It is a preservation truism that you must save landmarks more than once. In the case of the Hotel Saint Benedict Flats in Chicago, one of the city`s best remaining Victorian structures and a forerunner of the modern luxury apartment building, the third time was the charm.
In 1986, fearful that the owner of the building, located near the bustling North Michigan Avenue shopping district, would replace it with a high-rise, the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois (LPCI) launched the first campaign to save the St. Benedict Flats. Designation as a city landmark was rejected by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks after a planning commissioner reported that no economically viable use could be found. Yet LPCI persisted, and in 1988 the building was successfully nominated to the National Register.
In 1990, when the building owner announced plans to demolish it for surface parking, LPCI organized a spirited protest that inspired more than one hundred letters to public officials, thousands of petition signatures, and extensive media coverage. "It`s such a handsome building, recalls Carol Wyant, LPCI`s executive director at that time. "The public loves it, so the press would always pick up on it." This time the city landmarks commission approved designation and moved it along to the next stage in the process--approval by the city council. There it stopped. Yet as long as the designation was under consideration, the building could not be demolished.
In 1993 Hotel St. Benedict Flats was put up for auction, and although there were other bidders, a purchase option was obtained by Loyola University, whose growing downtown campus abutted the property. Again, fear ran high that the new owner, a popular nonprofit institution, might be able to persuade the city council to allow demolition. When Loyola produced a feasibility study finding that they could not cost-effectively rebab the building, the second battle of Hotel Saint Benedict Flats was joined.
LPCI operated on two fronts. Behind the scenes, they met with Loyola, politicians, and public officials, real estate interests, and media representatives. One key meeting was with the editorial board of the weekly Crains Chicago Business. Crains broke the story in June 1994 and followed up with an editorial asking the city to help preserve at least the facade.
Publicly, their supporters rallied, again, to the cause. This time LPCI distributed postcards of the apartment building that could be signed and sent on to the mayor, the appropriate alderman, and the president of Loyola. The university relented. "They weren`t willing to take the public relations hit," Wyant recalls.
The final successful campaign to save St. Benedict Flats took place behind the scenes, as experienced rehab developer Bruce Abrams talked with LPCI, building owner Buzz Ruttenberg, and others to craft an acceptable redevelopment package, including the donation of a facade easement to LPCI--a plan he announced in December. "I do feel comfortable saying it`s really saved now," says Wyant. #ForumNews #NationalTrustPartnersNetwork
Publication Date: May/June 1995