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Chicago’s Most Threatened Historical Places Revealed

Seven of Chicago’s most significant architectural landmarks are in danger of crumbling if efforts are not made to preserve them, said Preservation Chicago’s executive director Wednesday.

In a lecture at the Chicago Architecture Foundation,  Jonathan Fine named St. Anthony’s Hospital, Prentice Women’s Hospital, Unity Hall, Gethsemane Church, Cuneo Hospital and five historic movie houses as Preservation Chicago’s main concerns for 2012.

According to Fine, each of these places is in danger of demolition, neglect or reforms that would damage the original architecture. The battle to preserve places such as these has become more difficult, Fine said.

“Because of the economy, the places with the most money are educational institutions and medical facilities,” Fine said. “They have an endless pit of money and clout, so it becomes difficult as preservationists to win, but we do have some successes.”

According to Fine, another challenge preservationists encounter is the lack of public funds to help preserve buildings that are owned by churches.

“Many of these buildings were originally, or at one time, used for religious purposes, and that does not seem to bode well for the permanence of the building. We are not able to use public funds and public tax credits for preservation,” Fine said.

Fine also said that finding a reuse for many of these spaces, especially theaters and houses of worship that were designed as single purpose spaces, can be a struggle. Destroying the interior of the buildings is just as damaging to the original architecture as destroying the exterior, Fine said.

“In some instances these spaces are turned into condos, but they end up preserving the shell and destroying the sanctuary, which often architecturally is more important than the envelope,” Fine said.

Fortunately, many of the places on this year’s list had the support of Chicago city aldermen and a few had organized movements dedicated to the preservation effort, which Fine said represents a higher chance of success.

“We are more successful when we have an engaged community fighting to save our historic resources. The support of the community can mean a real chance to save a building,” Fine said.

Preservation Chicago has presented a list of most threatened historical places every year since 2000. This year’s list was chosen through a democratic process in which a list of 20-25 places was presented on a ballot to the board of directors. The board then voted on the seven places that seemed the most threatened. According to Fine, the 2012 list does not represent every project Preservation Chicago will be concentrating on this year, but it does allow the organization to present a preview of their work plan to the community.

“We hope to educate leaders on the importance of preservation. It helps to craft and change public opinion. We’re working together with community residents, community leaders and political activists to turn the tide,” Fine said.

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To join the movement to save the Ramova Theatre, a historic Chicago movie house, visit


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