Save the Garrick! (6-1-1960)

Today the city decided that the Garrick Theater could be torn down.  Another obsolete building was being replaced with something more modern and more functional, in this case a parking garage.

Not quite.  The Garrick was an official city landmark.Schiller Building

Located at 64 West Randolph Street, the Garrick was a combination theater and office building, 17 stories high.  The architecture was by the noted firm Adler & Sullivan.  When it opened in 1892, it was called the Schiller Building, and the theater featured stage plays.

The Schiller eventually became the Garrick, and live theater gave way to movies.  The Balaban & Katz chain bought the building.  In February 1960, the Garrick was one of 38 structures included on Chicago’s first list of architectural landmarks.

Two months after the designation, the office tower was cleared of tenants.  In May Balaban & Katz announced the building would be demolished.  Now, in June, the city’s commission on architectural landmarks ruled it was “not feasible” to save the Garrick.

“The office building has proved to be uneconomical for the owners to operate for some years,” the commission said.  “The design of the theater is such that it is virtually impossible to adapt it to the present wide-screen requirements of a motion picture house.”  The wreckers could get on with their work.

Preservationists were stunned.  What good was landmark status if a building could be torn down so easily?  Mayor Richard J. Daley came out in favor of saving the Garrick.  He appointed a commission to study the matter.  Meanwhile, the city refused to issue a wrecking permit.

The owners went to court.  Demonstrators marched with “Save the Garrick” signs.  Aldermen toured the shuttered building, and discussed whether the city could use it.  A few people declared that the Garrick was a “useless relic,” and that the property owners should be free to dispose of it.

In November the appellate court ruled that the city had acted illegally in denying a wrecking permit.  The issue was decided.  On January 16, 1961, demolition began.

6-2--second city.jpg

Part of the Garrick facade was saved.  Featuring portraits of German writers, it is incorporated into the Second City Theater building.  And as a result of the Garrick battle, Chicago’s landmark preservation ordinance has been strengthened.



1 Response to “Save the Garrick! (6-1-1960)”

  1. 1 Garry June 2, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Tearing down the Garrick for a miserable parking garage is easily the worst crime against architecture in this city. It’s even worse than the wrecking of the Old Stock Exchange & the Concourse of Union Station.
    The only comparable in this country was NYC allowing the wrecking of Penn Station.
    If Daley had actually wanted it saved, it would’ve been saved as the judges would have obeyed orders like the good soldiers they were. It was almost next to City Hall & could have been rehabbed for city & county offices.

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