Secretly Tearing Down Chicago


A sad-but-interesting story from our local paper, the Chicago Tribune, about historic buildings here being saved but only in tiny slivers. The story goes that, in order to keep the buildings around, development companies are shaving off just the front of their exteriors, then building back, leaving only a tiny remnant of what used to be. So from the street, it looks like the building has been preserved, but from afar, you see it’s just a lot of smoke and mirrors. A very worthy read, particularly if you’re like us and you’d started noticing this a whole lot more in this city. Here’s some:

Historic facades are clipped onto the front of a new parking garage, complete with curtains and blinds in their upper-story windows to mask the cars behind them. With their medallions, fluted columns and ornamental brickwork, the facades, while beautifully restored, form a sanitized stage-set populated by saccharine, life-size sculptures, like one that portrays a peddler selling tomatoes. The old Maxwell Street Market was dirty, messy and suffused with a singular sense of place. It was not, like this facile tribute, clean, ordered and bordering on generic.

“When does [Chicago] cease to be known for broad shoulders, to be seen instead for its paper-thin facades? At what point will Chicago not be Chicago, but merely a commercially based parody of itself?” David Bahlman, president of the non-profit advocacy group Landmarks Illinois, asked at a sparsely attended March 29 hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Historical Landmark Preservation.