A tribute to David Bahlman, Landmarks Illinois former President

January 18, 2024


Landmarks Illinois and the entire preservation community were incredibly saddened to hear of our friend and former leader, David Bahlman, passing. David served as Landmarks Illinois President from 1999-2008, during which he led many high-profile preservation battles and raised the profile of, and respect for, the organization at a critical time. He was involved in major preservation efforts at Chicago’s Soldier Field, Old Cook County Hospital, Lathrop Homes and North Michigan Avenue, as well as the successful purchase of the Farnsworth House in Plano at auction — to name just a few. David was a true champion of historic preservation and made a lasting impact on Landmarks Illinois and preservation efforts throughout the state. He will be greatly missed.

Below we share memories from those who worked with David during his time at Landmarks Illinois.

David Bahlman at the Landmarks Illinois Preservation Ball in 2003.

Bahlman at a press conference outside Old Cook County Hospital in 2006.

Bahlman with members of the Landmarks Illinois staff in 2001.

Bahlman at the Farnsworth House in Plano following a flood.

Copies of Landmarks Illinois' former "CornerStone" newsletter announcing Bahlman's hire in 1999 and his departure in 2008.

Joe Antunovich

Chief Executive Officer & Founder of Antunovich Associates
Landmarks Illinois Board Member, former Chair & Vice Chair

I was blessed to have known my very dear friend and colleague, David Bahlman. David lived an extremely rich life surrounded by friends, family, art and a devotion to historic preservation.

We collaborated on many preservation ventures with David, none more important than saving the Farnsworth House and returning it impeccably to the public domain for the enjoyment of all. My favorite story of David was in New York attending the auction of the Farnsworth House at Sotheby’s. We were informed in the late morning that we were $2.5 million short of the expected winning bid, with the auction scheduled at 2 p.m. With several of us in attendance at Sotheby’s that day and able to form a quorum, David called for an emergency meeting of the Landmarks Illinois Finance Committee over lunch at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There, he fostered an idea of Landmarks Illinois contributing another $1 million, secured by the excess land adjacent to the Farnsworth House, and seeking a match from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Finance Committee passed his idea unanimously! Shortly after our lunch, the National Trust agreed to match our increased contribution! At 2 p.m. the auction started, and at 2:30 p.m. we took ownership of the Farnsworth House!

I will never forget David’s ever-present radiant smile that day and for weeks after. He was so proud. It was his finest hour. David may have moved on to a better place, but he will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, my good friend.

Lisa DiChiera

Former Director of Advocacy at Landmarks Illinois

David was a wonderful person to work for, as he encouraged a team work environment. He was a great mentor, especially in the areas of fundraising and growing the circle of support for historic preservation. He greatly professionalized the work we do at Landmarks Illinois. He was an early proponent of looking beyond architectural significance to make the case for saving an historic building. Our long-term advocacy for Old Cook County Hospital and many other places was focused on the sound economics of investing in older buildings – this included condition assessments by firms experienced in rehabilitation, economic analysis and reuse studies. This continues to be the basis of Landmarks Illinois’ work when urging public officials, owners and developers to reinvest in places that matter to Illinois communities.

Shelley Gorson

Former Landmarks Illinois Board Member & Chair

My first encounter with David was in 2003 when he and others took me to lunch to recruit me for the board of Landmarks Illinois. His huge warm smile and elegant charm got me at “Hello!” He exuded intelligence, integrity, tolerance and humor, and never took himself too seriously despite his enormous accomplishments. No better man there ever was.

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