Goldberg Versus the Wrecking Ball

Preservationists Fight to Preserve a Chicago Landmark

By Laura Hodes

Published January 08, 2013, issue of January 04, 2013.
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Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital building, built in Chicago in 1975, stands at 333 E. Superior St. off Michigan Avenue. Its concrete curves refuse to conform to the shape of the immense, boxlike buildings that surround it. One can only see its egglike form — suggesting the petals of a flower, something organic and alive — when standing in front of it, as the rectilinear buildings surrounding it hide it from view.

Prentice is a mere husk, though, empty and slated for demolition. The building has been unused since 2007, when Northwestern University completed its new hospital building. A preservation group, the Save “Old” Prentice Coalition, is now engaged in a battle to seek landmark status for old Prentice.

Northwestern has claimed that reusing old Prentice as part of a modern medical research facility isn’t feasible, and that demolition is the only answer. In July, 60 prominent architects, including Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang, published a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel arguing that Prentice should be saved: “[W]e believe Goldberg’s Prentice should be given a permanent place in Chicago’s cityscape. A building this significant — this unique in the world — should be preserved and reused.”

Yet on October 30, two days before the scheduled meeting of the Chicago Commission on Chicago Landmarks, Emanuel published an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune declaring that the building should be demolished to allow Northwestern to build afresh.

“The promise of a new medical center that would bring 2,000 jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in investment to our city must be weighed against the importance of honoring Chicago’s past and one of our great architects, Bertrand Goldberg,” Emanuel wrote.

Apparently the mayor thinks that two Goldberg buildings in one city are enough: “I also know that Bertrand Goldberg’s vision is alive in Chicago beyond one building,” he wrote. “We see his legacy towering over the Chicago River in Marina City. We see it in the Raymond Hilliard Homes.” Emanuel can say this only because Prentice has not received the public acclaim or embrace that Marina City has, and that it deserves.


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