Demolition Permit Issued for Chicago’s Beloved Former Prentice Womens’ Hospital

Northwestern University Former Prentice Womens' Hospital - Chicago, Illinois - April, 2009 - 004a

It’s been a long road for preservationists, and that road looks like it’s finally coming to an end. A dead end.

In our weekly scouring of permits issued by the City of Chicago, we found this demolition permit:

Prentice hospital demolition permit

WRECK AND REMOVE 13 STORY CIP CONCRETE BUILDING INCLUDING SITE RESTORATION.

“CIP” means “cast in place.” “Concrete building” means the former Prentice Womens’ Hospital at 320 East Huron Street (333 East Superior Street in the permit).

Northwestern University Former Prentice Womens' Hospital - Chicago, Illinois - April, 2009 - 012aNow that even the large preservation groups have given up on saving the structure, Northwestern University is taking the steps necessary to turn the building with four bulging bellies into a pile of rubble.

By our calculations, the absolute soonest Northwestern could begin demolition is Thursday, March 28th. So grab your camera and get one last shot.

So what happens next? It’s hard to say with precision. For a long time, Northwestern kept mumbling about some nebulous “laboratory building” that for some reason had to be erected in that exact location. Its latest literature on the topic insists that a planned new research building MUST be located adjacent to Northwestern’s existing Lurie research building in order to work.

Northwestern’s literature also insists that the building MUST be next to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, a position that is a little hard to defend considering that the RIC is moving three blocks away.

You can see Northwestern’s web page outlining why Prentice should come down here. Unfortunately, it’s mostly straw man arguments. Instead of addressing the crux of the situation — why here? — they mostly list the benefits of building a new research building. No one has ever suggested that Northwestern not build a new research building on any of its vast landholdings in Streeterville.

Former Prentice Women's Hospital - Chicago, Illinois - August, 2008 - 006aThe Evanston-based organization goes on to lecture Chicagoans about Chicago history and how “Chicago got to where it is today.”

Northwestern does a much better job of outlining its position in a PDF you can download here. It’s presented in a somewhat more factual manner, includes handy charts and maps, and is less condescending than the web site.

However, it does have its flaws. It has a long list of people and organizations that support the project. That list looks impressive until you think about each item individually. Construction unions are in favor of this massive construction project? Inconceivable!

The document also has the results of a poll that asked a bunch of questions that have nothing to do with the demolition of Prentice hospital. It asked people for their feelings about statements like “Creating new, high-quality research jobs is an important part of keeping Chicago’s economy strong and growing in the 21st century.” It didn’t ask, “Do you support the demolition of the historic skyscraper known as Prentice Womens’ Hospital?”

However, there is still lots of good information in the document. Specifically, it lists its plans for all the other land Northwestern owns in Streeterville.  The idea is that since those plots are earmarked for something else, they’re unavailable.  But the timeline shows that almost half of those projects won’t be started for decades.  That big empty lot that used to be the VA Hospital that the neighbors can’t stand staring at?  Pencil that development in for “after 2021.”

Northwestern University Former Prentice Womens' Hospital - Chicago, Illinois - April, 2009 - 002aFortunately, the Prentice replacement looks like it will come down the pike a little sooner.

When Northwestern met with the public and outlined its plans for the demise of Prentice in May, 2011 the audience was shocked to learn that the immediate plan was to turn the Prentice parcel into a vacant lot, and sit on it until some point in the future when a “laboratory building” is needed.

That point appears to have arrived. Northwestern’s latest press on the topic states that it wants to build a 1.2 million square foot medical research facility there. We haven’t seen any other statistics about this structure, but based on city documents from 1975 showing the size of the Prentice footprint, Northwestern would need a skyscraper about 40 stories tall to get its 1.2 million square feet.

Right now the safe money is on it being beige, having a skywalk, and very reflective glass on the ground floor.

 

Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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4 Comments

  1. Recognize the big empty parcel across the street is owned by Northwestern Memorial Hospital, not Northwestern University. They are two different organizations, with very different goals, and need very different buildings.

    I had the experience of working in the old Prentice for years, and it functioned poorly form the start. Wedge shaped patient bathrooms had terrible access, and the window-less curved wall psych unit (part painted pink!) drove the poor patients crazier.

    It might have been “iconic,” but it never worked well. Good riddance.

    Post a Reply
    • Editor

      I’ve heard that stated before by Northwestern admins — that the hospital and the university are independent organizations. I think that’s more a convenient excuse than reality. Moreover, why is it the neighborhood’s problem that two arms of the same octopus cannot get along?

      Northwestern hospital’s web site states, “We are bonded in an essential academic and service relationship with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. The quality of our services is enhanced through their integration with education and research in an environment that encourages excellence of practice, critical inquiry and learning.”

      So, are they bonded in an essential relationship, or are they two entities so different that they cannot collaborate on a common goal? Northwestern can’t have it both ways.

      I’m sure a land transfer between the two is not impossible, and possibly not unprecedented.

      Post a Reply
  2. You are correct, but the services rendered by the two: Northwestern Memorial Hospital, and Northwestern university are complimentary, not identical. hence the need for very different buildings on contiguous parcels.

    NMH will want to build another hospital someday, thus wanting to hold on to the big, currently empty parcel. And note there is no immediate plan. Northwestern University wants to build more research space, and now. Thus building directly adjacent to the current research building and tying in makes perfect architectural sense, on land they already own.

    Shared goals are not fully common. And again, why preserve a poorly executed, poorly functioning building that was actually designed to flatter it’s benefactor, not serve human health care.

    Post a Reply

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