By Nathalie Wheaton
As an archivist at Rush University Medical Center, I’ve led many historic walking tours of our campus over the years. As the demolition of some of our oldest buildings approached, the most common question my tour attendees asked was, “What about the Jones staircase?”
The ornate, wrought-iron posts and railings of the staircase in the Daniel A. Jones Memorial Building are among the more distinctive and architecturally noteworthy elements of our old buildings. Rush employees and visitors were concerned that some of these beautiful, historic, or interesting pieces of architecture or design would be lost to the ages — but they needn’t have worried.
I was glad to inform my tours that, with the help of architectural and historical consultants, Rush completed both external and internal surveys of all four buildings several years ago to determine what elements should and could be saved to preserve aspects of the history important to both Rush and to the architecture of the block. These pieces include cornerstones, entry porticos, signs, the aforementioned staircase from Jones, and decorative details from the exteriors of the buildings.
These beautiful relics were painstakingly removed and now are packed safely in storage, awaiting decisions regarding their next phase. Some of the more unique or historic pieces may find a home in a permanent display on campus, while other more decorative items might be shared with some of Rush’s generous supporters.
The four buildings being razed include Jones (built in 1888), Senn (1902), Murdock (1912), and Rawson (1924). Along with the Pavilion (1908), which is undergoing extensive renovation, these buildings constitute what Rush calls the Superblock.
While some people understandably are sentimental about the demolition of these buildings given their long history, it’s worth noting that their original structures were done away with long ago. The turrets on the roof of the Jones Building were removed in 1915, and the sun rooms on the roof of the Pavilion were removed in the late 1950s.
Frankly, the Superblock buildings were kept in service longer than they should have been. Rush determined that upgrading them to meet regulatory codes would have been prohibitively expensive, while the interiors still would not have been suitable for Rush’s work.
The functions of these older buildings have been taken over by newer buildings — most notably our new hospital Tower, which opened in 2012 — which are better equipped to support Rush’s patient care, research and education endeavors for this century. Progress is nothing new on the Rush campus, and this change is yet another milestone in Rush’s long history of more than 175 years.
Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS, is the archivist of the Rush University Medical Center Archives. The archives holds the records of Rush University, Rush University Medical Center, and their predecessor schools and hospitals. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.