Sunday, October 21, 2007

Doctor's Hospital: A Photo Tour

posted by Peter Rossi

The University of Chicago proposes to build two Marriott hotels on the site of the former "Doctor's Hospital" on Stony Island Avenue between 59th and 57th streets.

One of the arguments against the University's proposal was that it is important to preserve the abandoned hospital buildings. None of the advocates have explained why the Doctor's Hospital is an important piece of architecture. The advocates have not cited any unique or distinctive architectural features. They have not made the argument that the architects were especially well known or that these buildings represent important buildings in the history of architecture.

The Doctor's Hospital is one of more than 100 similar utilitarian structures built before WW II. This is no Robie House.
Since the "preservationists" can't tell us why these buildings are worth preserving (their argument is simply that the buildings are "old"), we must judge for ourselves as to whether or not these buildings have any aesthetic value. Below are some recent photos and commentary.

Main Entrance

Reminds you a bit of something you might find in East Berlin. It has that wonderful ugly institutional look like a state mental hospital.

Activists take note: the portico is of more recent origin than the main structure. "Restoration" might include removal of this structure to expose the facade and its truly unimaginative features.

North Wing

Reminds me of a pillbox in the Siegfried line.

South Wing

Note the blank expanse of brick in the center with the small shield and "swags" in the top center.

The most absurd argument made against the proposal is that the hotels would cause "congestion." This property is located directly across from a public park!! It will take a lot to fill up this street.

"Congestion" on Stony Island Avenue


Famac said...

Wow - I guess it looks a lot better from far away!

Elizabeth Fama said...

There are two rush-hour moments during the day when this thoroughfare is relatively busy, but it doesn't seem like hotel traffic would change that much.

I'll make one concession: the old DH structure would have looked OK (not great, but OK) as a condo conversion, if that's what a developer had wanted.

But given that the U of C bought it, I appreciate their idea of a hotel, and the total impracticality of trying to save any part of the building.

chicago pop said...

I don't like this structure (old Doctors Hospital) because it is institutional, and for that reason presents a long, rather inhospitable front to what could be a very lively and valuable stretch of Stony Island. You would have absolutely no reason to linger on the sidewalk in front of this building unless you were going somewhere else, or into the hospital itself. I suspect that this is one major reason why opponents of demolition want to keep it -- because if the facade is preserved, it will still remain aloof from the street.

Neither am I convinced of the architectural merits of the building. The modernist greats in the field would have looked at this historical mimicry as a violation of the edict that "form follow function" and seen it instead as rootless aping of European style (which was Louis Sullivan's position).

As far as being integral to the fabric of the neighborhood, the stretch of Stony Island in question is remarkable for its eclecticism, like many central city streets of that period. It has not stylistic (or even structural) harmony with either of its neighbors to the north or south; for that reason, conceivably, something just as unrelated (like a modern hotel tower) could take its place with no more incongruity.

It is possible that a redesign might bring the old facade into closer relation to the sidewalk; and that a functional, institutional interior may be made somehow into a unique hotel space. We'll see. But demolition would by no means be the tragedy that it is made out to be, and resistance to this outcome should not be allowed to derail a hotel that would enormously energize Hyde Park.

Peter Rossi said...


would you want to live in a condo in this monolithic ugly building? I don't think so.

chicago pop makes some very good points about this building. It looks like a state mental hospital

Elizabeth Fama said...


It would depend on how nice the units were inside. There's a lot of demand for high-end condos with parking from north-side Lab School families wanting to move to Hyde Park, for example. I thought the space could have been used for that sort of development, years ago.

But that discussion is moot. Bring on the hotel!


elijah's mom said...

Anything--well almost-- anything is better than yet another vacant blighted building in HydePark. While we all debate what to do in this neighborhood we debate until the reality is that nothing can happen. Remember when other grocery chains were interested in the 47th street site? And now where are they? Thoughful development is important but let us please have some movement.

Peter Rossi said...

eijah's mom has my vote for Hyde Park Hero of the week

chicago pop said...

Here here.

Famac said...

Plus she has a great screen name!

Elizabeth Fama said...

Now to get her on the side of "moving along with the repair of Promontory Point" if she's not already a convert.