Friday, June 15, 2012

Chicago: A Look Back at June 15, 1982

Found on the pages of The Chicago Tribune on June 15 of 1982 . . .

On this date one of the nation’s “foremost urban planners,” Edmund N. Bacon, warned that downtown Chicago was “splitting into two separate zones for the rich and poor”.

Speaking as one of three panelists discussing the revitalization of American cities at NEOCON (National Exposition of Contract Furnishings), held at the Merchandise Mart, Mr. Bacon went on to share his disappointment at the six-block North Loop Redevelopment Plan.  “First one building goes up, then another.  That’s not the way to create a magnet that will draw people downtown.” 

Arthur Rubloff (Google Image)
The North Loop Redevelopment Plan was a $570.8 million vision that Chicago developer Arthur Rubloff proposed in 1978.  It was an ambitious project that would have replaced nearly every building in a seven-block area of the North Loop with new commercial high-rises, hotels, upscale housing, theaters, parking facilities, a new state office building, and a library.

All of the big players were involved.  Mayor Jane Byrne and the city brought Charles Shaw, an experienced developer who had pieced together the air rights expansion package for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, on board to replace Mr. Rubloff.  Mr. Shaw opined, “I would like to see a major performing arts center in this town, and I think the North Loop is the place to do it.  The entertainment and arts potential for downtown is tremendous.” [Chicago Tribune, November 9, 1980]

Lewis Manilow, one of the founders of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, as well as the developer of University Park and the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors’ State University, envisioned a performing arts center that would be created from the Michael Todd and Cinestage theaters on Dearborn Street, north of Randolph.

Harry Weese & Mies van der Rohe (Google image)
Even Harry Weese, perhaps Chicago’s most versatile architect, had drawn proposals for a theater row of shops, restaurants, and theaters as part of the Michael Tood-Cinestage project.  Mr. Weese also proposed a high-rise building at Clark and Randolph Streets, where the Greyhound Bus Station once stood, that would provide an atrium to access the Dearborn Street entertainment complex.

(Part of Mr. Weese’s plan was used -- the Goodman Theatre now occupies the block where the Michael Todd and Cinestage once stood.  The fa├žade of the original theaters that had begun life as the Harris and Selwyn, still stands on Dearborn.  The high rise office building eventually was built – Chicago Title and Trust at 161 North Clark, a Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates design, finished in 1992.)

The big vision dried up for lack of financing.  The death knell occurred in March of 1982, just three months before Mr. Bacon spoke at NEOCON, when Hilton Hotel Corp. axed the plan to construct a $250 million, 1800-room hotel and convention center that would have filled the two blocks bounded by State, Lake, and Clark Streets and Wacker Drive.

Today the wishful thinking of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s seems a bit amusing since things have sorted themselves out fairly well.  Sure, Hilton didn’t build the big flagship in the North Loop.  Instead, it took a hundred million bucks and renovated its South Loop hotel, a catalyst for change in that section of the city.

The State Street pedestrian mall, a beast of an idea from 1979, is gone, too, thanks to Adrian Smith’s re-design of the late 1990’s.  Gone as well are Marshall Field’s, Montgomery Wards, Goldblatt’s, Carson, Pirie Scott, and Sears.  In their place are colleges and schools and universities and all of their attendant dormitory residences.

The Wit Hotel (JWB, 2009)
The Thompson Center got built in a love-it-or-hate-it Helmut Jahn design.  The Chicago Theater has been restored to its former glory with the Joffrey Ballet right next door.  The Wit Hotel with its spectacular ROOF stands on the corner of Lake and State.  Even the missing tooth at Block 37 has been capped, perhaps not with stunning architecture . . . but with something more appealing than summertime dirt and a winter ice rink.

Back in 1982 Mr. Bacon observed at the NEOCON conference, "Originally, the Loop was the focal core of the entire region.  But now you have thousands of people living in the suburbs who actually boast that they haven't been downtown in six months."

A fairly dire look at the future three decades ago.

Things worked out --  as they often do in the City that Works.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is all very fascinating.