Chicago Cultural Center's Tiffany Dome

A sad truth about buildings is that they often come down. A great architect can build a great building and a savvy developer can buy it, demolish it and build a new one. In Chicago, with all our wonderful architecture, this is a song well sung.

The Chicago Cultural Center is an architectural masterpiece, yet has been threatened with demolition a few times in its 100+ year lifespan. Built in 1893 and opened in 1897 as the central library building, it has been the official reception hall for a number of Presidents, royalty and high government officials.  It also boasts the largest Tiffany dome in the world at 38 feet in diameter.

It may seem obvious to the average observer that buildings like the Cultural Center need to be preserved as historical landmarks.  On the other end of things, however, owners or developers don't often see past the dollar and cents to see the value of history. We may go up in arms over the thought of tearing down a historic building, but imagine their position: It's probably very painful to watch money evaporate in rusty pipes or seep out through single-paned glass windows.

Chicago Cultural Center's Tiffany Dome

Louis Sullivan's Auditorium Building is another building that is lucky to be around. Opened in 1889, the opening of the Auditorium Building brought senators, governors, even President Benjamin Harrison to its theater. 150 craftsmen guilded the interior with 50 million separate pieces of marble, 50,000 square-feet of mosaics, and 350 miles of electric wire and cable. This work of architecture is an engineering masterpiece.

The Auditorium Building was functionally outdated by the 1930's and demolition was discussed, but at that point in time the demolition cost was greater than the value of the land. It survived, but 30 years later the discussion of demolition surfaced again, after Roosevelt University had purchased the building. This time the savior was Beatrice Spachner, "a violist with an iron will." She set out with a $3.5 million fundraising campaign to restore the theater to its former opulence, and architect Harry Weese offered his services at no charge. It was a grand success. 

These are just two of many Chicago buildings that have beaten the wrecking ball. They survived from financial assistance, public outcry and political influence on their behalf.

However, many buildings of architectural significance have been erased from existence.  Just last month the lawsuit to save Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital, built in 1975, was withdrawn. To some, the almost 40-year old building seems outdated, but imagine it was also around 40 years after construction of the Auditorium Building that its demolition was first discussed. In the future, Goldberg's Prentice Hospital may have become more widely accepted for its unique cellular forms and advanced structural engineering.

If you're interested in learning more about the Chicago Cultural Center and Auditorium Building, they both offer public tours.

Chicago Cultural Center Building tours are free and take place every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday at 1:15pm.

Public tours for the Auditorium Building are $10 and every Monday at 10:30am and 12pm and Thursday at 10:30am.

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