National Trust Turns Its Eyes on Prentice

(photo: courtesy National Trust)

Yesterday that National Trust for Historic Preservation announced Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital had made its annual 11 Most Endangered List, bringing national attention to the fight to save the quatrefoil-plan, concrete building. Also yesterday, the local group Save Prentice staged a rally outside the building featuring speakers including Zurich Esposito of the Chicago AIA and Jim Peters from Landmarks Illinois.

Northwestern University wants to demolish to the building to make way for an as yet unfunded and unspecified medical facility. After a temporary hold was placed on the building, preventing the University from seeking a demolition permit, Prentice was placed on the docket for a hearing for local landmark protection and then quickly tabled. As I wrote in my recent editorial when the building was briefly on the landmarks docket:

While the building is far from saved, the Commission’s move brings to an end the curious silence surrounding the status of the building. Though the non-profit Landmarks Illinois has been pleading for a hearing since 2003, until now, all the major players who could save the building have remained mum. Alderman Reilly, who negotiated the building’s 60-day grace period, has not said if he believes the building should be landmarked. Newly minted Mayor Emanuel, who campaigned on a platform of greater public transparency, has been similarly quiet on the subject.

Presumably Alderman Reilly or someone in the Emanuel administration nudged the Commission to take action. While we are grateful to this unknown string-puller, we are left wondering why so much still happens behind closed doors.

Thanks to the efforts of local architects, designers, preservationists and citizens, and now the National Trust, a lot of eyes are following the fate of the building. Northwestern may change course just to avoid the bad P.R. If they are negotiating a land swap with the city–as many have speculated–let’s hope the city treats Prentice better than it treated the Gropius buildings at the old Michael Reese Hospital.

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