse the darkness of the past, I would rather light a candle to illuminate what still remains.

Phil Krone is a SpecialĀ CorrespondentĀ for the Chicago Daily Observer

One Comment »

  • gereon sievernich, director, Martin-Gropius-Bau Berlin said:

    Dear Mr.Krone,
    we feel very sad. Walter Gropius is one of the most important architects. All his buldings in Germany were declared landmarks long time ago. I work in a building, which was erected by a great uncle of Walter Gropius. This is why my museum is named Martin-Gropius-Bau (www.gropiusbau.de). In the sixties, when in Berlin many old buildings were on the lists to be destroyed, Walter Gropius, coming from the USA to Berlin (West), saved the building in telling the mayor not to destroy it.
    We do not understand what is going on in Chicago. And next door to the Michael Reese Complex the famous buildings of Mies van der Rohe are situated. What a unique situation.
    Our recent Bauhaus-Exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin attracted 170.000 visitors. They all wanted to see, what the founder of the Bauhaus – Walter Gropius – did for this famous school, of which later Mies was the last director, before the nazis closed the school. Gropius and Mies both found save haven in the USA after 1936.
    The exhibtion “Bauhaus-Workshop of Modernity, which actually is being presented in the MoMA in New York (because of the 80th anniversary of the MoMA), gives insight view of what Walter Gropius did, before he was forced to leave germany.
    By the way: I did write to Your Mayor and got a very nice response, but only to the Bauhaus-Catalogue I sent.
    Let me know if we can be of any help
    best regards
    Gereon Sievernich

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