Anti-Prentice demolition message crashes commencement ceremony


Patrick Svitek/Daily Senior Staffer

A banner reading “MORTY DON’T DEMO HISTORIC PRENTICE” flies over Northwestern’s commencement ceremony Friday morning at Ryan Field. University spokesman Al Cubbage said it was “disappointing” someone decided to push the message during a “day of celebration” for the NU community.

Patrick Svitek, Summer Editor

Thousands of Northwestern commencement attendees spotted an unexpected guest Friday morning above Ryan Field.

“MORTY DON’T DEMO HISTORIC PRENTICE,” read a banner attached to a propeller plane flying over a crowd University officials estimated at 12,000.

The bold message was an apparent reference to NU’s two-year battle with Chicago preservationists over its plan to tear down the old Prentice Women’s Hospital and build a biomedical research facility in its place. The Commission on Chicago Landmarks twice rejected landmark protection for the clover leaf-shaped building, which was designed by famous Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg. In March, the University began the demolition process.

The banner did not go unnoticed throughout the graduation ceremony. World-renowned ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov paused his commencement address for several seconds to look up at the buzzing plane and shake his head, drawing some laughter in the audience.

(Ballet maestro Mikhail Baryshnikov to class of 2013: Be ‘better,’ not ‘best’)

“It’s disappointing that someone would use the occasion of Commencement, which is a day of celebration for Northwestern graduates and their families, to raise the issue in that manner,” University spokesman Al Cubbage said in an email to The Daily. “We hope it didn’t prevent our guests from enjoying what otherwise was a wonderful event.”

The high-flying stunt seemed to catch the attention of University President Morton Schapiro, who joked about it as he passed Cubbage while walking onto Ryan Field.

“I was hoping the plane was going to have my picture,” Schapiro told Cubbage.

It remains unclear who is responsible for organizing the aerial advertisement. Two former representatives of the Save Prentice Coalition, which dropped its lawsuit against the landmarks commission in February, said they were either unaware of the banner or heard about it but had no idea who coordinated it.

“None of the members of the coalition know anything about who did that,” said Chris Morris, a senior field officer in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Chicago office.

“I could not tell you about that,” said Ward Miller, president of the Preservation Chicago board. “I truly do not know.”

A Facebook page that has been speaking out against the demolition since August of last year may have offered an advance warning Thursday afternoon. The page, titled “NU Wildcats for Prentice,” posted a photo illustration of Schapiro speaking in his commencement outfit with two propeller planes flying behind him. One carries a banner reading, “PRENTICE: A CHICAGO ICON,” while the other’s banner says, “MORTY: A LEGACY OF DEMOLITION.”

The page did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.

Summer editor Patrick Svitek can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at