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Soldier Field


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This article came out in July in the Trib regarding Soldier Field and the possibility of it losing it's historic status. Those who knew this stadium pre- and post- construction - what do you think?

July 21, 2004 Wednesday

Correction Appended

Chicago Final Edition



Stadium has lost landmark look, U.S. says

By Hal Dardick and David Mendell, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporter Gary Washburn contributed to this report.


Setting a flying saucer stadium inside the classical columns of Soldier Field destroyed its historic character, so the structure should be stripped of its National Historic Landmark status, federal architecture analysts said this week.

The National Park Service on Tuesday sent its recommendation to withdraw landmark status, the highest honor the government bestows on buildings and places, from the Chicago Park District, which owns the structure. Federal officials also recommended removing the venerable stadium from the National Register of Historic Places.

That was the first step in a monthslong process to decide whether the stadium will lose its historic designations, something historic preservationists warned would be triggered by the controversial $660 million renovation of the Bears' home.

Soldier Field "no longer retains its historic integrity," states a three-page report written by staff for the National Park System Advisory Board. "The futuristic new stadium bowl is visually incompatible with the classical colonnades and the perimeter wall of the historic stadium."

"During the process of new construction, many historic features and spaces were obliterated," it continues. "With the exception of the colonnades, exterior walls and a small seating area on the south end of the bowl, very little of the historic fabric remains."

The report now goes to the Advisory Board Landmarks Committee, which in September will make a recommendation to the full board, which will forward its recommendation to the U.S. secretary of the interior for a decision.

If the stadium is stripped of the designations, neither the city nor the Bears, which paid for much of the renovation, will lose any funding. The field also would not lose any protected status.

But it would lose the prestige of being considered one of the nation's most historic structures.

"National Historic Landmark status is la creme de la creme of listed National Historic Register properties in the United States," said David Bahlman, president of the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois, a not-for-profit group that, along with Friends of the Parks, unsuccessfully sued to block the Soldier Field renovation.

Of about 78,000 properties on the National Register, fewer than 3,000 also have landmark status, said Carol Shull, keeper of the National Register and chief of the National Historic Landmarks Survey.

Other places on the list include the White House, Monticello, the Empire State Building and Frank Lloyd Wright's Home and Studio in Oak Park.

Critics of the stadium redesign by Chicago architect Dirk Lohan have decried how it altered the structure, which first opened in 1924 and was named in honor of World War I veterans. But Mayor Richard M. Daley, whose administration helped fund the renovation, has long defended it.

Daley spokeswoman Jacquelyn Heard said Tuesday that despite the recommendation, Soldier Field could end up keeping its designation.

"Our expectation has always been that the columns would keep landmark status, if not the stadium as a whole because of the renovation," Heard said, noting that the process has just started.

"It is entirely possible that our expectation could [come] true."

In 2001, before the renovation started, Park District officials dismissed threats that the federal government would strip the site of its landmark status.

David Doig, then general superintendent of the Park District, noted that the National Park Service in the mid-1990s backed off its promise to remove the same status from Adler Planetarium. The saucerlike addition to the planetarium also was designed by Lohan.

But in the case of Soldier Field, the Park Service has followed up on its warnings--the first of which came in March 2001 before the renovation was even approved--with a written recommendation. That and the public meetings to follow are expected to rekindle a debate pitting historic preservationists against avant-garde architects.

The preservationists have railed against the design, but it has won praise in some architectural circles.

New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp wrote that the renovation should be viewed as "a model for cities that are looking toward architecture to strengthen their identities as contemporary cultural centers."

Opposition to the renovation was fierce in 2001, when the city's Plan Commission first held hearings on the proposal, months after Daley announced the plan and the General Assembly quickly approved a deal to fund it.

At the Plan Commission meeting, Ald. Burton Natarus (42nd) asked Doig what the Park District would do if Soldier Field lost its landmark status. "I think we would move forward," Doig said.

After the Plan Commission approved the deal, Friends of the Parks and the Landmarks Preservation Council sued, in part contending the design would ruin Soldier Field's historic character.

One suit was taken to the Illinois Supreme Court, but the groups lost.

Erma Tranter, president of Friends of the Parks, said Tuesday that the Park Service recommendation "doesn't surprise us. It was clearly one of our arguments when we tried to preserve Soldier Field."

Meanwhile, Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago, a historic preservation advocacy group, praised the recommendation.

"It's about time," Fine said.

"If you destroy the landmark, you should be punished for it."

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^ Well, that is IMO, the best side of the stadium, because I see more of the historic structure than the new part.

These, days architects have succeeded with amazing designs where a state of the art structure (or expansion) can be combined with an older structure without destroying its historic integrity. However, Soldier Field is a much different case. I followed the construction on the Bears' website and was shocked at how much of the stadium was covered up by tasteless architecture. It clashed so radically, it made me wonder if the planners and designers of the stadium were drunk every step of the way. I can't see anything that blends. There is no harmony between the new and the old. I hate it when architects overuse glass as an excuse pull two different structures together.

I have seen the stadium in person, both before and after construction. I marveled at the original design, which exhibited permanence in the city, and the tradition of American football. Now it is a landing platform for what I always considered "A space shuttle," and ironically, what the article considers "a UFO." You have to see this stadium to believe it. Unless you are a fan of extreme contemporary architecture that fails to harmonize with more solid and superior structures, expect dissapointment.

I'm glad the historic status is being stripped from the stadium as a punishment to the planners and designers of the stadium. However, I'm upset of the mark this will leave on Chicago, and all those who took pride in the original stadium.

I have a lot of relatives and friends from Chicago. All of them hate it.

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I was living there when they were tearing the old stadium down. I'm glad that they kept some of the history like the columns from the old stadium and would hope that it does not lose it's historical status...it really is one of the symbols of Chicago IMO.

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I have mixed feelings about the stadium. I thought the historic aspects of the stadium were nice -- they tried to keep these intact. But I haven't seen the finished product on the inside. I know that there are less seats than the original layout, but I heard that it is amazing to watch a game in the stadium. I can see why preservationists would be upset at the change, but at the same time - they could of done what a lot of American development does when things don't work anymore (esp. with sports stadiums) tear it down and build a new one.

In the recent Chicago magazine, Stanley Tigerman, a 73 year old Chicago architect said,"Historic Preservation is a balancing act. You can't keep ripping away at your face, at your scars, and be perpetually young. But there's a danger in giving history authority. Just because a building is old, who among us has the right to say this building is better than that one?"

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