Burt Natarus: 1933-2020

If you were to make a short list of the people who have most influenced how Chicago looks and works today, it’s pretty easy.  Burnham.  Holabird. Sullivan.  Daley.  The other Daley.  But there’s another name that should also make that list: Natarus.

Burt Natarus by Daniel X. O'Neil, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Burt Natarus by Daniel X. O’Neil, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Former Chicago alderman Burt Natarus died last week.  For 36 years he presided over Chicago’s 42nd Ward in an era when the ward covered the city’s downtown, and downtown Chicago was reinventing itself.

From 1971 to 2007, the city saw tremendous growth of new skyscrapers and an wave of high-density building not seen since the post-war period.  In a time when city alderman ruled their wards without challenge, Mr. Natarus decided what got built, and how tall.  

This kind of power, naturally, earned him both admirers and foes.  While we didn’t understand his apparent fondness for podiums and concrete slabs, in the few interactions we had with him, he seemed to know what he was talking about more than many of his critics.

Natarus was a Wisconsin native with a law degree from UW, and also went to Harvard.  He taught at Loyola University, and wrote many of the ordinances that govern where and how you live and work each day.

Mr. Natarus’ successor issued this statement:

Alderman Natarus was a colorful character in Chicago politics, who eventually became a friend. Although we had our very serious differences on and off the campaign trail, over time, I developed a great respect for the former alderman. Knowing what a pressure cooker the downtown ward can be, I came to appreciate his service. Whether you agreed with him or not, nobody could argue that Alderman Natarus didn’t love downtown Chicago.

42nd Ward Alderman Brendan Reilly

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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