Danger Zones: Decaying Chicago landmarks failing city inspections

ABC7 I-Team Investigation
CHICAGO (WLS) -- The ABC7 I-Team investigated decaying Chicago landmarks and failed inspections citywide.

These aren't just any buildings - they're Chicago icons dotting downtown and anchoring city neighborhoods. In September, a gargoyle fell from one landmark building and killed a 34-year-old woman as she was walking by. In the wake of that tragedy, the I-Team has uncovered failed inspections of other landmarks.

"I like old buildings, it's just a shame to see them fall apart," said Will Decker, of Decker Home Services.

Certified master inspector Will Decker is concerned that some of Chicago's landmarks are showing their age, like the Delaware Building at the corner of Dearborn and Randolph.

"The freeze thaw cycle, it's just jack hammering the thing apart," Decker said.

A failed city inspection from this year says the building's stone decoration is "deteriorated and perhaps might be loose" - a problem Decker says isn't fixed by just adding these metal mesh guards.

"It's a band-aid solution, as opposed to a permanent fix," Decker said.

He says the problem on the building's upper levels is the same as this loose stone around the base.

"It's exactly the same thing, but the problem is, you see where the stone fell off, if the stone falls off up there, it could cause a lot of damage," Decker said.

In May, just a block away, city inspectors failed the more than a century-old Marshall Fields Building, citing "severe structural cracks," "dangerous and hazardous pieces," and even problems with the building's "parapet walls," where the top of the exterior wall extends up above the flat roof. City inspectors found they're "leaning outward."

"Oh yeah, oh yeah, that's just bad. Loose stone at seven or eight stories? That's going to be a problem," Decker said.

"Oh my goodness, well I'd hate to see anything happening to our beautiful old Marshall Fields building," said Kathy Quinn Reyes.

Families bring out of town guests to see the old Marshall Fields building, but many people who work downtown don't spend their time looking up.

"I am concerned, I normally don't think about it. They should block all this off and start to work on this immediately," said Charlotte Searles.

Macy's officials say they met with the building department last year and created a yearly upkeep plan, and that their building is now classified as "safe with repair and maintenance program" by the city.

The I-Team also uncovered pigeon spikes blowing in the wind at the Hotel St.Benedict Flats at Chicago and Wabash, a problem city inspectors found in failed inspections in both 2012 and 2013. The building's owner gave the I-Team invoices saying the problems had been corrected, and says they're now working on again reattaching the spikes. But the spikes are still hanging off the building, over the sidewalk.

"A lot of these landmark buildings are older structures and they really do require maintenance," said Ward Miller, of Preservation Chicago.

On the Far North Side, the landmark old Engine Company 59 Firehouse is vacant, abandoned, and overgrown. New owners plan to close on the building and start renovations at the end of the year.

Unity Hall on the South Side failed its inspection in 2010, and a red "X" shows it's still vacant and dangerous, so firefighters stay out. The building's owner tells the I-Team it's being turned into new apartments.

A failed inspection this June at the Fullerton State Bank noted cracks and masonry problems and told building owners to immediately remove these two metal abandoned signs, still hanging over the sidewalk. A building representative says the city hasn't approved permits to do the required removal and planned upkeep.

"How do you even know how heavy that is?" said Art Shalk, of Lakeview.

Conservationists say the city needs more money and a bigger staff to keep landmarks safe and in one piece.

"It could be like an emergency fund for certain buildings tied to certain issues, to keep the water out, and to keep the deterioration from happening at a quicker rate," Miller said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel's office refused to provide anyone on camera to discuss this public safety concern.

In a written statement, city officials said they take the safety of all buildings very seriously, but it is the responsibility of the building owner to keep property in safe condition.

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