BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
The young lawyers and the mathematics professor who were to become Illinois’s preeminent preservationists nearly 50 years ago are surely the silent partners in the Legendary Landmarks celebration March 7 at the Hilton Chicago. For 14 years nearly 800 supporters have attended Landmarks Illinois celebrations of civic and cultural leaders named as Legendary Landmarks.
The event evolved from the early Landmark Preservation balls begun in the mid-l970s and held in buildings such as the Cultural Center, the Rookery, and the Louis Sullivan lobby of the Carson Pirie Scott building, preserved through the tenacious efforts of those very same lawyers and math professor.
Rooted in the founders’ activism, which began when the Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler-designed Old Stock Exchange building was torn down in 1971 and the remarkable photographer Richard Nickel was killed as he tried to capture last looks on camera as the building was being destroyed, the statewide non-profit continues as our wisest landmark watchdog as well as the builder of resilient communities.
Founding member and University of Illinois at Chicago associate professor emeritus Martin Tangora described those early days in which their efforts saved countless treasures including the Marquette and Monadnock buildings in the Loop and important historic neighborhoods throughout the state including the Astor Street district on the Gold Coast and streets lined with Frank Lloyd Wright treasures in Oak Park:
“I remember a time when there was a little ceremony and some of us got certificates from whoever was mayor at the time—Harold Washington, I think—where I said: ‘We had no money, no credentials, and no connections, we just had a job to do and set out to do it’ or something to that effect. Richard Miller, who was our founding president, said afterward that that really hit home for him.”
Key to its great success record of architectural treasures saved was the fearless and around-the-clock efforts of its small band of leaders who changed the way the city thought about landmarks and became the Midwest leader in preservation.
Unlike today, the Loop at that time was considered to be a deserted canyon at night and many buildings had reduced occupancy. To save the Marquette Building, Martin Tangora enlisted the support of England’s pre-imminent architectural authority and author Sir Nikolaus Pevzner to send a letter describing the building’s importance to the Chicago City Council. What was then called the Landmarks Preservation Council formed the Citizens Committee to Save the Marquette in 1973.
The following year marked the 300th anniversary of the French explorers Marquette and Joliet’s arrival in what would become Chicago. The founders enlisted a group of actors to dress as the French explorers Marquette and Joliet and marched with placards protesting the building’s potential destruction. As a founding member and volunteer, this author joined the march—as I remember, in bell bottoms—with placard in hand and baby, George York, in a stroller enjoying the peaceful but spirited demonstration.
In 1975 the City Council designated the building a Chicago Landmark, saving it from demolition. In 1976 it was further named a National Historic Landmark. Photos of that original protest have hung in the lobby of the beautifully restored Marquette Building ever since.
In those days, all activities were planned after hours in the law offices of Mayer, Brown & Platt, where Richard Miller was an attorney, or in a tiny space over the former stables at Prairie Avenue’s Glessner House run by Miller’s brilliant wife, Joan, at the time not only a lawyer but Consul from Australia to Chicago, with their baby Geoffrey often in tow. Maps of aldermanic districts covered the walls as the strategy was planned. Volunteers such as Joan Hyatt, Vicki Granacki, and Donna Whateley mapped campaigns to lobby each alderman in Chicago.
Landmarks Illinois is still about people saving places. The membership-based non-profit inspires and empowers stakeholders to save places that matter to them by providing free guidance, practical and financial resources, and access to strategic partnerships.
This year, Landmarks Illinois will honor Wintrust and Murphy Development Group as 2019 Corporate Legendary Landmarks and dedicated civic leaders Judith and Raymond McCaskey as 2019 Legendary Landmarks, key partners in landmark efforts. Bonnie McDonald, Landmarks Illinois President and CEO, described how the selection process works:
“Landmarks Illinois carefully curates honorees named Legendary Landmarks based on the significance and longevity of the designee’s cultural, philanthropic, and corporate contributions to Chicago and beyond. Our 2019 Legendary Landmarks have personal and meaningful connections to historic preservation among their many stellar achievements, and we are proud to illuminate these individuals and corporations as Legendary Landmarks.”
She continued, “Landmarks Illinois is also excited to welcome special guest speaker Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth at the 2019 Legendary Landmarks Celebration. Rep. Gordon-Booth (D-Peoria) was instrumental in passing the Illinois Historic Preservation Tax Credit in 2018, cosponsoring the legislation that led to this new statewide incentive and a critical component to Illinois’s economic development strategy.”
The 2019 Legendary Landmarks Celebration Committee members are Joseph M. Antunovich, Erika Block, Shelley Gorson (Co-Chair), Mark Henning (LI Board Chairman), Frieda Ireland, Judi Male (Co-Chair), Sandra Rand, Kathleen Swien, and Anne Voshel. Former Saturday Night Live featured player Tim Kazurinsky, now Chicago actor and screenwriter, will be the evening’s Master of Ceremonies.
We asked Bonnie McDonald to tell us more about the organizations grassroots initiatives, main objectives, her favorite buildings, and more in a recent interview:
Tell us a little bit more about the early efforts of the foundation and how it still inspires your work today.
Since 1971, Landmarks Illinois has been a partner in the preservation of thousands of buildings across our state. Some of the best-known examples in the city and Chicago-land area include The Chicago Theater, the Reliance Building, buildings along Michigan Avenue, and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple. Behind these noteworthy buildings stand hundreds of others in neighborhoods, regional cities, and small towns that equally contribute to local character and quality of life.
We have continued to work both on the front lines and behind the scenes in communities across the state to help people save the places that tell the story of Illinois history and celebrate our heritage.
What are your main objectives today?
We are people saving places for people! Our work is rooted in serving the people of Illinois and empowering them to save historic places in their community. We always strive to share the story behind these historic places, to convey why historic, old buildings matter, and why they deserve to be preserved.
We aim to partner with local advocates, community organizations, business and property owners, government officials, and other non-profits to call attention to our historic sites and to help save them for future generations.
Our strategic vision is to help people value places of the past as a vital part of our future. We are achieving this by demonstrating how preservation matters, including telling the stories of the hardworking and innovative people moving projects forward. By telling their stories, we also engage more people in our work delivering solutions to reuse historic places.
Tell us about the involvement the organization has had with statewide tax initiatives.
Landmarks Illinois was an active advocate in the successful retention of the Federal Historic Tax Credit, which was up for elimination during recent federal tax reform. This vital incentive has created 23,000 jobs in Illinois over the past five years and spurred over $1.4 billion in economic activity, all through the reuse of historic buildings. We were also successful in extending Illinois’s River Edge Historic Tax Credit in 2017, and we will continue to advocate for a truly statewide historic tax credit.
We continue to pilot new incentive and grant programs.
Are millennials as interested in landmark preservation as the organization’s founders, who were their age at that time, were?
We are increasingly seeing millennials attracted to older historic places that have a story to tell—that feel authentic and have rich character. Landmarks Illinois has its own committee of young professionals called the Skyline Council, which consists of emerging leaders with an interest in historic preservation, the environment, and sustaining healthy communities.
The Skyline Council is currently involved in restoring the Whitney Schoolhouse, a one-room schoolhouse in Campton Hills built in 1852. The National Trust for Historic Preservation also published a study last year that showed an overwhelming majority of millennials surveyed valued historic preservation and would prefer to spend their time and money at businesses that supported historic preservation.
Why is Chicago such an example of our cultural and architectural history in this country?
Chicago had the misfortune of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, which resulted in the good fortune of providing a tabula rasa for the new field of architecture in the United States. This city was both an industrial and agricultural powerhouse and had the resources to commission the nation’s finest architects to construct what were then the world’s most innovative designs. The competition between businesses allowed architects, engineers, and contractors to break barriers in height, weight, and the newly invented curtain wall, and our hosting of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition put our skyline on the world stage.
Our reputation for world-class architecture continued through architectural training programs at the University of Illinois and with the arrival of Mies van der Rohe at the Armour Institute, now IIT. From the standpoint of great designers and stellar architecture, Chicago has a wealth of riches. And we should not overlook the important contribution of residential and industrial designers. The meatpacking district on Chicago’s South Side was an industrial marvel—both in the positive and the negative—as were the Lake Michigan water derricks and the Chicago Sanitary District.
Equally important were the creation of Chicago’s apartment typologies—the two-flat, four-flat, etc.—and the Chicago Bungalow. These are elegant, functional housing types that are still relevant a century into the future.
What are some of your favorite buildings?
There are so many stellar architectural wonders in Chicago and Illinois; the danger is omitting someone else’s favorite. I always marvel at the interiors of the Chicago Cultural Center, the Rookery, the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, the Auditorium Theater, and Edgar Miller’s Glasner Studio.
There are our National Historic Landmark house museums like the Glessner House, the Charnley-Persky House, Farnsworth House, and the Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle. Don’t forget the Clarke House, as well. Wright’s Unity Temple and Laurent House in Rockford, the timeless Inland Steel Building, the massive façade of the Merchandise Mart, Mies’s 860-880 Lake Shore Drive.
Sculptural buildings like Weese’s riverfront condominiums, Tigerman McCurry’s former Library for the Blind, Gertrude Kerbis’ Rotunda Building at O’Hare Airport. The Laramie State Bank, Garfield Park Conservatory, Stone Temple Baptist Church, Rosenwald Apartments, Anthony Overton School, and the Uptown and New Regal theaters. Blocks and blocks of beautiful buildings on Astor Street, brick bungalows, the greystones in North Lawndale, the Villa, and Chatham’s Mid-Century Modern homes. Perhaps the most controversial on my list: I love the Thompson Center!
What are some recent examples of your triumphs?
Our most recent attention-getting success is the adaptive reuse of the former Cook County Hospital, its Beaux Arts façade easily visible from the Eisenhower Expressway. Few people know that this building housed the nation’s first blood bank or that it was one of the first hospitals to treat patients suffering from AIDS.
This building played an integral role in the health and wellbeing of thousands of new immigrants to Chicago, so it is linked to the history of so many lives. You can’t see that history when looking at the building. But we knew that old Cook County Hospital could tell this story while serving a new purpose, which is why we advocated to save it for 18 years. It will soon be home to medical offices through a public-private development partnership.
Anything else you would like to add?
Every historic building, site, or monument Landmarks Illinois saved or helped save is a success for our organization. And not all these places we are proud to have helped save are official ‘landmarks’ in the sense that they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places or designated as landmarks on a local level.
These are all places that hold significance to the people in the community and who see value in preserving the building because it tells a particular story, as well as their vision for how the building can serve a new purpose now and into the future. Our work is as much about the future as it is the past.
To learn more about Landmarks Illinois, visit landmarks.org.