How Don Draper And “Mad Men” Drew More Attention To Endangered Illinois Buildings

Arnold Crowe House

Arnold Crowe House

When a new season of “Mad Men” begins, it often generates popularity of classic cocktails–Old Fashioneds, Manhattans, Tom Collinses. The show also has helped call attention to an endangered but important Chicago architectural style.

Mid-century modern buildings are on the 2015 Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois list, and Landmarks Illinois president Bonnie McDonald credits the AMC hit “Mad Men” for its celebration of style in the 1960s.

“Even though we have the popularity of ‘Mad Men’ about the glamour of this era of design, we still see a number of the wonderfully designed buildings identified as teardowns or on the market because they don’t meet the needs of today’s buyers,” McDonald said.

That’s one of the reasons these buildings were included on the 2015 list (which was released by Landmarks Illinois on April 22): to raise awareness about architecturally significant endangered places.

“The sites named to the list, as well as the critical work of our State Historic Preservation Office, are all exceptionally important to not only local residents, but the local economy,” said McDonald.

Central Park Theater

Central Park Theater

A couple of noteworthy milestones accompany this year’s endangered places list. This is the 20th anniversary of the list, and its name has changed ever so slightly.

“We re-evaluated the entire program in the last year, and we asked ourselves some hard questions, and our stakeholders and people outside of preservation asked if the list had the kind of impact we were looking for,” McDonald told me. “And, we found the 10 most endangered places was still the most recognizable program of its kind and it comes with some level of controversy. It also generates some very positive thought. In the re-evaluation process, we decided to re-name the list, from 10 most endangered to ‘most endangered.’ It gave us flexibility in the event we have more than 10 or less than 10.”

Of course, finding endangered places is never very difficult. Time takes a toll on structures, as does the environment, lack of sufficient maintenance and many other factors. The slow economic recovery, Illinois’ budget woes and insufficient financing compound the problem.

The whole point of the list is to call attention to threatened historic resources in need of assistance, and to raise awareness about the cultural impact of preservation 

“By calling attention to the potential for reuse and revitalization of these historic places, we are encouraging job creation and economic development across Illinois – something everyone can support,” McDonald said.

I asked McDonald if any of the entries on the 2015 list raised any eyebrows and she replied, “It depends on whose eyebrows—we took on some big issues.”

McDonald may have well been referring to the eyebrows of Governor Bruce Rauner. The governor’s proposed 2016 budget cuts inevitably caused a ripple effect and preservation of places took a direct hit.

“The most controversial entry on the list was the State Historical Preservation Office,” McDonald said.

Rauner’s proposed budget zeroes out funding for the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency Preservation Services Division. There’s no word from the governor’s office if funding will be restored, if the division will be moved to another agency or if Rauner plans to just cut preservation.

But, the federal government requires each state to have a division to manage federally-mandated programs like Section 106 regulatory review, Certified Local Government grants, the National Register of Historic Places and the administration of the Federal Historic Tax Credit program. Federal funds flow into Illinois to pay for these services.

It’s not an insignificant source of funds—in 2014 alone, the division assisted private developers and property owners with Federal Historic Tax Credit rehabilitation projects totaling $726.6 million in private investment – a higher total than in any other state.

McDonald said a loss of staff and budget would slow down project reviews and have a major impact on the real estate development community, job creation and put Illinois at risk of losing matching Federal funds and millions of dollars in private investment.

McDonald testified before the Illinois legislature last week and explained the importance of maintaining the staffing levels and providing the expertise to expedite preservation projects.

The most endangered places list not only raises awareness, McDonald said, it spurs action.

“We’ve seen some movement already,” she said. “One of the listings was an abandoned building, the Arnold Crow House (and former Schwinn bike factory), at 3329 W. Washington Blvd.”

The owner of the house wants to renovate it, but he can’t get financing because of the number of foreclosures in the immediate area. That could change as a direct result of the listing. McDonald heard from a very large bank the day the list was released. The institution indicated they have a financing product specifically designed for low income neighborhoods and they want to discuss it with the owner of the Crow House.

Blackhawk Statue

Blackhawk Statue

Another listing was the Blackhawk Statue in Oregon, IL. The 50-foot tall Native American statue was dedicated in 1911. A French group has raised $1 million to preserve the statue but paperwork was hung up that would allow work to begin. Coincidentally (or not), just after the list was released Preservation Illinois got word that the Department of Natural Resources signed off on the paperwork.

Landmarks Illinois 2015 Most Endangered Places

  • Arnold-Crowe House, 3329 W. Washington Blvd., Chicago (Cook County)
  • Black Hawk Statue, Lowden State Park, 1411 N. River Rd., Oregon (Ogle County)
  • Bowen Building, Peoria State Hospital, 4125 W. Pfeiffer Rd., Bartonville (Peoria County)
  • Central Park Theater, 3535 W. Roosevelt Rd., Chicago (Cook County)
  • Condell House, 605 S. 4th St., Springfield (Sangamon County)
  • William H. Coventry House & Barn, 7704 Rt. 14 N., Harvard (McHenry County)
  • Elgin Tower Building, 100 E. Chicago Ave., Elgin (Kane County)
  • The Hobbs Building, 2 N. River St., Aurora (Kane County)
  • Madison Theater, 500 W. Main St., Peoria (Peoria County)
  • The Murphy Building, 234 Collinsville Ave., East St. Louis (St. Clair County) Ziock Building, 416 S. Main St., Rockford (Winnebago County)
  • Mid-Century Modern Houses, Statewide
  • Schulze Bakery, 40 E. Garfield Blvd., Chicago (Cook County)
  • St. James Academy, 220 Illinois St., Lemont (Cook County)
  • State Historic Preservation Office, Springfield
  • Thatchcot House, 515 S. 13th St., Herrin (Williamson County)


Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at

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