Judge issues temporary stay on Prentice demolition after preservationists sue landmark commission


Source: Wikimedia Commons

In an undated photo, construction proceeds near Prentice Women’s Hospital. The structure has been at the center of an ongoing controversy over its proposed demolition.

Marshall Cohen and Susan Du

A Cook County judge handed down a preliminary ruling Thursday in favor of preservationists in their quest to save Prentice Women’s Hospital from demolition. Earlier in the day, preservationists groups filed a lawsuit accusing the Commission of Chicago Landmarks of breaking city codes when they declined landmark status for the building.

The panel voted Nov. 1 against granting landmark status to Prentice, which Northwestern plans to demolish in order to build a new biomedical research center.

The Cook County judge issued a temporary stay of the commission’s decision and the city of Chicago is barred from issuing a demolition permit for the site until the issue is legally resolved. The next hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7.

“We are disappointed with the judge’s decision today, and we will be filing a motion to dismiss the complaint,” said Roderick Drew, spokesman of the Chicago Department of Law, in a Thursday email to The Daily. “We are confident that the City and the Landmarks Commission took the appropriate steps and followed the proper procedures.”

NU officials declined to comment on Thursday’s temporary ruling because the University is not named in the lawsuit.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and Landmarks Illinois, both plaintiffs in the lawsuit, maintain the commission’s Nov. 1 meeting adopted a procedure that disadvantaged the preservationist cause and pre-determined Prentice’s fate. They allege that the commission overstepped its boundaries by granting preliminary landmark status based on the building’s architectural integrity and then revoking it after an economic report from the Department of Housing and Economic Development.

Preservationists believe the commission’s sole job was to evaluate Prentice according to a set of seven architectural principles and nothing more, according to a news release. They argue that the commission did not fully follow through with the landmarks ordinance by failing to give public notice of the meeting or include the Chicago City Council in its decision.

“By any measure, Prentice deserves landmark status,” said attorney Michael Rachlis, spokesman for the Save Prentice Coalition, in the release. “The Commission recognized this in unanimously granting the building a preliminary landmark designation. Unfortunately, the Commission then violated the Chicago ordinance by taking away landmark designation in a manner that was unlawful.”

From the beginning, NU argued that tearing down the abandoned hospital and building a state-of-the-art research facility provided long-term economic and scientific benefits. Preservationists have doggedly pursued reuse options for the building, including winning studies from the Chicago Architectural Club’s 2012 Chicago Prize Competition, to be unveiled tonight.

Peter Strazzabosco, spokesman for the Department of Housing and Economic Development, previously told The Daily that the landmarks ordinance determines the procedure for landmarks commission meetings, which are never adapted on a case-by-case basis.

The landmarks ordinance states preliminary landmark status is granted based on architectural criteria, but commissioners must also consider a separate report that takes into account economic feasibility before making a final recommendation to the Chicago City Council.

It is the city council, and not the commission, that ultimately decides whether to grant landmark status to a building.