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Developer Behind Failed High-Rise Plan Moves To Tear Down Historic Row Houses Near Mag Mile… Again

The row houses "add a distinct character, quality, craftsmanship, history and elegance to the community," preservationists say.

Historic row houses at 42 and 44-46 E. Superior Streets.
Taylor Moore / Block Club Chicago
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RIVER NORTH — A New York-based developer is once again trying to demolish three historic row houses near the Magnificent Mile — and Chicago preservationists are vowing to fight the move.

Symmetry Property Development, which tried to bring a 60-story tower to the property last year, has hired a demolition firm to tear down the three late-1800s era buildings at 42 and 44-46 E. Superior Streets, Crain’s first reported. 

The permit application was filed by the demolition firm on Sept. 12 and is subject to a 90-day demolition delay due to the buildings’ historical status, meaning that approval wouldn’t be given until Dec. 12.

Credit: Taylor Moore / Block Club Chicago
A year after Ald. Reilly killed a plan for a high rise at 42 E. Superior, a developer is again planning to tear down row houses there.

The filing comes less than a year after Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd) blocked Symmetry’s plan for a 60-story hotel-and-condominium tower at the same location. 

“This combination of uses suggests heavy volumes of deliveries, curbside pick-up/drop-off, special event traffic and buses,” Reilly wrote at the time. “It’s simply too much for this block.”

The tower would have been the tallest structure built in River North since the 98-story Trump International Hotel & Tower opened in 2009.

Symmetry has not yet announced what would occupy the vacant lot, but Preservation Chicago, an organization that advocates for the preservation of historic buildings, speculates in its petition to save the buildings that “the urban blight from a vacant lot will help the developer to push through an unpopular plan for a massive parking garage and generic glass-box tower on the site.”

Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago, said removing the row houses from Superior Street would kill the block’s character. The row houses are currently considered “orange” properties within the city’s preservation code, which means they add architectural or historical value to the neighborhood. Other orange properties in the downtown area include the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and the Palmer House Hotel.

“If the three orange-rated townhouses are demolished, much of the scale and character of the Near North Side, Gold Coast and McCormickville District will be lost,” Miller said in an email. “These smaller buildings add a distinct character, quality, craftsmanship, history and elegance to the community, which is close to being completely lost to overdevelopment in the vicinity.”

The rowhouses at 42 and 44-46 E. Superior Streets were given “orange” status in 1995 by the Chicago Historic Resources Survey (CHRS), a research effort commissioned by the City of Chicago to catalog important properties in the city.

Miller also expressed concern that packing the neighborhood with too many high-rises could have adverse affects on its residents, such as lack of sunlight and air.

“We may be overbuilding in this area to a point where the desirability of these high-rise buildings is at risk,” he said. “We certainly don’t want to create a ‘Midtown Manhattan’ effect, where quality of life issues come into play and everyone lives in the shadow of a deep canyon.”

Miller has been asking the city to landmark the River North district that features the row houses for years. Cyrus McCormick, a prominent Chicagoan credited with inventing the mechanical reaper, lived in the neighborhood with his family before and after the Chicago Fire. Of the original 1800s “McCormickville” buildings, there are fewer than a dozen left.

The proximity to the Magnificent Mile makes the Superior Street row houses highly sought after. In January, the city approved the One Chicago Square project at the nearby corner of State Street and Chicago Avenue. This $740-million mixed-use development, slated to nearly overtake the John Hancock Center in height, will replace the former Holy Name Cathedral parking lot.

But people who live and work near the row houses appreciate their charm, and fear what will happen if they’re replaced with another high rise.  

Bryan Sord, owner of Sunny Side Up in the 42 E. Superior St. row house, said the neighborhood’s Victorian-era architecture is a big tourist draw.  Tourists visiting the shops on North Michigan Avenue come by regularly to check out the old buildings, he said. Sord opened a second Sunny Side Up location last year at the intersection of Clark Street and Oak Street but said it’s not the same as the Superior Street location.

“People want to see the old brownstone building,” he said. “If you can just stand out there in the summertime and watch people take pictures of these brownstones—I’m amazed. Amazed. I bet one out of five take a picture of the building. That’s a lot of people.”

Sord said that he has heard no updates from the property management group and only became aware of the demolition plan when Miller reached out to him about it. Since then, he and other tenants have worked with Miller to advocate for the preservation of the row houses.

“If I would’ve known [about the demolition plans], I would’ve bought the building,” Sord said. 

Ald. Reilly and Symmetry Property Development did not respond to requests for comment on the latest demolition permit filing. 

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