Campus landmarks vie for restoration funds

By Isa Haviland

The Robie House and the Fountain of Time sculpture, both among the most distinctive landmarks on the U of C campus, are two of 25 historical Chicago monuments selected at the beginning of September as contenders to receive up to $1 million in preservation funding.

The preservation project, a joint effort of the American Express Partners in Preservation and the National Historic Trust Fund, was established to restore sites that play a significant role in their communities and in Chicago’s cultural history. A web-based voting process will allow Chicagoans to submit photographs, memories, and thoughts about each landmark. The site that receives the highest number of popular votes will receive the funding.

“It would be great if these monuments obtained funding,” said Hank Webber, vice president of community and government affairs for the University, in a phone interview. “It would allow them to continue to push along wonderful rehab projects in the community.”

Voting for the monuments will continue through October 10, at the project website . American Express, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and an advisory committee of local Chicago dignitaries will review the public’s votes and each site’s monetary needs to determine how the $1 million in preservation grants will be awarded. The sites awarded funding will be announced to the public in November.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House at 5757 South Woodlawn Avenue, a quintessential representative of the Prairie architectural style and a cornerstone of American architecture, would use funding to assist restoration of its original appearance. The Robie House recently underwent a $4 million exterior restoration process completed in 2004, and restoration to the interior has now begun. Funding allocated to the house would be used for “hardscaping” (lighting, drainage, and reproduction of iron gates), as well as for the complete interior restoration of the guest bedroom.

The site currently holds fifth place in the competition.

The Fountain of Time, located on the west end of Midway Plaisance, is a striking 127-foot long concrete sculpture created by Chicago artist Lorado Taft. The sculpture depicts Father Time watching from a reflecting basin over a procession of 100 human figures.

In 2002, the Chicago Park District and the Art Institute of Chicago’s B. F. Ferguson Fund completed a $1-million project to conserve the fountain’s sculptural figures, but the basin remains severely deteriorated. Funding allocated to the monument would go to restoration of the basin and lighting installation.

The University of Chicago owns the Robie House and leases it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which subleases the house at no cost to the Frank Lloyd Wright Home and Studio for operation and fundraising. The University has donated $100,000 to the restoration of the Fountain of Time sculpture.

Student Government promoted student participation in the Partners in Preservation voting process during O-Week, handing out flyers with information about the Fountain of Time and how to vote for the landmark.

Currently in first place on the website is the Pui Tak Center, a church-based community center in Chinatown that offers social services to Chinese immigrants. Other top-rated landmarks include the Bohemian National Cemetery, the Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Cathedral, and an exact replica of the Gokstad Viking ship that sailed from Norway to Chicago in 1893.