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Fire at South Loop Firehouse Restaurant prompts Landmarks Illinois to take action

South Loop Firehouse Restaurant after heavy damage from fire in early December
South Loop Firehouse Restaurant after heavy damage from fire in early December

A fire at a South Loop firehouse-turned-restaurant in early December has prompted Landmarks Illinois, a nonprofit preservation organization, to beef up its efforts to prevent future fires caused by construction-related accidents in historic buildings.

The extra-alarm fire on 1401 S. Michigan Ave. was contained but caused heavy damage.

Evanston resident Duane Yost, who was at the scene of the fire, recalls water rapidly flooding out of the building as firefighters fought to contain the flames. The fire was devastating to the structure, causing the restaurant to temporarily close for business. Everyone was evacuated from the structure safety, but firefighters were unable to keep the roof from caving in.

“It’s a historical landmark; it’s part of Chicago,” said Norma Moore, a local neighbor who lives directly behind the restaurant.

The iconic building was built in 1905 to serve the Prairie Avenue neighborhood, which included the homes of prominent Chicago families such as the Fields, the McCormicks, the Palmers and the Glessners. The firehouse became a restaurant in 2000 before being named a National Historic Landmark in 2003, according to the Chicago Firehouse Restaurant’s website.

“We owe it to our history, our team and our community to preserve this treasured Chicago landmark which will remain a cornerstone of the South Loop community,” Matthew O’Malley, the owner said in a statement to The Chicago Tribune. “Without hesitation or reservation, we will rebuild.” 

The Chicago Fire Department is still investigating whether the cause of the fire was due to roofers doing construction at the time of the incident, Chicago Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford told the Chicago Tribune.

Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois said fires like the one at the Firehouse are a recurring problem for owners of many historic buildings who hire contractors who aren’t cautious enough when working on historic premises. Landmarks Illinois is looking into revisiting this problem and coming up with a possible policy to help prevent any future disasters.

The organization hopes to possibly meet with Illinois State Fire Marshal and also talk to owners of historic buildings about hiring the right type of contractors. They’ve talked to Illinois Sen. Pamela Althoff previously McHenry mayor, who was unavailable for comment at this time.

So far the Firehouse hasn’t reached out to the nonprofit organization for recommendations on professionals in the field that may be able to offer help, DiChiera said. The organization has previously been a part of preserving local historical landmarks such as Wrigley Field, Chicago Theater, Chicago Board of Trade and Chess Records office.

“It’s really about the city’s history of land marking and protecting historic buildings that really tell the story of architecture,” DiChiera said. “Not just architecture but also social history.”

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