In recent months, a number of questions have been raised about the Rothschild/Goldblatt proposal. While many of these are legitimate concerns, they have received a one-sided treatment in the Sun-Times, which appears to be wholeheartedly committed to derailing the project. The administrators and designers who are responsible for it are at a considerable disadvantage in defending it, in that their responses can only be reported to the public by their chief antagonists.

The above statement appears in a ten-page report prepared by architects Ben Weese and Jack Hartray and issued August 14 by the Chicago chapters of the American Institute of Architects. The report warmly endorses the reconstruction of the former Goldblatt store at Van Buren and State to house the central branch of the Chicago Public Library. The next day the Sun-Times, in another of its articles about the Goldblatt project, did not mention the report until the article’s last two sentences. The Sun-Times hasn’t referred to it again.

The report says that the AIA “strongly defends the current policy of support, citing the excellent location, the appropriateness of the building for use as a library, and the numerous advantages (including monetary) of going ahead with the well thought out plans that have already been proposed.” Weese and Hartray say, in a paragraph titled “Trivia,” “Some recent newspaper reports on this project have appeared to be biased and sensational, even to the extent of publishing distorted drawings of interior spaces. If the sprinklers don’t work they will be fixed. The aisles will be wide enough to comply with the law. Asbestos will be isolated or removed. An efficient heating and ventilating system will be installed.”

In other words, in the eyes of the AIA, there is little merit to the crusade mounted by the Chicago Sun-Times to derail the Goldblatt conversion.

The Metropolitan Planning Council also continues to endorse the Goldblatt project. Mary Decker, the executive director, says that the council has just sent a note to the Library Board restating its support, assuming, she says, “that the library program fits the building and that it is structurally sound.” The note urges the board to make a decision within a month. “It infuriates us that so many people think that only a new building can house a world-class library,” Decker says. “Goldblatt’s is a beautiful old building that would make a wonderful library. It is well located for transportation, on a well-traveled street, safe at night.”

The Burnham Park Planning Board supports the Goldblatt conversion. Administrative assistant Barbara Lynne says, “There are a number of developers on our board and they seem to feel that the Goldblatt’s project is economically very feasible.” The League of Women Voters, the State Street Council, the Grant Park Cultural and Educational Community, Channel Two, Channel Five, Spertus College, and Friends of the Library have all endorsed the project.

Planning commissioner Elizabeth Holander is an enthusiast. “Goldblatt’s is a perfect addition to the South Loop,” she says. She adds, “I’ve seen the plans, and I think you can have a world-class library in an adaptive reuse. In fact, you can go around the country boasting about your adaptive reuse the same as you can about a new building.”

Are they all wrong? Misled? Is the Sun-Times right? Should we, as J. Terrence Brunner, executive director of the Better Government Association, says, “be grateful to Sun-Times reporter Charlie Nicodemus for hanging in there and forcing us to reevaluate the project”?

Others have worked on the library story, especially Tom Brune, but the story is really Nicodemus’s baby. Nicodemus is known among newspeople in town as a “bulldog.” One newsman says, “I’d hate to be a politician who Nick was after. He wouldn’t stop until he had him behind bars.” Another colleague says, “When he gets his teeth in your ankle, he doesn’t let go.” He’s been working, says the colleague, “all day long, day in and day out, on the story.”

Chicago purchased the Goldblatt building for $10 million in 1982, when Jane Byrne was mayor and her wheeling-dealing sidekick Charles Swibel was a member and unofficial chairman of the Library Board. Questions have been raised from time to time about the purchase, even including the role of the Sun-Times, which under then-owner Marshall Field and then-publisher Jim Hoge supported it. The debt-ridden, bankrupt department store chain was a major advertiser and the sale gave it the capital to reorganize. Lester B. Knight & Associates, the politically connected firm that Byrne hired to oversee the conversion, is no stranger to controversy, having played a central role in two recent and celebrated public building projects with huge cost overruns: the State of Illinois Building and the McCormick Place Annex.

Earlier this year, the Washington administration tried to respond to Nicodemus’s charges by showing reporters the most important documents pertaining to the building’s sale. Few of them could even be found. City officials suggested to the Sun-Times that members of the Byrne administration might have stripped the files in 1983 to prevent the new government from going over the sale.

The Goldblatt building was blocked off in 1982 so that demolition work could begin inside. Signs heralding the conversion were put up in the display windows. But then work stalled. Byrne couldn’t—or wouldn’t—raise the $600 million that was budgeted for renovating and equipping the department store. Byrne didn’t even raise enough money to do some preliminary work that Holabird & Root recommended strongly. As John Holabird says now, “It seemed to us that the city should have at least moved immediately to get rid of all the Goldblatt display material that was very flammable. They should have punched some holes to see about the ceiling conditions. But there was no money for it, and they said, ‘No testing.’ If they’d been serious about the project, they’d have done those things. It was clear that the library wasn’t high on anyone’s priorities.”

Earnest Barefield, chief of staff to Mayor Washington, says the present mayor always took the Goldblatt conversion seriously, but felt in the first three years of his administration that he could never get such a massive project approved by the City Council. If the library project was a priority of Mayor Washington, there is no evidence of it. But last fall, the mayor finally dusted off the Goldblatt project. Wheels begin to turn. And lo and behold, that venerable men-only institution concerned with Chicago’s welfare, the Union League Club, now raised objections. The club’s public affairs committee issued statements that the Goldblatt building was not desirable. The committee made no effort to contact the architects on the project to discover what the conversion might look like. It simply issued its opinion. Wilmont Vickrey, president of Vickrey/Ovresat/Awsumb, interior designers on the conversion, requested time to make a presentation to show the committee how the new library would be. Tom Welch of Holabird & Root, the subcontracting architects on the project, recalls that one of the committee members approached him before the presentation and said, “Don’t misunderstand. We respect your firm. We think you’ve probably done as good a job as can be done with an old building. But we want a new one.”

In an era when the preservation of historic buildings has become a public value, the Union League Club decided that this was one recycling job they were against, despite the fact that the 1913 building, built by Holabird & Roche, the forerunner of the present Holabird & Root, is a notable example of Chicago-style architecture, a terra-cotta-sheathed building with great charm. In its 1974 Chicago Landmark Structures: An Inventory, about Loop buildings, the Landmarks Preservation Council identified Goldblatt’s, historically known as the Rothschild Building, as a “select landmark” of “outstanding merit and historic significance.” Welch says he wondered at the time, “How would the Union League committee members feel if someone proposed tearing down their beautiful old building to build a new one?”

The Union League Club by itself could not derail the project. But the Sun-Times also stepped in. And on March 11, 1986, having never consulted with the architects, the Sun-Times published an editorial under the page-wide headline, “Library Lunacy.” “The city must junk that scheme … ” said the newspaper. “No serious attention has been brought to focus on the building’s structural inadequacies, the dubious financing of its purchase, the skyrocketing estimates of the costs of reconstruction and the crucial role of a central library in the cultural dynamics of a great metropolis.” The newspaper called the Goldblatt’s idea “third-rate” and declared, “The mere though is an abomination.”

The editorial promised: “Recent articles in the Chicago Sun-Times spotlighted these questions. More will follow in detail, in continuing depth and keener detail.”

Ultimate responsibility for the Goldblatt project lies with the mayor and the Department of Public Works, which oversees the construction of city-owned buildings. Direct responsibility belongs to the Library Board, which under Mayor Washington has enjoyed more latitude than boards have had under previous mayors. “The mayor selects boards and expects them to operate by themselves, leaves them free to operate by themselves,” says Ernest Barefield.

But that said, the officials who have suffered most from the Sun-Times‘s crusade have been the project’s architects, whose work has been made to look shoddy and ridiculous. Most of the attacks of Nicodemus and his colleagues have centered on the structural analysis and other aspects of the architectural plans. Lester B. Knight & Associates has had some design responsibility, most of it is shouldered by Holabird & Root. John Holabird says, “The amount my firm has spent defending itself against these attacks runs well into five figures.” He further says, “In the 100-plus years of this firm, we have never had an experience like this. The firm has always had a reputation for excellent documents, proper engineering techniques—we have a very conservative engineering department who never permit us to go ahead until they are sure this is safe and within accepted safety factors of materials. We don’t put our name on a drawing unless we are convinced, and all our engineers are convinced, that this is a competent project. There have been a lot of suggestions by the Sun-Times that the professions were not doing their proper work. I take exception to that. We worked exactly as we would for a private client. Nicodemus deserves a Pulitzer Prize for all the inaccurate remarks, innuendos, slurs, and big lies such as “known structural deficiencies’ which he planted and then used himself. This is bad journalism.”

Holabird & Root, since John Holabird Jr. And Eugene Cook took over the firm’s management in 1970, has designed and built “some of the neatest and tightest Miesian or late Chicago School structures to be found,” according to an article by Richard Guy Wilson in the February 1983 AIA Journal. “Clients return to them: Illinois Bell for 75 years. Monsanto for 40 years, and Hollister, a more recent client, has commissioned four plants and a corporate headquarters,” Wilson wrote. Of more significance to the matter at hand, the Holabird firm has restored to their original splendor the Marquette Building, which it built in 1894, the Cathedral of Saint James, the Cultural Center, and the Foellinger Auditorium at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and is now restoring the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and expanding the Chicago Historical Society. Some of these buildings date back to the time when the Goldblatt building was constructed and have some of the same structural qualities. The Holabird firm has designed over 100 buildings in central Chicago, including the Palmer House, the Sherman House, and the Stevens (Hilton) and LaSalle hotels; the Wieboldt store and the Carson Pirie Scott south addition; 333 North Michigan; the Marquettte, Chicago Board of Trade, Monadnock (south addition); and Palmolive (Playboy) buildings, and City Hall.

Holabird & Root has all the original plans for the Rothschild Building, which promises economies of time and money in renovating it. John Holabird says that the construction costs at the Cultural Center in the mid-70s exceeded original estimates because he didn’t have that building’s original plans and ran into difficulties he couldn’t foresee. But he knows more accurately what is in the walls, floors, and ceilings of the Goldblatt store.

Estimated construction costs have risen from $32 million in 1983 to $54 million in 1986. The reason is that the city loosened its belt and began accepting suggestions for better, costlier materials and additional facilities. Inflation also took its toll. Holabird says, “The first budget was ridiculously low, at first budgets often are, but the present budget has been determined from three different estimates, including the city’s own, and we feel confident it will hold.”

Now, Commissioner of Public Works Paul Karas has added another $16 million for additional expenses, contingencies, and for “management,” his term for the people he will hire to supervise the construction as a result of the Sun-Times crusade. “Every time we drop a bucket of cement,” he says, ‘they’ll put it on the front page.” He has added to the architect’s budget of $54 million an additional $1 million for a new sprinkler system, though the architects insist that this will not be necessary. He has added $1 million for the removal of asbestos, though no asbestos has been found anywhere in the building except in some piping, and the architects estimate that he removal will cost more than $100,000.

Karas and Library Board President Cannutte Russell asked the Better Government Association a few weeks ago to develop a “turnkey” proposal that would take the city and the board out of the library project completely. In a turnkey project, the developer has full responsibility for the project, including the financing. When the building is completed, the developer turns over the key to the owner, who rents it or buys back the property. The BGA came up with two ideas, one for a new library building on South State Street, another for a library below street level in Grant Park.

Asked if a turnkey approach would be cheaper for Chicago, Holabird smiled and pointed out that “the developer is in it to make money.” In the turnkey proposal that developer Richard Stein put forth for building a new library on South State Street, Stein set his fee at $6 million.

Library Commissioner John Duff came on the job last January, buoyed by talks with library people and architects in Chicago and around the country who believed that the Goldblatt conversion was a splendid idea. He asked for meetings with the editors of the daily papers. Two people at the Tribune met with him. “Ten or 11 were there at the Sun-Times,” he says. “We talked about the project. Nothing negative was said. Then, after the meeting, at the elevator, Nicodemus asked me, ‘How much is that project going to come to?’ I said, ‘Well, if you count everything, books, equipment, everything, it’s going to be about $100 million.’ He said, ‘Hmmm, $100 million. They didn’t predict that.’ I said, ‘I’ve read some of the things they said. When they said they could do the job for $35 million, that didn’t mean they could equip it for that. That’s been part of the confusion. The renovation itself has never been stated as more than $54 million. The other things are site acquisition and so on.’ He didn’t say anything.

“Then I heard that Frank Devine [then the Sun-Times‘s editor] was going to do a number on the Goldblatt building. So I called him and had dinner with him and he was very charming and gracious, but he said they had made up their minds to start a campaign against the building. I said, ‘What’s your objection?’ He said, ‘What my reporters tell me.’ I said, ‘I’d like to show you what’s involved.’ He said, ‘No, I don’t operate that way. I take my reports from my reporters. If I witness something or get involved myself then I’m going to prejudice their opinions.’ I though that was just an odd way to operate. I think if you have more information, it would be better than just taking what the reporter says. He said they were determined to go ahead, but I shouldn’t worry because they were going to support the library in other things.

“Then the campaign started. And it was full of mistakes from the beginning. That first editorial said, ‘Look what they did in Los Angeles.’ They did nothing in Los Angeles!”

The day after the “Library Lunacy” editorial, the Sun-Times published a correction: “The Chicago Sun-Times erred by stating in an editorial Tuesday that a new $110 million library in Los Angeles already has been built. It has not … . Work is to start in mid-1987 … . We will further [sic] details on the LA experience, and on libraries in other cities, to dramatize the lunacy of Chicago’s proposed channeling of $90 to $100 million into a new library at the vacant former Goldblatt’s State Street Store.”

Duff gets irate discussing the Sun-Times. “They keep talking about 152 pillars that they say are obstructions, when 60 of them are embedded in the wall and don’t obstruct anything. I said I thought the pillars added a natural sweep to the floors and they quoted me as saying, ‘the more the better.’ I never said that. Then they talked about other places like Dallas. And that was a distorted story. They said that Dallas built a 500,000-square-foot library for $42 million. Of that 500,000 square feet, more than half—I think it’s 300,000—is underground parking. I went down to Dallas and said, ‘How could they say that? This is equal to three or four stories of Goldblatt’s.’ Also, I counted the pillars in Dallas. The smallest number on any floor is 88. But Nicodemus didn’t say anything about that.”

Putting aside the question of whether the city’s purchase of the Goldblatt building five years ago was entirely on the up-and-up, Duff asks, “Would anyone suggest tearing down New York’s City Hall because Boss Tweed made over a million dollars in graft on the building?” He goes on to talk about the Union League’s contribution to the debate, mainly about its commissioning drawings of alternative plans from students at the University of Illinois and Illinois Institute of Technology. “One of them, the one done under Tigerman, was completely absurd because it would have turned Chicago into a reference library. We’d restore the reading-room idea with people bringing them books from the stacks. Everybody today wants an open-stack library.” (Stanley Tigerman is director of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago.)

Duff is not, he says, “sanguine” about the survival of the Goldblatt project, though he remains steadfast in his support of it. “I keep coming back,” he says, “to what Squires [James Squires, the Tribune‘s editor] said to me: ‘When a newspaper starts out with a negative campaign, they can just about destroy a project like this, or a person, if they want to keep after it. They can’t promote a person or a project, but they can destroy it.’ I can understand people’s hesitation. I can understand Paul Karas’s putting more money in for supervision. They will watch everything we do. I don’t know how you combat them.”

Duff shares a letter sent to him at his request by Tom Welch, Holabird & Root’s chief designer on the project. The letter, dated August 15, reads in part: “Much has been stated in the media regarding the question of the structural capacity of the Rothschild (Goldblatt’s) building to carry library loads. Holabird & Root’s professional judgment regarding this question is as follows: the building is unequivocally structurally sound for library use.” The emphasis is Welch’s.

In June, the BGA, inspired by the Sun-Times, got into the act. With the cooperation of the mayor and the Library Board, the BGA convened a “blue ribbon committee” chaired by mayoral adviser and insurance executive Alvin Robinson. Duff says that when he heard about the meeting, he called Brunner with a request to attend. Brunner turned him down, saying, “Everybody’s heard the library’s side.” In fact, the library’s side had hardly been told at all. Brunner did meet privately with Duff, however, and told him that he was opposed to the Goldblatt conversion, that he was for a new building.

In a three-week period, the BGA committee came up with two proposals. One of them was simply a concept, proposed by architect Lawrence Booth and businessman George Ranny, for an underground “garden” library in Grant Park that would tie in to a performing arts center in the park that they have been advocating for years. The other was Stein’s 11-story granite-and-glass building to be put up on the city-owned block kitty-corner from Goldblatt’s. This building would contain 492,741 square feet of usable space, compared to 650,000 square feet in Goldblatt’s, and would cost $88,864,000 to construct, compared to the $70 million estimated a few days ago by Paul Karas.

Stein’s project was examined and cost out, but the “garden” project is the one that was endorsed by the BGA and its blue ribbon committee—a three-story “bunker” (as it was called by Cannutte Russell) to be built in the declivity east of the railroad tracks in the park at Randolph and Columbus Drive. This supposedly visionary project would be landscaped on top and would be connected to the Cultural Center by an underground tunnel. To match the floor space of the Goldblatt building, this bunker would have to be about two and a half blocks long and a block wide. But, of course, it could borrow from the 150,000 square feet in the Cultural Center. Brunner talked romantically about “sitting on the hill and listening to concerts in the park.” The only trouble with that, architect Jack Hartray points out, is that the top of the “hill” would be level with Randolph Street.

There are obvious questions about such a project. One is flooding—Parks Commissioner Walter Netsch says that the Park District spends $1 million a year to pump water out of Grant Park’s underground garages. Another is landscaping on top of the building—Netsch says it would take eight feet of dirt. There are questions about size, lighting, cost—Tom Welsh says, ‘You could goldplate Goldblatt’s for the cost of building that project.” And all the questions are overshadowed by the fact that anything built in Grant Park must first have the unanimous approval of all the residents of Michigan Avenue along the length of the park. And it must withstand the public outcry at any suggestion to alter the park in any way that goes back to the birth of the city. Yet this is the proposal that the BGA and its blue ribbon committee prefer to converting a charming, sturdy old war-horse of a building on a busy thoroughfare in an area that has, since 1982, once again become filled with activity, a building that is close to the el, the subway, buses, and plenty of off-street parking, a building that offers lots of usable space today and room for expansion.

At the same time that the BGA held its press conference announcing its alternatives to Goldblatt’s, it issued a “Staff Analysis of the Process Behind the Decision to Fit Chicago’s New Central Library in the Goldblatt Building.” This report called the building’s purchase in 1981 a “spur of the moment decision” that “committed the CPL staff to the renovation of Goldblatt’s, forcing them to abandon the traditional process of first designing a well thought-out library program and thereafter constructing a building meeting these specifications. Instead the library staff has been compelled to tailor the fundamental needs of a world-class central library to fit within the constraints of the Goldblatt building.”

Tom Welch argues angrily that this is not true: the library staff produced a program that dictated the manner in which the building would be redesigned. Furthermore, Goldblatt’s is essentially a loft building with 50,000 square feet of space on each floor that librarians can mold to their needs. It is difficult to see what constraints the library staff would find themselves operating under in a building with nine floors of 50,000 square feet each, plus two full basements and a 400-seat theater.

The Sun-Times greeted the BGA proposals ecstatically: “Scrap Goldblatt site—BGA panel” read the banner front-page headline. “Rehabbing the old Goldblatt’s Building would be a ‘disaster’ and the idea of converting the ‘battered, worn-out hulk’ to a new central library should be scrapped immediately, a blue ribbon civic committee said yesterday,” wrote Nicodemus and Brune. “An all-new library could be built for $128 million [the BGA’s estimate for constructing and equipping Stein’s building] compared to the $121 million currently predicted for converting the 75-year-old former department store.” On August 20, the day before this story was published, Public Works Commissioner Paul Karas, who compiles the costs for such projects, said that the highest cost he estimated—for everything—was slightly under $114 million. Where did the $121 million come from?

The Sun-Times has, from the start, described the costs of the renovation in terms of the total cost of redoing the library, including furniture, electronic equipment, books, records, microfilm, office equipment, and so on. The total cost also includes the $10 million paid for the building and the architects’ fees. The costs of equipping the library would be the same regardless of the building. The actual cost of renovation, according to Karas’s most recent estimate, is $70 million, though that is $16 million over Lester B. Knight’s current estimate. Yet the Sun-Times continues to refer to the total costs as if they represented only construction costs.

What are the “disclosures” made by Nicodemus and Brune over the last couple of months regarding the “problems” with the Goldblatt conversion? What are these “problems”?—the ones that lit a fire under J. Terrence Brunner, that caused the Library Board to put the Goldblatt conversion on hold, that made the City Council and the governor reconsider funding the project, that led Cannutte Russell to write a letter to the Sun-Times in which he said, “I feel it’s my responsibility to ask our special counsel, Earl Neal, to explore the possibility that the architects and the Public Works Department willingly and knowingly gave us false, incomplete or perjured information.” Russell was described by a source in City Hall as having “caved in to the Sun-Times,” and as “having panicked in the middle of the battle.”

Perhaps every one of these “problems” is legitimate. Let’s see:

“A 1983 city-ordered study and the Goldblatt project’s own sprinkler consultant agree that system doesn’t work” (Sun-Times June 27).

The project’s sprinkler consultant, Eileen Duignan-Woods, says that the Sun-Times

Meanwhile, the Sun-Times spread the alarm. The sprinkler system doesn’t work; it wasn’t properly tested by the city; the library staff is alarmed about fire hazards. There is, said Nicodemus and Brune, writing about the sprinkler system, also “the unlikelihood of extensive cost overruns on the $107 million budget.”

Welch replies, “the repair of the sprinkler system has been, from the beginning, in the construction budget. It is part of the renovation. We knew we would have to make replacements of parts of the system and planned for it.”

“The old Goldblatt’s Building—proposed site of the new central library—is laced with hazardous asbestos that must be removed at a cost experts say could exceed $1 million. City officials conceded they have known for more than four years the building ‘has a problem’ with the cancer-causing substance, but did not start tests to determine its severity until Friday, after Chicago Sun-Times inquiries began” (August 3).

Jorge Sirgo, project architect at Lester B. Knight, explains that “in buildings built before 1968, when its toxicity was discovered, asbestos was used routinely as the magic material for insulating and fire resistance. It goes back to the Romans who used it for lamp wicks. We routinely ask our clients to hire an asbestos consultant to test any building put up before ’68.”

The Sun-Times said, “contractors said the scope of removal work would run from $250,000 to more than $1 million—if the only problem is asbestos insulation on the pipes.” The hitch in that story is that there are, as yet, no contractors for the library project. The “contractors” Brune and Nicodemus cite were obviously speaking in generalities without having lab reports on the Goldblatt building.

“City officials tried unsuccessfully to abate the dispute over the planned width of the building’s aisles, which were to be so narrow in many bookstack areas as to violate state laws on access to the handicapped” (July 25).

The problem, first reported on July 20, had, according to the Sun-Times, been uncovered by Lee Sotffel, a library design expert retained by the Union League Club. A dramatic story was told by Nicodemus and Brune about how wheelchair users had been aroused about the violation of their rights, about how the city could lose its Build Illinois money for this violation of state law, about how the city “broke the state law when it falsely certified in an application for funds for the Goldblatt building that plans for the facility complied with handicapped access laws.” To emphasize the concern of the handicapped, the Sun-Times printed a bold boxed read-out quoting an “activist for the handicapped.”

“An inch or two doesn’t sound like much, but it makes a difference. A quarter of an inch can keep you from going through a door.”

The Sun-Times reported that the Illinois Capital Development Board, which oversees state building moneys and standards, said that there could be no exceptions to the guidelines for access to the handicapped. The aisles must be at least 42 inches wide, not the 40 inches by the project’s architects.

City officials responded by asking for more time. they would widen the aisles by narrowing the shelves if necessary, they said. They would solve the problem. But a reading of Brune and Nicodemus’s story would lead one to believe the problem is unsolvable. It is a matter of the 152 columns on each floor that prevent the creation of wide-enough aisles. The fact that there actually are only 102 columns apart from the walls was acknowledged at the end of the second article on the issue.

Meanwhile, the architects were consulting with the Development Board. The Sun-Times failed to show up. It did not report that the controversy was resolved—according to Melissa Skilbeck, spokeswoman for the Development Board, when Jon Anderson, the board’s research architect, approved the 40-inch aisle width, “since it presents minimal obstruction to the drive ramp of the wheelchair.” The Sun-Times failed to report this development in their long-running saga.

• First-page banner headline: “Floor tests for library questioned.” Subhead: “Standards lowered, areas not measured.” Lead: “Standards for passing floor strength tests were lowered for the Goldblatt’s Building, and the load-bearing abilities of the floors’ weakest parts were not measured, a Chicago Sun-Times investigation has found” (August 20).

Nicodemus and Brune reported that floor tests on Goldblatt’s were made by the same company that tested the Santa Fe Center, which, after renovation, had a problem with a falling ceiling. If the Santa Fe Center was tested by Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates and a piece of a ceiling fell after the renovation, didn’t it logically follow that the ceilings would fall in Goldblatt’s, too, because they were tested by the same company? The fact that Wiss, Janney is one of the most respected in the business and has tested thousands of floor strengths was not relevant to Nicodemus and Brune.

Nicodemus and Brune wrote: “The city’s consultants directing the test broke their promise to the city that floor strengths in the 75-year-old structure would be tested in ‘several locations.’ Instead, only one location was tested, and the area of that test site was reduced by one-third.”

Nicholas Bilandic, structural engineer at Holabird & Root, responds, “Several related areas were explored by Wiss, Janney … . The test area selected is representative. Wiss, Janney load-tested not only the tile arch, the beams, the girders, and their connections but also their connections to the columns.”

In his August 15 letter to John Duff, Tom Welch explained the load tests. “Six bays on the third floor were loaded to the equivalent design load of 163 pounds per square foot—13 pounds per square foot—13 pounds over the minimum mandated code requirement of 150 pounds per square foot. At this point the load test was discontinued since the code-mandated minimum had been met.

“The area tested is representative of the entire building; therefore, it was not necessary to test the entire structure. This procedure is recognized by the engineering profession. With regard to the west bays, brought into question at the last meeting [of the Library Board]: These bays have deeper (stronger) structural members and were not considered critical in testing.”

John Holabird explains:

“When the question first arose about the Goldblatt building’s capacity to carry library loads … we examined the original structural design in our office. We knew that the steel columns were supported by caissons to rock, and were thus very strong, that an additional six stories had been included in the original design, so that the columns were overdesigned for the building as it was built, and that by today’s acceptable engineering standards the original steel was even overdesigned for the loads of a mercantile use over and above the capacity for additional floors. Furthermore, a heavy cinder floor fill was used in the original design which could be replaced by today’s lightweight fill, if necessary. Thus, it was our professional judgment that the structure could readily adapt to library floor loadings. The actual load test simply confirmed this judgment.”

Nicodemus and Brune wrote that “no measurements were taken to see how much the tile spans sagged, or whether they had ‘recovered’ as required,’ after having explained that the tile arch is the weakest part of the structure.

Bilandic responds, “not only did Wiss, Janney test the tile arch in the middle of its span, but also at the end of another span with a 9600-pound test load on a four-inch-square foot-print.”

A little editorial license was taken in this “expose.” A second company that bid on the floor-testing job was described as “an internationally recognized firm.” But, said the Sun-Times, “Wiss Janney’s $72,462 proposal, which was quicker and cheaper … was accepted.” That Wiss, Janney is also internationally recognized was left out of the story. The implication was clear: The architects chose a cheaper, faster firm that has no standing in the business.

The question is: were the standards for testing the floor lowered? If they were, how was it done? According to the Sun-Times, Wiss, Janney disregarded the people who’d be standing on the floor using the stacks. “Wiss, Janney,” the newspaper said, “at Knight’s direction, dropped the ‘live load’ increment and came up with a requirement of 163 pounds per square foot.”

Bilandic responds: “The tests that were made included fully loaded library stacks 20 inches wide and 90 inches high, a three-foot four-inch aisle, with all the books and periodicals that would be there, including people on a density-factor basis. This is a highly conservative test, the absolute state of the art. The 163 pounds that Wiss, Janney ‘came up with’ was the weight at which they stopped testing, not because they feared to test further, but because they had reached the national standard for the stacks.”

Charles Nicodemus was asked to respond to the AIA charge that the Sun-Times is telling only one side of the library story in a sensational way. Nicodemus said, “What the AIA said was that the supporters of the Goldblatt’s building were left with only one source that was reporting the news and that it was unsympathetic. The AIA said that the supporters of the building were at the mercy of the Sun-Times because we were the only ones writing or talking about it. I suggest to you that we’re not the only newspaper in town and the Tribune was free to write about it. And we’re not the only media outlet in town.” The authors of the AIA report had commented: “The administrators and designers who are responsible for [the Goldblatt project] are at a considerable disadvantage in defending it, in that their responses can only be reported to the public by their chief antagonists.”

Nicodemus went on to say: “As far as whether the Sun-Times has a point of view, an this is very important, because we’ve told John Duff and the city officials that suggested that we have been advocates in regard to the Goldblatt project, and the specific example we give in criticizing that perspective is: we ran far more stories, over a greater length of time, involving more resources, on the McCormick Place, on the various elements of that controversy, with very strong editorials and stories. Not once during all that time did we hear one word from the mayor’s office on how we were supposedly advocates, although the mayor had 6 people out of the 12 on that board. The reason we didn’t hear anything about a point of view—allegedly—is because the mayor’s ox wasn’t being gored. The governor was the man political sufferer on those stories, so no one accused us of being an advocate in the McCormick Place stories. But when we then started running a series of stories which, as with the McCormick Place stories, we immediately, in the mayor’s eyes, or in John Duff’s eyes, became advocates.

“The fact is, in any investigative series, once you decide to do a series of stories—of exposes—you’ve in effect adopted a point of view because you believe that what you’re writing is right and what you’re exposing is wrong.”

How did Nicodemus arrive at his point of view? “The Sun-Times,” Nicodemus said, “began writing about the library in depth in early 1985. The more we ran those stories, the more we started hearing from people inside and outside the library. Amongst the people we heard from were many people who told us, ‘Hey, you ought to look at the Goldblatt building.’ Where it came from was kinky. The basis on which it’s being sold to the public contains misrepresentations by the city and the library staff. So I finally recommended to our editor, Frank Devine, that we ought to investigate when we get the chance.”

The paper got the chance, Nicodemus said, when he finished his “mole-scam” stories. At about that time, the Union League Club went to the Sun-Times to urge the paper to take up this cause. “With all their research, plus what we had done, we were finally galvanized,” he said.

But the Union League Club never talked to the architects.

When did the Sun-Times first have evidence that the Goldblatt building had “structural inadequacies”? “The first evidence came in March when we saw a reference in our files by Liz Hollander to, as the phrased it, ‘recent floor strength tests had confirmed that the building was structurally sound and could support the library loads.’ We called her and asked what tests she was referring to. She offered to send us the report and what was provided in a day or two was a copy of the floor test results—a preliminary report, the only report until a few days ago—of tests done in October 1983. We analyzed, as laymen, that report over a period of weeks, found what we, as laymen, believed were shortcomings, and began seeking outside expertise. We found outside experts who shared our concerns.”

Nicodemus got that “preliminary” report in March and studied it for several weeks, he said. Yet it was March 11 when the Sun-Times ran its “Library Lunacy” editorial in which it stated, “No serious attention has been brought to focus on the building’s structural inadequacies.” It is not clear what evidence, if any, the Sun-Times had on hand then on which to base this attack on the architects who had reassured the Library Board and the city that the building was safe.

What about Hollander’s statement aroused Nicodemus’s suspicions? “Are you asking me why we check out what city officials say?” he asked. “Combined with the fact that she had said it was a recent test when it wasn’t recent at all . It was made in ’83. That really grabbed us.” The main thing was that “if she was wrong about that, what else was she wrong about?”

Why didn’t he go to Holabird & Root? Why didn’t he sit down with Nicholas Bilandic? Nicodemus said that he was under the impression that Lester B. Knight provided the architects and engineers. Did he ever sit down with the Knight people? No, he didn’t do that either, but that was because he was “ping-ponged-balled around” by the city, the Library Board, and Lester B. Knight. No one was ever willing to talk seriously with him about the problems he was finding.

John Holabird recalls meeting Nicodemus at the recent press unveiling of the mockup oft he Goldblatt building and offering to set up an interview with Bilandic. Nicodemus never called him. Nicodemus remembers the incident differently. He said Holabird offered to send him a report he had been trying to locate, but never did. That seems to be the extent of the contract between Holabird and Nicodemus. But Nicodemus said, in explanation, “Until last week, no one ever said word one about how Holabird ought to be the one we were talking to.”

Asked shy the Sun-Times never ran any of Welch’s drawings for the project, drawings published here for the first time, Nicodemus said, “I could never get them out of them.” Welch says, irately, that the firm sends a large press kit with loads of drawings to the Sun-Times. Further pressed on this subject, Nicodemus said, “We’ll get around to it when we have time.”

The Sun-Times may win its crusade. It has arouses o much negative sentiment in the city, has so upset the Library Board and the Department of Public Works, that the project may be dumped. Chicago’s central library has been cooped up in the Mandel Building since 1974; there’s been talk of the need for a new central library before such a project is offered us again.