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Northwestern Seeks To Push Ahead With Old Prentice Hospital Demolition

Prentice Women's Hospital

The old Prentice Women’s Hospital is again on the 10 Most Endangered buildings list by Landmarks Illinois. (Credit: Landmarks Illinois)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Northwestern University is mobilizing more support for its plan to tear down the old Prentice Women’s Hospital in Streeterville and put up a new medical research center in its place.

As WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports, preservationists are fighting to keep the old hospital building standing, and call it a one-of-a-kind example of Chicago architecture.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Regine Schlesinger reports


But Northwestern says it has formed a coalition of groups that support the university proposal, and oppose making the old hospital building a Chicago landmark.

The distinctive Streeterville building at 333 E. Superior St. was designed by architect Bertrand Goldberg, the same architect who designed Marina City.

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.

Northwestern spokesman Alan Cubbage says the university is now fighting to get the demolition rolling. He says the school has been in talks with preservationists and city officials.

“The city has to make the decision whether to move forward to landmark the building, or to issue Northwestern University a demolition permit,” Cubbage said.

Cubbage says the university has formed a broad coalition in support of the proposed research facility. It includes the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and the Commercial Club civic committee, as well as unions, leaders of the medical and scientific community and patient advocacy groups.

“Architectural preservation is certainly a good thing, but medical research into diseases that kill people is a good thing and so is bringing thousands of jobs to Chicago,” Cubbage said. “So I don’t think there are any bad guys here. It really is a question of weighing what’s the greater good.”

Northwestern says the project would employ 2,500 workers during the construction and create 2,000 permanent research jobs.

But Northwestern’s case does not satisfy preservationists. In an Aug. 27 column, the Chicago Reader’s Deanna Isaacs called Prentice “a feat of engineering and hospital design when it was built, just 37 years ago,” with its concrete towers floating from a hidden core “like so many balloons on a stick.”

Isaacs points out that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has called Prentice’s concrete shell standing 45 feet above its base “the only example of its type anywhere in the world,” and said its pioneering use of aerospace software in design was a “game changer.”

She went on to cast doubt on the Northwestern “PR effort” in favor of demolishing the building, saying there is no reason why the new research facility can’t be built across Huron Street in an empty lot where the Lakefront VA Hospital once stood. The lot is owned by Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which is a separate entity from, but affiliated with, the university.

Numerous famous architects have urged Mayor Rahm Emanuel to push ahead with a landmarking process and save “Goldberg’s modern masterpiece,” including all the partners at the famed Skidmore, Owings and Merrill firm; as well as Jeanne Gang, designer of the Aqua building downtown; and Frank Gehry, who designed Chicago’s Pritzker Pavilion and the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, Isaacs wrote.