Wrigley honored with landmark preservation award

CHICAGO -- More than 20 landmark buildings, homeowners and businesses were honored Thursday for preserving historic Chicago -- and among the projects recognized was an expansion of Wrigley Field's bleachers.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks presented the Chicago Landmark Awards for Preservation Excellence during a ceremony at the LaSalle Bank Theater. The theater, formerly called the Shubert, recently completed a $40 million, yearlong restoration and was among the 21 honorees.

Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, was built in 1914 and is the second-oldest major-league ballpark. The boomerang-shaped bleachers were added in 1937. The Wrigley alterations were completed by Opening Day this spring and increased bleacher capacity by almost 1,800 seats.

The Cubs' proposal prompted some community opposition, especially among the owners of rooftop bleachers that overlook the field and neighbors who worried about increased congestion. Negotiations dragged on for years.

The Commission on Chicago Landmarks praised the expansion for improving circulation in the bleacher sections, increasing the number of bathrooms and greatly improving access for people with disabilities.

At the same time, the design "preserves the 'stepped' profile and scale of the bleachers and maintains the characteristic views looking out of the ballpark," according to the citation.

Mike Lufrano, vice president of community affairs for the Cubs, said the owners take pride in the park's history but must also make changes to keep it viable for modern-day fans and players.

"We've been good stewards of the ballpark for 90 years, and this shows that working in cooperation with the city, we were able to expand the life of our ballpark," Lufrano said.

Another honoree was Harry Caray's Restaurant -- named for the late Hall of Fame baseball announcer. Located in the 111-year-old Chicago Varnish Company Building, the restaurant's owners replaced the multi-gabled brick clay and tile roof and rebuilt its stepped parapets.

Dutchie Caray, Caray's widow, said it's appropriate that his restaurant is located in a Chicago landmark building.

"I think it fit his personality very well," she said.