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Annie May Swift Wins City's Outstanding Restoration Award

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June 2, 2009 | by Wendy Leopold
EVANSTON, Ill. --- The City of Evanston has awarded Northwestern University its highest building preservation honor -- the 2009 Margery B. Perkins Award -- for the rehabilitation and restoration of Annie May Swift Hall.

Built for the School of Oratory, Annie May Swift Hall dates back to 1895, and, until the development of the lakefill campus, stood on the shore of Lake Michigan. An eclectic mix of Venetian Gothic Revival, Romanesque and Spanish Renaissance styles, the extraordinary brick, terra cotta and limestone building now sits at the heart of south campus only steps from University Library.

“The Perkins Award recognizes the most outstanding historic preservation project of a given year,” explained City of Evanston Preservation Coordinator Carlos Ruiz, who urged Northwestern to apply for the award. “It is not a competition but a way to recognize Evanston building owners who have taken the time and had the interest to invest their own money in properly and carefully preserving a significant building.”

For Northwestern, Annie May Swift has proved an exquisite investment. “Any interior space that was restored was done so with careful attention to detail and with fine workmanship,” said Ruiz. “Entering Annie May Swift, visitors feel they are entering an historic building, not an old building. There’s a big difference.”

 The three-year, $11 million University project included restoration of the exterior façade and certain interior spaces, renovation of the auditorium as a theatre/lecture hall, creation of new offices, modernizing heating and cooling systems and, on the garden level, enlarging window wells to let in more natural light. A new enclosed staircase and elevator also were added.

Perkins Award jurors Douglas Kaare, of the Oak Park Historic Preservation Commission, and Jason Berry, of the Highland Park Historic Preservation Commission, praised the project as “an excellent example of true restoration and sensitivity to architectural detail.”

“As part of the built environment, Annie May Swift is a standout,” said Berry in an interview. “So many historic university buildings are a solemn gray stone, and look back to England for inspiration. Colorful Annie May Swift reminds us of Prairie and Arts and Crafts influences, making the building more ‘Middle Western,’ as Frank Lloyd Wright might say.”

An historic Evanston landmark, Annie May Swift was designed by architect Charles R. Ayers, and a north structure was added in the 1920s. What remained of the original interior was restored to its original condition, according to Facilities Management’s Susan Budinsky, who served as project manager for the restoration and renovation. AECOM was the architect/engineering firm; Harboe Architects helped to guide the restoration of the building’s historic elements.

Among the unique details restored at Annie May Swift is an ornate wood screen arching over the entrance stairwell. Although no one in the University community has come forth with a memory of the screen’s prior existence, historic photos show that it once was part of the building.

Annie May Swift is occupied by the School of Communication’s departments of performance studies, radio/television/film and communication studies. It was named in memory of the daughter of meatpacking industry tycoon Gustavus F. Swift, who contributed funds for its construction. Swift’s daughter died of typhoid fever while a student at Northwestern.
Topics: University