Historic Themes Analysis of Chicago Landmarks

The Department of Planning and Development conducted a review of the city’s designated landmarks in 2019 using a methodology developed by the National Park Service (NPS).

The methodology, referred to as the NPS Thematic Framework, outlines major themes in American history and is used by professionals in the field of historic preservation to evaluate landmarks.

First conceived in 1936, the thematic framework has been periodically updated with the goal of expanding the reach of historic preservation beyond its initial focus on the nation’s early military history. Revisions to the document in the past 50 years continually strove to reevaluate the nation’s history in a reflective manner, using the benefit of time and distance to gain a more proper perspective.

As a result, the framework has been expanded to include themes which reflect the broader history of the nation and its people with the goal of preserving sites and monuments that are inclusive of the country’s diverse history. The thematic framework was last updated in 2000.

Taking this same approach, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks and its staff have worked to incorporate sites and neighborhoods in its landmark designation program that are reflective of the breadth of Chicago history and its many residents.

The current thematic framework was used as a guide in the evaluation of Chicago Landmarks to date, from the Greek Revival-style home of Henry B. Clarke in the Prairie Avenue district – Chicago’s first designated landmark in 1970 – to the outdoor museum honoring LGBT activists commemorated by the Rainbow Pylons and Legacy Walk on Halsted Street in Lakeview, designated in 2019. 

The eight categories which make up the NPS Thematic Framework are:

  1. Peopling Places
  2. Creating Social Institutions and Movements
  3. Expressing Cultural Values
  4. Shaping The Political Landscape
  5. Developing The American Economy
  6. Expanding Science and Technology
  7. Transforming the Environment
  8. Changing Role Of The United States In The World Community

The analysis shows that over the course of the last 50 years, the Chicago designation program has evolved over time to expand its reach beyond the high-style residences of affluent individuals to preserving places of cultural importance to larger communities as a whole.