Chicago Landmarks Commission honors the year’s best preservation projects

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks today honored 11 unique rehabilitation projects with the Preservation Excellence Awards, including the Loop’s Commercial National Bank Building, Uptown’s former Graeme Stewart Public School, and the Near West Side’s First Baptist Congregational Church.

“The Preservation Excellence Awards honor some of the best rehabilitation efforts in the country, and the private property owners who diligently work to celebrate the history and heritage of Chicago,” said David L. Reifman, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, which provides staff support to the Landmarks Commission.

The honorees were chosen by the Commission’s Permit Review Committee, which considered several dozen projects involving landmark structures and landmark district buildings that were completed over the past year. The honorees include property owners, architects, design professionals and historic preservation specialists and advocates.

The awards, now in their 19th year, were presented at the site of one of this year’s winners, the LondonHouse Hotel, the primary tenant of the landmark London Guarantee Building at Michigan and Wacker.

Additionally, the Commission honored an individual and an organization.

The Preservation Advocacy Award was presented to Save Our Street — Save Our Story, a grassroots group of neighbors and preservationists who banded together to designate the West Burton Place District in Old Town. The block-long residential enclave between Wells and LaSalle streets is comprised of many late 19th and early 20th century buildings that were designed as studios for artists of the time.

And, the John Baird Award for Stewardship was given to Geoffrey Baer, a seven-time Emmy-winning public television writer, producer and program host who has been a fixture on WTTW for nearly three decades. A docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation since 1987, Baer appears weekly on WTTW’s flagship nightly news program “Chicago Tonight,” answering viewers’ questions about Chicago architecture and history in a segment called “Ask Geoffrey.” The award is named in honor of John Baird, a long-time member of the Landmarks Commission who passed away in 2013.

Other honored projects include the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Blossom House in the Kenwood District, the American Book Company Building near McCormick Place, and the South Loop’s Plymouth Building.

Information on each recipient is available below.

The London Guarantee Building, 360 N. Michigan Ave.
Designated April 16, 1996
Adaptive Reuse and Addition
Recipient: Oxford Capital Group, LLC.

Located at 360 North Michigan Avenue, the London Guarantee Building is one of Chicago’s best examples of the Beaux Arts Classical Revival style. Oxford Capital purchased the building with the intention of converting it from obsolete office space to mixed use hotel/retail. Utilizing the Class L Property Tax Incentive and the 20% Federal Historic Tax Credit, interior and exterior alterations accommodated new programming. Exterior work included masonry repairs and cleaning on all elevations, historic window repair, replication of missing ornamental metalwork, and a new, one-story addition and roof deck. Interior work included a full interior build-out of hotel rooms, meeting spaces, and ballrooms. In addition to the renovations to the London Guarantee Building, the owner constructed a new, 21-story addition in the adjacent surface parking lot adding 78,000 square feet to the property.

The Commercial National Bank Building, 125 S. Clark St.
Designated June 22, 2016
Rehabilitation
Recipient: Blue Star Properties

Located prominently at the northeast corner of Clark and Adams Streets in the Loop, the Commercial National Bank Building is twenty stories tall and was completed in 1907 by the noted Chicago-based architecture firm of D.H. Burnham & Co. Blue Star Properties acquired the vacant property in 2014 and, utilizing the Class L Property Tax Incentive, embarked on an extensive exterior and interior rehabilitation. Exterior work included much-needed cleaning of the facades and repair of original terra cotta. All non-original infill on the south elevation was replaced with GFRC units matching original profiles including highly detailed, classically-inspired decorative reliefs on the upper floors. The cornice, storefronts, and entries were repaired. Historic cast iron window surrounds on floors 2–4 and 17–19 were repaired and repainted.

The Plymouth Building, 417 S. Dearborn St.
Designated Nov. 16, 2016
Adaptive Reuse

Recipient: LG Development Group

Designed by Simeon B. Eisendrath and completed in 1899, the Plymouth Building at 417 S. Dearborn St. combines fine detailing and craftsmanship that exemplifies the revolution in high-rise design that occurred in Chicago in the last two decades of the 19th century. The building’s early steel-frame construction and Collegiate Gothic ornament added in 1945 conveys an evolutionary history that reflects its various roles within the city’s central business district. The developer purchased the property and undertook an extensive rehabilitation for a new residential use. In addition to exterior and interior renovations, including installation of new aluminum-clad windows and repair to the ornamental historic storefronts, a one-story rooftop addition and roof deck were constructed. The building owner applied for a 20% Federal Rehabilitation Tax Credit.

The American Book Company Building, 330 E. Cermak Ave.
Designated July 29, 2009
Adaptive Reuse 
Recipient: Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority

The American Book Company Building was built in 1912 and was designed by Nelson Max Dunning, a prominent architect in the Midwest. The building had been vacant for many years until the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority (MPEA) undertook an extensive exterior and interior rehabilitation project. The restored ABC Building is part of and connected to the $350 million Marriott Marquis Chicago Hotel, which has 1,205 keys and offers state-of-the art amenities and impressive skyline and lakefront views. The ABC Building has meeting rooms for the hotel, office spaces on the upper floors, and commercial retail spaces on the first floor. The rehabilitation project included masonry repairs and cleaning, window and door replacement, and restoration of the historic lobby finishes, including the vaulted ceiling, the marble stair and balustrade, and the tiled walls.

The former Graeme Stewart Public School, 4525 N. Kenmore Ave.
Designated Nov. 16, 2016
Adaptive Reuse
Recipient: Morningside Equities Group

The former Graeme Stewart Public School Building was built in 1906 with a compatible addition added to the south in 1940. The building exhibits a wide horizontal composition that is characteristic of the Prairie School movement with Renaissance Revival stylistic details. The developer transformed the decommissioned CPS building into residential units, including amenities such as roof decks, balconies, and terraces. Work to rejuvenate the building included a new roof, masonry cleaning and repair, and a fully restored cornice. New compatible windows and doors were inserted on primary and secondary elevations to accommodate new rental units and provide accessibility. Portions of the rear of the building were converted into parking. This project serves as an excellent example of how civic architecture can be reused in a community.

First Baptist Congregational Church, 1613 W. Washington St.
Designated Jan. 21, 1982
Rehabilitation 
Recipient: First Baptist Congregational Church

Although it survived the Great Chicago Fire, the narrow steeple at the First Baptist Church of Chicago was toppled in the blizzard of 2011 and was destroyed. The church explored options to replicate the steeple and proposed a new lightweight version constructed of Fiberglass Reinforced Plastic (FRP) to recreate the stone coursing, color and texture. In 2017 the new spire was lifted into place and fixed to the historic church, restoring the roofline to its original form. Today, the church remains a cornerstone in its community, and a valuable example of the appropriate use of substitute material on a historic property.

Blossom House, 4858 S. Kenwood Ave. (Kenwood District)
District designated June 29, 1979
Rehabilitation 
Recipient: Arthur & Elisa Reliford Jr.

The Blossom House was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1892 in the Colonial Revival architectural style. It is one of the last houses Wright designed in a historical revival style before becoming a pioneer of the Prairie style characterized by elongated proportions and broad horizontal lines. This evolution is reflected in the carriage house designed by Wright in 1907. New owners undertook a major restoration project to address the deferred exterior maintenance and condition issues for both structures and to update the interior kitchen and bathrooms. Deteriorated siding and trim were replaced to match existing, original art-glass windows, many of them badly warped and bowing, were carefully restored. The deteriorated front and side porches were repaired and reconstructed to match the original design, and the brick base was repaired with salvaged brick. A one-story addition was built on the rear elevation. At the carriage house, deteriorated framing, roofing, and sheathing were replaced to match original profiles and the brick was repointed. The

437 W. Arlington Ave. (Arlington and Roslyn Place District)
District designated Nov. 15, 1989
Restoration 
Recipient: Jonathan and Ela Lewis

Windows are a key feature of 437 West Arlington. When owners Jonathan and Ela Lewis realized they had fallen into disrepair, they committed to restoring the unique curved windows. Broken and partially rotted sashes allowed gaps at the edges of the curved glass and previous improper preparation of surfaces had allowed paint to crack and surfaces to be uneven. As many original elements as possible were retained and restored and when necessary, replaced in kind. Original ornamental iron grilles at the basement level were repaired, scraped, and repainted. The owner then went above and beyond by installing curved, clear-glass, wooden storm windows to further improve energy efficiency. As a finishing touch, the front door was refinished to give this beautiful greystone new life.

920 E. 42nd Place (Oakland District)
District designated March 25, 1991
Rehabilitation 
Recipient: Lauren & Michael Williams

920 E. 42nd Place, along with its five neighboring row houses, was among the last historic residences built in the Oakland District. The vacant limestone row house had fallen into disrepair before the current owners purchased the property and began an extensive rehabilitation project. The historic copper bay was in poor condition and was replicated to match the historic details. The limestone stairs were repaired and a new railing system was fabricated based on remnants of the historic cast iron railing. Many historic interior features were also repaired and retained. This project also qualified for the Property Tax Assessment Freeze Program.

10353 S. Seely Ave. (Longwood Drive District)
District designated Nov. 13, 1981
Rehabilitation 
Recipient: Nick & Ashley LoMaglio

After an extended effort on behalf of the Commission to save this home from demolition, this 1916 Craftsman-style building in the Longwood Drive District was sold to new owners who saw its potential for rehabilitation. Original drawings were used to restore the open, wrap-around front porch which had been altered and enclosed. New windows and wood cladding were installed to match the historic configuration. A substantial rear addition was also added to the property.

1032 N. Honore Ave. (East Village District)
District designated Jan. 11, 2006
Rehabilitation 
Recipient: Kristi & Robert Stephens

The 1891 home at 1032 N. Honore is a classic example of a Chicago 2-flat and characteristic of East Village architecture. The owner extensively rehabilitated the property while converting it into a single-family home. Work included a new rear addition, a rooftop addition, and installation of historically compatible windows and doors. A new fiberglass cornice was designed to be compatible with the historic character of the building and to replace non-historic alterations of the parapet. Many multiple-unit historic buildings are converted into single family homes, however this dramatic transformation serves as a great example of how it can be appropriately done.

Preservation Advocacy Award
Recipient: Save Our Story — Save Our Street

After demolition threatened a building on their street, a group of neighbors and preservationists banded together to stop the encroaching development and to further protect their neighborhood by procuring designation for the West Burton Place District. This district is a compact residential enclave in Old Town comprised of late-19th century urban dwellings mixed with “handmade houses” designed as studios for artists from the 1920s through 1940s. Although designating this neighborhood had long been a goal of some residents, the movement didn’t take off until they were notified of a new development and a demolition application for 159 W. Burton Place. Every member of this group played a unique role in ensuring the neighborhood’s architecture would survive; from writing the landmarking proposal, to gathering community support for the designation process and without their tireless effort, this unique residential district could have been altered and lost forever. The district met 5 of the 6 designation criteria mandated by the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance and was officially designated on June 22, 2016.

The John Baird Award
Recipient: Geoffrey Baer

The John Baird Award honors outstanding individuals and groups that further historic preservation in Chicago. Geoffrey Baer is a seven-time Emmy-winning Public Television writer, producer and program host. He has been a fixture on Chicago’s PBS station WTTW for 29 years. His work includes more than 20 feature-length “television tours” of the city and suburbs, a culinary special called The Foods of Chicago that was nominated for a coveted James Beard Award, and specials including Chicago Time Machine and the quiz show Where in Chicago. He also appears weekly on WTTW’s flagship nightly news program Chicago Tonight, answering viewers’ questions about Chicago architecture and history in a segment called Ask Geoffrey.

Nationally he hosts the PBS primetime series 10 that Changed America about game changing buildings, homes, parks, town, monuments and engineering wonders across the country. He traveled to Cuba just days after the death of Fidel Castro to host the PBS primetime special Weekend in Havana. His other national public television specials include documentaries about acclaimed architects Robert A. M. Stern and Michael Graves and Saved from the Wrecking Ball, a documentary about the rescue of Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House.

He has been a docent for the Chicago Architecture Foundation since 1987, and has served on the boards of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Architecture and Design Society and Chicago’s acclaimed Lookingglass Theatre Company.

In addition to his Emmy awards, Geoffrey has been honored by the Society of Architectural Historians, the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Chicago Headline Club. He has a master’s degree in theatre from Northwestern University and a BS in radio-TV-film from Miami University in Ohio.