Feds kick Reese nomination to National Register back to state, citing technical problems

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The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin writes on the threat to Michael Reese Hospital. Find out more and get involved at Save Michael Reese Hospital.   

As bulldozers continued to destroy buildings at the former Michael Reese Hospital campus, National Park Service officials on Friday cited technical problems with a plan to nominate the campus to the National Register of Historic Places and said they would return the nomination to Illinois officials.

from the Chicago Tribune
by Blair Kamin
December 18, 2009

As bulldozers continued to destroy buildings at the former Michael Reese Hospital campus, National Park Service officials on Friday cited technical problems with a plan to nominate the campus to the National Register of Historic Places and said they would return the nomination to Illinois officials.

The action marked a major setback for historic preservationists fighting to save the campus, particularly its buildings associated with architect Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus School in Germany.

They had hoped the Park Service, the keeper of the Register, would name the campus to the list of historic places, giving them at least a symbolic weapon to wield against Mayor Richard M. Daley, the prime political backer of tearing down the 37-acre South Side campus to make way for a new residential complex.

But in a telephone interview, Barbara Wyatt, a National Register historian, faulted the nomination for poorly-drawn boundaries. "The documentation we have does not necessarily portray what is there," she said. "It appears to us that the district boundaries need to be reined in to eliminate areas where the buildings have been removed."

From 1945 onward, Gropius helped to plan and design the Reese campus, working with the hospital’s planning staff and Chicago architects. So far, preservationists estimate, wrecking crews have torn down 11 of the campus’ 29 buildings, including four on which Gropius worked.

Preservationists, led by Grahm Balkany, director of the Gropius in Chicagao Coalition, already were facing long odds in their battle to save Gropius-related buildings because National Register status has no legal force to stop the demolition. Now, if they decide to resubmit the nomination, it will take at least two weeks—and probably longer—before the form could be sent back to Washington by the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and given federal approval.

In an email Friday after the decision was announced, Balkany wrote: "Certainly, we are prepared to do whatever is required to address any and all technical issues with the nomination, and will continue to revise the nomination until everyone is satisfied. Naturally, we are chasing our tails to some degree since we are dealing with a moving target, but I am confident that we will reach a point where the district boundaries and other technical matters coincide with a physical reality."

City officials have promised to spare two buildings on the campus—the 1907 Prairie Style main building, by Chicago architects Schmidt, Garden & Martin, as well as the 1950 Singer Pavilion, designed by Chicago architects Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett in association with Gropius.

Chicago had planned to build an Olympic Village on the Reese site as part of its failed bid to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. But city officials said they would go ahead with a similar plan even if they did not win the Games.

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