Preservationists balk at proposed demolition of building once home to real estate giant Rubloff

They argue the Sapphire Building would have been protected — at least for 90 days — if Chicago had an updated Historic Resources Survey.

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A demolition permit has been issued for the Sapphire Building, at 2800 W. Peterson Ave. in the West Ridge neighborhood, but preservationists say it is historically significant.

A demolition permit has been issued for the Sapphire Building, at 2800 W. Peterson Ave. in the West Ridge neighborhood, but preservationists say it is historically significant.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A West Ridge building that preservationists say is historically significant is set to be razed after a demolition permit was issued December 16, but preservationists are arguing it would have been protected — at least for 90 days — if Chicago had an updated Historic Resources Survey.

The building, known as the Sapphire Building at 2800 W. Peterson Ave., was purchased by RefugeeOne, a refugee resettlement agency, in August.

Jims Porter, a spokesperson for RefugeeOne, said he was not aware that some preservationists hope the building could be saved but added that keeping the facade would “add significantly to the cost” and thus is unlikely to happen.

The group, at 5705 N. Lincoln Ave., plans on raising $5 million to build new offices, a sewing workshop and child care center on the site, and hopes to begin construction in the spring.

The Sapphire Building, located at 2800 W. Peterson Ave. in the West Ridge neighborhood.

The Sapphire Building, located at 2800 W. Peterson Ave. in the West Ridge neighborhood.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

The building was built in 1960 and designed by architect Henry L. Newhouse II. In its early years, the building was called the “Business House” and is a fine example of mid-century modernist architecture,according to Preservation Chicago executive director Ward Miller.

In 1966, the building housed the North Side headquarters for real estate developer Arthur Rubloff, who had previously developed North Michigan Avenue and coined the name “Magnificent Mile.”

Miller explained that the building likely would have been protected, at least for 90 days, if Chicago had an updated Historic Resources Survey.

The last survey, started in 1983 and published in 1996, identified and color-coded buildings more than 50 years old, with red being used for the most important for world-renowned buildings like the Tribune Tower and Auditorium Theater, and orange being used to label significant churches, synagogues and other buildings important to Chicago history.

The color coding did not offer protection by itself, but in 2003 the city passed a demolition delay ordinance that says no demolitions can take place for 90 days once a permit is issued for red- or orange-rated buildings. This came after the original Chicago Mercantile Exchange Building, built in 1927 at Franklin and Washington, which had been coded orange, was demolished. To this day, the site remains an empty lot.

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Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) said she had not determined her position on demolishing the building.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th) said she has not determined her position on demolishing the building.

She was not aware of any concerns from preservationists. Her office and RefugeeOne will meet with the community about the project.

“I have not given my support to them and I have told them that we must have a community meeting before things move forward,” Silverstein said.

Miller said Chicago is lagging behind other cities when it comes to protecting buildings.

“In Miami, Florida, there is a district of buildings that are similar to this that are landmarked because they are nicely crafted, mid-century buildings,” Miller said. “The reason Chicago isn’t leading the pack on this is because we don’t have the most updated survey. Our city really does need to invest more time and money in protecting its built environment.”

He added that Preservation Chicago is currently advocating for more staff to be added to the Department of Planning and Development’s historic Preservation Division but knows it’s a tough sell, given COVID and the city’s finances.

“This is not really a time to discuss that with COVID, but before this it was because of city budget issues and before that it was because of the national financial crisis in 2008,” Miller said. “It’s always something that keeps more staff from being hired. We should be looking at several landmarks and districts every month with the development pressure we have. There is so much need but so little capacity to do that. We need aldermen, city officials, planning officials to really look at protections for buildings like this and others across the city.”

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