Written by Virgil McDill, Public Affairs
After repeated delays, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks finally placed Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women's Hospital on its November 1st meeting agenda to officially consider whether the building qualified for preliminary landmark status.
As many of you know, this preservation battle has been brewing for a long time -- the Trust first named Prentice to its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places list in June of 2011 -- and in the ensuing months, thousands of you have spoken out, signed petitions and taken other actions to encourage Northwestern University to find a creative new use for this iconic building.
While preservationists were pleased to finally get our day in court to make the case for designating Prentice a landmark -- a slam-dunk of an argument, as Prentice easily exceeds the minimum criteria for landmarking in Chicago -- we went into yesterday’s meeting knowing that the fix was in.
On Tuesday, two days before the commission meeting, Mayor Emanuel finally made his position on Prentice known via an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune announcing his full support for Northwestern’s demolition plans. Soon after, the Save Prentice Coalition learned that the City would pursue an unprecedented, Kafkaesque strategy at the commission hearing.
First, they would allow a vote on landmarking Prentice to take place. But then, just moments later in the same meeting, City officials would present a new report finding that retaining Prentice did not accord with Chicago’s long-term economic development goals, and would ask the commission to rescind Prentice’s newly-minted landmark status.
In yesterday’s meeting, everything went according to the City’s carefully orchestrated script. Or, almost everything. What they may not have counted on was a room packed full of Prentice supporters -- more than 100 people, decked out in Save Prentice t-shirts and buttons, far outnumbering the smattering of Northwestern backers in the room. The meeting took much longer than anyone had anticipated, as Prentice supporters proudly shared their stories, their expertise and their passion for Bertrand Goldberg and his beloved building.
In the end, the vote to landmark Prentice was a unanimous 9-0. And even though the City subverted the process and rammed through the later vote to overturn the landmark ruling, we think the unanimous vote in support of Prentice sends a powerful message.
Prentice Hospital, according to the official city commission, meets the criteria required for landmarking a building in Chicago. That’s something we feel we can build on as this campaign moves forward.
The National Trust and the rest of the Save Prentice Coalition are currently weighing next steps in this effort. As Stephanie Meeks said in a statement released yesterday, “Preservationists understand that every building cannot be preserved and that difficult decisions must sometimes be made. But in this case, it is clear that Chicago’s long-established landmarking process has not been allowed to objectively fulfill its city chartered mandate.”
One thing we know for sure is that this effort has been fueled from the beginning by grassroots supporters in Chicago and across the country, who have followed us on Facebook, donated money, signed petitions, and taken many other steps in support of Prentice. We never could have gotten this far without all of your support, and for that, we sincerely thank you.
Please know that the fight goes on, and we are continuing to explore all options to preserve and protect Goldberg’s Modern masterpiece. If you'd like to get involved, please visit the Prentice Hospital National Treasure page for all the ways you can contribute to this campaign.
Thank you again for your support. We'll keep you posted on future developments.