National Historic Landmark status for a building carries a lot of prestige. There are fewer than 2,500 such specially designated places across the United States. And there's more than pride involved, because the landmarks' owners qualify for all sorts of tax credits every time they fix up an older building.
The Empire State Building skyscraper in New York; and Alcatraz, America's bleak prison of last resort in San Francisco Bay, are National Historic Landmarks.
So was Soldier Field in Chicago until last month, when the U.S. Secretary of the Interior took away that coveted distinction. It was a humiliating turn of events for the legendary sports palace, which opened in 1924.
Soldier Field was an architectural masterpiece, replete with Doric colonnades that rivaled the great art museums of the world. When championship prize fights and football classics were staged, and when presidents and civil-rights pioneers spoke there, the backdrop was majestic, imperial.
But in 2002, with worn-out Soldier Field showing her age, the City of Chicago and private partners began a radical renovation. They took an entire new, glitzy stadium and, in effect, plopped it inside the creaky old structure, obscuring the great columns. "The Eyesore on the Lake Shore," one architectural critic called the result. The Chicago Tribune's Blair Kamin wrote that the finished product looked as if the Starship Enterprise from the "Star-Trek" science-fiction series "had crash-landed atop the Parthenon" in Athens.
Apparently U.S. Interior Secretary Gale Norton agreed when she ordered Soldier Field's landmark designation removed. That won't affect football games and concerts. But it might give other rambunctious architects pause before they -- to borrow Mr. Kamin's word -- disfigure another national treasure.
To view pictures of the renovated Soldier Field click here.