Courting the National Guard
Deciding to pursue the Chicago Avenue Armory, the MCA came up with a compelling reason for the National Guard to give up the site.
The main thing got to be when we started talking about well, where is this place going? What are we going to do with this sort of pint-sized museum, and the Art Institute was beginning to flex its muscles in terms of having bigger shows in modern art and being a little more contemporary in its venues. And so we started thinking about what could you do. And I think I can take credit for the idea of the Armory. I said we should look at the Armory; it’s not being used for much. The National Guard was there, they parked some cars in there occasionally, had meetings, stuff like that. And that began to get some traction through Lew Manilow and Helyn Goldenberg talking up and getting into the ear of the governor, saying well this thing is right off Michigan Avenue. You’ve got a bunch of National Guard people using it a couple a days a week. It’s just a waste to have a facility or a spot like that given over to just a—that you could do anywhere. You don’t have to have it there.
And it could be a great spot for a museum that would have a little more position literally and figuratively with the community. And so we kept talking about that, and then I can’t remember all the details, what meetings we went to, and what that involved.
But I remember the big breakthrough was talking to the National Guard, and the National Guard was open to, you know, if they could get some improvement. And it just so happened that RR Donnelly was going to give the museum a building down by 14th Street. Just happens to be just west of Soldier Field. So, the National Guard got a little—they got interested, because then they could park their cars for Bears football games. All big things hang on very small margins. And they were all for it, but their wives were against it, because their wives were parking for shopping on Michigan Avenue. But the Bears won out, and they agreed that they would swap the Armory for this building.