What will happen to Chicago’s abandoned landmarks?

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It’s been over a decade since the closing of two of Chicago’s biggest and most recognizeable abandoned buildings; the Brach’s candy factory on the West side, and the old Cook County Hospital.  Unlike the grand plans for the old Post Office we told you about last night, which may become Chicago’s first casino site, these other historic buildings may be ready for wrecking balls.  WGN’s Nancy Loo continues her look at abandoned Chicago landmarks.

You might say the old Cook County Hospital building has been on life support since it’s closing in 2002. Toni Preckwinkle is Cook County Board President.  “We’ve made a substantial investment over time just to preserve the building.  And now we have to decide whether it merits renovation.”

Preckwinkle inherited this dilemma when she took office in 2012, just after a 108-Million dollar renovation fell through due to recession.  Though it would be expensive,  the President of Landmarks Illinois, Bonnie McDonald, says there’s hope of resuscitating this 99 year old piece of Chicago history. “This building is utterly useable.  It has many uses because each floor that you see behind me has 50-thousand square feet that could be used.”

And not only is this a national landmark, the old Cook County Hospital is part of medical, architectural, and entertainment history.  It was used in the old television series, “E R”, and in the Harrison Ford movie, “The Fugitive.”  “We have a fugitive that’s been on the run for 90 minutes.” When it shut down over a decade ago amid the excitement of a gleaming new state-of-the-art facility nearby, some seemed to discount what would happen to the old building.  This young doctor from a CLTV documentary a decade ago, put it this way;  “The building getting knocked down, it’s a beautiful building and all.  But, it’s not the building.  It really is the people here.”  The people moved on.  The building did not.  “My inclination has always been toward preservation,” says Board President Preckwinkle. “However, if it costs twice as much to preserve the building as it would to build a new facility on the campus to meet some of our needs, then it doesn’t make sense.”  The county expects to have a comprehehsive plan for the medical campus area within the next two months.

To the West, the figure of another iconic building is also in flux.  The Brach’s candy factory has been sitting vacant since 2003. The shut down and transfer of Brach’s candy manufacturing to Mexico put thousands of people out of work.  Over the years, West Siders and Green line riders have watched the Brach’s building become a crumbling monument.  Over two-Million square feet that was part of Chicago’s glory days as “The Candy Capital of the World.”

In 2008, moviegoers around the world saw part of the factory blown up for a scene in a Batman movie, something frowned upon by preservationists like McDonald.  “Although we’ve seen some creative re-uses like in the “Dark Knight,” blowing up buildings is typically not the best re-use for them.”  But, could and should the plant be preserved?  In it’s heyday, the Brach’s factory cranked out over four-Million pounds of candy every week.  Rocky and Mari Garcia have a lot of sweet memories of Brach’s.  Rocky says they both worked there up until the closing. “I start February 7, 1973. Then my last day, September 17, 2003, over 30 years.”  The Garcias marked family milestones at the factory.  And many of their relatives worked there too.  Despite that, they believe the building should come down to spark a renewal for that neighborhood. “I know that bring memory, but that don’t do no good for nobody.  You know, a lot of bad stuff happen around that neighborhood.”

McDonald says the current owner is eager to unload the property. “Unfortunately, they tried to market the building and didn’t receive interest in it.  So, they’re moving forward with a plan they put together in 2008 to demolish the complex.”  A demolition permit has not yet been granted, so groups like Landmarks Illinois are holding out hope. “These are historic buildings.  It’s about more than just memories.  They’re also about the jobs that were created there and could be created there.”  On the West side of Chicago, Nancy Loo, WGN News.

Pam Grimes, Mike D’Angelo & Nelson Howard contributed to this report.


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  • Mike Cierski

    Chicago has a history of getting rid of old historic buildings. The Chicago Stadium, which held the world's largest theatre pipe organ, Comisky's park, Many old movie houses from the teens and 1920's. Chicago Coliseum, and others! What is going to happen to these buildings. FIX THEM!!!! The Uptown Theatre is another example. The largest movie house in Chicago! it is still standing and if it is fixed up can show professional shows. The Rialto Square theatre in Joliet, IL. did that. In 1980 the theatre was going to be torn down. The community fixed the problem and now the theatre is making money for the city! chicago dose not know how to invest using their past to enhance their future!

  • SPE

    They should take these old buildings and make them into Chicago city colleges for our future generation. Many of the kids can't afford to go to a university.

  • Andrea

    you all want to save these buildings, but you forget that their renovations and subsequent upkeep will be managed by the government.

    You all ok with letting CROOK County government take care of this????

  • kirby1414

    I just got home from work – (4:30 AM) and I'm tired – – But, in my tired state of mind, I can't help but wonder: All of the prisoners in Illinois prisons – -all the $$$ it costs to house and feed them: Couldn't they work on these buildings? Train them to do the work…and put their salaries back into the prisons?!? Other states have their inmates working…

    • sharong4

      That is a very good point. All they want to do is tear down and have vacant lots. That invites crime and is a danger to any community.

  • Jeff

    I am not from Chigaco, but I know it has a lot of rich heritage. Can the people get together and try and claim these sites… I am sure Chigacoians have a lot of talent and skills needed to bring this town back to its glory days…

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