Leave the Seat Empty: 5627-5635 South Maryland 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.

5627-5635 South Maryland Avenue

Permits issued 11/07/2022


Ed Lin repeatedly told his tenants, onlookers, and all of Hyde Park that he would never sell his properties near 56th & Maryland. He and his wife owned many apartment buildings on the southwestern edge of Hyde Park over the years, dating back at least to the ‘70s, and theirs were the last three to be demolished in an area bordered by 56th, 58th, Cottage Grove, and Drexel.

In several waves beginning in the early ‘90s, the University of Chicago bought out these blocks piece by piece as grounds for their expanded medical center and several campus facilities. The medical center plans were rooted in a strategy to modernize the hospital system, previously primarily housed in a labyrinthine network of neo-gothic buildings that blended academic, research, and treatment uses, and to bring new services in house. The mechanism of expansion was familiar to Hyde Park residents - the monied university spent much of the middle of the 20th century shaping the neighborhood to its will, engaging in a controversial and much-studied campaign of urban renewal.


As recently as the early 2010s, hundreds of people lived on this and the surrounding blocks. But the University of Chicago and their associated medical system moved quickly to construct the West Campus Combined Utility Plant, then the Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery (seen in the background of the above photo), then the Center for Care and Discovery, then their updated emergency department (partially a result of a community campaign to return level one trauma care to the facility), then the High Bay Research Building, then their recently announced expanded cancer center. By 2021, the only remaining buildings in the university’s zone of interest for these facilities not owned by UChicago were three in the possession of the Lin family, home to dozens of tenants.


Wedged between two of Ed Lin’s buildings, 5627 S Maryland and 5633-5635 S Maryland, was an early 20th century six-flat built much like Lin’s directly to its south. That building was owned by the university itself, and was kept empty for many years following use as office space. The university appeared to put off that particular building’s demolition out of an expectation that they’d be able to demolish it alongside Lin’s buildings one day. That would come true in the fall of 2022.


In 2021, Lin finally decided to sell off most of his remaining rental portfolio - that is, the three buildings in the university’s path. But not without a sweet deal: the trio of structures fetched and astonishing sum of $14 million altogether, many times greater than fair market value for any similar set of buildings elsewhere in Hyde Park. The $2.5 million sale price for the smallest of the three buildings, a tired greystone two-flat at 5627 S Maryland, was the highest sum ever paid for a building of its kind anywhere on the south side of the city.


The demolition of 5627-5635 S Maryland marked the end of an era for Hyde Park, a change that one could moralize in several directions. An entire swath of a city neighborhood was wiped from existence at the hands of an immensely powerful and wealthy private institution. At the same time, UChicago’s path of destruction was also one of construction, widening the range of medical care available on Chicago’s south side and deepening its quality after the slow decline and closure of the marquee Michael Reese research hospital over the preceding decades. The university’s new cancer center will be built on the land upon which these residential buildings once stood.