A time-honored NIMBY tactic is to assert an opinion frequently in hopes that it will become regarded as fact. If we scream frequently that the Doctor's Hospital should be preserved, this will shift the debate from "is the Doctor's Hospital worth preserving?" to "how can we preserve it?" The NIMBYs are now applying this tactic in discussions with Chicago Maroon reporters.
In a recent editorial , Maroon editors urge the university to seriously consider an alternative "preservation" proposal drawn up under the auspices of the Hyde Park Historical Society preservation committee. Does this imply that the Maroon editorial board accepts the proposition that the Doctor's Hospital should be preserved?
Those who advocate the preservation of this building have made no arguments regarding its architectural merits. It is not a unique building (the firm that designed it produced over 100 similar structures) nor is it an exemplar of any style of architecture. The only thing we say say about the building is that it is reasonably old. To my eye, it has that gloomy look that reminds you of obsolete institutions such as state mental hospitals or orphanages.
The Maroon editorial states that our local preservationists claim Doctor's Hospital is an "architectural landmark." It is not. No city, state or federal landmarks agency has declared this to be the case. A private preservation group who call themselves the Landmarks Preservation Council of Illinois has put the Doctor's Hospital on their "watchlist." There is no formal criteria for inclusion on this list and inclusion does not constitute landmark status.
So what this boils down to is that a handful of Hyde Parkers have declared the Doctor's Hospital to be worth preserving and have not been required to justify that conclusion.
It is not even clear what the alternative preservation proposal consists of. Are there cost estimates, architectural plans, and engineering studies? The Maroon news story quotes local "preservationist" Jack Spicer as arguing (quite irresponsibly) that you can have your preservation cake and eat it too. That is, it might be cheaper to preserve the buildings. It stands to reason that to preserve even the facade of the hospital will be much more expensive than building a middle of the line Marriott.
But even if it turned out that Doctor's Hospital was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright's chauffeur, we still must ask - could this structure make a viable hotel? If you were a prospective student, parent, or visiting faculty, would you want to stay behind this ugly facade? It looks like a Columbia University dorm circa 1940. It will make the Omni New Haven look like the Ritz and the Durant Hotel in Berkeley look like the Savoy. The Stanford Park in Palo Alto will seem like Shangri-La.
Going the preservation route will maximize the chances that this site will remain an embarrassing eyesore and visitors to the U of C will stay downtown. We need a hotel. Preservation can't and shouldn't work for this site.
I would encourage Maroon reporters to ask hard questions of preservation advocates and check some of the assertions which are going unverified. We will all be better off for it. This is something that our local newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald, should do but we have learned that the Maroon is a far better source of real news. The Maroon has a 50 per cent larger circulation to boot -- so, go to it guys!