Director of Advocacy Lisa DiChiera Marks 20 years with Landmarks Illinois  

(Photos: Lisa with Charlie Pipal and preservation supporters at a protest in 1995 to save Chicago’s 600 block of N. Michigan Avenue.)

March 4, 2020

Originally published in the February 2020 edition of The Arch newsletter


Landmarks Illinois Director of Advocacy Lisa DiChiera recently celebrated 20 years working for the organization. A Detroit native, Lisa has devoted two decades to helping people in Illinois save the places that matter to them and their communities. We asked Lisa to reflect on her time with Landmarks Illinois and tell us what it is like leading LI’s advocacy programs – the heart of our organization’s mission.

LANDMARKS ILLINOIS: Tell us what a typical day in the life of LI’s Director of Advocacy looks like. Is there such a thing as a “typical day?”

LISA DICHIERA: I am on the phone 50 percent of the day talking to anyone from public officials, building owners, local community advocates, realtors, developers, architects, planners, attorneys and students. My teenage sons have heard me doing this work all their lives. One of my sons recently told me sometimes I sound like a psychologist because I have to calm down panicked people who call our office for help. No day is typical, no building is typical, no scenario is typical – that’s what keeps this work interesting and challenging.

LI: What is the best advice you can give to people trying to save places in Illinois based on your two decades of experience providing resources to residents hoping to preserve important places in their communities?

LD: Don’t go it alone. Building a coalition is essential. Elected officials need to hear from many constituents. Also, don’t just focus on the aesthetics argument for a historic building’s value – focus on the economic, environmental, cultural and community benefit of historic preservation.

(Photo: Lisa with LI Membership Manager Marija Rich in the mid-1990s. Marija marked her 30th anniversary with LI in 2019.)

LI: You have seen a lot of preservation wins throughout your career at LI, as well as some losses. What preservation projects have had the biggest impact on you personally?  

LD: While we lost the building, and it had great personal meaning to me because I gave birth there, the advocacy effort to save Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital was the most rewarding effort in which I have been involved. The number of partners and supporters we had, which ranged from citizens to world-famous architects, was remarkable. What was more remarkable was in the end, political influence still won out, despite everything we did to demonstrate the building’s viability.

However, there were still great wins – a new recognition of Chicago’s important modern design legacy (Goldberg’s Marina City was landmarked soon after), national attention on our coalition’s effort and incredible comradery within the preservation advocacy and architecture community.

Recently, I have had the joy of working with homeowners on the 1000 S. Claremont block in the Tri-Taylor neighborhood who truly engaged in a grassroots effort to protect their homes. These homeowners, some of whom have lived in their cottages or on the block for over 50 years, all passionately believed in the need to protect their homes from future demolition threats and fundraised among each other to help pay for the services of an architectural historian to write the designation report. Now that the landmark designation is complete, there is immense pride and gratefulness for LI’s assistance. That makes my work completely worthwhile.

(Photo: Lisa with Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson at the Route 66 Association Hall of Fame and Museum in Pontiac, Ill. (left), and Lisa with architect John Vinci.)

LI: What do you hope you lasting legacy at Landmarks Illinois will be?

LD: I hope people will remember me as always accessible, helpful, sympathetic and friendly.

LI: How do you want to see historic preservation evolve in the future?

LD: With urban planners, economic development professionals, developers and elected officials understanding that protecting and reusing older buildings is sound land-use planning – it’s about managing change, not preventing it.

Kind Words from Lisa's Colleagues

(Photo: Lisa with a “Save the Magnificent Mile” poster during her first months on the job at LI.)

“Lisa is such an amazing resource of information and assistance, no matter how complex or out-there the project might be. Even with an endless list of advocacy efforts, she always takes the time to talk it through and make connections to experts and resources. I certainly couldn’t have taken on some challenging projects without the assistance and dedication of Lisa and Landmarks Illinois!”
– CHRIS ENCK, longtime LI supporter & Skyline Council member


“Too often groups find themselves embroiled in preservation battles for the first time; and Lisa mentors us with a confident and pleasant demeanor that encourages and empowers. Her extensive knowledge, experience and passion is exceeded only by the contagious enthusiasm and tenacity with which she approaches challenges.”
– DON BISSELL, Rockford preservation advocate


“Lisa is known state-wide for her preservation prowess! She truly is a modern day Preservation Superwoman!”
– ERIKA BLOCK, Landmarks Illinois Board Member & Skyline Council Member


“Lisa’s impact over the past 20 years is immeasurable. The staff and I see her tireless dedication play out daily, often spending hours with people guiding them as they save the meaningful places in their lives. She’s a legend in our field and we’re honored to have her talent at Landmarks Illinois.”
– BONNIE McDONALD, President & CEO, Landmarks Illinois


“A kind, smart and influential leader in our community, Lisa has been a mentor and role model to me in my career. Long ago, she encouraged me to pursue a graduate degree in preservation and then an internship at Landmarks Illinois. Since then we have been close colleagues, with a relationship that I believe has strengthened both our great organizations.”
– ZURICH ESPOSITO, Executive Vice President, AIA Chicago


“My one Landmarks regret is that Lisa was in Detroit when I was first on staff in the late 1990s. She was already a legend! I’m so grateful that I’ve had all these years since to work with her. She has a powerful ability to connect people, be patient, make things happen. Lisa, my gratitude for all you have done for every corner of Illinois knows no limits!”
– JEAN FOLLETT, longtime Landmarks Illinois Board Member, preservation consultant and former LI interim Executive Director

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