November 30, 2020
Nearly 15 years after first launching the Recent Past Survey of Suburban Cook County, Landmarks Illinois has released an updated and revamped online database that allows visitors to easily search for and learn about non-residential architectural resources built between 1935 and 1975 in dozens of Chicago suburban communities.
The new Recent Past Survey database can be found on Landmarks Illinois’ website. A previous version of the database was housed externally from the organization’s current website. Visitors are encouraged to explore the updated and extensive database, which to date contains documentation of more than 4,100 commercial, institutional, office and religious structures in 70 municipalities in Cook County, Illinois.
The Recent Past Survey of Suburban Cook County is a project first launched in 2006 in partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. Almost every year since 2006, SAIC students have surveyed suburban Cook County communities to document unique, modernist structures built during a 40-year-period after World War II in what is commonly referred to as our “recent past.”
“This long-term survey effort spans communities from the North Shore to the far south suburbs and has produced a treasure trove of data” said Lisa DiChiera, Landmarks Illinois Director of Advocacy who spearheaded the project for the organization. “The database documents the incredible work of firms like C.F. Murphy Associates, SOM, Perkins + Will, Belli & Belli, Loebl, Schlossman and Bennett, and Loebl, Schlossman, Bennett and Dart in addition to the humble, yet beautiful buildings designed by lesser-known, local architects.”
While some buildings included in the Recent Past Survey Database have sadly been demolished since they were documented by SAIC students, many have been maintained, rehabilitated and reused.
“The level of preservation of these places demonstrates how well-designed buildings of the Mid-century period still have a purpose and prominence in our region’s built environment,” said DiChiera.
SAIC instructor and preservation architect Charles Pipal has for years led students in their surveys of Cook County’s recent past architectural resources. He said the partner project between SAIC and Landmarks Illinois has provided students with the opportunity to put into practice the skills they learned in the classroom.
“Our ongoing partnership with Landmarks Illinois has been fruitful and has given us a clearer vision of the rich variety of recent past resources in Chicagoland,” Pipal said. “Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize just how special these buildings are, as they aren’t old enough to appear charming or sacred and not new enough to look fresh and current. The survey has revealed some real gems that were hiding in plain sight.”
Details on documentation
Under the guidance of Pipal, SAIC Students conducted field inspections and at times conducted interviews with property owners and did additional background research to compile details on each property included in the survey. Such research included locating building permits and periodicals of the period to verify construction dates, architects and original building owners and uses. All of this information is documented in the Recent Past Survey online database. The survey has been generously supported since 2010 by the Jocarno Fund. Initial financial assistance for the survey in years prior came from the Kohler Intervention Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
Sheila Webb is a former SAIC student who worked on the Recent Past Survey and, as a Landmarks Illinois intern in 2019 and 2020, has been instrumental in launching the new online database. Her work has included uploading data and photos from the most recent year of SAIC student surveys and identifying and replacing missing or poor quality photos.
“As a student in Professor Pipal’s 2018 class, I realized right away what a great opportunity this was to have hands-on surveying experience documenting a period of architecture that is often overlooked and do it with Illinois’ leading preservation organization,” said Webb. “I, like so many fellow SAIC surveyors, I fell in love with the churches, office buildings, libraries and other structures we documented. It was very rewarding to continue this work as a Landmarks Illinois intern to help create a database that it’s more complete and easy to use. I hope it helps others to appreciate the true treasures of recent past architecture in Chicago’s suburbs.”
While the new database includes thousands of property photos, including some that have been updated, the survey is still missing photography documentation of approximately 300 properties throughout suburban Cook County communities. Landmarks Illinois is currently seeking volunteer photographers to take and submit photos on these properties for use in the online database. If you are interested, please contact Lisa DiChiera at firstname.lastname@example.org. She can provide additional information on the municipalities where these properties are located and more details on each structure that requires photograph documentation.
explore the database
(TOP MAIN PICTURE: 667 Burnham Ave., Calumet City)