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Hospitals, Vintage Theaters Top Preservation Group’s ‘Endangered’ List

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The Portage Theater's movie-revival operation would cease if a North Side church buys the property. (CBS)

The Portage Theater’s movie-revival operation would cease if a North Side church buys the property. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Three Chicago hospitals and some aging movie theaters have topped the latest list of endangered historic buildings made by Preservation Chicago.

As WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports, for a second straight year, the agency on Wednesday announced its annual “Chicago 7” list of most endangered buildings.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s David Roe reports

• At the top of the list is Unity Hall, at 3140 S. Indiana Ave. in the Bronzeville neighborhood. The Queen Anne-style building dates from 1897, and was originally used as a Jewish social club called the Lakeside Club.

In 1917, the building became Unity Hall, when Chicago’s first African-American alderman, Oscar DePreist opened the Peoples Movement Club in the building. Unity Hall also served as the headquarters of African-American Democratic political leader William Dawson for several years, and was used as a church after World War II, Preservation Chicago said.

The Jerusalem Temple Church of God in Christ occupied Unity Hall for decades, and received a heritage grant from the State of Illinois for structural repairs in 2001.

But now, the building is vacant, many of the windows are boarded up, and Preservation Chicago says Unity Hall is threatened with “demolition by neglect.” The church that occupies the building has been absent for more than a year because of code violations, Preservation Chicago said.

• Multiple historic movie theaters have spot on the list together – including the Portage Theater at 4050 N. Milwaukee Ave., which remains an active cinema, but could taken over by a church congregation that could make radical changes.

The historic building was purchased in 2006 and has been serving as a center point of the Chicago independent film community. It is also the home of the Silent Film Society of Chicago.

The church has reportedly offered the current owner a little more than $2 million for the theater property. Ald. John Arena (45th) is among those who has come out against the church’s plans, and has urged residents and theater goers to contact the Zoning Board of Appeals about the issue.

Four other theaters – none of them still showing movies – also made the list.

The Avalon Theater at 1645 E. 79th St., more recently known as the New Regal Theater, has been closed since 2010 and “appears to be in rapidly deteriorating condition,” Preservation Chicago said. The Ramova Theater at 3518 S. Halsted St. is architecturally a larger sister of the Music Box Theatre, but has been closed since the mid-1980s and has sat empty all through that time.

The Central Park Theater, 3535 W. Roosevelt Rd., dates from 1917 and is considered the first movie palace in America. The House of Prayer, Church of God in Christ has operated from the building since 1971 and continues to do so, but the building has been deteriorating as the church lacks the funds for needed repairs, Preservation Chicago said.

And the Lawndale Theater, a few blocks west at 4015 W. Roosevelt Rd., has been empty and exposed to the elements and scavengers since the church that used to occupy the building moved out, the organization said.

Three hospitals are also on the list.

• The old Prentice Women’s Hospital 333 E. Superior St. was designed by the legendary Bertrand Goldberg and opened only 37 years ago, but Northwestern Memorial Hospital moved the women’s facility out of the building in 2007 and wants to have it torn down for a new research and laboratory facility.

Frank Cuneo Memorial Hospital, at 720 W. Montrose Ave. in Uptown, is one of a few examples of architect Edo J. Billi’s efforts to introduce modernism into Roman Catholic architecture. But the hospital has been closed since 1988, and while it was later used a children’s shelter, it has stood vacant for and decaying several years now, Preservation Chicago said. Neighborhood opposition killed a multi-use redevelopment project at the site, the organization said.

• And St. Anthony Hospital, at 2875 W. 19th St. overlooking Douglas Park, is set to be redeveloped or demolished as the hospital makes plans to move south to 31st Street and Kedzie Avenue. The hospital building was completed in stages in 1898 and 1910.

• Rounding out the list is the Gethsemane Church, at 1352 S. Union Ave., which predates the Great Chicago Fire by two years. Close to the old Maxwell Street Market, the building housed a German school, a Romanian synagogue, an African-American church, and an arts center, but has been vacant for many years.

Preservation Chicago says the University of Illinois at Chicago’s John Paul Newman II Center wants to buy the building and tear it down, to make room for a Catholic-centric dorm.

• Finally, the entire 5700 block of South Woodlawn Avenue adjoining the University of Chicago campus is on the list. Many of the buildings are old houses from the time of the World’s Columbian Exposition, and the block includes Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House.

While there are no current plans to demolish any buildings on the block, there is also nothing to stop the U of C from tearing them down for future development, as only the Robie House is protected as a landmark, Preservation Chicago said.

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