The past and future: Architecture, history and preservation — The Chicago Stock Exchange building

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Chicago stock exchange trading floor
The Chicago Stock Exchange trading floor

Unless you’ve read about the topic, you wouldn’t expect to find a stock exchange trading floor (full-scale) at the Chicago Institute of Art. I mean, this is an institution with famous masterworks, ancient art and a special exhibition about multi-talented French artist Paul Gauguin.

Yet there it was, at one end of the museum complex — a complete rebuild of the original Chicago Stock Exchange trading floor.

The story of how this room (empty except, oddly, for a piano in the middle of the floor) came to be provides insights and observations about the challenging issues of heritage conservation. In the late 1960s and early 70s, many of Chicago’s oldest skyscrapers were reaching the stage where demolition seemed to be the most rational thing to do, at least from a developer’s perspective. But a heritage movement, led by Richard Nikel, grew, leading to court battles and then-new heritage preservation rules. The Chicago story has been echoed in other cities throughout Canada and the US. (The piano and empty space are explained by the room’s use for meetings and receptions — I expect it is outfitted as required for special events.)

Today, heritage rules are represent another regulatory hurdle developers must overcome to build in established and older neighbourhoods. But the value of the preservationist┬ámind-set is readily apparent in Chicago’s streets, where art deco buildings have been restored to current standards and certainly are viable economically.

While the original Chicago Stock Exchange building could not escape demolition, the heritage group raised enough funds for a rebuild of the trading floor at the Chicago Art Institute. Nickel, sadly, died in an accident at the old stock exchange building site as he was gathering materials for the salvage and recovery operation.

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