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Health Care Thu Jul 26 2012

When The Hospitals of Chicago Close, What's Next?

On July 2, 16-year-old Jose Morales and some of his friends went into the abandoned Ravenswood Hospital, located at 1931 W. Wilson. According to the Tribune, while inside the building, Morales fell from the second floor to the ground floor. Morales died later that day at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

The hospital is currently owned by Lycée Français de Chicago, which has plans to demolish the hospital and build a new school building. According to the Tribune, Lycée Français has applied for a permit for demolition in the wake of Morales' death.

Lycée Français would not comment on the situation with Ravenswood Hospital.

Ravenswood Hospital - Adler Pavilion constructed in 1969
Ravenswood Hospital. Photo by Erin Nekervis.

Ravenswood Hospital is not the only abandoned hospital that sits empty. In the past 12 years, five hospitals have completely closed in the City of Chicago and two more hospitals have closed because they've been replaced with modern facilities. Of these seven hospitals, four are still standing: Edgewater Medical Center, Ravenswood Hospital, Cook County Hospital and the old Prentice Women's Hospital. Additionally, Cuneo Hospital, more commonly known as Maryville, sits empty, although it was closed in 1988 and turned into a shelter before closing permanently.

For most of the hospitals that close in Chicago, there is no immediate plan for them after they shutter. Edgewater Medical Center, which closed due to Medicare fraud, is still sitting empty. Hyde Park Hospital was finally demolished nearly 10 years after it closed.

The only hospital that shut down and had a plan for what would be done next was Michael Reese Hospital, which completely closed in 2009. The plan for Michael Reese was that the Olympic Village would be built on the site of the hospital. Of course, Chicago lost the 2016 Olympic bid, so no Olympic Village would be built on the site of Michael Reese Hospital. The City, left with a closed hospital on their hands, demolished the hospital, citing structural problems. Only a small building remains, and that has apparently been secured properly.

The City had promised to save the main hospital building, but due to its structural damage and squatters that were occupying the building, it ended up being less expensive to tear down the main building than to fix the structural damage.

Although the plans failed, the City did try to have something ready for that site.

What is important to remember is that the death of Morales is not the only incident where a teenager in Chicago has been sent to a hospital after being in an abandoned hospital. In March 2011, two teenage boys were on the roof of Edgewater Medical Center when an electrical transformer exploded, sending both to the hospital.

Currently, a battle is raging over the old Prentice Women's Hospital, which was designed by Bertrand Goldberg, who also designed Marina City. Northwestern University has intentions of demolishing the building, but preservationists have rallied around saving the building. Additionally, architects including Frank Gehry and Jeanne Gang signed a letter urging Mayor Rahm Emanuel to not allow the destruction of the building to go forward.

The issue is that Northwestern needs the land to be able to build a medical research facility that would allow them to research life-threatening diseases, according to Alan Cubbage, a Northwestern University spokesman.

Cubbage explained that one of the problems is that Prentice was designed and built as a hospital in the 1970s -- Prentice opened in 1975. A hospital is very different from a building intended to focus on medical research.

"It was not designed for that purpose," Cubbage said. "It's about 40 years old. It's not feasible for it to be renovated for the university's plan."

For Northwestern, the best option would be to tear down the building and build a new facility. But preservationists have suggested that Northwestern reuse the building, even though the area the land is located on is in the middle of Northwestern's medical school campus.

"We're a university," Cubbage said. "And we do medical research on this land."

Preservation Chicago, one of the main organizations for the saving of Prentice, could not be reached for a comment.

According to Cubbage, the Streeterville Organization of Active Residents supports Northwestern's plan. Cubbage also said that the new medical research facility would add "2,000 high-paying jobs" to Chicago.

But in the meantime, there's an impasse over what to do with Prentice as preservationists try to save the building.

Although Michael Reese was torn down, preservationists did succeed in saving Cook County Hospital. Unfortunately, there is no money to renovate the building to become the administrative offices for the Cook County Health and Hospital System, so the building sits empty, continuing to deteriorate for now.

Even when plans are created for reusing the land for a hospital building, a delay can occur. For the site of Edgewater Medical Center, some residents of Edgewater and Andersonville want a park to be built on the land while others want a condo development. There were arguments over what would be done with Lincoln Park Hospital and development proposals have been floated for Maryville, only to be rejected by residents of Uptown.

In the meantime, the buildings fall into a state of disrepair and become eyesores that pose safety threats to the residents of the communities if properties aren't secured properly. Although the Maryville building at Montrose and Clarendon was possibly once a magnificent building, it is now a frightening eyesore that people pass on their way to the lake. Edgewater had some fascinating features that can be found by searching through Flickr pictures of the hospital, but they've probably been destroyed due to years of vandalism and structural damage. The main building of Michael Reese Hospital and the buildings designed by Walter Gropius were important contributions to Chicago's architecture, but how much of that was destroyed because the building wasn't being properly maintained or secured?

Although it's important to save old architecture, is there really a point when there's no immediate plan for the building? Chicago is filled with abandoned buildings and shuttered hospitals that end up just being larger hazards for citizens. People can't just be told that they should stay away from buildings since they'll inevitably enter abandoned buildings either to cause trouble or to see what's inside.

It seems that ultimately, Chicago needs to either have hospitals that have the ability to act quicker on their plans or they need to make sure that hospitals and other abandoned buildings are properly secure.

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mimi harris / August 3, 2012 12:11 PM

Clearly the author doesn't think it is important to save important old architecture altho he states it. This is how Chicago lost so many examples of its great architectural tradition. We need to look forther than our noses and think beyond the net minute.

Monica Reida / August 5, 2012 12:12 AM

Clearly the author doesn't think it is important to save important old architecture altho he states it. (Emphasis mine)

I'm a woman.

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