Preserve — don’t demolish — Peterson Avenue’s unique modernist streetscape

Peterson Avenue’s nearly 2 miles of postwar modern buildings is well worthy of attention. And preservation.

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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

You might not immediately notice the commercial architecture along Peterson Avenue as you roll by at 30 miles an hour.

But the street’s nearly 2 miles of unique, often idiosyncratic, single-story and two-story postwar modern buildings between Western and Kedzie avenues are worthy of attention. And preservation.

We say this as news comes that a demolition permit was issued for the former Sapphire Building, a clever, low-slung limestone and glass building constructed in 1960 at 2800 W. Peterson Ave. in the West Ridge neighborhood.

The Sapphire Building and its many postwar neighbors on Peterson Avenue compose a collection of eye-catching structures built when the street, as a part of U.S. 14, was a main route in and out of town.

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The street is a feast of buildings with glass walls, accordion-style roof lines and entrances marked by stylish metal screens and concrete breeze blocks.

This isn’t the downtown steel-and-glass midcentury modernist architecture by celebrated architects such as Mies van der Rohe, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, or C.F. Murphy Associates. It is, rather, modernist architecture’s lunch-bucket cousin from the neighborhood, putting in work along Peterson Avenue in the form of dentist offices, stores, small offices and medical buildings.

The Sapphire Building was once the North Side office of Arthur Rubloff, the real estate mogul credited with redeveloping North Michigan Avenue and nicknaming it “The Magnificent Mile,” according to the group Preservation Chicago.

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

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

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Demolition would mean “another loss for that area of midcentury modernist structures that should have some protections [along with] encouraging reuse and investment in these commercial structures,” said Preservation Chicago Executive Director Ward Miller.

And the losses could continue without some kind of intervention. Many of the structures on Peterson have fallen into disrepair and are vacant. The Sapphire Building’s new owners, RefugeeOne — an organization that helps refugees get resettled — said it wants to rehab the structure but then determined that wrecking the edifice and building anew was more cost-effective, the group’s advocacy director told Block Club Chicago last August.

We believe Peterson, along with Lincoln Avenue in the West Town neighborhood, has the makings of a great landmark district.

But if that’s to happen, the city must get the ball rolling. And soon.

Send letters toletters@suntimes.com.

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

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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