Is Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital terminal?

The days may be numbered for the quatrefoil building at 333 E. Superior in Chicago, the old Prentice Women's Hospital, where both my children were born.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital, which opened a shiny new Prentice in 2007, plans to tear down the old building to put up a new research center. Preservationists are gearing up for a fight to preserve Bertrand Goldberg's 1975 design, which echoed some elements of his hugely successful Marina City downtown residential development, finished in 1964.

Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital
Bertrand Goldberg's Prentice Hospital

Hospital buildings don't have long lives; indeed, they are often obsolescent soon after they are built.

That was certainly true of NMH's Gothic-style Wesley Hospital, so impressive it was subtitled the "cathedral of healing." Wesley opened on Dec. 6, 1941, literally on the eve of U.S. involvement in World War II, which changed everything, as wars so often do.

The new Prentice now stands at 250 E. Superior, on precisely the spot Wesley once occupied on the NMH campus.

NMH's first women's hospital shared space at 333 E. Superior with the Stone Institute of Psychiatry, which stayed after labor and delivery et al. moved from the poured-cement structure into the new Prentice. The psychiatry department will move out in September, and the building will then be torn down, according to Northwestern University spokesman Al Cubbage.

The university explored and rejected the idea of recycling the existing building for another use, Cubbage says.

"At this point, the university’s plans are to take that building down and use that area for additional research facilities that would be constructed in the future,” Cubbage told the Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin.

The "old" Prentice has many detractors who believe the building is ugly. Even when my younger daughter was born there 13 years ago, mothers (and doctors) were complaining the facility was outdated.

Prentice was built to last 30 to 40 years; however, the services it offered were so popular it barely made it past 20 years. Planned for 5,000 annual births, it was handling more than 10,000 a year at the end.

And, things changed. The obstetric anesthesiology department, which by 2007 was hugely important, was not on the drawing board when the facility was built.

I loved the old Prentice — its pie-shaped rooms, the intimacy of its floors, the stunning views of Lake Michigan and the city.

Preservationists are understandably upset about the building's impending demise, and are hoping to succeed with an end-run around NMH. Goldberg historically is an important Chicago architect, but his work isn't old enough to have gained the gravitas it deserves, or the protection it needs in terms of landmark status on a local or national basis — and that includes Marina City.

The local alderman, Brendan Reilly, has secured a 60-day delay, which might give friends of "old" Prentice a chance to organize.

Personally, I would bet on the hospital getting its way on the "old" Prentice. As Mark Twain said, they aren't making any more land these days.

Northwestern University/NMH, a major medical school/hospital/research complex, is likely to prevail in doing what it has done for decades on its lakefront campus — raze an old hospital building to create a new facility that reflects the latest knowledge, technology and priorities.

I'll be very sad to see the old girl go, if indeed that is how this story ends.

Here's a bit of irony: “Bertrand Goldberg: Architecture of Invention," opens September 10 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Photo by Delia O'Hara

Birth news

Yipes! That was a long hiatus! So sorry. Hope not to do that again.

I am back on Birth Story with huge new respect for teachers, after serving winter quarter as an undergraduate lab instructor at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. What teachers do in the classroom, I discovered, is the tip of the iceberg of the job.

I am back. Yes! So back to our topic, sort of. Well, a tangent, actually.

Nearly every time I Google "birth news" looking for, you know, something to blog about — my topic is birth — I come up with some permutation on the "birther" flap calling for President Obama to produce (on a daily basis, as far as I can tell) his birth certificate. Otherwise, critics will assume he was born in Kenya, his father's country of origin.

Barack Obama

Is he? Or isn't he?

Donald Trump and Whoopi Goldberg got into a dustup on "The View" last week about Obama's alleged reluctance to produce his birth certificate. (Just Google "birth news.")

The next day, "The View" ladies showed what they said was a copy of Obama's birth certificate.

Ben Smith at Politico wrote yesterday that the document Trump claimed was his own birth certificate, produced to needle the President, is not in fact Trump's official birth certificate. (But then Trump did come up with the right one.)

All of which just tells you that you can't go wrong, publicity-wise, getting a corner of this issue, or non-issue, as the case may be. Maybe I'll get a lot more hits today than I do ordinarily, writing about boring old childbirth.

The Arizona legislature is considering legislation that would require the state to sign off on proof of U.S. birth from presidential candidates. (They wouldn't let me teach at Medill until I produced proof of U.S. birth. Surely presidential candidates don't get a pass on that.)

The House version of the Arizona bill calls for evidence that that baby dropped onto U.S. soil, while the Senate version of the bill includes a definition of a "natural" U.S. birth as one to individuals who were U.S. citizens at the time.

I think both those elements have to be there, actually. That is, proof of either of those things ought to be enough, and I think maybe we need some laws to clarify that.

Even though some people go to great lengths to manipulate the law to convey U.S. citizenship to their infants like, allegedly, the Chinese women Jennifer Medina writes about in the New York Times today, it is important for anyone born in the United States to be an "automatic" citizen. Anything else is a total repudiation of what the United States has been, and stood for, for more than two centuries.

At the same time, we live in a small world. Pregnant U.S. citizens travel all the time for work and pleasure, and probably some other reasons, too, and they shouldn't be terrified about losing their children's full rights of citizenship if they happen to be abroad when their water breaks.

The Administration and numerous officials of the state of Hawaii, where Obama was by all accounts born on Aug. 4, 1961, have repeatedly confirmed the President's birth to a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. Two for two. (So that's settled, right?)

And whatever you think of Barack Obama, he is a stellar example of the promise the United States has made to its residents, going even beyond its citizens — that if you work hard, the sky is the limit on what you can achieve.

Well, that's my two cents for today. It's nice to be back, although like teaching, blogging is a whole lot more time-consuming than I thought it would be before I actually tried it.

Happy spring, dear reader!

Watch this space

Reader — The postings have been few and far between lately, I know, and I am sorry.

I have been teaching this quarter at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, and blogging has been taking the back seat.

The quarter ends in the middle of March, and I will try to get back to regular posts after that.