Discover more from Architecture and History of Chicagoland
Demolitions of 2022
It’s that time of year again when we look back at the buildings we lost in 2022. Just like my 2021 post, Chicago continues to destroy its rich architectural history and well-built environment for soulless new development. Or in the case of areas like Lincoln Park replace multi-unit structures with side yards. It’s all so infuriating. And the suburbs aren’t much better, tearing down what is sometimes one of only a handful of architecturally significant buildings in town. This post doesn’t include every single demolition, only the structures I personally captured with my camera (or phone) over the past year.
Let’s start with the John Ramcke House, orange-rated in the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS), that had a demolition delay expire in January of 2022. Originally built in 1888, the multi-unit structure was purchased for $1.3 million by a neighbor so he could have a side yard even though he lives near Trebes Park. A wealthy individual having extra yard space doesn’t positively contribute to the urban environment. Nor does the “I can do what I want with my property” argument end up creating a more cohesive community. The homes are located in the Sheffield National Register Historic District, a federal honor that gives no real protections. So this vulgar and wasteful gesture of opulence was perfectly legal, but that doesn’t make it right.
Staying in Lincoln Park let me just say that I still can’t get over what happened with the Cenacle Sisters Retreat Center, a simple brick modernist brick complex designed by local architect Charles Pope in 1967. Considered “non-contributing” to the Mid-North Landmark District, the main problem with Cenacle is it had no rating in the CHRS because any building constructed after 1940 was not included in the survey. How many times have I mentioned that the nearly 30-year-old CHRS needed to be updated like yesterday? We are losing far too many examples of modern architecture designed over the past 50-70 years. This remarkably beautiful piece of masonry should have been saved for adaptive reuse.
Here’s a great write-up by Lynn Becker that discusses the flaws in the city’s system of saving postwar designs. With demolition completed by August, eight lots on the Cenacle property will be redeveloped for multi-million dollar single-family homes and two-flats. It’s a shame this seven-story building could not have been repurposed, especially knowing the ninth lot will include a four-story, nine-unit structure. The environmental impact of this needless demolition shouldn’t be dismissed. Let’s not forget the greenest building is the one that already exists!
No surprise we had more tear downs on Orchard Street, which is notorious for its grotesque, lifeless limestone McMansions that have absolutely no reason for existing in the city. Lots of activity as a pre-fire raised workers cottage on a double lot, its next door neighbor, and other properties across the street were razed by so-called luxury custom home developers. The cottage’s land was for sale a number of years. It looks like a $18 million gaudy mega-mansion will be built on the 100-ft-wide lot. Then there were the two houses at 1952 & 54 N. Fremont St, part of a plan to build yet another mega-sized single-family residence on multiple lots. While not in the greatest shape and altered with an unsightly addition at the top, the Romanesque Revival townhouse and its 1880s Italianate two-flat neighbor were completely salvageable and it’s insane $3-5 million was spent to knock them down.
As a fan of Prairie School architecture, I was saddened by the loss of the William F. Tempel House (1911) in Winetka, sometimes known as the “Solid Rock House." Built entirely of reinforced concrete, the cubic style home with rooftop garden was the work of Walter Burley Griffin and later Barry Byrne. While we preserve everything that Frank Lloyd Wright ever touched, the architects who worked with him aren’t as lucky. The fact that this design was connected to Wright’s “right hand woman” for over a decade and one of America’s first female architects, Marion Mahony Griffin, wasn’t enough to save it. A North Shore developer plans to build a nearly $4 million house on its site. I plan to write about “Solid Rock” in more detail in a future post.
Instead of celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Klas Restaurant in Cicero, the shuttered building was demolished in late spring of 2022. Though it had structural issues due to water leakage in the roof and lack of maintenance, Klas was a tangible connection to the town’s Czech past with the building’s design mimicking Old World architecture. Its skilled craftsmanship and elaborate decorations included stained glass windows and hand-carved woodwork. Listed by Landmarks Illinois as one of the most endangered historic places in 2021, there were attempts to reopen the building as a museum, restaurant, banquet hall, and center for immigrant services. But a developer had been trying to wreck it since 2019 and we know developers always win in these situations. Thankfully Jimmy Nuter of American Vintage Reclamation salvaged many items before and during the building’s demolition, including murals created by artist Gennadi Gordeyev for the Russian Zhivago Room.
I don’t want to forget about the “suspicious” fire that took place in Andersonville in April of 2022. Smashy Automotive, which began life as the Argyle-Clark Garage in 1919, was not only orange-rated but known for its distinctive terracotta work. Instead of stabilizing the facade and saving it for future use, everything was immediately demolished, no questions asked (although it looks like one of the decorative heads was pulled from the wreckage). I understand the roof had collapsed but still my eyebrows are raised at how quickly it came down (especially when you know the property was for sale).
Then there was the largely intact pre-fire limestone Italianate with ornamental iron storefront, which stood alone on a large, vacant lot at the intersection of Clybourn and Larrabee in Chicago’s Old Town. While some report it being built in the 1880s or 90s, the cornerstone told a different tale with the date showing 1864. Once owned by F. Hyman & Company, a felt manufacturing business, the mixed-used commercial building started life as a wholesale grocer and funeral parlor. Demolished in March of 2022, supposedly an apartment complex is planned for the large property that will fit with the proposed nineteen-story tower and low-rise town homes on Clybourn.
Other buildings that came down last year include Swift & Company Meatpacking warehouse (1913) in Back of the Yards as well as W.J. Cassidy Tire Company (1902) in the Fulton River District. Originally a factory and warehouse for the Tyler & Hippach Mirror Company, Cassidy was designed by Henry J. Schlacks, who had once worked in the offices of Adler & Sullivan and is best known for churches around Chicagoland. The irony is that just after five years after its construction Cassidy became the largest building ever moved (at the time) to make way for the Chicago and North Western Terminal. It’s a shame the facade of this great example of Chicago School architecture couldn’t have been incorporated into the thirty-three-story residential tower planned for the site. We need to find creative solutions when it comes to new development, especially with the environmental impacts that result from sending tons of material to landfills. Also Cassidy Tire was featured in the background of a scene in the 1981 film Thief (watch it if you haven’t already), you’d think that would be reason alone to save it!
The character of our streetscape matters. The loss of housing matters. The complete disregard of history matters (especially in a city that loves to sell it to tourists). I’m sick of 90-day demolition delays, which 9 times out of 10 achieve nothing. More and more orange-rated structures are torn down every year. Besides expanding protections for the city’s older buildings, Chicago needs to change and update its preservation ordinances before we lose more buildings, including our vernacular architecture. We all need to learn to become better caretakers of our history and built environment. The city and its suburbs need to stop letting money win.