Historic Austin building lands on 'endangered list'

Austin's Laramie State Bank among Preservation Chicago's '7 Most Endangered Buildings' of 2019

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By Michael Romain

Editor

One of Austin's most iconic buildings is back in the news after landing on Preservation Chicago's "7 Most Endangered Buildings" list for 2019 (which actually included 9 properties).

The Laramie State Bank, 5200 W. Chicago Ave., was built in 1929 and designated a Chicago Landmark by the City in 1995. But despite the distinction, the building "was foreclosed upon, has sat vacant for many years, and is suffering from considerable deferred maintenance," according to the 93-page document that details the properties listed. 

Preservation Chicago, an advocacy organization that "protects and revitalizes Chicago's irreplaceable architecture, neighborhoods and urban spaces," according to its website— announced the list during a press conference on Feb. 27. 

In 2017, Austin attorney, business owner and resident James Bowers wrote in Austin Talks that the building was the equivalent of Austin's "Mt. Rushmore" and is "one of the finest examples of Art Deco commercial architecture in the world."

Bowers, a local history enthusiast, added at the time that "word has it that the Cook County Land Bank Authority may soon acquire the Laramie State Bank." The building isn't listed in the Land Bank's Interactive Property Viewer, which lists the buildings and vacant parcels that are available for purchase through the county authority. 

"The building is frequently on the docket at Building Court," Preservation Chicago wrote of the Laramie State Bank. "A portion of the roof collapsed in 2018. Emergency repairs are being considered to stabilize the building, but the fate of Laramie State Bank Building hangs in the balance." 

Designed by the architectural firm of Meyer & Cook, the Art Deco building "is an excellent example of the strong confidence and architectural exuberance of the 'Roaring Twenties,'" the Preservation Chicago document explains. 

"Unlike the more typical limestone bank buildings of the period with their reserved and serious Neo-Classical design, the vibrant mustard, celery green and cream terra cotta bas-relief sculpture" of the building "is a vivid visual celebration of American desires for wealth and abundance." 

The original Laramie State Bank, the institution that gives the building its name, closed in 1930, in the wake of the Great Depression, and the building was occupied by Citizens National Bank from 1946 until 1991, according to Preservation Chicago. 

Some Austin residents purchased the building in 1994 and had intended to use it as a banquet facility and to house retail and restaurant establishments. The "significant costs associated with the terra cotta repair," however, "were prohibitive" for the owners, who "earnest wanted to restore the building." 

City of Chicago building records show that a 2017 inspection found a range of maintenance problems with the building, which "reached a critical stage in late 2018 when a portion of the roof collapsed," Preservation Chicago notes. 

Other endangered buildings listed by Preservation Chicago included the Thompson Center in the Loop; Jackson Park, South Shore Cultural Center & Midway Plaisance in the Hyde Park, Woodlawn and South Shored communities; and the Seven Continents/Rotunda Building at O'Hare International Airport. 

"This year's threats were so extensive, we had to add a +2," said Ward Miller, Preservation Chicago's executive director, in a statement. 

CONTACT: michael@austinweeklynews.com

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