Georgian’s landmark status fight reaches state level

Breanne Gilpatrick

Efforts to declare the The Georgian — an 88-year-old formerhotel — a city landmark may have ended, but recognition for thebuilding is now being evaluated at the state level.

The Illinois Historic Sites Advisory Council found last monththat The Georgian, now a retirement hotel at 422 Davis St., waseligible for listing in the National Register for Historic Places.Members of the group voted unanimously Sept. 17 to pass therecommendation on to the state historic preservation officer, whocould then nominate the property for the national list, said AmyEaston, assistant coordinator with the survey of the NationalRegister Program, a part of the Illinois Historic PreservationAgency.

At Monday’s Evanston City Council meeting, Mayor Lorraine H.Morton expressed her opposition to the decision. Morton said sheattended the group’s September meeting and presented copies ofnewspaper articles and city council minutes to explain argumentsagainst having The Georgian declared a landmark.

The Evanston Preservation Commission recommended The Georgianfor landmark status this summer, but the city council rejected thenomination.

The Georgian’s owner, Mather LifeWays, plans to demolish thebuilding and its other retirement center on Hinman Avenue, as partof a $125 million project to replace the buildings with newerretirement facilities.

But Easton said because Mather objected to the building’slisting in the National Register, The Georgian will not be placedon the national list, though it still can be found eligible forlisting in the future. And unlike a landmark designation at thecity level, a listing in the National Register would only limitrenovations on the building if Mather used state or federal fundsor if it needed state or federal permits or licenses.

But Sara McVey, vice president of marketing for Mather, said thedecision won’t affect the rebuilding plans because the companyisn’t asking for federal funding for the project. McVey said shewas surprised to hear the state decision because the companyalready had spent a lot of time at the city level explaining whythe building didn’t meet landmark criteria.

“Obviously we prefer that some of (these landmark issues)weren’t happening because it does slow down the process,” McVeysaid. “And because we are working with older adults, time is aprecious commodity. But it’s out of our hands.”

Evanston preservationist Judy Fiske, who wrote both the city andNational Register landmark nominations for the hotel last spring,said she was thrilled state-level preservationists also found TheGeorgian to be a historically and architecturally importantstructure.

But Fiske said she also understands Mather’s desire to rebuildand the council’s decision to reject the preservation commission’snomination.

“That’s just the way government works,” she said. “The citycouncil is a group of elected officials and they make decisionsbased on a totally different set of criteria than the preservationcommission.”

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