PEOPLE SAVING PLACES: Reflecting on 25 years of LI’s ‘Most Endangered’ Program

(Cook County Hospital undergoing restoration. Credit: Liz Chilsen)

May 28, 2019

*This article originally appeared in the May 2019 edition of LI’s print newsletter, The Arch.

Every year since 1995, Landmarks Illinois has issued its “Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois” – a statewide list that helps people working to save significant historic places under threat. Known as the “Ten Most Endangered” until 2015, the list has been the most prominent advocacy program of Landmarks Illinois for the last two-and-a-half decades.

In recognition of the 25th anniversary of the program, Landmarks Illinois has done a retrospective – looking back on the saves, lessons and inspiring stories of people coming together in communities across the state to preserve places that are important to them and that celebrate their unique heritage and built history. “We hope by announcing this ‘Top 10’ list, preservation solutions can be found for these sites,” former LI President Brad White said in 1995 when announcing the inaugural list. Twenty-five years later, Landmarks Illinois still believes the Most Endangered program is the best way to bring attention to threatened sites in the state.

Our website,, features stories of former “Most Endangered” sites from every year of the program since 1995. These stories reflect back on why these places are significant to our state’s history, why Landmarks Illinois called attention to them the year they were included on our Most Endangered list and what preservation efforts took place immediately after the listing as well as in the years since.

(North Shore Station. Credit: Liz Chilsen)

Take the North Shore Station in Skokie, for example, one of LI’s first “Most Endangered” sites when the program began in 1995. LI called attention that year to the village-owned station on Dempster Street due to a demolition threat. CTA had discontinued use of the station in 1963, and by 1992, talks of demolition emerged. At the time, the Village of Skokie planned to tear down the 1925, Prairie-style station to make way for a new transportation center. Following the Most Endangered listing, the village agreed to lease an adjacent lot to relocate the endangered station. Two local developers, Taxman Corporation and Terraco, Inc., purchased the station in 2002 and relocated it, and architects Antunovich Associates helped to rehabilitate the historic station for new retail use. The rehabilitation, honored with a Landmarks Illinois 2004 Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Preservation Award, is an example of multiple parties coming together to find a solution and retain a community asset.

As we reflect on these stories, we also recognize the preservation challenges that have remained constant throughout the 25-year history of the “Most Endangered” program. A lack of public funding to maintain and preserve old, historic spaces continues to be a main barrier to preservation. This proves true for both small municipalities as well as the State of Illinois, which has proposed selling three-time Most Endangered site, the Post-Modern James R. Thompson Center in Chicago’s Loop due to budget shortfalls.

(Marbold Farmstead. Credit: Liz Chilsen)

We have seen private property owners struggle with funding gaps as well. Marbold Farmstead in Menard County was included on LI’s Most Endangered list in 2012 following the purchase of the farmstead by a nonprofit organization after years of vacancy and neglect in private ownership. The Historic Marbold Farmstead Association (HMFA) has since leveraged the Most Endangered listing to find funding solutions for preserving the site – with the goal of turning it into a living history farm with interpretive tours. The group successfully paid off the mortgage for the farmstead in 2014, hosts annual events like antique fairs that help raise money for ongoing restoration projects, and increases its engagement with the community every year.

(Longfellow Elementary School. Credit: Liz Chilsen)

The Most Endangered program has sparked many grassroots preservation efforts like this, bringing together like-minded people in communities who, even years later, continue to work together to save places important to them. Another example of this is Friends of Longfellow School, which formed after LI included the Longfellow Elementary School in Rock Island on our 2007 Most Endangered list following Rock Island School District’s announcement it would be closing the historic school, built in 1934. A local institution, the Keystone Neighborhood Association, created the Friends of Longfellow group, which led successful advocacy campaigns that ultimately convinced the school administration to retain and repair the existing Longfellow School and even construct an architecturally appropriate addition to accommodate growth for 150 more students. The group has sustained its advocacy work, ensuring Longfellow Elementary continues to serve as a beloved school and center of the community.

Visit the Most Endangered page on our website,, to read more inspiring stories from the past 25 years of the Most Endangered Historic Places in Illinois.

Learn more about Most Endangered 25th Anniversary

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