Leave the Seat Empty: 4155 South Packers Avenue

Leave the Seat Empty consists of photos taken of buildings in Chicago in between the time a demolition permit is issued and the time the wrecking crews come.

The vast majority of the city's demolitions are vernacular residential buildings in areas that are either seeing immense new investment or immense ongoing disinvestment. In most cases, the doomed buildings are not deemed architecturally or culturally notable enough for proactive preservation efforts to succeed, where such efforts exist. They are most frequently replaced by new single family homes, or by empty land. These patterns aren't universal among demolitions, but are common outcomes of Chicago's current legal and market environment around land use, building vacancy, and new construction.

Despite its international reputation as a destination for architecture tourism, Chicago's policies around building demolitions often fail to protect historic structures. There are no easy answers to the question of which buildings should remain standing under which circumstances, but residents lack easy access to information about upcoming demolitions, leaving them unable to campaign effectively against demolitions they might oppose. I seek to document many of Chicago's doomed buildings in their final days, often with green demo fencing already up, and be present to acknowledge their disappearance.

4155 South Packers Avenue

Permit issued 05/05/2022



This massive warehouse building was once a crucial part of the industrial empire founded by Gustavus F. Swift, a meatpacker from Massachusetts who rose to national fame in Chicago at the helm of Swift & Co.

Conspiring with other meatpacking firms like Armour & Co., Swift cofounded the massive Union Stock Yards and left a huge mark on the industrial history of the U.S. His company popularized refrigerated railcars, an early form of the assembly line, use of animal byproducts for other consumer products like glue and pharmaceuticals, and business practices like vertical integration. Swift & Co. grew to such size and scope that it eventually created or absorbed companies whose business included transportation, insurance, and even underwear. Their Chicago plant even had its own L stop, on the now-demolished Stock Yards branch of the current-day CTA Green Line.

The company eventually ceased operations at this Chicago facility as the Union Stock Yards began to decline in relevance (cheap refrigerated truck transportation diminished the need to slaughter and pack in the same place, and meatpacking plants became wide, single-story facilities at cities' edges during the second half of the 20th century). It remained a meatpacking facility under other owners into the new millennium, then fell into disuse in recent years. The property under the former Swift plant was purchased by Lakeshore Recycling Systems earlier this year, who demolished it in order to build a new facility for their purposes.