September 9, 1999
It was an interesting week for the Maxwell Street cause. Last week, UIC finally released its latest plan, which calls for restoring and reusing 8 buildings, all on Halsted. On Maxwell they plan to build all new buildings, including a parking garage that will span the street at the Union Street end. Then they intend to cover the new buildings with the facades of about 13 buildings from Maxwell, Halsted and Roosevelt. This is the same plan we (The Maxwell Street Historic Preservation Coalition) saw unofficially back in April, so it wasn't news to us, but this was the first time they released it publicly.
The release was covered prominently in the Sun Times and the Tribune. It was timed to coincide with a UI Board of Trustees meeting, at which the plan was supposed to be voted on and approved. The next day, Mayor Daley announced that he supports the plan, calling it "a good compromise."
We, of course, think it's an abomination. The facadization especially we characterized as a "Disneyland" approach. Whatever you want to call it, it isn't preservation. We continue to support the McClier study, which was commissioned by the city's planning office and which calls for preserving 27 buildings (whole buildings, not facades), some of which would be moved from their present locations on Halsted and Roosevelt to Maxwell. We consider the McClier plan a "good compromise," as it saves fewer than half of the buildings still standing in the district.
When the UI Board of Trustees was asked to approve the 8 buildings/13 facades plan, they wound up tabling it for a later meeting, saying they wanted the city council to voice its approval first. A new trustee, Ken Schmidt, actually criticized the plan publicly, saying he thought they could do "more preservation, less Disney." This was a bit of a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. Although they probably still have enough votes to pass the plan, the trustees were obviously looking for some political cover and declined to act at last week's meeting, contrary to the carefully orchestrated efforts of the university administration.
All this raised Maxwell Street's profile considerably. It has been discussed in the paper and on the radio. Sun Times columnist Dennis Byrne wrote a piece that was so hostile and moronic it actually did us a lot of good, bringing people out of the woodwork offering to help. Tonight, the local PBS station, WTTW, devoted its entire 30 minute "Chicago Tonight" program to the subject. The pro-preservation side was represented by Bill Lavicka, a structural engineer and rehabber who is one of the Coalition leaders, and Neal Pollack, a writer for the Chicago Reader. The other side was represented by Stanton Delaney, the UIC administrator in charge of the South Campus project, and by Burton Bledstein, a UIC history professor who has been building an archive of Maxwell Street photographs, but who does not favor preservation of the remaining infrastructure.
WTTW followed the discussion program with a 30 minute history of the Chicago Jewish Community, which naturally talked about the major significance of Maxwell Street to Jewish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Not bad timing either, considering the high holy days start tomorrow.
All this has also sparked the interest of David Bahlman, the new head of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois. In a radio appearance yesterday, he said the use of old facades might be interesting urban design, but it certainly isn't preservation. Today, he and some of his staff spent more than an hour touring the Maxwell Street district.
Meanwhile, UIC Chancellor Broski "resigned" today (i.e., he was forced out). No official reason was cited, but reports say the resignation followed a "far reaching" conversation between Broski and UIC President James Stukel, involving "issues that have been in the papers the past several months." Those issues include the suspension two weeks ago of all human medical research at the university following a federal investigation, and the continuing controversy surrounding the South Campus development project, which includes the Maxwell Street neighborhood.
In another interesting coincidence, the recently announced purchase of CBS by Viacom has a Maxwell Street connection. The founders of both Paramount Pictures and CBS were born and raised on Maxwell Street.
Although Mayor Daley came out in support of the UIC plan, he gave himself some wiggle room and nothing is final yet, because the city council still has to vote to approve the development plan. For those of you who aren't local, there is zero chance that the council will defy Daley, but Daley himself could change direction if he senses a big outpouring of public opposition.
That's where you come in. Now would be a great time to let the mayor's office know how you feel. Apparently, the mayor's office isn't too e-mail savvy yet. Snail mail makes a better impression. The address is:
Richard M. Daley, Mayor
121 N. LaSalle Street, Room 507
Chicago, IL 60602
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