Delaware Building, Chicago

[Delaware Building, Chicago (1872/1874) Wheelock & Thomas, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It hadn’t been a great week for J.W. Bryant, upstanding citizen of Louisville. On June 22, 1879 the     Chicago Tribune carried a large banner headline titled, “The Odorous Bryant Block,” followed by an article describing “the God forsaken rendezvous,” “where loafers loll in filth,” “and pimps and prostitutes hold nightly orgies.” The paper went on to describe in one sensational sentence after another how the person “presiding over the the renting department” of the property had been renting rooms “in one of the best buildings in the city, in the heart of the business district” to these undesirables. Bryant felt that he had to make it clear that he bore no responsibility for the building bearing his name, nor the nefarious activities occurring on the northeast corner of Randolph and Dearborn Streets that summer of 1879. He sent the Tribune the following statement, “I no longer have any control over the building. It is now and has been for about 2 years in the hands of Henry P. Isham, Receiver of the Court. J.W. Bryant.”


[Delaware Building, Chicago, 36 W. Randolph Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

This wasn’t the first Bryant Block to stand on the busy central business district corner, the Louisville investor’s first block had come down in the Great Fire in the Fall of 1871, and this highly detailed Italianate facade was already on the drafting boards of the office of architects Wheelock & Thomas in January, 1872. Otis Wheelock was one of the first architects in the city – following close on the heels of the the very first man to be crowned with that title, John Van Osdel – and the office was teeming with work as the business and financial communities made a commitment to see Chicago rise again from the ashes. By the first week of April, Bryant was in town to give his okay to the architects plan for a new five-story building on the site, and within a week contracts were being let for construction. The project was then expanded to the east two years later when Bryant secured a long term lease for the land on two adjoining lots.


[Delaware Building, Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Although Mr. Bryant claimed no responsibility for the goings on in his block in 1879, his heirs were in litigation in 1885 to prevent foreclosure proceedings from moving forward on a $19,000 still held mortgage on the property. Four years later, the matter was resolved when Chicago’s Real Estate Board moved in, and added three floors with an updated the name – the new Real Estate Board Building. The Board never had problems with prostitutes or pimps during their tenure, but by the turn of the 20th century the organization was on the move and in search of larger and newer quarters. This is when attorney Levy Mayer entered the picture. Mayer had come to Chicago months before the fire burned down the old Bryant Block, and by 1900 had made a fortune as one of the country’s top constitutional and corporate lawyers. He began adding Randolph Street properties to his extensive real estate portfolio, and was one of the attorneys involved in the land lease negotiations for a Randolph Street parcel next door to the Real Estate Board property as the spot for the new Iroquois Theatre building.


[Delaware Building, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Then, after the devastating Iroqouis fire in 1903, Mayer returned to the negotiating table in 1906 representing Klaw & Erlanger and their Metropolitan Theater Company in negotiations to secure the lease of the rebuilt Colonial Theatre. Seizing on an opportunity, Mayer bought the land under the theater from a trust for a cool $380,000 and now owned almost the entire north side frontage of Randolph between Dearborn and State Streets. As his law practice grew, so did his downtown Chicago real estate holdings, and when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1922 his estimated $25 million estate made him the nation’s wealthiest practicing attorney. His widow Rachel Meyer Mayer and their two daughters were now in control of some prime downtown Chicago real estate. When the local fraternal organization known as the Masons, decided to ditch their substantial Burnham & Root designed building at Randolph and State for new headquarters, they continued negotiations begun with Levy Mayer and secured the Colonial Theater as the location of their new building. The Masons also acquired those two parcels of land that J.W. Bryant had leased all those years ago when he expanded his building, and took over 40 feet of the easternmost two bays of the aging Delaware’s Randolph Street frontage. When demolition began on the at the end of May 1924, Bryant’s Block lost a chunk of itself.


[Delaware Building, Chicago, Chicago Loop / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The National Register and City of Chicago Landmark is one of a handful of immediate post-fire buildings still standing in the Loop business district, and a reminder of the commitment, daring, and fortitude of a group of business leaders, financiers, and architects, which gave rise to the city we see today.




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William N. Pelouze Buildings

[William N. Pelouze Buildings (1907) Hill & Woltensdorf (1918) Alfred S. Alschuler, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It started with a scale. Not of the Richter or architectural variety, but instead the type of measuring device that you’d find in a kitchen, or on the counter of a grocery store, or perhaps on an office desk. Millions of Americans weighed their flour, candy, produce, and mail on one of a number of scales manufactured by William Nelson Pelouze, Chicagoan, business leader, and brother-in-law of one of the city’s most notorious mayors.


[William N. Pelouze Buildings, 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Pelouze came to Chicago by way of his east coast roots after graduating from the Michigan Military Academy in 1882, the year he married Helen Gale Thompson, granddaughter of early Chicago pioneer Stephen Gale. He found a job with the Walter Wood reaping company before landing a position in 1884 with the Tobey Furniture Company. And it was during his eight year tenure with Tobey that Pelouze secured several patents on scale design and realized his goal of producing an affordable, mass market scale. In 1894 he set-up the Pelouze Scale & Manufacturing Company.


[William N. Pelouze Buildings, 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the turn of the twentieth century the manufacturing plant of the Pelouze company was not only producing thousands of scales, but the enterprising inventor was also churning out a line of other non weight related products, including a popular heater that brought in nearly as much cash as the measuring product line. With the West Jackson Street factory humming and bursting at the seams, the Pelouze went out hunting a for larger space. He found a parcel of vacant land in an area of the city that not long ago had been a marshy swamp. The intersection of Ohio Street and Fairbanks Court – in the future Streeterville neighborhood – was a remote location in 1907 populated by a sprinkling of single family townhouses to the west, a line of manufacturing plants a couple of blocks to the south, and lots of sand and scrub to the east. He bought just under 300 foot stretch of Ohio Street frontage – south facing – just west of Fairbanks for $16,940 and hired architects Hill and Woltersdorf to design a six-story factory building for the eastern third of the parcel. The remaining two thirds would allow for future expansion.


[William N. Pelouze Buildings, 230 E. Ohio Street & 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By 1916 Pelouze was making scales, telephone transmitters, and electric curling irons – and his     brother-in-law, William Hale Thompson, was the mayor of Chicago. It was around this time that the multifarious manufacturer decided to finally do something with the still vacant portion of his Ohio Street property. Instead of expanding the factory complex to the west, he decided to take a chance and build an office building in an area that was increasingly becoming a warehouse and manufacturing district. Stanley Field purchased the ground under Pelouze’s feet for $130,000 cash and then leased the land back to Pelouze for 99-years. Hedging his bet, the risk-taking businessman then hired architect Alfred Alschuler to design a seven-story, reinforced concrete structure with an interior flexible enough to allow for office space, and at the same sturdy enough to hold large pieces of manufacturing equipment. The scheme worked. By the time the structure was completed in 1918, the building had been rented to the offices of the U.S. Army Central Division. In the mid-1950s, the Office of Mies van der Rohe leased a few thousand square feet of office space in the Pelouze’s leap of faith investment.


[William N. Pelouze Buildings, 230 E. Ohio Street, Streeterville, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The two properties remained in the Pelouze family after William Nelson’s death in 1943 at age seventy-seven. And by the time of Helen Gale Thompson Pelouze’s demise in 1954, the Pelouze name inscribed at the top of 232 E. Ohio Street had been removed, but William Nelson’s surname still sits above the door of his other Ohio Street address.




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Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building

[Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building (1897) Treat & Shaw, associate architects; (1902) Howard Van Doren Shaw, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Richard Robert Donnelley’s career had had its ups and downs. He came to Chicago in the early 1860s to set up a printing business, and after a few partnerships and the loss of his entire business in the Great Fire, by 1895 he was on a roll. The company’s Lakeside Press branded city directory, which had first seen the light of day in 1875, brought the company a contract to print other directories from other business entities like Chicago’s nascent telephone industry, and as the population increased so did the page counts. When Montgomery Ward came calling and jobbed out the printing of his mail order catalog to Donnelley, adding production of the massive missive of consumer goods put the squeeze on Donnelley’s Monroe Street plant so the printer began to hunt for a new location.


[Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, 731 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1896 a handful of other print shops were moving into an area located near the Dearborn Street rail station on Polk Street. The printers Donohue and Hennessey had built a large facility on a portion of the newly created segment of Dearborn Street that the city had cut through in the early 1880s to link the station to the central business district, and other shops were slowly following their lead. The neighborhood was very familiar to Chicagoans. Since the time of the Fire, this compact district just south of the “Loop” was the most notorious red light district in the city. Before Dearborn had sliced its way between Third and Fourth Avenues – which in turn would become Plymouth and Custom House Place, which would be changed to today’s Federal Street – the blocks from Harrison to Taylor and State to Clark, were packed with saloons, rooming houses, and brothels offering men of all ages a place to eat, drink, sleep and have sex. Donnelley found a piece of property on Third just steps north of the station and hired a pair of architects to come up with a plan for a building that would house the company’s offices and carry the weight of large printing presses.


[Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Architect Samuel A. Treat had come to Chicago the year after Donnelley, and the year after the     Great Fire he partnered with fellow architect Fritz Foltz. In 1896, now on his own, 57-year-old Treat hooked-up with 27-year-old Howard Van Doren Shaw who Treat brought on board as the associate architect on the Lakeside Press project. Shaw, whose father was a wealthy businessman, was Chicago born and bred and had attended Yale and MIT before beginning to practice as an architect in his home town. Shaw was one of those designers who possessed an innate sense of scale and proportion, and Treat used his young partner’s talents to add a certain je ne sais quoi to very, otherwise, utilitarian building project.


[Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, Printer’s Row National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When the building was completed in 1897, the fenestration of the south wall facing Polk Street     ended at the third floor. At the time there was a two-story building abutting the new Lakeside building, and when Polk was widened and the structure was demolished, the lower two floors of the Press building were finished to match the Plymouth Court facade. Third Avenue had changed to Plymouth Place, and then Court, but the neighborhood, although emerging as the city’s printing center, still clung to its shadier roots. In 1898 the Chicago Tribune shed a “Light on the Levee” and reported on the number of the opium dens south of Harrison Street, two of which operated on Plymouth one of which was two doors north of Donnelley’s recently completed printing plant operation. In 1902 that den of iniquity was demolished when the Lakeside building was doubled in size, when Shaw returned and seamlessly joined the new to the existing five-year-old structure.


[Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Ten years after expanding the Lakeside builidng to the north, the Donnelley company was on the move again. This time to a parcel on Calumet Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets, eventually consuming the entire block and then some. The family held on to the Plymouth and Polk address until 1929 when Donnelley’s son, daughter and grandson sold the building to Regal Press. After a variety of subsequent printing related occupants, the building was converted into a residential loft property in 1984 when the former red light district turned printing district emerged as the newly consecrated Printing House Row Historic district. The property underwent one more transformation when Columbia College purchased Lakeside Lofts and converted Treat and Shaw’s flexible use structure into a student dormitory in 1993.



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General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building

[General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building (1958) Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

On May 23, 1948 the Chicago Tribune reported that Ida Alpert had purchased the ground she had been leasing from the Katherine Dexter McCormick – recently widowed after the death of her husband Stanley McCormick, son of the Reaper King – for $318,000. Ida owned Ben Alpert, Inc. a parking lot concern that she had taken over nine years earlier when her 39-year-old husband Ben died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving his widow and two young daughters Audrey and Joan heirs to his parking enterprise. At just under an acre, the asphalt surfaced lot was oddly shaped running 140 feet along Washington Street, but only 80 feet along Randolph Street to the north, then 378 feet along the newly constructed north/south leg of Wacker Drive, which ran parallel to 400 feet of Chicago River bank, which edged the property’s border to the west. The neighborhood was changing. Wacker had until recently been called Market, which was appropriate since the street was lined with warehouse buildings that had once stored millions of tons of goods ready for market, but had, by the late 40s, outlived their original purpose. The Lake Street “L” also had a spur line that ran down Market ending at Madison Street, but that was demolished when Wacker Drive added to its exisiting east/west run, transforming the South Branch river district.


[General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, 110 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It wasn’t too many years after Ida bought the Wacker Drive fronting parcel that a proposal came her way for a long term rental of the land. Chicago-based Morton Salt Company were ready to make a change of their own and leave their 30-year-old headquarters building at 208 W. Washington Street designed by the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White for new, modern digs. Board chairman and company heir Sterling Morton along with company president Daniel Peterkin, offered Mrs. Alpert $46,000 a year for 99 years to secure the land and to improve the asphalt sheeted plot with a multi-million dollar building. Ida must have seen merit in the deal because on February 11, 1956 Morton Salt announced that they would be building a 5-story structure on the parking parcel with hopes of moving into their new building by January, 1958.


[General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, South Branch, Chicago River / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White had once been one of the dominant players in the world of architecture. Ernest Graham, protege of the omnificent Daniel Burnham, had partnered with Peirce Anderson, Edward Probst and Howard White not long after Burnham’s death in 1912. The firm was a powerhouse of classical revivalism, and by the 1920s had become the largest architectural office in the United States. After epoch altering events like the Great Depression, followed by the Second World War and the death of the last founding partner in 1942, by the time the salt company came calling the firm had had shed their classical cloak for mid-century contemporism.


[General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, Wacker Drive, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The architects sheathed their project in a skin of polished stainless steel and glass which provided the relatively short box with a gleaming presence on an ever widening vista created by the new drive. Morton Salt was a Chicago institution and had been headquartered in the city ever since Joy Morton first put his name on the old Wheeler salt works in 1879. And as the privately held firm diversified into pharmaceuticals and plastics, the new building spoke to their emerging profile as something more than the company behind the Morton Salt girl. The move into the new building lined with energy efficient windows draped in 4,500 yards of fiberglass curtains in shades of yellow, orange, blue and beige, was finally completed in the summer of 1958 and would be home to the various permutations of the Morton Salt corporation for the next thirty years.


[General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Joy Morton’s salt works had morphed into an international conglomerate by the late 1980s, and the Morton-Thiokol company was ready to move to new quarters. They left 110 N. Wacker Drive in 1992, and the building sat empty, until five years later when one of the largest shopping mall owners in the country, General Growth Properties purchased the former Morton headquarters for just over $24 million, along with the $46,000 a year land lease to Ida Alpert’s heirs. General Growth grew mightier and mightier until it all came crashing down in the Great Recession of 2008. When the company emerged from bankruptcy, they still managed almost of their properties but ownership large chunk of their portfolio had fallen into the hands of the Howard Hughes Corporation, including the building on Wacker Drive. General Growth now leased their Chicago headquarters from Hughes, while Hughes paid the Alpert beneficiaries their annual rent. Although Ida may have thought she was getting a good deal back in the 50s when $46,000 a year sounded like a lot of money, the land lease contained no incremental increases over the 99-year term so her heirs were still only collecting the original lease amount on a property that was now worth millions. In 2014 – with an eye to the future redevelopment of the property – the Hughes Corporation paid Ben and Ida’s inheritors $12.2 million for the 42,000 square foot lot, a piece of property that their grandmother and great-grandmother had paid $7.57 a square foot for in 1948.



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Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago

[Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago (1914) George C. Nimmons, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1913 Chicago Commerce published an article announcing that 60% of the nation’s population now lived within 500 miles of the city – an easy half day travel by train – and proudly proclaimed that the city was undeniably the country’s Great Central Market. To that end, thousands of warehouses ringed the central business district, lined-up, cheek by jowl, along the banks of the Chicago River and an interlocking web of railroad tracks that shipped millions of tons of goods from the largest rail hub in the world. One of the many industries that benefited from this pivotal distribution point was the wholesale grocery business.


[Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, 325 N La Salle Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Back before supermarket chains and corporate food distribution systems, most of us  shopped at a small grocery store that was within easy walking distance of home. Wholesalers supplied these tens of thousands of mom and pop establishments with the goods that packed their corner grocery shelves, and the city’s rail-linked central location made for a cheap and effective way to distribute teas, coffees, spices, canned goods, and a menagerie of household items. Simon Reid and Thomas Murdoch had the realization early on that big things were happening in Chicago, and relocated their twelve-year-old grocery business from Dubuque, Iowa to the flourishing Lake Michigan adjacent municipality in 1865. It proved to be a wise move. By the time Reid died in 1892, Reid Murdoch & Co. was one of the largest wholesale grocers in the nation, along with Chicago-based firms like Sprague & Warner, Franklin MacVeagh & Co., W.M. Hoyt, John W. Doane, and John Sexton & Co. – a handful of companies that controlled a majority of the wholesale grocery trade in the United States.


[Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When 81-year-old Thomas Murdoch died on Christmas Eve in 1909 his $4 million estate was left to his nieces, and the firm’s management was taken over by a team of executives that had been with the company for decades. In July of that year the Commercial Club of Chicago had released a visionary plan for the city engineered by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett. The scope of the project was immense and called for a rethinking and reworking of Chicago’s built environment in the hopes of creating a better, more livable, and more beautiful city. When the heads of the Reid Murdoch firm went on the hunt for more warehouse space in 1913, they set their sights on a piece of property on the north bank of the main branch of the Chicago River between La Salle and Clark Streets. Not only would the parcel provide easy access to the river, but it also abutted a branch line of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. The Western Warehouse buildings occupied the western two-thirds of the site, and a row of storefronts with “Rooms” above them lined the eastern third along Clark. The grocery concern was able to acquire the warehouses, but only the owner of one of the Clark Street buildings overlooking the river would sell, so although Reid Murdoch would have the entire river frontage from Clark to La Salle, their building would have to step back to allow for the remaining Clark Street row of buildings than ran up to the C&NW tracks. Architect George C. Nimmons would be the first to apply the principles of the Burnham Bennett plan to a river front location.


[Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Nimmons, in partnership with William Fellows, had made a name for himself as architect of the massive Sears, Roebuck & Co. complex on the city’s west side. When Nimmons, now on his own, got the Reid Murdoch commission in 1913 the architect introduced a few of the motifs used by the practitioners of a style that would one day be known as the Prairie School into the design. He nudged the structure’s facade away from the typically utilitarian exterior that encased the standard loft warehouse, and broke up the usual plain, flat brick surface with a repetition of setbacks, embellishment with geometric-patterned, terra cotta. To top it all off, a 5-story clock tower was placed smack in the middle of the river facing facade, and unlike its neighbors, the new warehouse building would sit back from the river’s edge to allow for a bit of Burnham Bennett breathing space.


[Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In the early 1920s the city began talking about implementing another piece of the 1909 Plan by widening La Salle Street from Washington Street to Lincoln Park. One segment of the overall scope of the proposed project was spanning the river with a new bridge, replacing the old La Salle Street tunnel that had run under the river since the Great Fire. By the Fall of 1926 construction of the bridge was underway, and not only did La Salle grow by an additional 40 feet in width, but 20 plus feet of the Reid Murdoch building had to be removed in the process. The loss of the one westernmost bay was seamless. The La Salle Street side of the building was removed, rebuilt, and unless you took the time to count, you might not have even noticed that the building wasn’t bay symmetrical any longer. In 1946 Reid Murdoch’s new owners Consolidated Grocers finally purchased the Clark Street buildings for $60,000 not long before the City of Chicago began talking about relocating the traffic court division to a new facility. In 1954 the city paid $2,130,000 for Nimmons warehouse, and over the next 47 years millions of people begrudgingly came to the Traffic Court building. The city sold the structure to developer Albert Friedman in 1998, which sent the Cook County Board into a tizzy since they would now have to pay much more than the token $1.00 a year to rent space for the courts, and were finally out of the building three years later. The renovated, concrete slab floored structure is now home to the headquarters of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a number of retail and office clients.


An archival update. We’re still hard at work transferring our archives in an attempt to make our stories about Chicago’s spectacular built environment linkable, searchable, and therefore, once again accessible. It is quite an undertaking. Hope to be done soon – we’ll keep you posted!



Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Chicago School, Decorative Arts, Landmarked, Prairie School, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building

[Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building (1894) Otto H. Matz, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It was hot. But what else would you expect in July, in Chicago. The morning sun beat down on the crowds of people standing out in front of the old Criminal Courts building, and the air inside Chief Justice John R. Caverly’s courtroom was as thick as a steam bath and smelled like a locker room. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb looked cool as cucumbers according to press reports, as the proceedings of the sensational Bobby Franks murder got underway in the fortress-like building. No trial in the complex’s 30-year history had ever captured such public notice, even though the site on the northwest corner of Dearborn and Hubbard Street had had its fair share of history making events prior to the summer of 1924.


[Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, 54 W. Hubbard Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In the spring of 1850 residents on the north side of the Chicago River began clammering for a market hall of their own. The city had built a market hall south of the main branch of the river, but with only the Rush Street bridge traversing the waterway, it was hard to get to. The north siders made enough of a fuss that in October the Council Committee on Markets began to investigate potential sites, and in March 1851 purchased nearly the entire block bounded by Dearborn Avenue, Illinois, Clark and Michigan (eventually Hubbard) Streets as the location for the new North Market Hall. The two-story building combined a market at ground level with a meeting hall above where Frederick A. Douglass was cheered as he addressed an overflow crowd in 1853, and where Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas was vigorously booed and pelted with produce as he addressed a packed house on the merits of the Kansas Nebraska Act in September 1854. Then, in 1871, North Market Hall was one of the over 17,000 buildings destroyed by the Great Fire’s fury.


[Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In the rebuilding effort that followed, the city decided to allow Cook County to build a new criminal courts building and jail on the market hall site, and architects Armstrong and Egan designed a handsome three-story stone courthouse fronting Michigan Street, with a brick jail house behind it along Illinois. In the summer of 1886 – 24-years before the Franks sensation – streets around the courthouse were jammed with onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the Haymarket Eight, charged with murder after a bomb was thrown into a crowd on May 4, 1886 resulting in the deaths of seven policeman and at least four onlookers. A year later crowds gathered once again around the county complex when four of the eight men were hung in the jail’s basement gallows. Just as sensational, but a little less volatile, was the 1890 census report that edged Cook County toward the 2 million mark, with nearly 90% of those counted residing within the city of Chicago. The time had come to build a larger court and jail facility, so the County Board voted to fund the construction of a project to be designed by County architect Otto H. Matz.


[Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Matz hadn’t been in position very long when the commission came his way. The Berlin native had come to Chicago from Germany in 1853, and almost immediately secured a position as the in house architect for the nascent Illinois Central Railroad. Matz set to work designing a passenger station and freight depot that sat at the northern edge of the road’s massive rail yard at the River and Lake Michigan, and a number of stations and hotels that lined the Central’s Chicago Branch and Charter Line. He served as the Chicago Public School architect from 1869 to 1871, and won the $5,000 prize for designing a new City Hall and Courthouse complex in 1873 – but the scheme was never built. Matz’s name entered Chicago’s post-fire, pop-culture consciousness when a building he had designed survived the inferno almost entirely intact. His “fireproof” Nixon Building on the northeast corner of La Salle and Monroe Streets, was nearing completion that October, and because of his use of masonry, iron and insulating plaster, the building seemed to withstand the intense heat. It was however missing most of its wood flooring and trim which may have helped in the structure’s survival. Matz was heralded as a genius when the project was ready for occupancy just four weeks after the fire had burned its way through town.


[Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, River North Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Matz’s new six-story criminal courts building would house courtrooms on the upper floors with      18-foot high ceilings, judge’s chambers, jury rooms, the state’s attorney’s office, and a press room. Almost four years to the day that Clarence Darrow had argued against the death penalty for his clients Leopold and Loeb in Judge Caverly’s courtroom, Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur offered a hilarious send-up and insiders peek of the goings-on in the court’s press room when their play “The Front Page” opened in New York on August 14, 1928. By which time the court and the jail were packing it up and relocating to a new facility at California Avenue and 26th Street on the city’s near southwest side. The old courthouse was given over to the city’s Department of Health and the jail was demolished in 1936. By the mid-80s, as the city consolidated office space into the former Kraft Building on Grand Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, Matz’s sturdy structure was put up for sale and developer Albert Friedman purchased and renovated the National Register and City of Chicago landmark. Judge Caverly’s courtroom and the press room now serve as offices for law firms and advertising agencies.


Did you happen to catch our Disaster post from last Thursday? A WordPress plug-in update zapped us and we were suddenly gone, a blank white page “Under maintenance.” When we were “restored” the hyperlink and search functions were kaput, and at least the first page of was still there. But – and it’s a big but – individual posts now bear the ubiquitous “404 error” message when you try and link to them. We’re working on restoration, and like a building, it’s going to take a little time before we get the entire archive up and available once again on the world wide. Ugh.




Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Landmarked | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


At around 7:30 am this morning, the designslinger page disappeared and a message popped-up that said, “The site is under maintenance and will return shortly.”


It came back, but not in the same shape or form that it was prior to the “maintenance” notice.

Right now, only the first page is accessible – all the other content has disappeared – all of it!

Do a search and you’ll get a 404 error message.

So for right now, designslinger as a resource is gone. If you try to access old posts – it won’t work. If you click on a designslinger hyperlink – it won’t work. And you can’t access our archives of 667 posts.


What will the future bring??? Who knows. We hope continue publishing on Wednesdays, and sending out our weekly subscriber news letter. For those of you who have stuck by us for the past five years – and to those who have just joined us on our journey – one great BIG thank you! Hopefully we’ll be returning in one form or another!!!

Oh technology.




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Carl Sandburg Village

[Carl Sandburg Village (1963-1971) Solomon Cordwell & Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 64 A.D. the Subura neighborhood at the base of the Equiline and Viminal Hills in Rome was packed wall to wall with substandard unsafe housing. Once the home of patrician Roman families like the Julians – where a young Gaius Julius Caesar had romped around – by the time of Nero, the upper classes had fled the area for greener pastures up on the Palatine Hill, and the Subura became home to some of the city’s poorest residents. Property owners and landlords squeezed as many people as possible into dilapidated buildings collecting rents by the day or week, while offering their tenants little more than a collapsing roof over their heads. Over the millennia, the Subura came to be known as one of Rome’s most notorious “slums,” a word that showed-up in  A Vocabulary of the Flash Language at the beginning of the 19th century.


[Carl Sandburg Village, Division Street to North Avenue; Clark Street to La Salle Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the early 1950s many urban communities in the United States had come to be officially identified as 20th century slums. On Chicago’s Near North Side, an aging neighborhood of overcrowded, unsafe housing was identified as such by city planners. Rows of four-story townhouses lining the east side of La Salle Street from Division to North Avenue, built as single family residences for upper income dwellers, now housed as many as five or six working class families on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. To the east of La Salle, many of Clark Street’s ground floor store fronts were topped with single family apartments that had been divvied-up and offered rooms for rent by the day or week. Some of Chicago’s poorest citizens were clustered in crumbling buildings without indoor toilet facilities and overrun with rats. The heads of the Chicago Land Clearance Commission, Ted Aschman and John Cordwell identified the 16 acre parcel as part of a larger slum area that needed to be cleared.


[Carl Sandburg Village, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Unlike the nearby Cabrini Homes which was a public housing project, the proposal for the North         La Salle project would be a public/private partnership of sorts. The city would clear the land through eminent domain, put up for bid, and sell to private developers for the construction of market rate housing. John Cordwell called this “The Pebble in the Pool,” theory in an oral history conducted by the Art Institute in 1993. The premise was that like concentric rings emanating from a pebble thrown into a pool of still water, the project at the center of this pool would send out circles of stabilization to “the whole of Lincoln Park.” And to Chicago’s historically elite Gold Coast neighborhood. Just to the east of Clark stood what had once been the city’s wealthiest and most socially connected neighborhood. But times were changing, and more and more of the old mansions were being converted into rooming houses, and, as Cordwell pointed out, houses of ill repute. Similar to a military operation, city officials were hoping that the projectile tossed into this basin of blight would stem the tide of advancing deterioration. On October 8, 1957 the Chicago Tribune announced that the city council was being urged to approve a plan to clear 223 structures from 31.9 acres of land inhabited by 3,871 people, 83 percent of who lived in housing considered blighted and unsafe.


[Carl Sandburg Village, Near North Side / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By this time John Cordwell, who had come to Chicago from England after serving in the Second World War and surviving incarceration in a German prisoner of war camp, was working with Lou Solomon, a well connected contractor and sometime architect. Solomon and his brother Irving had designed and built a number of large apartments buildings on Lake Shore Drive and friends of Chicago real estate mogul Arthur Rubloff. In the summer of 1961, as the city began clearing 16 acres of Gold Coast adjacent land, the parcel was put out for bid, and the Rubloff team – which included Solomon and Cordwell as equity partners and as the architects for Carl Sandburg Center – offered $9.17 per square foot, more that $3.00 above the next highest bid. The offer was accepted and the team handed the city a check for $6,411,000. Cordwell designed a group of 25 and 23 story towers above a cluster of low rise townhouses connected by a pedestrian mall complete with a moat and bridges. Rubloff saw the idea as a liability nightmare, “What if someone gets drunk and walks across one of those bridges and drowns in the moat?” Cordwell got rid of the moat and bridge concept, but he did put all of the parking underground. The urban planner didn’t want the project surrounded by islands of parking lots that removed the complex from city street life – that was best left out in the suburbs. And in April 1963 the first tenants began moving into their Carl Sandburg Village apartments paying $125 per month for a studio, to $300 a month for a two bedroom, two bath unit.


[Carl Sandburg Village, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

For decades after, Sandburg Village would be examined and re-examined as urban renewal gone wrong – or right. Thousands of low income people were displaced and many had a hard time finding landlords who would rent to large families accustomed to paying by the week rather than by the month. Critics said that the true motivation for Sandburg was to save the Gold Coast. But the irascible Mr. Cordwell had another view of the elite residential district. He said that at the time the great old houses along Astor, State and Dearborn were mostly rooming houses, flop houses, or worse, and that Sandburg helped stem an inevitable tide that was turning the entire area around the southern border of Lincoln Park into a future slum. Today Sandburg is a village of condominiums and the Gold Coast’s multi-unit rooming houses have been converted back to their original large single family dwelling purpose. The Lincoln Park neighborhood is one of the premiere residential communities in the city, and nearly the entire Cabrini Green public housing project has been demolished and replaced with a mixture of market rate and subsidized housing. The pebble has rung.



Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., Urban Planning, Urbanism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chicago Historical Society – Dearborn Street Building

[Chicago Historical Society – Dearborn Street Building (1894) Henry Ives Cobb, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Although the narrow blade sign at the northwest corner Dearborn and Ontario Streets has borne the names “Limelight,” “Excalibur,” and most recently “Castle” over the past 29 years, the name carved in stone over the doorway of the imposing structure still reads, “CHICAGO – HISTORICAL – SOCIETY” the organization that constructed the rough-hewned Romanesque composition in 1892 – but hasn’t occupied since 1932. The hefty red granite mass was the largest and most prominent of the Society’s multiple homes since its founding fathers first came together and organized the repository of historical artifacts in 1856.


[Chicago Historical Society – Dearborn Street Building, 632 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the mid-1850s Chicago was becoming a major player on the nation’s economic stage and was no longer the remote fur trading outpost of just twenty years ago. A handful of the city’s well-known and esteemed businessmen decided that the time had come to create a repository for the collection and preservation of materials pertaining to the history of the North West territory and its emerging capital city, and formed the Chicago Historical Society. Their endeavor was a success, and as the collection of books and manuscripts grew, moving from one office space to another was becoming more and more cumbersome and impractical – the time had come to find a permanent home. So in 1864, as the month of November was drawing to a close, Isaac Arnold, E.B. McCagg, George Rumsey, William B. Ogden and his business associate Edwin H. Sheldon, raised $24,000 toward the purchase of a piece of land where they could build a fire-proof building to house the accumulating materials. By February the trustees had plans in hand, drawn-up by architect Edward Burling for the 120 x 132 foot lot they had acquired on the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue at Ontario Street.


[Chicago Historical Society – Dearborn Street Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Twenty-four thousand dollars wasn’t enough to build the entire project as designed, but it was    enough to get the western third of the building constructed on Ontario Street. As often happens, that first burst of energetic momentum leveled-off as the organization settled in, and raising the rest of the money to complete construction as well as to grow the collection proved to be more of a challenge. The consuming conflagration of 1871 devoured not only the one-third of Burling’s design that got built, but also the entire collection of materials that the Society had been able to accumulate since 1856. Recovery was slow. It took another six years before Arnold, Rumsey, Sheldon and a few of their friends were able to raise enough money to build a small, “temporary” brick edifice to house a small reconstituted collection, but the trustees had high hopes that a new building would soon be on its way and a collection larger than the one the fire had swept away. It took another fifteen years, but in the spring of 1892 the Chicago Tribune announced that a new $200,000 building designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb, was going to rise at the corner of Dearborn and Ontario.


[Chicago Historical Society – Dearborn Street Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Cobb was on a roll that year. He had come to Chicago in 1882 with an engineering degree from Harvard and a job designing the Union Club where his brother served as treasurer. Well connected and socially astute, Cobb’s business acumen and design sensibilities made him one of the city’s “go-to” architects, and by 1892 his 130 person office was the largest in town. The design he proffered for the Historical Society looked for all intents and purposes as fireproof as a bank safe, and Cobb did as much as he could to make sure that fire fueling materials were kept to an absolute minimum. The thick stone facade encased a wood-free interior; staircases were steel and marble, floors were concrete and mosaic tile, all trim work was done in stone. The plaster lath was metal as were the window and door frames. So were the doors themselves, as were all the desks and chairs. If a piece of paper somehow came into with an open flame, the structure would not add fuel to the fire.


[Chicago Historical Society – Dearborn Street Building, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Society thrived in their new home, and by the late 1920s the collection had outgrown its large fire-proof repository. It was time to move yet again. A deal was worked out with the city and the state to take over a corner of Lincoln Park at North Avenue and Clark Street, and the last few boxes were taken through the stone-carved doorway to their new home in 1932. With the shades pulled down over the large window openings of the vacant building, the old place finally found a tenant in 1946 when Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Institute of Design moved into the castle-like structure. The merger between the Institute and the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949 led to the design school’s removal from Cobb’s granite behemoth in 1955 when the ID relocated to architect Mies van der Rohe’s recently completed building for IIT’s School of Architecture. After a stint as the home of Boulevard Recording Studios and Gallery men’s magazine, the sturdy structure became the Chicago outpost of nightclub impresario Peter Gatien’s “Limelight.” The drinking and dancing continued on for the next 29 years as the Limelight became “Excalibur,” and then in the past year “Castle Chicago,” which closed the first week of January. And yet, the name over the door still reads, “Chicago Historical Society.”



See more of Cobb’s work at: Perry H. Smith, Jr. House; Chicago Athletic Association; The Newberry Library; Foster Hall – University of Chicago; Kent Chemical Laboratory Building – University of Chicago; Ryerson Physical Laboratory – University of Chicago.




Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John DeKoven House

[John DeKoven House (1874) Edward Burling, Burling & Adler, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The line of business tycoons streaming through the front parlor of the home of their recently   departed friend and colleague John DeKoven on the first day of May in 1898, encompassed nearly the entire list of Who’s Who in Chicago. Offering-up an avalanche of accolades and tributes to the deceased banker and director of financial institutions and railroads, were men, who like the sixty-five year old former bank cashier had come to the city in the early 1850s and transformed a sleepy western outpost into one of the largest economic engines in the world. On hand to greet the mourners were DeKoven’s forty-five year old wife of the past eight years Annie Larrabee Barnes DeKoven, and his forty-one year old daughter and only child Louise Hadduck DeKoven Bowen. Marshall Field served as a pallbearer.


[John DeKoven House, 1150 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

He was only nineteen years old when John DeKoven came west and first sloshed through Chicago’s mud filled streets in 1852. He found a job, courted and married Helen Hadduck the only child of wealthy Chicago pioneer Edward Hadduck, and by the time of the fire in 1871 had advanced to the position of head cashier at Merchant’s National Bank and an increasingly lucrative career in finance and railroads. As the city’s movers and shakers worked hard to put Chicago back on the post fire map, the DeKovens decided to join some of John’s business compatriots on the north side and build a house on the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue and Elm Street. Edward Hempstead and Ira Scott were at Dearborn and Maple. George Dunlap was building a little further south at Dearborn and Oak near DeKoven’s friend and colleague Edward Waller’s large single family residence, just south of the Potter Palmers who would briefly take-up residence on Dearborn before heading over to their purpose-built-palace on Lake Shore Drive. It was a cozy community of like-minded businessmen with similarly styled homes. John and Helen chose Edward J. Burling as their architect, who was also at work on the Hempstead, Scott and Dunlap houses.


[John DeKoven House, Washington Square Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Burling had been practicing architecture in the city almost as long as DeKoven had been living  there. He came to Chicago as an apprentice carpenter and by 1871 had not only had a reputation as one of the city’s most reputable designers, but had become one of its most prolific builders of fine buildings. After the fire had destroyed virtually his entire portfolio of work he teamed-up with Dankmar Adler, a young architect making a name for himself, and was commissioned by one former client after another to rebuild what had been consumed by the great conflagration. And although the DeKoven house would also be a new build – with its stone facade, window bays, and bracketed Mansard roof – the finished product didn’t look much different than many of the mansions you would have seen around town before the fire had burned them all away.


[John DeKoven House, Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

On March 25, 1886 while Louisa DeKoven was busy making plans for her upcoming June wedding to Joseph Bowen, her mother Helen died. Helen, born in 1835 within the palisades of old Fort Dearborn and the only child of early Chicago pioneers Edward and Louisa Graves Hadduck, had recently inherited a large part of her father’s extensive real estate portfolio – which made Helen one of the city’s wealthiest women. Now Louisa – she would replace the “a” with an “e” – an only child herself, would be the beneficiary of her grandfather’s largesse. There was a bit of a surprise in store for the upper levels of society when, four years later, on April 9, 1890, among the names listed in the Chicago Tribune’s record of marriage license applicants was Mr. John DeKoven, 56, and Mrs. Ann Larrabee Barnes, 36, a widow. Annie Larrabee was herself a member of old line Chicago pedigree, so although the age difference was two decades, social acceptance was never in question. When John breathed his last breath as April turned into to May in 1898, the house and its contents were left to Mrs. Barnes DeKoven, which would revert back to Louise when Annie died. That transaction transpired 50 years later when Ann DeKoven finally bid her earthly existence a farewell in 1948 at the ripe old age of ninety-five. Louise sold the house the following year.


[John DeKoven House, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The buyer was Marie Biggs. Her late husband Joseph had created a catering company in Chicago in 1882, and was able to convince some of the city’s well-heeled matrons to make use of his services at a time when most families of means had a large in-house staff to cook and serve their elegant meals in their highly ornamented dining rooms. Over the years Biggs moved from one location to another in and around Rush, Wabash and Huron streets on the city’s north side, often taking over recently vacated family mansions. When the DeKoven house came on the market, Marie Biggs decided to leave her House of Biggs location at 30 E. Huron and take up residence on Dearborn where she not only operated the family business but lived above the store. In 1964, eighty-two year old  Marie decided that the time had finally come to hang up her apron and sold the entire Biggs operation to Edison Dick and Ray Castro. Dick came from money, his father Albert had founded a business in Chicago which made mimeograph machines among other things, and Edison used some of his good fortune to invest in restaurants like Cafe de Paris and Maison Lafitte. The new Biggs restaurant was going to put itself out on an untried limb and offer only a pre-fixe meal at a set price of either $6.50 or $7.50 per person – excluding alcohol – reservations only. Biggs became a Chicago dining institution before closing its doors for good in as the 20th century was coming to its own close. After a short stint as Il Mulino, the mostly intact historic house has been sitting vacant state since 2012, while chef Art Smith serves his Southern-inspired cuisine at Table 52 in the former DeKoven coach house on Elm Street.



See a familial connected story at: William McCormick Blair House.




Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Oliver Typewriter Co. Building

[Oliver Typewriter Co. Building (1907) Holabird & Roche, architects; (1997) adaptive reuse and facade restoration, Daniel P. Coffey Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

As Spring came into bloom in 1902, Arthur F. Lyman, Lawrence Lowell, and Arthur Lyman, members of old-line Massachusetts families and trustees of a piece of downtown Chicago real estate, secured a long term lease for their land which wrapped around the northeast corner of Randolph and Dearborn Streets. The property, fronting 60 feet on Randolph and 110 feet on Dearborn, bracketed the Chicago Realty Board Building which sat directly on the corner. But the lot proved to be no challenge for architect Benjamin Marshall who had been hired by a theater syndicate to design a new performance venue on their Lyman/Lowell leased land. Marshall wrapped the Iroquois Theatre around the old Bryant Block Realty Board building, placing an elaborate entryway on the Randolph Street side, and with a right angled degree turn to the left, had the theater’s back stage wall sitting just 38 feet east of the Dearborn Street lot line. It was a decision that would come to play a significant role in the property’s future.


[Oliver Typewriter Co. Building, 159 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1891, and again in 1894, Thomas Oliver, a minister and an inveterate tinkerer, patented a new kind of typewriting machine, one in which the typist could actually see the keys striking the paper and read what was being typed as it was being typed. The device caught the attention of Lawrence Williams, Douglas Smith and Samuel Lyde who, in December 1895, incorporated the Oliver Typewriter Company in Chicago with a capital stock of $200,000, enough to get Reverend Oliver’s invention into production and out into the marketplace. The odd looking device was a hit, and in 1898 Oliver secured another patent for a new and improved Oliver Typewriter and the company was on a roll.


[Oliver Typewriter Co. Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1896 the young company moved its manufacturing plant from Iowa to a new facility in Woodstock, Illinois about 60 miles north of the corporate office in downtown Chicago located at 107 Lake Street. In November 1906 the Lyman/Lowell trustees came to an agreement with Oliver president Lawrence Williams to lease the strip of ground over on the Dearborn Street side of things, and architects Holabird & Roche were hired to design a 5-story building for the site. H&R were one of the innovative design firms who had helped develop a new commercial building style that would come to be known as the Chicago School, and had gained a reputation in the city as a team who could deliver a handsomely marketable building to real estate developers on time and on budget.


[Oliver Typewriter Co. Building, North Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The land lease was made a matter of record in July 1907 when the the Oliver Typewriter Company took up occupancy in their new corporate home. The fanciful facade fronted a typical loft-columned interior, supported by a foundation that could one day carry the weight of an additional five floors should the need arise. Thirteen years later, the need did arise and on June 13, 1920 the Chicago Tribune reported that Holabird & Roche would oversee the addition of  three more stories to the Oliver Building. It was Lawrence Williams last major corporate decisions. The president of the Oliver Typewriter Company since it’s incorporation in 1895, died six weeks later at age fifty-six. Thomas Oliver had died years earlier when he dropped dead of a heart attack while waiting for a train on the platform of the Argyle Street elevated railroad station. By then he was busy running his Oliver Cotton Harvester company. When the Tribune reported the inventor’s death on February 10, 1909 not one mention was made of his relationship to the widely popular Oliver Typewriter, only his involvement and inventiveness with the Harvester company made it into the paper.


[Oliver Typewriter Co. Building / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Neither man lived to see the company take a precipitous decline in the years following Williams’ death – by 1928 the company was out of business. The building served its original purpose as a commercial office property until the mid-1990s when the auditorium housing the theater next door was scheduled to undergo a massive restoration. The Iroquois had a disastrous fire in 1903, and after reopening eventually became the Colonial Theatre, which was torn down and replaced by a tall commercial structure that housed a wonderful 1920s-era movie palace, the Oriental. One constant through all the changes had been that the back stage wall of all the theatrical incarnations always remained 38 feet east of Dearborn, adjacent to the east wall of the Oliver building. The reinvigorated Oriental was going to be a live performance venue and needed a deeper stage, and to make it work, the Oliver property would have to be incorporated into the rejiggered performance space. So after much legal wrangling and to the chagrin of some preservationists, the interior of the Oliver building was gutted, Holabird & Roche’s decorative facade masked the backstage area of the theater, and the original Lyman/Lowell lot had one contiguous building space sitting on it.



See more at: Oriental Theatre, Chicago and Ford Oriental Theatre Building.




Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Chicago School, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

School of the Art Institute of Chicago – MacLean Center – Illinois Athletic Club Building

[School of the Art Institute of Chicago – MacLean Center – Illinois Athletic Club Building (1907) Barnett Haynes & Barnett, architects; (1984) addition and renovation, Swann & Weiskopf, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1904, a decade before William Hale Thompson, Jr. won his first term as mayor of Chicago and created a legacy as one of the most corrupt mayors in the city’s history, he was just another in a line of young man who had the good fortune to have been the beneficiary of a father’s profuse patrimony. Colonel William Hale Thompson, Sr. had come to Chicago in 1866, gotten into the real estate business, and by the time he died in 1891 left his wife, daughter and three sons an estate valued at around half-a-million dollars. It may not seem like much, but today that figure would be in the $13.5 million range. Bill, Jr. was out in the southwestern United States living it up as a cowboy at the time of his father’s death, and reluctantly hung-up his chaps and spurs to head back home. He looked after the family’s investments, joined the right clubs, went out on-the-town, and like his father before him, entered politics and got himself elected the alderman of the city’s 2nd Ward in 1901.


[School of the Art Institute of Chicago – MacLean Center – Illinois Athletic Club Building, 112 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The cosmopolitan city dweller was still a rebellious cowboy at heart, and replaced the excitement of cattle drives and mustang running with yacht racing and competitive swimming. When he heard that a guy named Charles H. Genslinger was in town promoting the idea of a new health club in Chicago, Thompson took an interest. He was already a member of the prestigious Chicago Athletic Association, the physical work-out sibling of the city’s very prestigious and very hard to get into Chicago Club, and liked the idea of creating a club that was less restrictive and could offer a broader scope of athleticism to the city as a whole. On November 10, 1904 the New Illinois Athletic Club was incorporated with William H. Thompson as president, Genslinger as secretary, and Charles B. Pike as treasurer – with no capital or assets listed. Genslinger had served as a consultant, adviser and organizer of three previous club projects, and Pike, like his friend Thompson an avid golfer and member of the Washington Park Club, was a wealthy, high-profile attorney.  If you could afford the $100 initiation fee and $30 a year membership, that’s all it would take to join the New Illinois Athletic Club. And in an effort to make the club as accessible as possible to the general public, new members had the opportunity to pay their initiation fee in installments.


[School of the Art Institute of Chicago – MacLean Center – Illinois Athletic Club Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

With hopes of signing-up 5,000 members, the trio set their sights on a Michigan Avenue location just down the block from the Venetian-inspired palace that architect Henry Ives Cobb had designed for the Chicago Athletic Association. They found a three parcel lot just south of Monroe Street and were able to secure pretty good terms from owner Carl Young for a 99-year land lease that began on January 1, 1905 at $25,000 a year. Young would net an average rental of $8,680 a foot-front – not bad for a piece of property that had cost Edmund Hunt $450 a foot-front forty years earlier. Next up they had to pick an architect to design their new club, and with all the firms to choose from in Chicago, they picked St. Louis based firm, Barnett Haynes & Barnett. Thomas and George Barnett’s father George had been a prominent St. Louis architect and the brothers joined with their brother-in-law John Haynes to start their own namesake firm in 1894. Genslinger had advised, consulted and collected a fee for overseeing the organization and construction of  the posh Missouri Athletic Club in 1903 – in St. Louis.


[School of the Art Institute of Chicago – MacLean Center – Illinois Athletic Club Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The design team came up with a 12-story building capped by an elaborate and athletic-inspired Greek frieze, with heroic bronze figures framed by arched window openings overlooking Michigan Avenue. Inside members and their guests had access to a pool, gymnasium, indoor running track, billiard room, bowling alley, a large two-story dining room, and 150 guest rooms for an overnight stay – which didn’t come cheap. When Chicago mayor and future governor of Illinois Edward F. Dunne laid the cornerstone on October 27, 1905 and future governor and congressman Colonel Frank O. Lowden proclaimed that, “The poor man with health and physique is far richer than the millionaire with dyspepsia,” the Illinois Athletic Club’s poor man membership stood at a reported 3,200. Not enough to pay for the entire $500,000 project, but at least enough to get it off the ground.


[School of the Art Institute of Chicago – MacLean Center – Illinois Athletic Club Building / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By March the entire steel frame was in place and the first two floors had their limestone covering,   but membership had only increased by about 300 and the partners had raised just $200,000. So Thompson got to work using his connections to put together a bond issue in the hopes of raising the much needed $300,000. By April it looked like Thompson had an underwriter, the Mississippi Valley Trust Co.,  then the San Francisco earthquake hit and Mississippi Valley, which had underwritten a large amount of bond issues in the hard-hit city, pulled out. By July construction on the Athletic Club came to a halt, and general contractor Thompson Starrett Co. filed a lien. Pike, still the treasurer, blamed Genslinger for all their troubles, and the club promoter was removed from his position without receiving his full consulting fee. A plea to members raised enough capital to finish the project, and on December 22, 1907 the Illinois Athletic Club held its dedicatory dinner in the club’s two-story dining room. Ten years later the room underwent a transformation when club member and architect W. Gibbons Uffendel added a balcony and second entry so that women could dine unescorted by male company in the public dining hall. Club membership remained steady for the next 70 years, but by 1984 the organization had barely 1,000 members and the 170 shareholders sold the property to Charles Vavros, who owned and operated the Charlie Club chain. Vavros hired architects Swann & Weiskopf to update the aging structure and add an additional 6-stories to the building. Vavros sold the club to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992 as the educational institution began expanding out beyond the walls of its Institute building campus.



See more of SAIC’s urban campus at: Chicago Savings Bank Building – The Chicago Building and Champlain Building; and the Athletic Club’s party wall neighbors at: Monroe Building and Municipal Court Building, Michigan Avenue, Chicago.




Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Decorative Arts, Landmarked | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bush Temple of Music

[Bush Temple of Music (1902) J. E. O. Pridmore, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

William Henry Bush had worked hard, invested his money wisely, been lucky, and decided at age fifty-five to retire and enjoy whatever remaining years he had left. His business career began when at the age of thirteen he became an apprentice in a Mechanicsville, Maryland grocery store where he learned the ins and outs of the trade. He came to Chicago in 1857, and by the time he made the decision to kick back and take it easy twenty-five years later, he owned and operated a very successful wholesale commission business and had the distinction of having once moved more lumber through the Chicago market than any of his lumber baron competitors.


[Bush Temple of Music, 800 N. Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

William Lincoln Bush didn’t follow in his father’s commission inclined footsteps. Born March 8, 1861 four days after Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office, William Lincoln’s interests lay in musical instruments, specifically pianos. He was just 17-years-old when he left Chicago and went to work in the Boston piano factory of George H. Woods & Co., and returned to the city the following year taking a position as a traveling salesman with the Chicago-based piano maker Kimball & Co. Switching gears, and perhaps under parental pressure, in 1881 20-year-old William left the music business and took a position with a commission firm at the Chicago Board of Trade as a road manager. Apparently young William couldn’t get pianos out of his system because in 1885, and with his father’s financial support, W.H. Bush & Co. piano manufacturers announced that they were open for business.


[Bush Temple of Music, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

With a $20,000 capital investment and a partnership with a 40-year-old German immigrant, cabinet maker, and piano fabricator John Gerts, William Henry came out of retirement and William Lincoln had a piano company. Pianos were a hot commodity in the later part of the 19th century, and by focusing your attention on manufacturing instruments for the ever expanding middle income market, there was money out there to be made. The start-up was so successful that when incorporation papers were drawn-up for the Bush & Gerts Piano Co. in 1892, company president William H. Bush, vice president William L. Bush, and secretary John Gerts as secretary, had a company capitalized at $400,000. By 1900, the company’s capital stock had grown to over $1,000,000.


[Bush Temple of Music, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Like many of his peers, over the years William Henry invested whatever extra cash he had in real estate. One property in his portfolio comprised four city lots at the northwest corner of Chicago Avenue and Clark Street on the city’s north side. The land had a six-story income producing building sitting on it, but William Lincoln had other ideas. What if his father built a larger, more substantial structure on the heavily trafficked intersection that would provide offices for the Bush & Gerts company, a showroom, with a recital hall, an auditorium, rehearsal rooms and offices available for rent, and have the Bush Temple of Music building serve as a kind of billboard for the company. William Henry agreed and hired architect John Edward Oldaker Pridmore who had come to Chicago in 1883 just before his twentieth birthday and worked in a number of classical revival styles. The architect set his sights on the effusive period of French Renaissance regality as the inspiration for the palatial, Chateauesque temple trimmed in elaborate configurations of molded terra cotta and crowned by an enormous peaked roof lined with metal trim and capped by a tall clock tower. The Temple dominated its corner site.


[Bush Temple of Music, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

William Henry didn’t live long enough to see the ebullient project completed in April 1902, and his widow Mary, sons William and Frank, became the owners of the land and the building. In 1904 William and his partner John Gerts made the decision to get out of the retail showroom business to focus solely on manufacturing their annual production 22,000 Bush & Gerts pianos for the wholesale market. Gerts died in 1913 at age sixty-eight, and the secretary/treasurer of the Bush & Gerts Co. left his shares in the business and $1.5 million estate in trust to his wife Caroline, his 32-year-old daughter Emilie and 21-year-old son John, who was named as trustee. Bush now had more partners than he had bargained for, but only John took up a position in the company and took over his father’s titles. By the time 75-year-old Caroline Gerts died on June 5, 1920 sales of pianos had started to slump – there were simply too many other entertainment options available in the technologically advancing consumer market. In July of that year Emilie sued her brother in court for mismanaging the estate and sought to have a new trustee appointed. It didn’t matter. Two years later Bush & Gerts was sold to the Haddorff Piano Co. of Rockford, IL. and William Lincoln Bush decided to sell the Temple of Music for $700,000. At the time of his death in 1941 William Lincoln was impoverished and died in the hospital as a charity patient. He was survived by his wife who lived in a small room at the Methodist Old Peoples Home on Foster Avenue. In 1922 the Chicago-Clark Building Corporation began to update their recent purchase which resulted in the loss of  the Temple’s auditorium, recital hall, marble columned entryways, and flamboyant roof tower and trim. The architecturally edited structure was sold once again in 1945 by the Mutual Life Insurance Company to Eli Herman, president of the 800 N. Clark Street Building Corporation, and the building has changed hands once again. The new owners have plans to restore the exterior while converting the interior into approximately 100, 350 square foot micro apartments.



See more of the city’s Chateausque inspired piano history at: William W. Kimball House, and Newman Triplets; and a Francophile inspired design of a different tune at: Parisian Starckness and Starck Update.




Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Decorative Arts, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Happy New Year!

[Chicago Water Tower / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Well, it’s almost over – 2014. And since we’re taking a break from our regular weekly Wednesday publishing schedule next week, we just wanted to send our very best wishes to all of our loyal readers and followers and say “Thanks!” for another great year here at designslinger. Welcome to all of you who took the time to subscribe during the past twelve months, and a special shout-out of thanks to all of you who have been with us since the beginning. We appreciate all the support we’ve gotten from our Facebook and Twitter friends – and the very generous comments and emails you’ve sent our way.


A toast from both of us to all of you – see you back here in 2015.



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Henry Rohkam House

[Henry Rohkam House (1887) Theodore Karls, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In the aftermath of the Great Chicago Fire, “Fireproof” became the buzzword of the post-fire era. Commercial buildings had been marketed as flame resistant prior to the metal-melting inferno, but after seeing brick, stone and iron pulverized by the intense heat, fireproof took on new meaning. Virtually nothing survived the fire’s fury, and the handful of structures that did remain standing left few consistent clues as to their survival. The Nixon building was nearing completion when the fire struck and it withstood the intense heat virtually intact. Maybe it was the insulating coatings of concrete and plaster of Paris that helped the building survive. Or maybe it was just the fact that the wood-framed roof hadn’t been constructed yet which had played such a large role in fanning the flames of utter destruction. Then a story began floating around town. John Van Osdel, Chicago’s first official architect, had taken the plans of the recently completed Palmer House Hotel, went down to the basement and buried the paper drawings beneath two feet of clay and sand. After things had cooled down, he made his way through the hotel’s debris pile and recovered the damp, but in otherwise perfect condition set of drawings from their burial place. As history would have it, this urban legend became one of the defining moments when builders began to think that something wrapped in clay, perhaps in its fired form, might produce an ideal fire insulator. It made for a good story. It was common knowledge that terra cotta – Latin for “baked earth” – was fire resistant, but after the Great Conflagration the flower pot and decorative garden market variety of the malleable material took on new forms and an important new meaning as an essential component in the construction of modern commercial structures.


[Henry Rohkam House, 1048 W. Oakdale, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

As Henry Rohkam and Gustav Hottinger signed their names to the documents of incorporation of the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company in 1887, it was hard not to be swept up in the moment and recall with wonder how much they had achieved since forming their clay manufacturing concern in 1877 – less than ten years after first setting foot in Chicago. Natives of Germany and Austria, the pair had found work carving and molding clay into decorative garden products for the Chicago Terra Cotta Company in the late 1860s. Their employers were churning out a line of bird baths, draped classical figurines, and other assorted object d’art for middle class consumers but the company was struggling. So instead of waiting for their employer to go under and lose their jobs as a result, Rohkam and Hottinger each took $1,000 of their savings and joined with fellow employees John True and John Brunkhorst to form True, Bunkhorst & Co. Terra Cotta in 1877. Two years later Chicago Terra Cotta went out-of-business and the partners moved their start-up into Chicago’s plant at 15th and Laflin Streets.


[Henry Rohkam House, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The timing was perfect. Year after year, architects added more and more of the fireproofing material to their buildings as the commercial property market soared higher and higher. Not only were the utilitarian version of the baked earth tiles great for wrapping steel and iron columns and the floor plates of these new skyscraping buildings in a snug fireproof coat, but the ease of working with clay also made exterior architectural decoration a much more cost effective proposition. So why not kill two birds with one stone and fireproof the interior with utilitarian flower-pot-looking red clay tiles while at the same time apply a skin of decorative fireproof protection on the exterior. The idea took off like wildfire, then in 1886 Chicago passed an ordinance requiring all buildings over 90 feet had to be absolutely fireproof, and True & Brunkhorst became one of the largest manufacturers of the fireproofing clay in the city. The company grew, the partners had to expand. They built a new building on property they had acquired on Wrightwood Avenue just east of Clybourn on the north side of town where much of their workforce lived, and by the time True & Brunkhorst became Northwestern Terra Cotta in 1887, the physical plant had expanded to accommodate over 300 workers. Henry Rohkam, Vice-President of the newly incorporated and ever-growing company, built a house not far from the office.


[Henry Rohkam House, Lakeview, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Oakdale Avenue was out in the sticks. When Henry and his friend and business partner Gustav    bought two vacant lots at Oakdale and Seminary Avenues in 1886 there were a handful of houses on the north side of the street, while the south side’s only occupants were wild life that lived in the tall prairie grass. Hottinger took the corner and Henry took the next lot over. He then called on architect Theodore Karls, a fellow German immigrant, to design a large single family home for Rohkam and his family. Karls looked back to 15th century Flanders and Northern Germany for the profile the facade of the 2,100 square-foot house, and threw in a number of decorative exterior embellishments, provided of course, by Northwestern Terra Cotta. The elaborate, ochre-glazed, Oakdale-facing-fence came onto the scene after Henry’s death on December 1, 1896, the year after Theodore Karls had committed suicide in his downtown office.


[Henry Rohkam House, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By 1920 Northwestern’s 24-acre complex was firing clay like mad with over 1,000 skilled craftsmen on the payroll – the largest terra cotta manufacturer in the world. Henry’s wife Augusta still lived in the house that she and her husband had built decades before. Her daughter Lena, and Lena’s husband Sherman Taylor, Vice-President of the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, lived with Augusta, and after Taylor’s death in 1926, mother and daughter soldiered on. Northwestern Terra Cotta thrived until the Great Depression virtually shut down all building construction in the United States for several years. After the Second World War and the advent of new building materials and a new design aesthetic, decorative terra cotta was pretty much done for, but Northwestern managed to hang on until 1956.




See more of Northwestern’s artistry at: Blackstone Hotel, Chicago and Wrigley Building.



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Carbide and Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago

[Carbide and Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago (1929) Burnham Brothers, architects (2003) adaptive reuse; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates; Lucien LaGrange, architects; Yabu Pashelberg, interior design / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Change was in the air. Names, places, styles, nothing seemed to be immune from the roar of the 1920s. As the decade opened, women in the U.S. got the right to vote, and flappers with slicked back hair in sleek shift dresses glistening with ropes of bejeweled beading, came to define the look and feel of the age. Artist Tamara de Lempicka’s 1925 “Portrait of the Duchess of LaSalle” draped the Duchess in a jazzy tableau. In 1928, as the decade was drawing to a close, MGM released “Our Dancing Daughters” with dance-crazed Joan Crawford Charleston-ing her way through a streamlined geometric world created by the studio’s innovative production designer Cedric Gibbons.  That same year two brothers decided that the time had come to let go of a filial obligation to the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome and go for the gusto.


[Carbide and Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, 230 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Hubert and Daniel Burnham came from an architecturally royal pedigree. The figure of Daniel   Hudson Burnham, Sr. cast and long and weighty shadow, but even so, both men decided to pursue their father’s profession as their own. They joined the firm of D.H.Burnham & Co. and followed in Dad’s classical revival footsteps even after his death in 1912. The rejiggered, renamed Graham, Burnham & Co. picked-up where the leader had left-off in a seamless, and to the public and client’s eyes, unchanged company. In 1917 the Burnham boys decided to strike out on their own back under the familial mantle of D.H. Burnham & Co., and after over ten more years of producing flourishing neoclassical arabesques, tentatively began to dip their toes into the more geometrically graphic forms of their times.


[Carbide and Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1928, the New York based Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation- which had figured out a way to make ethylene out of natural gas giving birth to the modern petrochemical industry – maintained a regional headquarters in three separate downtown Chicago office buildings. The scattered office approach was not a very efficient way to conduct business, so the company went out on a search for a piece of property to purchase and consolidate into one location. They set their sights on the aging 6-story building located at the southwest corner of Michigan and South Water Street that had, until recently, been occupied by Chicago wholesaler E.B. Millar & Co. Henry Paschen, a major player in the Chicago’s heavy weight construction industry, had recently bought the building and secured a 99-year leasehold on the land from the heirs of the original property owner. A great deal maker, Paschen signed an agreement with Carbide to construct a building for the chemical manufacturer and then sell them his leasehold, the chemical makers could then purchase the valuable lot outright from the heirs. The Burnham brothers were chosen as the project’s architects.


[Carbide and Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, North Michigan Avenue / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It hadn’t been that long ago that this section of Michigan Avenue was primarily stocked - party wall to party wall – with a variety of wholesaler commission merchants selling and warehousing their wares. The city’s main wholesale district was right around the corner on South Water Street, which ran along the south bank of the main branch of the Chicago River. In 1909 Chicago’s Commercial Club published a plan devised by Daniel H. Burnham, Sr. and architect Edward Bennett which called for the demolition of the unsightly, aging, river bank market place to be replaced by a beautiful, Parisian-inspired boulevard. By the time the brothers were chosen to design the new building for Carbide and Carbon, Bennett’s 1924 proposal for the area had transformed the dilapidated South Water Street into Wacker Drive, and the Burnhams had begun their transformation from Neoclassicism to Deco. Their Carbide project would take them beyond their first tentative steps into a new decorative design territory, and the Carbide and Carbon Building become one of their most recognized projects. In 1928, with the Carbide commission in hand, D.H. Burnham & Co. became Burnham Brothers, Inc.


[Carbide and Carbon Building – Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The sleek, dark green building trimmed in bronze and glistening gold, stood like a massive    exclamation point among its Michigan Avenue neighbors, and garnered national recognition for the architects. The area continued to transform itself into an unrecognizable version of its former self, but by the turn of the 21st century the aging commercial towers in this three block stretch of North Michigan Avenue were on the cusp of outliving their original useful purpose. Modern business required modern interconnected infrastructure technology, and the outdated mechanical systems in these 70-year-old structures couldn’t compete. So in 2001 a proposal was put forward to convert the tower from an office building into a hotel. A lot of people thought it wouldn’t work. Who would want to stay in this netherland of Michigan Avenue with nothing to offer guests once they stepped out the door other than wishing they had booked on the north side of the river? When the Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago opened for business in  a reconfigured, refurbished, gold-leaf-spired Carbide and Carbon Building on New Years Eve 2003, the hotel was a lone wolf. Today, around the corner the former Chicago Auto Club building is undergoing a conversion from office tower to hotel, just up the street so is the London Guarantee Building, to the south the 101-year-old Federal Life Building is being converted into an Indigo Hotel, while over at Lake and Wabash the Old Dearborn Bank Building will soon open as a Virgin Hotel.



See more from the Burnham brothers at: MDA Apartments – Medical and Dental Arts Building and 105 W. Madison Building, Chicago; and another hotel conversion at: 203 North Wabash – Old Dearborn Bank Building, Chicago.




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Theurer – Wrigley House

[Theurer-Wrigley House (1897) Richard E. Schmidt, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It wasn’t that it was a bad house, but Joseph Theurer had lived in the many-roomed mansion at 25th and Prairie Avenue long enough. He’d moved into the large single-family manse in 1880 shortly after coming to work at the brewery of the home’s owner, Peter Schoenhofen. Not only was he living in his boss’s house, but that same year he married the boss’s daughter, and for the next 13 years learned the nuts and bolts of the operation before taking over as company president after his father-in-law’s death. That wasn’t exactly how things were supposed to have turned out. When Theurer married into the family his wife Emma had four sisters and two brothers, who, as the male siblings, were destined to take over the company some day. But before Peter Schoenhofen breathed his last breath in 1893, Peter Jr. had succumbed to injuries sustained in a freak accident, and in 1891 son George fell victim to consumption. Joseph and his brother-in-law Carl Buehl, who worked for the family firm and was married one of Emma’s sisters, were as close as you got to old-fashioned familial primogeniture, so they took over, and  after living at his in-laws for the past 16 years Joseph Theurer decided that the time had come to move on and move out.


[Theurer-Wrigley House, 2466 N. Lakeview Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1896, with three years of the presidency of the company under his belt, Theurer purchased a vacant piece of property on the north side of Chicago at the northwest corner of Lake View Avenue and Arlington Place just north of Fullerton Avenue, directly across from Lincoln Park. Although located far from the social turf of Prairie Avenue, Theurer was familiar with the the neighborhood and a few of its residents. The commodious abode of fellow brewer Andrew E. Leicht stood at the northwest corner of Fullerton and Lake View just south of the large home of Edward A. Leicht. Theurer had known the Leichts even before coming into the Schoenhofen family fold – he had once worked at the Bartholomae & Leicht Brewery.


[Theurer-Wrigley House, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1896 Arlington Place and nearby Roslyn Place were lined with elegant stone-fronted townhouses, and a group of four townhouses stood just to the north of Theurer’s corner – all occupied by upper-middle-class businessmen and their families. Although Theurer was American-born and bred he was very active in the city’s German-American community and in German-American affairs. This may account for his choice of the Bavarian born architect and Chicago resident Richard E. Schmidt, even though Schmidt had come to the U.S. with his parents when he a year old. Schmidt came to Chicago in 1887 after attending the prestigious MIT, and was himself involved in a number of the city’s German-based organizations. He had a few residential commissions in his portfolio, but nothing came close to the scale of a house befitting the president of one the the regions largest brewery concerns. Schmidt had recently hired a very talented designer Hugh Garden to join him in his office and the pair got to work on the Theurer residence.


[Theurer-Wrigley House, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Schmidt and his new hire designer extraordinaire Hugh Garden, looked to Europe for inspiration, primarily the palazzi of the Italian Renaissance. Coming in at around 40-rooms tucked into 15,000 square feet of space, the $55,000 house dominated its corner site. And the Theurers enjoyed their park view mansion for thirteen years until selling the Chicago palazzo to William Wrigley – of chewing gum fame – for $100,000 in May 1910, and William, Ada and their son 16-year-old Philip Knight Wrigley moved into the abundant abode. Ten years of living the high life at 2466 N. Lake View Avenue must have been enough for the the senior Wrigleys because by 1920 they had moved to an apartment in the Blackstone Hotel leaving 25-year-old Philip in the house with his young wife Helen, four maids, a cook, a houseman, and a chauffeur.  The young Wrigleys had a daughter Ada in 1923, but before their son William was born in 1933 the family left Lake View for a large Gold Coast apartment in the recently completed 1500 N. Lake Shore Drive residential tower. Philip and Helen may have opted for the security of high-rise living after an incident in 1930. In November of that year, Philip’s sister and only sibling Dorothy and her husband James Offield, received a letter in the mail threatening to kidnap their daughter Betty unless the Offields parted with some of the Wrigley fortune – but nothing ever came of the threat. So, for the next 50 years the house sat lonely and forsaken, watched over by a caretaker and chauffeur or two.


[Theurer-Wrigley House, Lakeview, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

After William Wrigley, Jr.’s death in 1932, P.K. as he was known, held on to the old house for sentimental reasons, calling it a family heirloom – but sentiment only went so far. By the early 1970s Wrigley had purchased two of the four 1880s era townhouses just north of the old mansion, tore them down, and it looked like the house would be soon to follow in order to make way for a high-rise apartment tower. Then Philip Knight Wrigley died on April 12, 1977 followed months later by his wife Helen. Now William III and his sister Ada had to decide what to do with the place, and after an aborted attempt to turn the house into the official residence of Chicago’s mayors, demolition seemed certain. Through the efforts of local residents, the local alderman, and dedicated preservationists, in 1983 the Wrigleys handed the keys of the house to Nicholas Jannes. The new owner had a massive task confronting him, but he cleaned-out the dusty, deteriorating interior, renovated the entire house, entertained like William Wrigley before him, and sold the elaborately terra cotta-trimmed house in 2004. The preserved National Register and city designated landmark is now the only free-standing, single family home on the Avenue from that bygone era to have survived changing tastes and real estate development.


See more of the Wrigley story at: Perry H. Smith, Jr. House; O.O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago; and Wrigley Building; and more of Richard Schmidt & Hugh Garden at: Six North Michigan – Montgomery Ward & Co. Tower Building; Montgomery Ward & Co. Mail Order & Catalog House Building; Montgomery Ward & Co. Administration Building; Humboldt Park Boathouse Pavilion and Albert F. Madlener House.



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Union Loop Elevated Railroad – Chicago “L”

[Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago “L” (1897) / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

“The Union loop will never run in Van Buren street,” as far as Levi Z. Leiter was concerned. Marshall Field’s former partner was rich, powerful and a Chicago mover and shaker, not someone to mess with. It wasn’t that he was against the unifying elevated loop railroad, after all he had supported the construction of the above ground rail line running along Wabash Avenue, but he felt that the southern end of the proposed central business district loop should extend farther south, to Harrison Street. Leiter had a formidable nemesis in New York bond wizard and banker Charles Yerkes who had come to Chicago in 1881 to build another financial empire based in the city’s transit system. During the last two weeks of November the two traded barbs in the daily newspapers accusing one another of nefarious deal making to insure that the loop “L” would – or would not – operate 20-feet above Van Buren Street.


[Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago “L”, Wabash Avenue at Van Buren Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Frank Parmalee began providing Chicagoans with their first unified public transportation system in 1854 when he secured a franchise to run horse drawn omnibuses along Madison Street from downtown Chicago west to today’s Union Park. By 1882 his Chicago City Railway Company was operating the largest cable car system in the world. The cable cars transported people from outlying neighborhoods into the central city, looped around the bustling business district, and then headed back out to the city’s north, south and west sides, defining Chicago’s soon-to-be world famous loop. In 1888 a group of investors, including Levi Leiter, decided to form a company that would speed up travel times by elevating pubic transit above Chicago’s slow moving and overcrowded streets. The South Side Rapid Transit Company began at the south wall of a recently completed Leiter property on Congress Street and run down the alley between State and Wabash to the city’s boundary at 39th Street. That same year a company was organized to run above the mess of traffic on Lake Street with a downtown terminal at Market (South Wacker) and Madison Street.


[Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago “L” – Wabash Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When the Metropolitan elevated line incorporated in 1892 to serve Chicago’s expansive west side its downtown terminal stood on Fifth Avenue (Wells Street) between Van Buren and Jackson. When Yerkes organized the Northwestern line in 1893 to service the city’s north side residential population he was hoping to bring that elevated system as far into downtown as Fifth (today’s Wells). But none of the lines came anywhere near Parmalee’s ground level, centrally located, cable car loop. Yerkes saw a need, and perhaps, the potential to make even more money. So, on November 22, 1894 a group of investors backed by their silent partner Charles Yerkes, incorporated the Union Elevated Railroad Company. The proposed line would not only help alleviate the center city’s artery clogging ground level traffic problem but would deliver the “Alley,” “Lake,” “Polly,” and future Northwestern lines directly into the heart of the business district before looping around and heading back out to their respective neighborhoods.


[Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago “L” – Quincy Street Station, Wells Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Union loop company would lease their tracks to the elevated rapid transit lines for a set fee and a percentage of their yearly receipts. There were grumblings from business and property owners along Lake, Wabash and Fifth (Wells), but no one raised their hackles as much as Leiter and a vocal group of businessmen who not only used the popular press to make their case, but sued in court to stop the Van Buren segment of the loop from being constructed. They lost, and on October 4, 1897 the Chicago Tribune ran a banner headline proclaiming that the unifying elevated loop was complete and open to the public. Although unsightly, the boundary defining steel structure of the “L” caused property values within the central business district to soar, just as the banks of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan had done a generation before.


[Union Loop Elevated Railroad, Chicago “L” – Wells Street at Jackson / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Downtown Chicago, like many American urban cores, entered into a decline in the early 1970s, and as a part of revitalization efforts there were a number of proposals to finally rid downtown of its unsightly steel loop, but the transit way held on and became a defining symbol of the city. Known as an eyesore through much of its history, during the 1980s the Chicago Transit Authority – which had taken over the entire private transit system after the Second World War – undertook a restoration and rehabilitation of the elevated structure. One of the oldest intact “L” stations in the Loop at Quincy and Wells was closed down, extensively renovated, and reopened to the public in 1988. Soon the aging stations at Randolph and Wabash, and Madison and Wabash, will be joined into one 21st century stop at Washington Street. And in one of the more interesting concepts featuring this 117-year-old Chicago landmark, Jack Newell and Seth Unger are proposing a visually interactive experience with The Wabash Lights project.




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Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University

[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University (1889) Adler & Sullivan, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

December was probably not the best month in which to debut a new theater in Chicago. The stockholders and promoters of the stately 1,900-seat auditorium were keeping their fingers crossed that the formal dedication of the Central Music Hall on December 8, 1879 would not go down in history as one of the city’s snowiest or coldest but instead as one of the most brilliant theatrical debuts the city had ever seen. Their wish was granted. The weather cooperated and Carlotta Patti’s mellifluous voice resonated majestically into the upper most reaches of the vast room. The isacoustic curving, “democratically” designed Music Hall was a triumph, and the venue’s architect Dankmar Adler became the talk of the town.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

One of the stockholders in the Central Music Hall sitting in the audience that night was a wealthy Chicago real estate heir and patron of the arts. Ferdinand W. Peck and his brothers had come into a substantial inheritance upon the death of their father in 1871, and the Peck boys grew  their patrimony into an even larger and more substantial fortune in the years following the Great Fire. Ferd Peck was a big fan of grand opera, and by the mid-1880s the major domo of the Chicago Grand Opera Festival began a campaign to construct the largest and most acoustically perfect auditorium in the world in his hometown. He enlisted the help of his wealthy friends and fellow Music Hall investors like N.K. Fairbank, Marshall Field, Edson Keith, Levi Leiter, George Pullman, and began talks with Adler.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The architect’s reputation as the sublime supplier of acoustical perfection – and without a bad seat   in the house – had soared after the completion of the Music Hall. By the time Peck and his Chicago Grand Auditorium Association came calling in 1886 Adler had acquired a partner, 29-year-old Louis Sullivan. Adler brought Sullivan into his office in 1879, and recognizing the immense talent of his employee, Adler invited Sullivan join him as a full partner in the firm in 1883. In addition to industrial, residential and commercial projects, Adler & Sullivan had reworked the auditorium of Chicago’s McVicker’s Theatre and had created an operatic performance space inside the enormous shell of the Interstate Exposition Building, but nothing anywhere near the scope of the new Grand Auditorium building had ever come across the architect’s drafting tables. Peck’s belief in Adler made other Association shareholders nervous, and although the investors agreed to give the pair a chance, all of the drawings produced by the firm had to be looked over by outside experts and given the okay. On January 30, 1887 excavation began on a large piece of property on the north side of Congress Street between Michigan and Wabash Avenues.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, National Register of Historic Places / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The property. The Association didn’t actually own the land that the largest private construction    project ever undertaken in the United States would sit upon. Peck had used his real estate skills and connections to acquire the 363 x 187 x 160 foot plot under long term lease agreements which stretched for a term of 99 years. Long term land leases were not uncommon, but, unfortunately, it was a decision that would cause quite a kerfuffle years later. As for the building itself, although the primary impetus for the entire operation was to provide a top-notch theater for Chicagoans of all stripes, the stockholders were wary that the performance space would ever be able to pay for itself so the design included an income producing hotel and commercial office space. The idea of combining a theater with alternative income generating tenants wasn’t exactly new. Adler’s Music Hall was fronted on its State Street side with regularly paying office and retail tenants, and the old Crosby’s Opera House which had burned down in the fire, had ground floor retail, galleries, and office space for rent. The idea of incorporating a 400-room hotel into a theater project of this scale was untried, but with a number of hostelries already lining Michigan Avenue the Auditorium Hotel would not only join the row but provide visitors with the latest in luxury accommodations.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

From the get-go, Peck not only wanted the grand auditorium to host opera for a mass audience, but businessman that he was, the enormous room was also intended to serve as a meeting place for any number of large gatherings – like conventions. The Republican National Party had chosen Chicago as the site for four of its presidential electoral gatherings since nominating Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the Republican confab in the Exposition Building in 1884 had given an extra incentive to Peck’s grand idea. What if Chicago were to become the go-to spot for all sorts of national conventions? The possibilities were endless. The Auditorium’s auditorium wasn’t exactly finished when the Party gathered together in the summer of 1888 to nominate Benjamin Harrison as their nominee. The brick walls were in place, and the space was covered by a roof and its supporting trusses, so with a few thousand Edison electric light bulbs and many more thousands of yards of bunting to mask the raw interior, the 8,000 attendees would be none the wiser.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

On the night of December 9, 1889, almost ten years to the day that Adler’s Music Hall was revealed to the general public, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison and Vice President Levi Morton joined 4,237 other patrons as they listened to Carlotta Patti’s sister Adelina sing “Home, Sweet Home” to a packed house. The massive, brilliantly decorated auditorium surpassed all expectations. Those seated in the upper most row of the upper most balcony of Adler’s megaphone shaped room could not only see the diminutive soprano, but could hear her as clearly as if seated within feet of the stage. It marked another triumph for Adler and catapulted Sullivan into the pantheon of one of the world’s great, architectural visionaries. Unfortunately not long after the stellar debut, the “luxury” hotel was considered outdated when “in-bath” rooms became all the rage. After the Chicago’s symphony orchestra moved to a dedicated performance space in 1904, followed by the opera company 25 years later, office rents were all that the owners could rely on to try and keep the project afloat. The Great Depression clanged the building’s death knell. By the time Roosevelt College took an interest in the massive white elephant, the building was crumbling and one of the property owner’s estates owed over $1 million dollars in back taxes. Remember the 99-year deals Peck had made when he assembled the land in the late 1880s? Well Roosevelt was able to buy-up almost all of the encumbered ground underneath the building save for one parcel of property. Chicago attorney Abraham Teitelbaum owned 52 1/2 by 170 feet of soil beneath the north edge of the building on its Michigan Avenue side and he wanted $800,000 for his share. The school said no.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, Auditorium Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Eventually Teitelbaum settled for $336,623 and Roosevelt became the owners of the forlorn structure and, for the first time, the ground it stood on. Over the past 68 years, under the University’s stewardship, and the support of a dedicated board, volunteers, and the general public, the Auditorium Theatre will triumphantly celebrate its 125th anniversary with a gala performance by Carlotta and Adelina Patti’s great-grand niece Patti LuPone in Adler & Sullivan’s pitch perfect auditorium.



See more of the story at: Supreme Reprieve; Arcaded Away; Auditorium Building Tower; Ganz Hall – Roosevelt University; Auditorium Building Dining Room; and Auditorium Theatre, Chicago.



Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse, Decorative Arts, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion

[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion (1885) James R. Willett, Willett & Pashley, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The soil was sandy and somewhat unstable, but with a good stone foundation the house would most likely settle into its site just fine. Architect James R. Willett had learned a lot about such things during his service as an engineer in the Civil War, and after the conflict was over, and landing in Chicago, he set-up an architectural practice. In 1880 who should arrive in the city to take over as Chicago’s very first Roman Catholic archbishop, none other an old war buddy, Father Patrick Feehan. Once he settled in, the Catholic prelate asked the architect to design a residence befitting the status of the leader of the recently elevated diocese and chose a site at the northern edge of a new residential subdivision the archbishop was developing in and around the grounds of the old Catholic cemetery.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, 1555 N. State Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

James Patrick Feehan was serving as the Bishop of Nashville when the Pope called him to Chicago. The city had been pastored by a Catholic priest since the arrival of Father John Mary Irenaeus St. Cyr in 1833, and by the time the Right Rev. Father Feehan arrived 47 years later, St. Cyr’s 32 family parish had grown into a 150,000 family archdiocese. Feehan moved into the episcopal residence on Ohio street when he first got to town, then moved over to North LaSalle Avenue before deciding to build a much larger residence on the piece of land overlooking Lincoln Park – the former City Cemetery.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It was a large piece of property, certainly one of the largest in the emerging residential     neighborhood north of Division Street and east of Dearborn. Feehan’s episcopal house plot had been acquired by the city’s first bishop William Quarter in the early 1840s. Located at the northeast corner of the Catholic cemetery, the parcel wasn’t included in the cemetery’s first plat map because in short order the Bishop sold the tract to the Sister’s of Mercy for $100. The nuns had considered building a hospital on the site but they eventually sold the land back to the diocese when Bishop Anthony O’Regan paid a bargain basement price of $1.00 for the vacant lot in 1856. O’Regan, not popular with a large segment of the city’s Catholics, had recently built himself a new residence on diocese property at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street which proved to be a perfect foil in a mud-slinging p.r. campaign organized against the cleric. Dubbed the “Bishop’s Palace,” the house became a symbol of O’Regan’s total disregard for his flock and his complete mismanagement of the diocese. The name stuck, and even as future bishops moved from one house to another, no matter the size or location, the Catholic leader’s home was there after referred to as his “palace.”


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Astor Street Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the time Archbishop Feehan made plans to build a house the size of a palace, no one batted an eye. Chicago’s Catholics were proud of their stature within the larger American community and were happy to show that they had the financial resources to build a house worthy of their new status as an archdiocese. Willett and his new partner Alfred Pashley delivered. The house was one of the largest residences in the city, and featured one of the largest number of impressive brick chimney stacks around. Feehan was able to pay for the place because he was in the midst of grading streets and subdividing the old Catholic graveyard for residential development, and selling house lots at a premium price. On January 15, 1882 the Chicago Tribune announced in their Real Estate column that agent George Rozet had sold over $100,000 worth of property to various individuals including a large swath of land along the “Lake-Shore drive from Schiller to North Avenue” to Potter Palmer for a tidy $90,695, or just over $2 million today.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When the archbishop moved into his “House of Many Chimney’s” in 1885 Potter Palmer’s ownCastle” was nearing completion on the Drive. Soon many more homes occupied by members of Chicago’s upper crust would line the streets carved out of the old cemetery grounds. In 1924, Archbishop George Mundelein was elevated to the position of Cardinal, and the large red brick house facing North Avenue between State Parkway and Astor Street shifted from “Palace” to the Cardinal’s Mansion. And although Mundelein and his successors moved into the residence without giving it a second thought, by the early 2000s the first native born Chicagoan to sit on the cathedra of the Church of the Holy Name decided that perhaps the time had come to sell this very valuable piece of Gold Coast real estate. Although in a prime location, the large house with its substantial lot could prove to be a tough sell. Francis Cardinal George would not only have to find a deep-pocketed buyer willing to purchase an aging structure in need of updating, but also a buyer willing to pay an estimated $14 million for a home located in an historic landmark district.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The real estate market collapsed in 2008, and in September of this year Pope Francis announced     that Bishop Blase Cupich would be Chicago’s next archbishop. On November 18, 2014 upon his installation as the leader of the country’s third largest Roman Catholic diocese, for the first time in nearly 130 years, the Archbishop of Chicago will not be living at 1555 N. State Parkway and will instead reside in a small apartment in the rectory of Holy Name Cathedral. While the mansion is used for special gatherings and events, a committee of clergy and lay members will report to the archbishop who will decide on the house’s fate within the Chicago church.



See more of Willett & Pashley’s work for the Roman Catholic archdiocese at: Holy Name Cathedral.




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