I was never particularly in love with the place. There were times I even found it to be a monstrosity that could not come down quick enough. Then I got to know its story and I changed my mind. As I considered its architect, its role in Chicago lives and its place on the urban scene, I even grew to somewhat (and I stress somewhat) love it and feel it should be here for a very long time.
I understand the arguments for its demolition….it is dilapidated and a new research facility would help thousands and spur on the Chicago economy. I don’t entirely understand why Northwestern can’t build elsewhere or the place can’t be repurposed, but the arguments to rip down the Old Prentice make sense. I get it. I also get the arguments for preservation, a side I eventually came down on, but if I am honest it was not the traditional “preserve great architecture” reason that made me most regret that very soon there will be a controlled implosion or deconstruction of an aging Goldberg. The reasons are really more in the realm of emotion.
One of those reasons comes from seeing the scar on the land and the little patch of tract housing that marks what was once the field hospital where I was born or the patches of earth that use to be the places I lived. Another comes from the conflict I felt when the St. John’s Cemetery was callously ripped from the earth for a runway at O’Hare in deference to its story and much comes from feeling that it is never good to surrender too quickly to Fortuna’s wheel or the wheels of progress.
The wheel will go where it will. This is true of fate and progress. That is the realization that the Stoic mind had of life and it is one that I have come to have with one particular landmark. It does not mean I have to like it. It only means there comes a point where realize you can fight neither fate nor progress.
I don’t know if I will watch any of the deconstruction. There is something about watching something die that makes the finality real. If I do, I am sure I will stand stone faced with a camera in tow. I will be stone faced but my interior will be soft and the end will be a reminder that places like relationships, lives, beliefs and so many other things can have a finitude that we can fight against for only so long. Preservation may be a good thing, but more often than not it is a dream rather than certainty.
Whatever goes up in the place of the Old Prentice will be beautiful as well as useful and practical. From the point of aesthetics I am sure to grow to love it, but it will be no “Old Prentice.” The visual marker of all those stories of life and birth will be gone. I can only hope that Northwestern has a good reason for this, that all the proposals for the site were impractical. I hope it was this more than mere laziness or not wanting to see something through and working for it that will lead to the destruction of what is essentially sacred space. If the reason is good, it will make Northwestern’s decision much easier to live with.
Old Prentice will come down. The demolition permit has been issued and fate and progress will have their day. Their wheel will go where it will. It is only appropriate that in the background the city’s wheel will carry lovers and children 150 feet into the air. Very few of these will be thinking they are the descendants of the blushing couples and childlike merriment that carried their ancestors 263 feet over the White City in the year of 1893 in a giant disc named for its inventor.
Like Ferris, the name Prentice is preserved. In the New Prentice, children are born and the lives of many are saved. As I think about the Old Prentice coming down, I can only think that many at the New Prentice are there because of the old and when I think of this, Fortuna does not seem all that cruel nor progress all that bad. Let the wheel go I say. Regret that it too often goes to finality, hoping that when it does, the reasons are good, but be glad it can also go to places of new stories and new graces.