New Downtown Chicago Fire Station Comes With a Big Question Mark

Chicago has explored a number of public/private partnerships in recent years.  Things like putting libraries inside apartment buildings, and tea houses in parks.  Now one of the city’s downtown fire stations may be the next city facility hop on the bandwagon.

Chicago Engine Company 42

Chicago Engine Company 42

In a remarkably detail-free e-mail to his constituents, 42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly announced that the Engine Company 42 building at 444 North Dearborn Street may be demolished and replaced with a new firehouse, plus a “commercial building.”

Unfortunately, the alderman is being tight-lipped about what “commercial building” means.  At the corner of Dearborn and Illinois Streets, that could mean anything from a one-story Dunkin’ Donuts to a 50-story condo block.

Rendering of the 2017 version of 444 North Dearborn (via City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development)

Rendering of the 2017 version of 444 North Dearborn (via City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development)

Last year, Friedman Properties floated a plan to replace the 1968 fire station with an office tower.  It’s not known if what Mr. Reilly is talking about now is a refinement of that plan.

One thing is certain: The new development won’t get to eat the entire block.

The Cook County Criminal Courts Building

The Cook County Criminal Courts Building

The fire station’s corner is zoned DX-7.  But its neighbor to the south is Courthouse Place, the former Cook County Criminal Court Building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.  In 1985, Friedman bought the 1893 Richardsonian Romanesque building designed by Otto H. Matz and turned it into offices.  It isn’t going anywhere.

The western portion of the block may be another story.  It is lined with five buildings that have all been labeled “code orange” for their historic importance to Chicago.  But it’s been demonstrated repeatedly in recent years that the “code orange” designation is as effective at preventing  a building’s demolition as a Sun-Times on the head is at keeping the wearer dry during a Taste of Chicago thunderstorm.

If you’d like to find out what ‘s in store for this property, pop over to the Goodman Theatre at 170 North Dearborn next Tuesday, July 17th at 6pm.  The alderman and the River North Residents Association are hosting a public meeting about it.

Location: 444 North Dearborn, Near North


Author: Editor

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

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