William W. Kimball House

[William W. Kimball House (1892) Solon S. Beman, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

They were the smart TVs of their day.  They provided hours of family entertainment, and whether or not you could really afford one, you got one. More of them were sold in the U.S. every year than people had babies, and having one meant you were living the American dream. Chicago businessman William Wallace Kimball made a fortune selling them when he decided to manufacture them for the mass market. Hundreds of thousands of homes had one, and Kimball came to be known as America’s “Piano King.”

 

[William W. Kimball House, 1801 S. Prairie Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Kimball’s story is similar to a number of entrepreneurial types who saw opportunity in the rough-and-tumble city out in what was then considered the wild west. He came to Chicago in the 1857, and after purchasing and selling four pianos quickly and for a nice profit, he never looked back. As the city grew so did Kimball’s business, and by the time the fire swept through in 1871, Kimball was one of the leaders in the burgeoning piano and organ retail market. Luckily for him, the keyboard salesman had been able to move some of his stock from his downtown store and factory before it burned to the ground, and reopen his musical instrument operation in his south Michigan Avenue home, where he could barely keep up with the post-fire demand. Then in 1882 he made the decision to manufacture organs on a massive, industrial scale, then went on a hunt for a piece of property and found some vacant land in a rather remote part of town on Washtenaw Avenue between 26th Street and the south branch of the Chicago River. The McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. was just to the east, and the Bridewell Prison Hospital Grounds and Small Pox Hospital were across the street, with not much else in between. Kimball made the decision to expand his operation and start cranking out pianos as well, and The Kimball Piano & Organ Co. produced product on such a scale that rail cars pulled directly into the massive factory where raw materials like lumber were unloaded, and then the empty freight cars were immediately refilled with Kimball pianos and organs to be shipped to market.

 

[William W. Kimball House, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Kimball’s Michigan Avenue mansion was only a couple of blocks from what, for a time, was   Chicago’s most elite residential neighborhood. Prairie Avenue was home to one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the nation, and when William and Evaline Kimball decided to ditch their old place on Michigan Avenue not long after the factory had opened for business, Kimball chose an empty lot on the southeast corner of 18th and Prairie to build on. The lot had been purchased by a syndicate in 1886 which included Mr. George A. Pullman, whose expansive, single family home was located across the street. Word had spread that an apartment building was going to built on the corner and residents were aghast. Who knew what kind of people would be invading the neighborhood if such a building were built, so the syndicate purchased the land to insure that the street, which one time resident Arthur Meeker, Jr. called, “the street that held the sifted few,” remained sifted. It wasn’t an uncommon move. The Vanderbilt family occupied a stretch of Fifth Avenue in New York, and to insure that their corner of Manhattan would remain a select section of town, they bought nearby empty lots and sold them to their friends.

 

[William W. Kimball House, Prairie Avenue Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When the Kimballs purchased the lot, Pullman had an architect to recommend. Solon S. Beman   had been working with the Palace Car maker since 1879 when the rail road car manufacturer asked Beman to design a company town Pullman wanted to build. Beman’s work on Pullman, the town, was drawing to a close when the Kimball commission came his way in 1890, and his proposal for their new home was a little outside the box for an architect known for his heavy, rusticated stone exteriors. The project took two years and nearly a million dollars to complete, and after Evaline hosted an open house for over 200 guests on January 7, 1893, the Kimball mansion was the talk of the town.

 

[William W. Kimball House, Prairie Avenue, South Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Kimball didn’t get to enjoy his new digs for long. He died on December 16, 1904, and in 1920, 79-year-old Evaline was declared mentally enfeebled by the court and the management of her estate was turned over to a conservator. The Kimballs had one of the finest art collections in Chicago, and while Evaline was visiting her niece in the Berkshires, the newly appointed overseer removed most of the paintings for safekeeping. Prairie Avenue was a ghost of its former self. Industry had moved in as residents moved out, and the conservator believed that the neighborhood was not a safe place to house a million dollar art collection. When Evaline returned to her Chicago chateau she still had enough of a mind left to realize that her favorite paintings were missing.  The court, taking pity on a distraught and inconsolable Evaline, returned a few of the widow’s more treasured pieces. After her death in 1921, the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects got a group of 100 prominent designers, builders, and contractors to cough-up $100 each to join the Architect’s Club which purchased the house for $100,000 in 1924. The Kimball collection went to the Art Institute of Chicago, and a handful of architecturally-affliated organizations occupied the elaborately carved, limestone mansion until 1937 when Miss Daisy Hull rented the house and opened the Elizabeth Hull School. She purchased the 29-room structure in 1943 from the Architect’s Realty Trust for a mere $8,000, but not long after, the changing neighborhood was more than even Miss Hull could handle. One grand old home after another came down as more and more industry moved in. By the 1970s, as industry started to abandon the neighborhood, the Kimball house managed to hold on. Its use as an office building continues to this day, and is one of only a handful of survivors of the grandeur that was once Prairie Avenue.

 

 

See more of the neighborhood at: Elbridge G. Keith House and Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago; more of Beman at: Fine Arts Building, Chicago and Studebaker – Brunswick Building, and the Kimball’s perpetual place of rest at: Stanford White’s Final Design.

 

 

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DePaul Center – Goldblatt Bros. & A.M. Rothschild & Co. Department Store Building

[DePaul Center - A. M. Rothschild & Co. - Goldblatt Bros. Department Store Building (1912) Holabird & Roche, architects (1993) adaptive reuse and restoration, Daniel P. Coffey & Associates & Antunovich Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

July 28, 1902 started out like any other day for A.M. Rothschild. The recently retired 49-year-old retailer visited the sixth floor office of his namesake department store in downtown Chicago that morning, and after a few hours left for home accompanied by his son 16-year-old son Melville. Rothschild’s wife Gusta greeted both of them in the front hall of the family’s large house on Michigan Avenue at 37th Street, and Abram Rothschild headed upstairs to freshen up. He went into his bedroom, retrieved his revolver, went into the bathroom, and shot himself in the head. By the time Gusta, Melville and a servant made it to the second floor, he was dead.

 

[DePaul Center - A. M. Rothschild & Co. - Goldblatt Bros. Department Store Building, 1 E. Jackson Boulevard/333 S. State Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Born in Germany in 1853, Rothschild was only 3-years-old when his family came to America, and as a teenager he joined his brother Max in working in their older sibling Emanuel’s small dry goods store in Davenport, Iowa. The entrepreneurial Emanuel saw opportunity in the post-fire building boom underway in Chicago in 1871, so he and his brothers packed-up, moved, and found a location in the “rising-from-the-ashes” downtown business district and opened their Chicago-based retail enterprise. In 1875 the Rothschilds got out of the retailing end of things, and while E. Rothschild & Brothers prospered as a wholesale clothier, Abram’s marriage to Augusta Morris in 1882 gave Rothschild entry into one of the city’s wealthiest families. Gusta was the daughter of Nelson Morris one of the city’s legendary – and very rich – meat packers, and when Abram decided to re-enter the retail dry goods business in 1890s, he did so with the financial support of his father-in-law and Gusta’s two brothers. A.M. Rothschild & Co. hit the ground running, and was one of the largest department store concerns along Chicago’s retail mecca, State Street.

 

[DePaul Center - A. M. Rothschild & Co. - Goldblatt Bros. Department Store Building, Loop Retail National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By all outward appearances the block long building that ran from Jackson south to Van Buren   Street looked to be a major success. But running the giant emporium – and a fire at the store that insurance underwriters said was caused by negligence on the part of its owner – did Rothschild in. Although his name was over the door, Gusta’s father and her two brothers Edward and Ira owned most of the company’s shares. When in-laws found out that they were going to have to find the funds to cover the fire losses, they decided that the time had come for Abram to retire. The three men purchased Abram’s remaining shares in the company, and told him that he’d always have his office in the store and was welcome to come and visit anytime. Then after the suicide, the family made the decision to not only keep the business going, but to build an entirely new store building from the ground up. Before that could happen however they would have to cobble together a series of  99-year ground leases from over 30 separate owners. It took nearly another decade to put the deal together before construction could begin. Gusta meanwhile had found a new mate. She married another Chicago retailer who it just so happened owned a large retail clothing operation directly across the street from her family’s store, and whose last name just so happened to be Rothschild. Only this time instead of carrying the name Mrs. Abram M. Rothschild, she’d be Mrs. Maurice L. Rothschild.

 

[DePaul Center - A. M. Rothschild & Co. - Goldblatt Bros. Department Store Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Morris family hired one of Chicago’s busiest architectural firms, Holabird & Roche to design their new, 11-story retail behemoth. The architectural firm had a number of projects along the State Street corridor, but A.M. Rothschild & Co. would be their largest. And although the family had a troubled history with the founder, they paid lasting tribute to him by having the architects incorporate the letter “R” into the massive cream-colored, terra cotta facade which was repeated down the entire length of the building. When the 520,000-square-foot store opened in 1912 Rothschild’s drew in the crowds, increasing the value of the family’s shares. In 1923, Nelson Morris’ heirs decided to sell their father’s packing business to Armour & Co. and to get out of the retail business. Marshall Field & Co. purchased the entire enterprise, lock stock and barrel, for $9 million. Rothschild’s became the home of Field’s subsidiary David Dry Goods Company until 1937 when Field’s decided to get out of the wholesale business and sold the store and its contents to the Goldblatt Bros.

 

[DePaul Center - A. M. Rothschild & Co. - Goldblatt Bros. Department Store Building, Chicago Loop / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Goldblatt brothers had been operating a chain of stores in working class city neighborhoods when they made the move downtown. Shoppers had flocked to the lower priced retail outlet during the Great Depression and continued to do so after as Goldblatts followed Sears Roebuck and joined the ranks of State Street’s established retail emporiums. Changing tastes combined with consumer’s ever-evolving buying habits, saw a dramatic shift in the predominant pre-eminence of State Street as the region’s retail hub. The mid-1970s saw the introduction of the State Street Mall as an attempt at trying keep keep and lure shoppers to that “Great Street,” yet still, by the close of the decade many of the grand old department stores were out-of-business, had left their buildings behind, or were barely hanging on. Goldbaltts was one of them. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1981, and on closing day, December 31st, the State Street store’s aisles were packed with shoppers, but it was too little too late. In January Mayor Jane M. Byrne announced that the city would purchase the 69-year-old structure for $10 million and convert it into the new home of the main branch of the Chicago Public Library. The plan never went anywhere, and the building sat empty until 1991 when Mayor Richard M. Daley worked out a deal with DePaul University to buy the building from the city for $1 million. The school would spend upwards of $70 million to adapt the structure for classroom, office and library use, while floors 2 through 5 would be rented to the City of Chicago for departmental offices. And the restored Northwestern Terra Cotta Company facade still bears the Rothschild “R.”

 

See another DePaul adaptation at: Lytton’s Department Store Building; Holabird & Roche’s Maurice L. Rothschild & Co. Building; more of Holabird & Roche’s prolific building career along State Street at: Chicago Savings Bank Building – The Chicago Building; The Boston Store, Chicago; Mandel Brothers Department Store – One North State; North American Building, Chicago; Century Building, Chicago; Waterman Building, Chicago; Palmer House Hilton; and more of the street’s retailing heritage at: Macy’s on State – Marshall Field & Co. Building; Sullivan Center – Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. Building; Charles A. Stevens Building; Second Leiter Building – Robert Morris University; Singer Building, Chicago; and 28-32 South State Street.

 

 

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300 W. Adams Building, Chicago

[300 W. Adams Building (1927) Jens J. Jensen, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

After the Chicago Fire had wiped the city’s central business district slate clean, rebuilding began almost immediately. New “fire-proof” 5 to 6-story office blocks rose-up along Wabash, Dearborn, Clark and La Salle streets while large warehouse blocks began to fill-in burnt-out sections to the west along streets like Fifth Avenue (now Wells Street), Market, which morphed into today’s the north/south leg run of Wacker Drive, and Franklin.

[300 W. Adams Building, 300 W. Adams Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Prior to the fire Franklin Street, which sat between Market and Fifth, broke its contiguous north/south line at Adams Street on the south and Madison on the north. Post-fire the street was cut-through and joined together, creating a new intersection at Adams and Franklin as well as four very valuable corner pieces of real estate. George Armour and James H. Dole set their sights on the newly created northwest corner of Adams and Franklin, purchased the recently carved-out city lot, and set about building a standard 6-story, brick post-and-beam, loft-style warehouse. Armour & Dole was one of the city’s mega elevator concerns, not of the people variety of elevating transport but of the grain storage facility type, a business venture that made both Armour and Dole very wealthy men.

[300 W. Adams Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the 1880s the area around the Armour & Dole building was filled cheek-by-jowl with warehouse buildings. Not only was the wholesale loft district close to the river’s transportation system, but it was also within blocks of the rail lines that comprised one of the world’s largest and busiest commercial railroad hubs. Marshall Field had arrived on the scene in 1885 when he commissioned famed Boston architect H.H. Richardson to design a massive warehouse block diagonally across the street from the Armour & Dole building, which brought Richardson much acclaim. The grain traders realized even more profit by leasing out floor space in their corner building, and eventually Field’s State Street neighbors Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co were the only tenant in the entire 50,000-sqaure-foot building. As the 1920s roared along, the warehouse district underwent changes. With the advent of modern transportation systems like long-haul trucking and the new way in which goods were able to be stored, many of the 19th century buildings were made obsolete. When Carson’s purchased the John V. Farwell & Co. wholesale dry goods concern in 1925 and moved a block west on Adams Street over to the Farwell building, David Schetnitz acquired a 99-year leasehold on the property.

[300 W. Adams Building, West Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Schetnitz had been working with architect Jens J. Jensen – not to be confused with landscape and parks designer Jens Jensen – on a project the real estate developer was trying to make happen on Michigan Avenue. When that deal fell through, Schetnitz and Jensen got to work on the Franklin Street corner. At first the developer was simply going to replace the outdated 6-story warehouse structure with a new 6-story office building, but the established business district to the east was moving westward and Schetnitz saw opportunity coming his way. Jensen’s design grew by another 6-stories and the architect came up with an elaborate decorative scheme for the now “first-class” rental property. Jensen’s blend of Gothic Revival with a contemporary streamlined twist, gave the building an unusual but visually enhancing facade. The 12-story, glistening white-glazed terra cotta corner tower, stood-out among its shorter, coal-soot darkened, masonry neighbors. Schetnitz had a property that he could easily market in the “first-class” category.

[300 W. Adams Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

His scheme worked. The Chicago-based U.S. Gypsum Company took over most of the building and made it their world headquarters. In 1963 the company moved two blocks to a new home on Wacker Drive, and by the time Harry Zell, father of real estate mogul Sam Zell, purchased the property a decade later the warehouse district around Adams and Franklin was undergoing a transformation. Even by the 1930s Richardson’s acclaimed Field Wholesale Warehouse building was considered obsolete and was torn down and turned into a parking lot, and by the mid-1970s another westward shift of the older established business district was underway. One warehouse building after another was turned into a heap of rubble to make way for new, modern high-rise office towers like the 110-story Sears Tower which loomed over the corner of Franklin and Adams.  Sam Zell sold the building in 2007 and in 2009 the new owners undertook an extensive renovation and restoration. Now a City of Chicago landmark, Jensen’s Gothic fantasy is nearly buried in the shadow of its substantially taller glass and steel neighbors, but every so often 300 W. Adams’ glazed face catches a glimpse of light.

 

See a few nearby neighbors at: Willis Tower; 311 South Wacker Drive, Chicago; and a nearby hold-out from the old days at: Brooks Building, Chicago.

 

 

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Astor Tower

[Astor Tower (1964) Bertrand Goldberg, architect (1996) curtain wall replacement, DeStefano + Partners, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Imagine the slender tower standing on the northwest corner of Astor and Goethe Streets morphing from a square and into a circle. The building would have had quite an impact on Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood if architect Bertrand Goldberg’s original proposal for the Astor Tower Hotel had gone all the way from concept to construction in the late 1950s. But that plan was scrapped, the project was rethought and redesigned, and Goldberg’s innovative cylindrical tower concept was shifted to another project, the now iconic Marina City.

[Astor Tower, 1300 N. Astor Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Goldberg had been on the Chicago architectural secne for over 20 years. He opened his own office in 1937, a space that included not only a drafting table and a sink, but also a bed. The 24-year-old couldn’t afford to pay rent on an office and an apartment. This was also the year that his mentor and teacher Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe first visited Chicago and Goldberg acted as one of the German architect’s guides and translators. Goldberg had gone to Germany in 1932 to study under Mies at the then Berlin-based incarnation of the Bauhaus school. It was a turbulent time in the German Republic, and after Adolf Hitler’s elevation to Chancellor in 1933 Goldberg decided that it was time to leave and come back to his hometown. Four  years of work in other architectural offices combined with the opportunity to take the architectural licensing exam and passing, provided the young designer with the impetus to start his own practice.

[Astor Tower, Gold Coast National Historic District / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Mies came back to Chicago in 1938 for a much longer stay while his former student set-out to build a career designing and building buildings. The work was steady but uninspiring. By the time the Astor Street project was under discussion Goldberg was ready to try something new and push the envelope, but ultimately concluded that his round tower concept didn’t fit within the established context of the Gold Coast corner. And Goldberg knew the steet well. He and his wife Nancy and their three kids lived just up the street in a 1911 Georgian Revival mansion at 1518 Astor.

[Astor Tower, Astor Street Historic District / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The area around Astor and Goethe had once been a neighborhood filled almost exclusively with the large single-family-homes of Chicago’s movers and shakers. By the time construction began on Goldberg’s Astor Tower Hotel in 1961, the Gold Coast district had been undergoing a high-rise transformation for over five decades. The post-war era of the 1950s introduced another transformative onslaught of tall building construction that would continue unabated for another twenty years. One old mansion after another was torn down to make way for modern apartment towers and Goldberg’s corner project was no exception. Once the site of Burnham & Root’s 1890, 10,000 square-foot home for William J. Goudy, two more 19th century-era homes had to be removed to make way for the concrete core that would not only carry space-eating mechanical systems but would also help support the floor plates. Goldberg’s curtain wall of glass didn’t begin until the fifth floor, keeping the lower portion of the buildng relatively open and approximating the building heights established in the neighborhood’s original residential construction. The glass windows were covered in metal louvers which allowed occupants to adjust the exterior light as they saw fit. The horizontal slats, and the ability of the tenants to move them at will, provided the facade with a constantly changing textural characteristic.

[Astor Tower, Astor & Goethe Streets, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Since the project was an apartment hotel, each unit came funished, and occupants didn’t have to go far for a meal. In the basement Goldberg had recreated a nearly exact replica of the mahogony, brass and red damask of Maxim’s restuarant in Paris, which was to be overseen by his wife. Nancy Goldberg ended up running the place, which instantly became one of the city’s top – and according the the local press “expensive” – fine dining destinations. Meals were served ala carte, and a steak could set you back a whooping $8.00, while a side of haricot vert, or what most Chicagoans would call green beans, cost $1.00 a serving. Maxim’s rivaled Chicago’s famous Pump Room as a place to see and be seen and the good time rolled until 1982. Nancy Goldberg decided that after nearly 20 years of running the restaurant the time had come to bid adieu to the business. The apartment hotel was converted into condominiums in 1979, and in the mid-1990s the owners had to do something about the deteriorating exterior louvers and aging windows. Architect Jim DeStefano and his team at DeStefano + Partners proposed an overhaul of the curtain wall that would remove the louvers and glass, and replace them with a new and much more energy efficient window system. Although the appearance of the exterior was altered, the Chicago Chapter of the American Institute of Architects awarded DeStefano a Distinguished Building Award in 1997 for his adaptation.

 

See Goldberg’s world famous cylindrical towers at: Marina City; a lost Goldberg treasure at: Prentice Women’s Hospital; the house where the Goldberg’s lived: Francis R. Dickinson House; and more of the Astor Street corner at: 1301 N. Astor Street, Chicago and 1260 N. Astor Street, Chicago.

 

 

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Inland Steel Building

[Inland Steel Building (1958) Bruce Graham / Walter Netsch, SOM, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

As often happens when doing research on a building, you will find discrepencies that require more digging in the hunt for accuracy. Dates don’t jibe, addresses don’t match, and there are times when questions arise about which architect to attribute a building to. Take the case of Adler & Sullivan’s 1892 Charnley House. Prior to Frank Lloyd Wright publicly taking credit for the project in the 1930s, the building had been credited to Louis Sullivan. When the Chicago office of Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill’s Inland Steel Building arrived on the scene in the late 1950s, the building’s design was attributed to team member Bruce Graham, until fellow SOM partner Walter Netsch began to take some of the credit for the inspirational design. When Wright decided to declare that he was really the one responsible for Charnley, Sullivan and his partner Dankmar Adler were both dead, as were most of the other people who would have been working in Adler & Sullivan’s office at the time. When the Inland Steel kerfuffle began, not only were Netsch and Graham still alive, so were several other SOM members who were there when the steel company came knocking at SOM’s door.

[Inland Steel Building, 30 W. Monroe St., Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Inland Steel was one of a handful of large steel manufacturers clustered along the southern edge of Lake Michigan running between the far southeast side of Chicago and northwestern Indiana. The company had been founded in 1893 by Joseph Block and his son Philip, and by the mid-1950s, was one of the most profitable steel makers in the world. Their corporate offices were headquartered in downtown Chicago on two floors of the old First National Bank Building which used to stand at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Monroe Streets, and where Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons mosaic mural sits today. At a time when many of the city’s central business district offices were leaving the Loop and following their workforce out to the suburbs, the second generation of the Block family, and their board chairman at the time Clarence Randall, decided it was time to move as well. But unlike their other corporate counterparts, Inland decided to stay-put in downtown Chicago and to construct a new building from the ground-up – right across the street.

[Inland Steel Building, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The property they had set their sights on was located on the northeast corner of Dearborn and Monroe and was owned by the Chicago Board of Education. The entire square block bounded by Dearborn, Monroe, State and Madsion Streets had been designated as school property in the 1830s when the federal government divvied-up the land in and around what would eventually become the Illinois & Michigan Canal – and the city of Chicago. Most of the buildings on the block sat on long term, land lease agreements between the owners of the structures and the Board, except for the Crilly Building, built in 1878, which the School Board owned outright. Inland wanted the Crilly and the old Saratoga Hotel next door, and negotiations got underway. Leigh Block was put in charge of the building committee, and with Randall’s okay, Inland got to work on the School Board. Randall apparently was the one who made the call to Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

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

SOM had three offices at the time, one in New York, one in Chicago, and one in San Francisco. At one of the first presentation meetings SOM’s lead designer architect Gordon Bunshaft, who was based in New York, came to Chicago and the attendees were shown a model of the building from a design by Chicago office-based partner Walter Netsch. The building resembled Bunshaft’s Lever Building then underway in New York, but Netsch’s proposal contained one major and ground-breaking difference – all the mechanical systems required for the shimmering glass, curtain-walled, 19-story structure were contained in an adjacent 25-story windowless service tower attached to the building’s east side. This meant that the interior of the shimmering glass, curtain wall structure would have a floor plan free of space gobbling elevators, stairways and restrooms. But Inland didn’t have the land to build on yet, and Randall wasn’t crazy about the design.

[Inland Steel Building, Dearborn & Monroe Streets, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the time Inland was able to acquire the property along the east side of Dearborn north of Monroe, Walter Netsch was working on a new project for SOM, the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado. So architect Bruce Graham of the Chicago office was put in charge. Graham wanted to reveal more of the building’s structure and took Netsch’s vertical columns out from behind the glass curtain wall and moved them to the exterior of the building. Add-in Inland’s pushing-it-to-the-limits nearly 60-foot- long steel girders that spanned the width of the lot from one column to the other, and the interior office floor plan was now entirely open and free of obstructions. Graham’s exposed exterior columns were covered in stainless steel, which was not provided by Inland Steel Company per se. A full page ad the corporation placed in the Chicago Tribune on February 4, 1958 stated that Ryerson Steel, a wholly owned subsidiary of Inland, was responsible for delivering the 400 tons of shiny material. The questions remains however, did Ryerson make it or just supply it? The building in all its shimmering glory, was ready for occupancy in 1958, and was the first tall commercial structure to be built in Chicago’s Loop since 1931, when the country fell deeper into the financial abyss that we know today as the Great Depression. The Inland Steel Building was a big hit and an instant landmark. It put the Chicago office on the world architectural map, and became a bone of contention for Netsch because Graham got all the credit. In 1991 Netsch, who claimed co-authorship for the design, gave the Art Institute of Chicago the model that was shown to the Inland group in 1954, and the public now had an opportunity to decide for themselves. And although the building was eventually credited to both designers, the question of attribution could still rankle. The museum began an oral history project in the 1980s and began interviewing architects like Walter Netsch, Bruce Graham, Gordon Bunshaft, and another SOM partner in the Chicago office at the time Bill Hartman. Each one was asked about the Inland controversy and some were more politic than others. Netsch said it was essentially his, while Graham acknowledged Walter’s contribution but felt that the column change alone had so substantially altered the design that the end result was his. Bill Hartman was the most even handed of the four, he said Walter contributed to the overall concept while Bruce was responsible for the finished design. Only Bunshaft gave a definitive response, “He did it. Walter. Bruce had nothing to do with it.”

 

See more of School Board’s block at: Majestic Theatre Building – Bank of America Theatre; North American Building, Chicago; and Chicago Savings Bank Building/ The Chicago Building; and a 3-part story of an historic Dearborn Street neighbor at: Marquette Building, Marquette Building, Chicago and Marquette Building, 140 S. Dearborn Street, Chicago.

 

 

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Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago

[Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago (1874) James Renwick, Jr., architect; (1904) Howard Van Doren Shaw, architect; Frederic Clay Bartlett, murals; Tiffany Glass & Decorating Co., William Fair Kline, Giannini & Hilgart, Edward Burne-Jones, Louis J. Millet, art glass / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

If you were to find yourself standing under Chicago’s famous elevated rapid transit line at the northeast corner of Wabash and Washington today, it might be hard to imagine that 165 years ago this was considered to be on the outskirts of town. It’s why the congregants of Second Presbyterian Church decided to build a new house of worship on that corner in the early 1850′s – to get away from the congestion of the city’s ever expanding commercial district a few blocks west. The second society of the city’s Presbyterians had organized themselves in 1842 and had taken-up residence in a number of locations around the courthouse at Washington and Clark Streets, before deciding to settle-in at Wabash and Washington. Their new corner lot was adjacent to Dearborn Park, a half-square block of green space that overlooked the lake surrounded by a cluster of homes occupied by of some of the city’s notable movers and shakers.  The building committee called on John Van Osdel, the first person in the rapidly developing city to call himself an architect, and promptly rejected his design. A young New York architect, who at age 25 had been given the opportunity to design that city’s Grace Church in 1843, caught the committee’s attention. Why not have James Renwick – who was gaining notoriety as one of the country’s early practioners of Gothic Revival in the U.S. as a result of Grace Church – design the new Second Presbyterian, take maximum advantage of their prominent corner lot, and introduce the style to Chicago.

[Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago, 1936 S. Michigan Avenue / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Renwick’s design not only changed the face of the city’s eccelsiastical map, he also used a building material that brought the structure more notice than the elders could have anticipated. Dubbed the “Spotted Church” because of the architect’s choice of a bituminous limestone containing tar deposits that created dark spots along the light stone surface, the building became as famous for its “spots” as for its design. In 1871, just 17 years after consecrating their cutting-edge design, the congregation was on the move again. During that time period the city’s central business district had continued to expand, and as the membership of Second Presbyterian moved further south the church followed suit. They sold their corner lot for $161,000 and set their sights on a location further down Wabash at 20th Street. The last service was held at the “Spotted Church” on the first Sunday of October in 1871, one week before a massive fire would destroy the church, the central business district, and over half of the built-up portions of Chicago.

[Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago; National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The building committee once again turned to Renwick, and after exchanging the Wabash Avenue property for a lot at Michigan Avenue and 20th Street, construction got underway. The area east of the church site was also experiencing a building boom of sorts. By the time the church was consecrated in 1874 businessmen whose names would come to define the city were building homes on a scale unlike anything the Chicago had ever seen, and within 15 years Prairie Avenue would become home to one of the largest concentrations of wealth in the nation. The money trail spilled over on to Michigan Avenue’s “Millionaire Row” and soon the street was lined with rows of townhouses and large single family mansions that stretched from 16th Street south to 31st. Second Presbyterian became known around town as the city’s wealthiest and most powerful congregation whose pews were occupied by people with names we may still recognize today, Pullman, Armour, Blackstone, Crerar.

[Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago; City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Then on March 8, 1900 fire once again claimed Second Presbyterian. The interior of the $275,000 edifice was gone, poof, up in smoke and left in ruins. Church elders pulled -up their boot straps, got together, and built again. By this time Renwick was dead and so the building committe hired one of their own parishioners Howard Van Doren Shaw to redesign the sanctuary. Shaw’s father was typical of many of the church’s members, one of those early Chicago pioneers who came to the city when it was nothing more than a few log cabins sinking in the mud, who became very wealthy in the dry goods wholesale business. The architect worked within the four standing walls of Renwick’s design but he created an entirely new interior environment. Shaw was interested in what he saw in the humanizing industrial relationship that the Arts and Crafts movement was trying to create, and convinced the church board to let him design a space that embraced the theories put forward by Arts and Crafts practitioners. The collaboration of artistry between Shaw’s deft handling of the interior space, muralist Frederic Clay Bartlett’s imagery, and the stunning art glass created by Tiffany Studios, William Fair Kline, Giannini & Hilgart, Edward Burne-Jones and Louis J. Millet, produced one of the country’s most dynamic – and today’s few remaining – Arts & Crafts spaces. The sancutary was revelatory.

[Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago; South Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

On December 29, 1901, soon after the interior was compeleted, an overflow crowd packed the church to hear Booker T. Washington give an address on “the need for the education of the Negro.” The crowd was made-up of people whose heritage was Western European as well as African, but it wouldn’t be until 1958 that Second Church officially became integrated. By that time the economic and racial make-up of the neighborhhood had changed. The beginning of the end for “the street where the elite meet” came in 1910 when the Law mansion at 1620 Prairie was demolished. By that time George Pullman, George Armour, Timothy Blackstone and John Crerar were dead. The “elite” were following people like Potter Palmer to the near north side of the city, and many were fleeing Chicago entirely for the greener pastures of the far north shore suburb of Lake Forest. By 1911 American Bank Note and Engraving had built a printing plant within sight of the church at the corner of Indiana Avenue and 20th Street, now named Cullerton, and the Chicago Carriage and Trimming Company was located next door. The Prairie Avenue house Marshall Field had acquired for his son Marshall, Jr. was now an alcohol rehabiliation facility called the Gatlin Institute. The former mansion of Chicago Stock Yard tycoon John B. Sherman, one of the first commissions for the firm of Burnham & Root, was now the McCormick Medical College. On the corner of 21st and Michigan stood the automobile showroom of Studebaker & Co. Across the street, a row of townhouses had been demolished to make way for a series of automobile “garages.”

[Second Presbyterian Church, Chicago; Michigan Avenue / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the 1960s only a handful of the old residences still stood, replaced largely by manufacturing plants and federally subsidized housing. By the 1970s Second Presbyterian had a congregation of 60 members. In a community afflicted by poverty, drugs and crime, those dedicated and tenacious congregants held on, and by using the interest income from the large endowment created over the years by the once financially wealthy congregation wisely, provided excellent stewardship for the aging building. Then in the late 1990s change came to the area once again. Development in the newly christened “South Loop” neighborhood brought an influx of residential construction to Michigan and Prairie Avenues and a new economic mix to the area. In 2006 Friends of Historic Second Church was organized to help with the preservation and restoration of Renwick and Shaw’s landmark structure. And in March 2013, the building was listed among the country’s nearly 2,500 National Historic Landmarks, a bump-up from the over 85,000 sites listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

See more of Shaw’s work at: Platt Luggage Building and Mentor Building, Chicago; more of Prairie Avenue at: Elbridge G. Keith House; and see what stands on the site of the “Spotted Church” today at: Garland Building.

 

 

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Rockefeller Memorial Chapel – University of Chicago

[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago (1928) Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1910 America’s first billionaire gave a final gift of $10 million to the University of Chicago. John D. Rockefeller, Sr. had given the school the seed money to get off the ground in the early 1890s, and after nearly 20 years of continuing contributions the Standard Oil plutocrat had decided that this donation would be his last. The gift came with a stipulation however, $1.5 million of the awarded funds had to be set aside for the construction of a chapel on the school’s campus – a request that would take more than a decade to fulfill.

[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago, 5850 S. Woodlawn Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1892 the University opened with just three buildings on its Hyde Park campus. The school had hired Chicago architect Henry Ives Cobb to develop a master plan, and Cobb’s three Gothic Revival structures set in stone a design program that the institution would follow well into the middle of the twentieth century. And as the student population grew, so did the collegial Gothic campus. On September 24, 1924 the University announced that they were undertaking a massive 15-year building program along the north side of the Midway Plaisance – the wide green belt that connnected Jackson and Washington Parks – and filling-in the remaining empty spaces of the campus from Drexel Boulevard east to Dorchester Avenue. Fourteen years after Rockefeller’s designated gift, the Univeristy Chapel was finally going to get built.

[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago; Lee Oskar Lawrie & Ulric Henry Ellerhusen, sculptors / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

University president Ernest DeWitt Burton had called on New York based architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue to design the chapel in advance of the formal announcement. Goodhue had built-up quite a reputation as one of the country’s premiere Gothic Revivalists through his partnership with architect Ralph Adams Cram. The revialist duo were a hot commodity in translating old European styles into modern contemporary structures, and when they went their separate ways in 1913 Goodhue carried on in that tradition. Ironically, even though U of C was interested in Goodhue’s Gothic genius, the architect was hard at work on two major projects, the streamlined Nebraska State Capitol Building and Los Angeles Public Library, demonstrated that Goodhue’s masterful hand extended all the way from 12th century spires and sprockets to the 20th century geometry of Art Deco.

[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago; Hildreth Meiere, mosaicist; Alois Lange, woodcarver / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Goodhue didn’t make it to Chicago for the September announcement, he had dropped dead of a heart attack on April 23, 1924 five days before his 55th birthday. The office still had a large number of projects on the drafting boards or under construction, so the remaining team reorganized as Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue Associates and carried on their boss’s work. One long time associate, sculptor Lee Oskar Lawrie had come to work with Bertram Goodhue in 1895 at the start of Goodhue’s partnership with Ralph Cram. Lawire had emigrated from Germany to Chicago with his parents, and became one of the thousands of craftsmen who worked on the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition in the early 1890s. He moved east, met-up with Goodhue and Cram, and translated the architects Gothic inspired details into stone. Ulric Henry Ellerhusen came to the United States in 1894 and studied with famed Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft at the School of the Art Institute. He and Lawrie would carve all the stone on Goodhue’s massive chapel, with Lawrie in charge of everything below the 30-foot-high line and Ellerhusen for everything above. Hildreth Meiere who had also studied at the Art Institute, was a muralist and mosaicist who was working on the Nebarska State Capital building when she was asked to create mosaic murals for the interior of the chapel, and Alois Lange, a woodcarver who had emigrated to the U.S. from Oberammergau, Germany – the woodcarving capital of the world – was brought in to work his magic on virtually every piece of interior woodwork.

[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The building was dedicated on October 28, 1928 with John D. Rockefeller, Jr. in attendance. Senior was 89-years-old at the time and Junior had pretty much taken over for his father. Rockefeller not only paid tribute to his parents, he also announced that he was creating a $1 million endowment for the building in honor of his mother Laura Spelman Rockefeller, and dedicated the building in the service of tolerance for all in the true meaning of Christian love and charity. This didn’t settle well with the Catholic Church in Rome. The following February the Vatican published a treatise by the Pope slamming Rockefeller for his attempt at trying to make all religions equal.

[Rockefeller Memorial Chapel - University of Chicago, Hyde Park, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Although Rockefeller Senior’s last university directed donation had come in 1910, the Standard Oil funded largess kept on flowing when Junior ponied-up $300,000 for a 72-bell carillon that was installed in the 200 foot tower in 1932. After Senior’s death in 1937 at age ninety-seven, the school honored their founding benefactor by renaming the Univeristy Chapel the Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. And the fortune he had created, which had taken quite a hit as a result of the Great Depression, was estimated to be worth over nearly half-a-trillion 2013-era dollars.

See more at: Foster Hall – University of Chicago; Kent Chemical Laboratory Building – University of Chicago; Ryerson Physical Laboratory – University of Chicago; School of Social Service Administration Building; Henry Hinds Laboratory for the Geophysical Sciences; Charles M. Harper Center – University of Chicago Booth School of Business; Joseph Regenstein – Joe & Rika Mansueto Library Buildings; and Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts; and one of Goodhue’s final projects with Cram at: Fourth Presbyterian Church, Chicago.

 

 

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Three Arts Club, Chicago

[Three Arts Club, Chicago (1915) Holabird & Roche, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In October 1911 playwright and actress Grace Griswold came to Chicago with an idea, she wanted to establish a safe place for young women studying in the arts where they would be able to live and gather together as a refuge from the rough and tumble streets of the city. She knew Chicago well. Her father Joseph B. Hall had served as the senior warden of the Church of the Ascension on La Salle Street for 26 years until his death in 1898. Although based in New York, Griswold, like most actors of her day spent a lot of time on the road touring and knew first hand all of the temptations and confrontations that awaited young women as they tried to navigate through America’s large cities while persuing their careers. So she gathered together a group of prominent Chicago women, most of whom were members of the Chicago Women’s Club, and proposed the idea.

[Three Arts Club, Chicago, 1300 N. Dearborn Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Griswold offered-up as models the Three Arts Club in New York and Paris, and the Charlotte Cushman Club in Philadelphia. Her plan was to establish a network of clubs in large cities across the country providing reciprocal memberships, the same way that university or business clubs did. Chicago women with last names that read like a who’s who of the city’s elite decided to sign on and they set about raising money, and finding a location for Chicago’s Three Arts Club. Applicants had to be unmarried, between the ages of 18 and 30, and actively persuing a career as a painter, musician, or in the theater – this wasn’t meant to be a rest stop for dabbling hobbyists.

[Three Arts Club, Chicago, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Board of Managers rented the old Terrell mansion on La Salle Street. Mrs. J. Ogden Armour oversaw and provided the funds for the decoration and furnishing of the main parlors and dining room, where resident and non-resident members could enjoy the company and camaraderie of like-minded careerists. Edith Rockefeller McCormick, Louise DeKoven Bowen, and other board members each donated the funds required to outfit one of the bedrooms that provided sleeping accomodations for up to 16 women. At first things didn’t go as planned, there were few takers, but as word spread the Three Arts Club of Chicago found itself bursting at the seams. In 1913 the Board of Managers set-out on a campaign to raise the funds to either buy or build a new home, which was spearheaded by their president Miss Gwethalyn Jones. Jones was a single women of means. Her father David Benton Jones had made a fortune in zinc mining which he generously shared with his children. When Gwethalyn found a site that she considered perfect for the new club her father purchased the aging J.M.W. Jones (no relation) mansion at the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue and Goethe Street and gave the club a low-cost, long-term lease on the land.

[Three Arts Club, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The board hired the architectural firm of Holabird & Roche to design a purpose-built facility with enough housing for 90 women, a suite of dedicated studio spaces, and enough room for a dining room, social hall and recital room. Senior partner William Holabird’s son John oversaw the project and found inspiration in the decorative Byzantine motifs of 6th century Ravenna with a dash of 16th century Paris. Studios took-up most of the fourth floor, bedrooms were on the second and third, and the dining and social rooms on the first floor opened-up on to an landscaped central courtyard. David Jones decided to help his daughter a little more in her endeavors and paid for the construction of the building. At the time of his death in 1923 the building and the land were donated to the club which now had a long waiting list of pending residential applicants.

[Three Arts Club, Chicago, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Fifty years after David Jones’ death the country, and the world, were undergoing great social changes. Fewer and fewer women found that they needed a place like the Three Arts to protect them from the evils of city life, and the “No Male Visitors After 11″ policy seemed more and more antiquated and out-of-touch as time went on. In 1980 there was a board room kerfuffle when some members felt that the time had come to shut down the facility while others felt there was still a need. Then as educational institutions like the School of the Art Institute of Chicago started providing housing much closer to their downtown campus, residency at the Three Arts fell to unstainable levels and the facilty finally closed its doors in May, 2003. The National Historic and City of Chicago Landmark was purchased for $13 million in 2007 by a developer who planned to convert the interior of the landmark building into a luxury boutique hotel. Nothing ever came of that plan, so the structure sat empty for a while before another proposal emerged: converting the former residence for the living into a repository for the dead. The columbarium idea never went any farther, and then in October, 2013 the Chicago City Council voted to approve a zoning change for the site which would allow Restoration Hardware to occupy the building at Dearborn and Goethe. The company plans to open their rebranded, upscale, RH store in the spring of 2015.

See more of nearby Dearborn Parkway at: Augustus Warner House, Charles A. Dupee House, Lucius B. Mantonya Flats, 1366 N. Dearborn Parkway, and Luther McConnell House.

 

 

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The D. L. Moody Memorial Church

[The D. L. Moody Memorial Church & Sunday School (1925) Fugard & Knapp, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1854, 17-year-old Dwight Lyman Moody left his mother’s home in Northfield, Massachusetts near the New Hampshire border and headed south to Boston. He had big plans. He set out on a mission to learn the ins and outs of the business world, intent on earning $100,000 a year as a result of his endeavors. Once he reached Boston he found work as a clerk in a shoe store and by the time he turned nineteen, he had come to the conclusion that Chicago might actually be the place where he would realize his dream.

[The D. L. Moody Memorial Church & Sunday School, 1635 N. La Salle Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

He wouldn’t be the first, nor the last New Englander who believed that the young city out on the western frontier might be just the right place for an enterprising young man to make a fortune in the dry goods trade. Marshall Field, another Massachusetts native, came to Chicago in the same year as Moody, but while Field went on to become one of the wealthiest men in the United States, Moody found another calling. He was working as a salesman for C.N. Henderson & Co. in downtown Chicago, when he discovered a neighborhood very different from the one he lived in on Michigan Avenue. Just north of the Chicago River, in and around Illinois, Franklin and Market (today’s Orleans) Streets Moody discovered a ramshackle neighborhood comprised primarily of Irish immigrants from an area in County Cork, Ireland called Kilgubbin. It was one of the city’s densest and poorest whose streets were lined with small, deteriorating wooden shacks and filled with young boys popularly known as “Street Arabs.”

[The D. L. Moody Memorial Church & Sunday School, Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Moody, an active member of Plymouth Congregational Church which was located near the boarding house he was living in, thought that if he could get these unruly young men to attend Sunday school he might be able to save them from the horrible life he believed was ahead of them. In 1859 he rented a room in one of the dilapidated buildings in the neighborhood, and with missionary zeal began canvassing the streets for young recruits. All of this effort caught the attention of upstate New York transplant and dry goods tycoon James V. Farwell, who offered Moody a meeting space in Farwell’s North Market Hall building on Hubbard Street for the Sunday classes. Moody quit his job, ditched the idea of earning $100,000-a-year, and dedicated himself to his new life calling.

[The D. L. Moody Memorial Church & Sunday School, Old Town, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By 1864, Moody had become well known in the city for his work, and was able to raise enough funds to build a church and Sunday school on Illinois Street. Swept away in the fire of 1871, he sets his sights on a location further north and chose the intersection of Chicago Avenue and La Salle Street. Ironically, he never served as the church’s senior pastor, instead choosing to focus all of his attention and energy on his evangelical, soul-saving mission. In 1874 after an extended excursion conducting revival meetings across England, Moody settled in his home town of Northfield, Massachusetts where he died in 1899. The last decade of his life rarely saw him back in Chicago, but in 1886 he was actively involved in the creation of the Chicago Evangelization Society.

[The D. L. Moody Memorial Church & Sunday School, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

After his death, and in honor of their founder, the Society became the Moody Bible Institute and the church the D. L. Moody Memorial Church & School. Although they both took on the Moody label, and although the pastor of the church often served as the president of the Institute, legally they were, and are, their own separate entities – which has lead to much confusion. In 1915 Moody Memorial Church left their corner at Chicago Avenue and La Salle Street and the main campus of their cousin the Institute, and erected a very large “temporary” wooden tabernacle farther up La Salle at North Avenue. The temporary tabernacle was on its last wooden legs by the mid-1920s when the congregation announced that architects Fugard & Knapp would be designing a permanent home for the church and school. John Fugard and George Knapp had designed a number of large apartment houses along East Lake Shore Drive and in the Gold Coast neighborhood in their nine years as partners, and Moody Church would be one of their last projects together. In May, 1925 while the church was under construction, George Knapp decided to focus on his investment portfolio and left the firm. Their highly ornamented exterior enclosed a Sunday school and a 5,000-seat auditorium with enough space left over for a 300 person choir. The structure became one of the largest, purpose-built, Christian-identified, worship spaces in the world.

See more of Fugard & Knapp at: South Water Market – University Commons.

 

 

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Dearborn Street Station

[Dearborn Street Station (1885) Cyrus L.W. Eiditz / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

If you traveled in or out Chicago’s Midway or O’Hare airports in 2013, you were one of 86,874,713 passengers who passed through their terminals, landing or taking-off on one of the 1,135,126 aircraft that used the airports’ runways. It also makes you part of a transportaton hub system whose history dates back over 135 years.

[Dearborn Street Station, 47 W. Polk Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

From the time the Galena & Chicago Union’s first rail car pulled out of the station on its way to suburban Oak Park on October 25,1848, Chicago’s movers and shakers never looked back. After the Civil War ended in 1865 a determined group of the city’s business leaders and boosters worked relentlessly to connect Chicago to an ever expanding national rail network, and as a result of their effort, by the 1880s, more trains and their passengers passed through Chicago than anywhere else in the world. And unlike today’s airports which are generally owned and operated by government agencies, in the 1880s, train terminals were owned, constructed and operated by the railroads themselves.

[Dearborn Street Station, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad had first chugged into the city in the 1850s where it joined a number of other emerging rail lines establishing acre-gobbling rail yard presence south of the downtown business district. They purchased a large piece of land that extended from Van Buren Street all the way down to Taylor Street, between Fourth (today’s Federal Street) and Third (today’s Plymouth Court). They then constructed a small passenger terminal on Fourth Avenue,  just east of the two-block long depot of the Rock Island and Southern Michigan railroads. Then in 1882, at a March meeting of the Chicago City Council, alderman passed a bill authorizing the extension of Dearborn Street from Jackson Boulevard south to Taylor, which would run right through the middle of the railroad’s property. Needless to say, the C & W.I. wasn’t happy about it.

[Dearborn Street Station, Printer's Row, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The city set aside a sum of money to compensate property owners for the 80-foot-wide street, but the owners of the Chicago & Western Indiana weren’t interested in selling. After losing their battle in court, Mayor Carter Harrison, Sr. worked out a compromise with the railroad: if the C & W.I. would sell their land from Van Buren to Polk Street, then the city would not extend Dearborn all the way to Taylor. A deal was reached, and in 1884 with cash-in-hand, the railroad got to work on building a train station which would sit prominently at the foot of the newly extended Dearborn Street. The rail road hired New York City architect Cyrus L.W. Eiditz to design their new terminal, who drew-up plans that included an eye-catching clock tower that sat right in the middle the the block-wide building, and dominated the newly created intersection. The Dearborn Street Station, home to the Chicago & Western Indiana and five other rail lines, opened for business on May 31, 1885.

[Dearborn Street Station, South Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Dearborn Street Station was one of six passenger train terminals that surrounded Chicago’s downtown Loop district. Four of them were within easy walking distance of one another at the southern end of the Loop, which for decades virtually halted the expansion of the business district southward as the city grew in population and prominence on the world stage. But the train traffic entering and exiting those six terminals put Chicago on the map as the busisest transportation hub in the world, a title Chicago proudly proclaimed for decades, even after passenger train traffic had been replaced by air travel. Thirty-five years after Dearborn Station’s opening, plans were afoot to move the lines using the terminal into a new central station. One proposal called for a massive passenger terminal at State & 12th Street, consolidating the lines that fed into the La Salle Street, Grand Central, Union and Dearborn Street stations. In December 1922, after a fire completely destroyed the roof of the Dearborn Street depot, it seemed like consolidating move was imminent. But then the insurers of the badly burnt station paid for the loss, the railroad repaired the damage, and the station continued to serve pasengers until rail passenger service in the United States had declined to such an extent that the federal government created Amtrak to try and save the industry from complete obliteration. Developers, with the help of the city, purchased the now defunct depot known as the Polk Street Station and the acres of rail lines extending from it, and today the Dearborn Park residential development sits where tracks once sat, and the station serves as an entry portal to an office and shopping arcade. It is the oldest serving remnant of Chicago’s heyday as the world’s busiest passenger rail hub.

 

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