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.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.




Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., 21st Century Bldgs., Decorative Arts, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.



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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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425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago

[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago (ca 1872-1874) Bauer & Loebnitz, Burling & Adler, William Arend, Otis H. Placey, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

“Reborn,” “Rebirth,” “Rebuilding,” three “r’s” used repeatedly in headline after headline as    Chicago built itself all over again following the devastating fire in the fall of 1871. Haines H. Magie, one of the city’s early pioneers and one of its wealthiest citizens, was caught up in the frenzy of reconstruction investing tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild a property investment portfolio that had been consumed by the fire and been turned to ash. Magie not only lost a great deal of his building inventory in the Great Conflagration, but he had been severely burned while trying to save his north side home from the approaching inferno and had come close to losing his own life. His recovery was slow, but with his son-in-law Lambert Tree on hand to help the former dry goods merchant turned millionaire real estate mogul reclaim his property investment income, Magie and Tree got to work building buildings.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Augustus Bauer had arrived in Chicago in 1853 after a stop over in New York City where he helped oversee the construction of the Crystal Palace, and a degree in architecture from the Polytechnic in Darmstad, Germany. Thirteen years later Robert Loebnitz, another Polytechnic grad emigrated to the city, joined Bauer, and established a thriving architectural practice. Post-fire, many former clients and a slew of new ones hired Bauer and Loebnitz to design new “fireproof” buildings on rubble cleared lots, and when the time came for Magie and Tree to rebuild on the northeast corner of Clark and Michigan Street (today’s Hubbard) they secured the services of the Polytechnic grads. It was a heady time for the city and its architects. On the first anniversary of the Great Fire in 1872, the Chicago Tribune counted 51 buildings totaling 2,711 linear feet of frontage, costing $2,723,000 having been designed and built under the Bauer & Loebnitz banner alone.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Twenty-five feet north of Magie’s lot architects Burling & Adler were hired to design a 3-story    business block with retail space on the ground floor. The second and third floors were set aside for a two level meeting hall, and soon after the building was completed the large room was being used by the Swedish Singing Society for their weekly gatherings and by the Germania Mannerchor every Tuesday and Thursday evening. Unlike Bauer or Loebnitz, Edward Burling came to the city in the early 1840s with no formal training as an architect, but he used his skills as a journeyman carpenter to find work on one of the the many incarnations of the city’s famous Tremont Hotel. After a stint as a general superintendent for real estate tycoon William B. Ogden and his attorney and business partner William E. Jones, Burling was ready to start his own architectural practice. By the time a young Dankmar Adler joined the Burling office in 1871, the former carpenter had established himself as one of the city’s go-to architects, and in 1872, the firm could boast of having completed 100 post-fire buildings comprising 8,675 feet of frontage, costing $4,022,000.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

As the rebuilding boom exploded between 1872 and 1875, a small 3-story structure was squeezed   into the lot between the Bauer & Loebnitz and Burling & Adler buildings. Architect William Arend designed a 3-story commercial building on the next piece of property to the north, and Otis H. Placey’s 3-story design on the northeast corner of Illinois Street completed the west facing block. The row may have been brand new but the buildings looked very much like the thousands of facades that had lined the streets of the city prior to the fire. The immediate post-fire architects and their clients weren’t interested in pushing the envelope much farther than they had before October 1871. This was no time to gamble, time was money, and other than making sure that the new construction was “fireproof,” the innovations that would make Chicago’s architecture world famous would have to wait.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Magie and Tree were able to lease most of their office space to a number of doctors, including Cook County physician Ferdinand Henrotin and founder of Henrotin Hospital. Eventually the offices above the corner saloon of the Magie Building were filled with lawyers who were just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the County Courthouse and Jail on Michigan (Hubbard) Street. As the city grew and expanded, the area around the 400 block of north Clark fell into economic decline. Many of the rooms above the ground floor retail spaces became home to a transient population who were able to rent rooms by the day or the week, and the building stock suffered through neglect and disinterest.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Originally built by different owners employing five different architects, the cohesive looking facades along Clark Street were still fairly intact when Rick Bayless opened Frontera Grill in the old Burling & Adler building in 1987. Two years later the pioneering restauranteur opened Topolobampo in the same building, and in 2010 Xoco opened on the ground floor at the corner of Illinois Street originally occupied by John W. Stead’s fish market. Freidman Properties restored the exterior of the Magie Building, and brought the interior office spaces into the 21st century.  Today the slightly altered but mostly restored row of “Athens Marble” and brick-fronted structures is one of the city’s few remaining examples that gives a hint of what a Chicago street might have looked like right after the fire, and is the oldest post-fire commercial group that still occupies its entire original city block.



See more 1870s-era “marble” fronted structures at: Washington Block, William J. Onahan Row Houses, Isaac N. Camp Row Houses, 810-812 N. Dearborn Street Row Houses, and another pre-fire/post-fire redo from Burling & Adler at: Scottish Rite Cathedral, Chicago.




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1550 North State Parkway

[1550 North State Parkway (1911) Marshall & Fox, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The combined vacant lots at the southwest corner of State Street and North Avenue comprised a     very generous 98 x 132 feet, providing plenty of room for a dwelling place befitting a multi-millionaire – and it came with a view. To the north the vast expanse of Lincoln Park exposed the parcel to the open sky and fresh Lake Michigan breezes. To the east, the Catholic archbishop’s nearly block long piece of property with its landscaped gardens and house of many chimneys, provided a break from the rhythm of the lot-line to lot-line mansions and town homes rising along the streets of this emerging residential neighborhood. But after owning the 12,936 square foot vacant lot for only a short amount of time, Hobart Chatfield Chatfield-Taylor decided not to build, and in 1906 he sold his spacious piece of property for $70,000 to Charles Dickinson who planned on building his own millionaire behooving mansion on the open and airy corner.


[1550 North State Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Dickinson’s building plan didn’t go much farther than Chatfield-Taylor, and in March 1911 architect Benjamin Marshall paid $85,000 for the privilege to maybe, finally, construct something on the prominent site. Marshall however wasn’t interested in building a private home, he purchased the lot as an investment and planned on building a sumptuous, income producing, multi-unit apartment building for tenants willing to pay upwards of $8,000 a year (around $200,000 a year today) to live in one of the 8,000 square foot, 14-room apartments. Marshall had introduced luxury living for a luxury loving clientele in 1900 when he designed the Raymond Apartments at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton Street, and in 1905 he designed the 8-story, one apartment per floor, Marshall Apartments at the northwest corner of Cedar Street and Lake Shore Drive. That building was one of many in Caleb Howard Marshall’s real estate investment portfolio. Benjamin’s father had made a fortune in the flour milling business, and after consolidating and merging his company into the National Biscuit Company at the turn of the 20th century he retired. After Caleb’s death in April 1910 and with his inheritance in hand, Benjamin would now take on the role of architect, developer and partner/owner of a number of future apartment projects constructed for affluent Chicagoans.


[1550 North State Parkway, Gold Coast National Historic District / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The 12-story building at 1550 N. State at the corner of North Avenue, designed by Marshall in conjunction with his business partner architect Charles Fox, would soon be heralded as the city’s most elegant and elite address. The elaborately detailed exterior teased and tantalized the eye of the passerby as an indication of what one might expect to find inside if one were lucky enough to pass through the doors of the discreet and tasteful entry. The $600+ per month rental (which would translate to roughly $16,700 today) meant that only a select group of the city’s citizenry would be able to afford one of the ten floor-through residences. The idea of giving up your extremely large single family home to live with other people stacked one on top of another seemed like a hard sell. But as the Gilded Age moved further into the 20th century, trading in your 10 or 15,000 square foot mansion for 8,000 square feet on a single floor didn’t seem like such a bad idea.


[1550 North State Parkway, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Among the first tenants at 1550 were Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Countiss, the John Mitchells, the Albert Dicks, and Marshall Field’s nephew Stanley and his wife. The 14-room units included staff quarters, and if your apartment flat didn’t provide enough sleeping accommodations for your servants you could always rent additional space in the first two floors of the building which were set aside for such purposes. Among the butlers, maids, chauffers and cooks counted in the 1920 census there were the ten servants each in the William Kelley and David Cummings households, nine serving to the needs of the Albert Dicks, eight for the Edward Moores, and seven for the Frederick Rawsons. Their five other neighbors seemed to do just fine with a service staff of just five or six. Help was required when trying to maintain an opulent lifestyle in an apartment with a 700 square foot “Grand Salon” (or what we would call the living room), a 560 square foot “Chambre” for “Madame,” one for “Monsieur” and five more “Chambre a Coucher.” Then there were meals to be cooked and served in the expansive 625 square foot dining room.


[1550 North State Parkway, Near North Side, Chicago, Image & Artwork: designslinger]

1550 N. State Street, later State Parkway, appeared regularly in the society columns. On May 29, 1932 however, the Chicago Tribune carried a banner headline proclaiming “Finds Swift Death an Accident.” Edward Foster Swift was the 68-year-old former chairman of the Swift meat packing company and had plunged to his death after falling to the ground from his 8th floor apartment window. In the summer of 1920, 1550 made the headlines once again when it was reported that the tenants had obtained 99 year leases on their apartments after buying into a syndicate that purchased the State Parkway building from Marshall for $675,000. Then in the summer of 1943 the Tribune reported that the syndicate sold the building which was being “fashioned into the small suites so much in vogue.” With four apartments per floor rather than one, the building underwent another change in 1977 when the rental property was converted into a condominium. Since then a few of the downsized units have been enlarged, but the ratio of staff to square feet has not reached its former peak population.



See more of Marshall and Fox at: Stewart Apartments – 1200 Lake Shore Drive; Michigan Avenue Lofts – Karpen and Standard Oil of Indiana Building; Blackstone Hotel, Chicago; Uptown Bank Building; and 1201 N. Astor Street Apartments.




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Edith B. Farnsworth House

[Edith B. Farnsworth House (1951) Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The dinner party was going to be held in one of those charming old buildings built at the close of the 19th century. The Irving had been constructed on the northwest corner of Oak and State Streets in two phases, first in 1895, then in 1898, and Georgia Lindafelt and Ruth Lee’s apartment was within easy walking distance of Georgia’s bookshop at Delaware and Michigan Avenue. Dinner guest Dr. Edith Farnsworth didn’t have far to travel either. She lived with her mother in her parents Astor Street mansion, but if the doctor couldn’t get home in time to freshen-up before dinner, Georgia and Ruth’s place was just a hop, skip and a jump from Passavant Hospital where Dr. Farnsworth practiced. According to a memoir the nephrologist wrote years later, upon entering the apartment Georgia casually introduced the other dinner guest to Edith, “This is Mies darling.”


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, 14520 River Road, Plano, IL / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Edith recalled that the German-born architect sat through almost the entire dinner like a massive immobile piece of granite, saying nothing while the women carried on a lively conversation. Edith was telling her friends about a piece of property she had purchased from Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick not far from the tiny town of Plano, Illinois, about 60 miles west of Chicago. It was only 9 acres, but the secluded site along the bank of the Fox River would be ideal for weekend get aways. The Farnsworths and the McCormicks moved in the same social circles. Edith’s grandfather George had come to Chicago in the late 1830s, left, and discovered the wooded acreage of Wisconsin and Michigan. After returning to the city in 1868, he went on to became one of Chicago’s wealthiest lumber barons. Edith’s father, also named George, took over the reins of the family business and after his death in 1941 Edith, her mother, sister, and brother were beneficiaries of the bountiful Farnsworth estate. The house she shared with her mother and two servants at 1448 N. Astor Street was large and comfortable enough, but she told Georgia and Ruth that she wanted a retreat from the city and her very busy medical practice. When she asked the brooding architect if there might be a young man in his office who would be interested in a small house project he replied, “I would love to build any kind of house for you.”


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had come to Chicago in 1938 to head-up the architecture program at the Armour Institute. In 1945, when the architect told the doctor he would be happy to design a house for her, his private architectural practice consisted of a handful of young men who were working primarily on the campus buildings that van der Rohe was designing for the recently merged Armour and Lewis Institutes, now known as the Illinois Institute of Technology. When a young architect named Myron Goldsmith came to work in Mies’s Wabash Avenue office in 1946, he was handed a pencil and watercolor sketch that Mies had done of Farnsworth’s house the year before, and was given the project. It took another three years however before things really started to take off.


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, Plano, IL / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Mies, Edith and Myron took many a picnic trip out to Plano, and by 1949 the glass enclosure Mies had designed for his dynamic client was ready to be built. The house was unlike anything anyone had ever seen along the Fox River, the Chicago area, the United States, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Almost. In 1945 Mies had shown architect Philip Johnson the Farnsworth watercolor but because the project had taken so long to reach construction, Johnson was able to complete his version of a glass house in 1949.  But once the Farnsworth project was completed, critics saw that the glass dwelling in New Canaan, Connecticut lacked the uncompromising clarity of purpose and intense attention to detail that Mies had provided for his doctor friend.


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, Fox River Valley, IL / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Early in their discussions Mies had mentioned that the house could probably be built for around $40,000, but by the time construction finally got underway in 1949 the budget had grown to an agreed upon $65,000. Edith’s 2,200-sqaure-foot weekend retreat was not exactly small when considering that the average single-family home in America measured 950-square-feet. Slabs of travertine marble and enormous sheets of polished plate glass didn’t come cheap, neither did steel or copper electrical wire in post-WWII America. Sorting through every single piece of marble to make sure they were laid correctly, matching the primavera wood veneer to perfection, working side-by-side with welders on the steel joins, the hawk-eyed architect left nothing to chance – which can be expensive. As construction drew to a close in 1951, and the budget climbed above $65,000, tensions rose between the architect and his client. In a 1986 oral history with the Art Institute of Chicago, Myron Goldsmith said that Mies didn’t want to discuss the issue with the haranguing Edith any longer, and that from that point on Myron would have to handle the bothersome doctor. Hurt, and feeling cut-off and shunned, Edith stopped sending checks to cover costs.


[Edith B. Farnsworth House / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When the house was finished in 1951, Mies was still owed money so he sued for payment. Edith    counter sued and said that not only had the architect gone over the original $40,000 budget, but that the house she had paid for was uninhabitable – it was like living in a terrarium. In 1953 Mies was awarded over $12,000 in judgments, and settled for $2,500. Edith retreated to her “uninhabitable” glass container for another 19 years before deciding to sell the property because the county had decided to build a new bridge over the Fox River within 180 feet of her now world famous summer retreat, and Peter Palumbo, a wealthy London real estate developer purchased the property for $120,000 in 1972. In 1996 the five foot above grade platform that Mies had designed to keep the house free of flood level river water proved to be no match for the changing topography of the formerly rural area. Suburban development meant there was less ground surface to absorb rain and after a record-breaking 17 inch rainfall the Fox River rose higher and higher, engulfing the large plate glass windows. Under intense pressure one of them finally gave way, broke open, and water inundated the interior. The platform built in the hinterlands in the early 1950s was no longer a match for 1990s urbanization. In 2003 Palumbo was ready to sell and put the Farnsworth house up for auction at Sotheby’s. After a nail biting eight minutes of bidding an offer – put together by Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and beneficent individual donors – brought the gavel down at $6.7 million. Then in 2008 another record high flood filled Edith’s terrarium with water once again. Now there is a proposal on the table to build a system of hydraulic lifts under the house that could raise it as much as nine feet above the ever rising river.



See more of Mies in the 50’s at: 860-880 Lake Shore Drive and S.R. Crown Hall.




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St. Paul Catholic Church, Chicago

[St. Paul Catholic Church (1899) Henry J. Schlacks, architect; (1922) Cav. Angelo Gianese Co., mosaics; Royal Bavarian Art Institute for Stained Glass, art glass (2008) restoration: JNKA, architects; WJE, engineers / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Bricks – and lots of them. That’s exactly what 29-year-old architect Henry Schlacks was going to    need for the parishioners of St. Paul’s parish to build the church edifice he had designed for them.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, 2234 S. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The parish had been founded in 1876 when a cluster of German immigrants settled in a sparsely populated area of Chicago located within easy walking distance of the recently completed McCormick Harvesting Company factory on Blue Island Avenue. The neighborhood was primarily Irish, and although the Catholic mass was universally celebrated in Latin, the Chicago archdiocese established native language parishes for their non-English-speaking congregants.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, 22nd Place & Hoyne Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Schlacks and his partner Henry L. Ottenheimer had designed a school building for the parish in  1892, but Schlacks alone came back to design the new church. The architect had decided that not one piece of wood, steel – or even a nail – would be used in the construction of the 209-foot long building or its soaring twenty-four story tall towers. A decision that was aided by the fact that members of the congregation – who were going to do most of the actual construction work – were from a section of Germany with a long tradition of masonry construction. In the northern European lowlands, along today’s Germany, Poland and Denmark’s Baltic Coast, large brick churches were built in Medieval Gothic and Romanesque styles during the heyday of the Hanseatic League, a tradition of craftsmanship that carried on well into the 19th century.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, Heart of Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

A multitude of custom-made, vitrified brick in all shapes and sizes was furnished by the Chicago-based Jenkins and Reynolds Company, with project supervision by contractor Paul F.P. Mueller, who had met Schlacks when both men had been employed in the offices of architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan Sullivan. Everywhere you looked on the job site it was brick, brick, and more brick, and the entire structure rose from the ground, clay-fired-piece by clay-fired-piece, in just the same way as the mason’s ancestors had done 500 years earlier. When 50 priests assisted Archbishop Patrick Feehan on June 25, 1899 at the dedication of Saint Paulus Kirche, an over flow crowd of 2,500 people packed the intersection of Hoyne and 22nd Place, and no one had ever seen anything quite like it.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, Pilsen, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Over the next 30 years the interior was decorated, step-by-step, inch-by-inch, and Henry Schlacks was there to oversee all of it. The art glass came from studios in Munich, and the polished white marble from Carrara, Italy. The exquisite mosaic tile work was created in a Venetian workshop and the completed panels were shipped from Italy to Chicago for installation. By the turn of the 21st century, time, weather and moisture had not been kind to the roof or floor of the massive structure. The unsealed basement had compromised the sanctuary’s floor joints and the leaking roof had caused interior water damage. In 2008 the archdiocese began a $10 million restoration of the building overseen by architects and engineers Jaeger Nickola Kuhlman & Associates, and Wiss Janney Elstner Associates. And just as they had done 100 years earlier, the congregation, now primarily Hispanic, worked alongside the contractors to help renew the only building of its kind in the United States.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

And we close with a great big thank you to our friend Pete – an active parishioner and dedicated steward of the church and its community – for the wonderful tour. St. Paul’s is on the Open House Chicago schedule this weekend, so be sure and stop by.



See more of Schlacks at: St. Boniface Church, Chicago and Holy Name Cathedral.





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