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A Landmark Case, Take Two

By Shannon in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 6, 2007 8:08PM

the now-infamous farwell buildingHere we go again.

This past January, preservationists and developers squared off in a monumental battle over the landmarked Farwell Building at 664 N. Michigan. Prism Development Co. wanted to dismantle the 1920s edifice in order to build a parking garage for the proposed Ritz-Carlton Residences, a 40-story multi-use tower. To compromise with the Farwell’s landmark status, Prism sought clearance from the Commission for Chicago Landmarks to strip off the façade, destroy the insides, then slap the scavenged façade onto new construction. This understandably did not sit well with local preservationists, who invoked the definition of a landmark as protecting a building in its entirety, not in pieces. Their ultimate fear was that this would set a precedent for all other landmarks, making it OK to carve them up for other purposes. To the surprise of many, Prism was stopped in its tracks at a Jan. 4 meeting by a commissioner vote of 4-3, with one absent and one abstaining. Beads of sweat were wicked off of foreheads throughout the city.

Of course, even those with the rosiest of colored glasses knew Prism couldn’t stay away for long, not with so many luxury condos and millions of dollars at stake. Another meeting is taking place this Thursday to discuss a different implementation of the proposal: To change the amount of parking in the reconstructed Farwell building from six floors to four. Wow. Color us less than impressed. The entire argument is not about how much parking is in the new structure, it’s about taking apart the Farwell in the first place. No amount of redesigned parking, office or retail space should make a difference. A spokesperson for the project also states there would be more façade saved in this plan, along with the mansard roof. Why they didn’t save the maximum amount in the first plan, thus increasing their chances of success, is a mystery.

Another casualty of a possible Farwell teardown would be Hanig’s Footwear, which takes up retail space on the ground floor. A resident of the Farwell for over 30 years, the Streeterville shoe shop makes the most money out of Hanig’s five-store chain. Owner Peter Hanig, knowing his days are numbered, hasn’t been able to find other digs on Michigan Avenue despite a year-and-a-half search. We’d hate to see decent revenue muscled out due to this silliness. What worries us most is the possible swing votes that may be put into play this time. What difference will those previously abstaining and absent votes make now? The previous decision hung by a thread as it was. If you want to weigh in with an opinion or just watch the fireworks, the meeting will take place Thursday at 9 a.m. in the Cook County Commission Boardroom at 118 N. Clark. We also suggest you check out a rundown of Farwell developments on Lynn Becker’s Repeat blog.

Image via Kim Scarborough.