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Rename Cultural Center for ‘Sis’ Daley, alderman proposes

The Chicago Cultural Center | Sun-Times files

The Chicago Cultural Center | Sun-Times files

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Updated: December 15, 2013 11:49AM

Chicago’s landmark Cultural Center — a 116-year-old building that Eleanor “Sis” Daley saved from the wrecking ball — would be renamed in her honor, under legislation designed to honor the wife of one mayor and the mother of another.

“She played a great part in preserving the Cultural Center. It’s so important to rename it after her. I’ll stand by it. It’s the right thing to do,” Bridgeport Ald. Jim Balcer (11th) said after Wednesday’s City Council meeting, where he introduced the measure at the behest of the Daley family.

“She’s the one who talked to the mayor about not knocking it down. Now, it’s an icon in the city because of her. ... She was the first lady of this city for many, many years and she saved it from the wrecker’s ball.”

Balcer acknowledged that he introduced the legislation at Wednesday’s City Council meeting at the behest of the Daley family.

“I’m doing this [for them]. Yes. I’m working with them on this. I’ve talked to them, and we’re working on it,” he said.

“This is something they want. I want. The city should want. She was a great lady and she should be remembered for that — at least have something named after her. And this is the right venue — the building she worked so hard to save. ... I’m not sure what the cost is going to be. But we can do this the right way. It can be done.”

Jacquelyn Heard, the former mayoral press secretary who still serves as a spokesperson for the Daley family, could not be reached for comment on the Cultural Center proposal.

Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th), the City Council’s resident historian, said it’s not surprising that former Mayor Richard M. Daley had 22 years to rename the Cultural Center for his mom but chose to wait more than two years after leaving office to push the idea.

“He probably thought it would be inappropriate for him to do something for his mother in that way,” Burke said.

Burke said he’s all for the idea of renaming the beautiful building that was once Chicago’s central library for the wife of former Mayor Richard J. Daley.

The city is building Maggie Daley Park to honor Richard M. Daley’s wife. But Burke noted that there is nothing in Chicago named after Sis Daley, who served as Chicago’s first lady for 21 years.

“It would be a splendid idea. Mrs. Daley was reputed to be the person solely responsible for saving the building when it was scheduled for the wrecker’s ball,” Burke said of the Cultural Center.

“She imposed on Mayor Richard J. Daley to change the plan and restore and save that iconic Chicago landmark.”

Designed by the Boston architectural firm of Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge, the Cultural Center opened in 1897 on land donated by the Grand Army of the Republic, for whom its GAR meeting hall is still named.

The neoclassical-style building features Italian Renaissance elements and two wings — each topped by stained-glass domes. It cost just under $2 million to build.

The building now serves as a showcase for free arts, entertainment and cultural programming unparalleled in the United States.

Every year, the Cultural Center features more than 1,000 programs and exhibits. The landmark building — with entrances at 77 E. Randolph entrance and 78 E. Washington — is a popular tourist attraction and home to the Chicago Children’s Choir.

It’s also the architectural masterpiece where Chicago mayors have chosen to greet U.S. presidents, royal visitors, visiting heads of state and diplomats.

The 38-foot glass dome designed by artist J. A. Holtzer that sits atop Preston Bradley Hall is believed to be the world’s largest Tiffany dome.


Twitter: @fspielman

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