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After Being Spared From The Wrecking Ball, Victorian Building Formerly Home To La Luce Could Get Landmark Status

If approved, the recommendation would be the first step in designating the Fulton Market building, which dates back to 1891, a city landmark.

The La Luce Building, a four-story Queen Anne style building at 1393 W. Lake Street, on Feb. 26.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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FULTON MARKET — A city committee will decide this week whether a 19th century, Queen Anne Victorian building in Fulton Market should be temporarily protected as a city landmark or torn down by its owners.

The building at 1393-1399 W. Lake St., once home to Italian restaurant La Luce, will be considered for preliminary landmark status by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks on Thursday. Commissioners also will weigh in on a permit sought by the owners to demolish the 130-year-old building.

The dueling applications are part of an ongoing battle over the building, which dates back to 1891 and was the home of La Luce for 27 years before closing in 2016.

The city approved a demolition permit for the former Schlitz-branded saloon and tied house in December, then quickly revoked it, saying there was an error with the address. Because the building is rated “orange” in the city’s historic buildings survey, the demolition permit request should have triggered a 90-day hold, which is designed to allow local leaders and preservationists an opportunity to come up with ways to protect historic buildings.

Preservation Chicago then launched an online petition to save the building, garnering more than 8,000 signatures to date.  

The city’s Department of Planning and Development says the building meets three criteria for landmark status, according to the meeting agenda. If approved, all exterior elevations and rooflines of the building would be protected. A one-story frame structure at the rear of the property would not be included.

Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago’s executive director, is “elated” the building is being reviewed by the landmark commission.

“This [support] should really be a signal to developers that when they look at redeveloping a site, they should work around and integrate these historic resources into their development,” Miller said.

After being rebuffed for the demolition permit, building owner Veritas immediately submitted a new application Dec. 2. The hold on that expired in early March.

Property owner Anthony Giannini of Agent Equity Partners could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Giannini also intends to demolish the single-story building next door at 1385 W. Lake St., recently vacated by Midwest Performance Car. 

Credit: Jay Koziarz/Block Club Chicago
A recently-completed office building–one of several new developments in the area–towers in the distance above the former La Luce building.

Miller said the preservation group was taken aback by the level of community support for the building. The four-story building “commanded a great presence and a lot of support from neighbors and the greater Chicago community,” he said.

The group submitted 366 pages of signatures and additional 24 pages of written comments to the city, Miller said.

“It’s a wonderful testament to the value the built environment of historic buildings in Chicago,” Miller said.

In addition to the current demolition permit, the building has been “endangered many times” in the past, including six years ago, Miller said.

“We want to see this building preserved, and we’re hoping the new owners that have plans for the site and the adjacent parcels can integrate this building into their plans,” Miller said.

If the commission denies the demolition permit and approves initial landmark status, that would trigger an expedited process for permanently protecting the building. Under the city code, the commission must schedule a public hearing and notify City Council of its recommendation within 90 days.

Even if landmark commissioners approve the preliminary designation, Miller acknowledged that would only be the first step toward saving the building. But it would be offered all the protection of a landmark while it goes through the process of securing that status permanently, Miller said.

“We are very excited and elated by the steps the city has taken,” Miller said.

Eight historic tied houses were included in a landmark district designated by the city in 2011. The Lake Street property was not included in the designation due to objections from its owners at the time, according to Preservation Chicago. 

In June, the city granted landmark status to a 113-year-old former Schlitz tied house at 9401 S. Ewing Ave. on Chicago’s East Side. 

Jay Koziarz contributed to this report.

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