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Preservationists end suit to save Prentice Hospital

The old Prentice Women's Hospital building 333 E Superior. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

The old Prentice Women's Hospital building, 333 E Superior. | John H. White~Sun-Times.

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Updated: March 17, 2013 6:18PM

Preservationists conceded defeat Thursday and withdrew their lawsuit challenging the city’s refusal to grant landmark protection to the former Prentice Women’s Hospital in Streeterville, a building slated to be torn down.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation said it was withdrawing its suit over Prentice that it had filed in Cook County Circuit Court. The suit accused city officials of violating the landmarks ordinance with the procedure used to deny protection for the building, a design of famous Chicago architect Bertrand Goldberg.

“We continue to believe there were significant flaws with the process that granted and then removed landmark protection for Prentice,” said a statement from the trust-led Save Prentice Coalition. “However, we feel that the landmarks process has run its course.”

The owner of the building, Northwestern University, wants to raze it to make room for medical research labs. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has enthusiastically embraced the project for its economic promise and its potential for making Chicago a center for medical advances.

Addressing complaints over how the landmarking decision was handled, the Commission on Chicago landmarks a week ago held a second hearing on Prentice, took more than three hours of testimony and voted again to let Northwestern tear it down.

It also voted that way last November, but preservationists argued the decision was illegally rushed. It came at the same meeting at which the commission also endorsed a city study that said the building merited consideration as a landmark.

Following the announcement of the lawsuit withdrawal, Eugene Sunshine, senior vice president of business and finance at Northwestern, said he was pleased by the preservationists’ decision. He said the school will move ahead with the city and downtown Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) in building the biomedical research complex, which has a promised $400 million economic impact.

The Prentice property at 333 E. Superior is “the linchpin” for the project, Sunshine said. The school has said it will hold an architectural design competition and wants to begin construction in 2015.

Bonnie McDonald, president of the group Landmarks Illinois, said the fight over Prentice demonstrated how strongly people feel about the building and underscored how preservation can foster economic growth. The pro-Prentice groups arranged for several alternative plans that incorporated the building into Northwestern’s medical complex, but the school said none of the ideas met its needs.

For all the pressure put on Northwestern, most Streeterville neighbors said the empty building should be knocked down. Prominent architects said the 1975 building was an engineering innovator in its time, but the cloverleaf design struck many people as ugly or dated.

“We accept that we have done what we can,” McDonald said. “We have exhausted our options on Prentice.”

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