Paul Waggoner moved into his six-room apartment and gallery at 24th and Cottage Grove four years ago after spending more than six months and $2,000 transforming it into the new home of the International Arts Club, the gallery and gathering place he founded in 1987. Last December he received a letter from the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority notifying him that the building, which is more than 125 years old, would be demolished to make way for parking for McCormick Place. Waggoner has until May 1 to move his possessions, including more than 200 paintings, sculptures, and textiles, to a new place.
Waggoner has bounced around the city for nearly 25 years. “I have moved many times, usually when the rents go up so much I couldn’t afford it. Then I move on to where I could find decent rent to do what I want to do.” In 1986, after the rent tripled for the two floors he leased at 62 W. Ontario, he moved to 2323 S. Prairie. Seven years later he was thrown out of that location to make way for the McCormick Place expansion.
“I’m not in great distress over this at all,” says Waggoner. “It’s not as if I’m being put out in the cold. They’re going to give me an allowance for the move.”
Waggoner, who leads tours at the nearby Glessner and Clarke houses and Second Presbyterian Church, is far more concerned about the fate of the old Ginn & Company building down the street at 2301 S. Prairie. The 92-year-old Arts and Crafts-style building designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw was slated for demolition six years ago to make room for parking. Waggoner and a group of concerned citizens formed the Howard Van Doren Shaw Society, arguing that Shaw, who also designed the Goodman Theatre, the Lakeside Press building, and the interior of the Second Presbyterian Church, among many other local structures, was too important an architect for his work to be razed so casually. The pressure worked: the MPEA spent more than two and a half million dollars renovating the building, then moved its corporate offices there.
But last winter Waggoner was waiting for a bus with some MPEA employees, who told him that the building would be included in some new demolition plans. Since then, the Shaw Society and the Landmarks Preservation Council have again been entreating the MPEA to spare the building.
“Shaw has gotten short shrifted,” says Waggoner. “In time there will be much more of an awareness of how much he contributed to Chicago architecture. . . It’s ironic that we have this monstrous self-ruling agency that is wiping out Chicago’s history for their supposed improvement of the town.”
Jack Johnson, the MPEA’s director of government and community relations, says, “We’re exploring options to see if there’s a middle ground between outright destruction of the building and continuing the building as it is.”
For now Waggoner has more immediate concerns: the site of his own relocation. Instead of wringing his hands, though, he’s planning one last bash.
“We’ll see what happens,” he says. “If I can’t get a place between now and the first of May, I will have to put things in storage and continue to look for a place. But in the meantime I will have a good party. I love to get people down here.”
Friday’s free farewell fete will feature a Haitian buffet, palm reader and vocalist Dara Cox, music by IAC regulars Rafo’s International Combo, and art “priced for quick sale.” It starts at 5:30 at the IAC, 2362 S. Cottage Grove. Call 312-567-9899 for more info. –Cara Jepsen
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Waggoner at 2301 S. Prairie photo by Dan Machnik.