When the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority announced plans for a half-billion dollar expansion from its lakeside perch into the surrounding neighborhood, it was as if a pack of rabid wolves was let loose in the South Loop.
At public meetings, people howled and shouted about property values, traffic, and most importantly—historic preservation. They didn’t mind the convention center complex oozing into the many, many vacant plots of land in the South Loop. But get too near two bricks in a vertical pile, and out came the pitchforks, torches and silver bullets.
As we’ve chronicled over the last year or so, McPier has made a number of changes to its plan. One hotel has been moved, and a second is on hold. And the controversial event center has been made more neighborhood friendly. But that still left the fate of two landmark Chicago buildings in the balance. Now we know what will happen to them.
We’ll start with the Rees House at 2110 South Prairie Avenue. This building is a survivor, and a handsome one at that. It is the last of the mansions from Chicago’s gilded age still standing on its block. All of the others were plowed down to make way for such necessities as surface parking lots, weeds, and storage lots.
Then last month, one of our readers got our spidey senses tingling by hitting the tip line with word that the house would be saved. The tipster told us that with the city’s blessing, the house would be moved out of the way of the DePaul arena. Yesterday, that dream got its wings.
The Landmark Commission approved moving the Rees House 400 feet north, and across the street, to 2017 South Prairie Avenue. That puts it next door to the Reid House, a three-story home built in 1894 that is also the only survivor of its era on the block. Putting the two together is a great move because visually the pair are greater than the sum of their parts.
The William H. Reid House was designed by Beers, Clay and Dutton, and though it’s not a city landmark, it is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is significant for what you can’t see. Beneath its Classical Revival facade is steel. It was the first house built in Chicago out of steel. And at the same time the architects were working on this house, they were also building the city’s first steel skyscrapers in The Loop, so the house is considered structurally a miniature of the very important and historic work being down in the central business district.
According to the Chicago Tribune, the Rees House move will happen in July.
The other elephant on the block is the American Book Company building at 320 East Cermak Road. There were fears among those in the preservation community that this building would be torn down to make way for the massive 1,200-room Marriott Marquis. But instead, McPier is going to incorporate the historic building into the shiny new hotel tower.
The five-story A.B.C. building will become four stories of hotel ballrooms, meeting spaces, and back-of-house offices over first floor retail. The old and new buildings will be connected via four-stories of glass and metal walkways on its west side. The connection’s design must still be approved by a committee.