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May is National Preservation Month, so it is worthwhile to look at some of Evanston’s historic buildings. Recently, the Preservation Commission offered a presentation titled “Reduce + Reuse = Preservation,” with Mike Jackson, FAIA, of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. He pointed out that historic buildings have many attributes now promoted as “green” design. Operable windows that allow fresh air and daylight, compact building form that is more efficient to build and heat and cisterns that capture rain water were all common to late 19th-century homes. His key message was that to preserve an existing structure is the greenest option for most situations.
Here is a brief review of some local buildings that have been adapted for reuse. Examples illustrate a variety of both original and new uses.
One of Evanston’s better-known reused structures is the Civic Center at 2100 Ridge Ave. Designed by Chicago architect Henry Schlacks, the Georgian Revival academy was constructed in 1900 by the Visitation Sisters. Originally built to accommodate 100 boarding and 100 day students, it was sold in 1915 to the Sisters of Providence and renamed Marywood, after Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods.
The building was used as a high school until the 1970s, when declining enrollment led to its sale to the City of Evanston. After extensive renovations to convert classrooms into offices, the City moved into the building in 1978. Now, more than 100 years old and a National Historic Landmark, the Civic Center is the center of a storm of controversy. With a new City Council and, in a few months, a new City Manager, time will tell if the structure survives to lead a third life.
The property at 1314 Ridge Ave., which once housed the headquarters of School District 65, is now in its third life as a multi-family residential redevelopment. In 2003 Asbury Ridge LLC converted the former Dryden Mansion (1917) into four condominium units and the coach house into two townhomes. Both buildings were built with the same integrity of structure and materials — solid masonry walls with limestone accents, roofing of clay tiles and copper, decorative wood fascia and specialty wood windows. Eleven new townhomes will be constructed on the perimeter of these original structures.
Another familiar reuse building is the former Marshall Field’s store at 807 Church St. Constructed as a smaller replica of the famed State Street store, it opened in 1929. When the Field’s in downtown Evanston closed its doors in 1987, the building was sold to Centrum Properties. In 2000 it was bought by Evanston Galleria Investors, which undertook a major renovation to return the structure to its original Art Deco beauty. Now it thrives in its second life as a mix of condominiums and street-level retail.
In 2003 an unusual twist for building preservation occurred when the Sherman Methodist Church was sold with the new owner’s intent to convert it into a private residence. Foster Dale Architect’s transformation of this small brick church built in 1904 was such a success that the home received a 2008 City of Evanston Preservation & Design Award, in the category of “Adaptive Reuse.”
Mr. Jackson observed, “For those of us who practice historic preservation, we have been challenging society to see the value of reusing historic buildings. This experience has taught us that buildings, no matter how well built, will only be sustained if they are seen as having a positive cultural and economic value…We are advocates for historic buildings, but we are also building a culture that sustains design.”
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