Coalition seeks landmark status for Prentice Hospital

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A coalition that wants to save the old Prentice Women's Hospital from the wrecking ball delivered petitions to the offices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Alderman Brendan Reilly (42nd Ward) today.

Northwestern University wants to demolish the old hospital at 333 East Superior Street, a 1975 Bertrand Goldberg building that has elicited emotional responses for almost 40 years.

Preservationists want the city to stop Northwestern, and now renowned architects are joining the fight.

Northwestern University wants to tear Prentice down to build a state-of-the-art biomedical research facility connected to its other medical offices on the Streeteville campus.

Prentice Women's Hospital moved to new facilities in 2007 and the university is asking the city to issue a demolition permit later this year to start work on the new facility that a Northwestern spokesman says will attract $150 million a year in federal research grants and bring thousands of jobs to the area.

Today members of the Save Prentice coalition are delivering copies of a petition signed by more than 3,000 supporters from across the country and the world to Mayor Emanuel and Alderman Reilly, whose ward includes the hospital.  So far, neither has taken a side on the issue.

The coalition is asking that Prentice be granted Chicago landmark designation.  Eighty architects from around the world are asking for the same thing.  They say Northwestern can build its facility on other vacant property nearby or repurpose the building for its new use.

"It is truly a unique structure, and the fact that it was designed by a local architect and that it was gifted to the city of Chicago makes it a truly special building," says Jonathan Fine of Preservation Chicago.  "And for us to just wantonly throw it away -- to just carelessly throw it into a landfill -- we think that's irresponsible."

"This building is so significant for what it did for architecture, for hospital design, for engineering, for the development of even the means to do architectural design through computer-aided design," says Christina Morris of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  "So for a number of reasons it's a really important building to Chicago and to the entire country."

"One of the challenges for this building is that it's so young," architect Gunny Harboe tells WGN.  "If it were ten years from now, I don't think there would even be a debate about whether or not this building should be saved.  But we need to be thinking about our recent past as being a very important contributor to who we are and where we're going."

Northwestern University spokesman Al Cubbage told WGN this morning:  "It is a matter of what is the greatest good.  We can do life-saving research, bring in hundreds of millions of dollars, and we can employ thousands of people.  But to do that, we need to be able to build on that site."

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks could take up this issue on the preservation of Prentice on October 4.

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