Cook County Hospital

Quick Stats

  • LISTED ON MOST ENDANGERED: 2005 (Also listed 2004, 2003 & 2001)
  • LOCATION: 1835 W. Harrison Street, Chicago, Cook County
  • STATUS: Redevelopment underway
  • BUILT: 1913
  • SITE TYPE: Hospital
  • ARCHITECTURE: Classical Revival
  • GEOGRAPHY: Chicago
  • OWNER AT TIME OF LISTING: Public, county
  • TREAT AT TIME OF LISTING: Demolition and redevelopment for new hospital
  • CURRENT USE: Commercial space and hotel (once rehabilitation is complete)
  • DESIGNATIONS: National Register of Historic Places (2006)
  • LI PROGRAMS & AWARDS: Legendary Landmarks Honorees Toni Preckwinkle (2018) and Murphy Development Group (2019) recognized for their efforts in preserving the hospital building.
  • TAKE ACTION: Voice your support at future public meetings! Landmarks Illinois will share information regarding upcoming public approval phases when citizens can give input.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Historic Significance

In 1915, Cook County paid $3.5 million—$590 million in today’s dollars—to construct a new, state-of-the-art public hospital on the Near West Side of Chicago to help serve the city’s growing Eastern European immigrant population. The hospital’s two-block long, eight-story façade was one of the most majestic in the city, executed in the Beaux Arts classical style and replete with monumental columns, figures of lions and cupids, and a wealth of other terra cotta and granite ornament. Later additions expanded the size of the building to 3,000 beds. The teaching hospital quickly became known for its innovations in the medical profession, including the nation’s first blood bank and the discovery of sickle cell anemia. Its surroundings were beautified during the 1940s, when a park was created directly across Harrison Street from the hospital.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Threat at Time of Listing - 2005

In 1998, John Stronger County Hospital broke ground on a new $550 million construction just south of the historic Cook County Hospital. Although the county would first spend millions on asbestos cleanup, it planned to raze the hospital by 2003 and build a new park on the site. Meanwhile, the master plan called for the existing tree-filled park to be replaced with another new building – a use for which had yet to be defined.

Landmarks Illinois quickly pushed for the consideration of other uses for the historic building, meeting with local officials to encourage a feasibility study that would help determine the reuse potential of Cook County Hospital. Landmarks Illinois also listed Cook County Hospital on its Most Endangered list for the first time in 2001 to help bring public attention to the issue. Such advocacy efforts convinced the Cook County Board to delay the 2003 demolition. The fate of the hospital, however, remained far from certain, leading Landmarks Illinois to list the structure on its Most Endangered list three additional times in 2003, 2004 and 2005.

In 2003, after urging the county for several years to consider reuse options, Landmarks Illinois released its own Reuse Plan for Cook County Hospital. It called for private redevelopment of the building and included detailed plans and cost estimates for the restoration work. The plan was based on in-depth conversations with developers, architects and market specialists, all of whom agreed that “throwing” away the former Cook County Hospital made poor economic sense. The report concluded that the steel-frame building remained structurally sound, and its distinctive layout lent itself well to a range of uses. Further, a wide variety of preservation and affordable housing incentives, plus the savings from not having to demolish the former hospital, could be used to make up the difference between rehabilitation costs and income. Landmarks Illinois met with every member of the Cook County Board to share these findings, highlighting the economic development potential and cultural importance of this landmark building.

Over the following years, Landmarks Illinois continued to advocate for reuse and stave off new efforts toward demolition. LI testified before the Cook County Board, prepared revised reuse plans, provided examples of other hospital reuse models successful throughout the nation, met with county and local officials, wrote Op-Eds and worked with the media to bring attention to the plight of this “Great Lady of Harrison Street.” Landmarks Illinois also joined with local advocates and supportive county board members to help add Cook County Hospital to the National Register of Historic Places in 2006, enabling the use of Federal Historic Tax Credits for redevelopment.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

Preservation Efforts

Thanks to this continued advocacy, the support of the community and local leadership efforts, Old Cook County Hospital was put on the path toward rehabilitation and reuse when Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced an invitation charrette process to “unlock the value” of Old Cook County Hospital. LI, with several other local organizations, participated to demonstrate, once again, the viability of reuse. The charrette resulted in a county RFP process. In 2016, Preckwinkle announced a successful bidder, Murphy Development Group, and a development plan for the historic site. On June 15, 2018, restoration and redevelopment broke ground on the historic hospital. Present at the groundbreaking ceremony were Cook County Board President Tony Preckwinkle, Mayor Rahm Emanuel, several Chicago alderman and Cook County commissioners as well as Landmarks Illinois’ President and CEO Bonnie McDonald and Director of Advocacy Lisa DiChiera. “This beautiful historic building has sat empty and unused for far too long,” said Preckwinkle of the restoration. “This project creates historic and lasting urban transformation in the heart of our County.”

After nearly two decades of vacancy, Chicago’s Cook County Hospital will be restored and redeveloped into a mixed-use property featuring a Hyatt Place/Hyatt House hotel, accompanied by medical office space and retail. Leading the project is the Civic Health Development Group (CHDG) and Chicago-based developer John T. Murphy. The development plan is valued at over $1 billion and the project is expected to receive around $24 million in federal historic tax credits. The new development is slated to open as soon as 2019.

(Photo credit: Liz Chilsen)

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