After months of delaying hearings on whether Northwestern University's Prentice Women's Hospital should be granted landmark status, thereby sparing the iconic 1974 structure from the wreaking ball, the commission allowed preservationists to make their case.
The upshot: Preliminary landmark status was granted. Then it was taken away. In the same day.
Two hours after conferring landmark status upon Prentice, the commission voted to revoke it, indicating the benefits of destroying Prentice outweighed the benefits of preserving it (click here).
Here's how it went down. The previous day, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, after months of silence on the subject, indicated that while more sympathetic to preservationists he could not be, business was business, Northwestern and the city want/need the biomedical research facility Northwestern intends for the site, every time Chicago rebuilds, its builds better, upward/onward and so on and so forth. Your standard jargon.
So it must have come as a surprise to preservationists to see Prentice granted landmark status the following afternoon. Or perhaps the surprise came later that day, in the early evening, when commission chairman Rafael Leon began waving around a report issued by the City's Department of Housing and Economic Development (DHED). While DHED must submit a report on how landmark designation would affect a surrounding area, it typically takes its time in doing so.
Here, though, Leon had the report in hand and the news, he indicated, wasn't good for good old Prentice.
“It's so overwhelming this building qualifies [for landmark status] that if they were to vote no, it would look like a farce," Lisa DiChiera, Director of Advocacy with Landmarks Illinois, told reporters. "So basically the way they set up the agenda was giving them the opportunity to vote 'Yes, we acknowledge that this building meets all the necessary criteria for Chicago landmark designation.' Then the next action item, [the report], which they had already seen, was officially presented to the public, asking for the commission to rescind that decision."
Preservationists, predictably, filed suit, and on Thursday a circuit court judge stopped the city from issuing a demolition permit to Northwestern University until the courts can determine whether the commission violated the city's landmarks ordinance by rescinding its own vote on landmark status for Prentice.
Ironic. In attempting to split the baby, the city may have been too clever by half.