Washington Block

[Washington Block (1874) F. & E. Baumann, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Imagine taking a brick out into a just watered garden and standing it up on end like a tall building. If it fell over you probably wouldn’t be surprised. Or if you had distributed the weight fairly evenly it might have stood its ground, but eventually leaned a little like the tower in Pisa. Now grab another brick and place the long, flat side down on the ground and give it a push trying to keep it level, then put your brick on top of it. If the edge is smooth and flat, it will sit nicely on its pedestal without tipping over. This simple exercise forms a basic principle proposed by a Chicago architect as a solution to building taller and heavier buildings in city’s unstable water-logged soil.

 

[Washington Block, 40 N. Wells Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1873 Chicago architect Frederick Baumann published a 35-page pamphlet, “The Art of Preparing Foundations for All Kinds of Buildings with Particular Illustrations of the Method of Isolated Piers as Followed in Chicago.” The ideas he put forth weren’t revolutionary, he just took a well thought-out common sense approach to building large commercial blocks in Chicago’s squishy soil and put it down on paper. The city’s booming business district had once been the site of an ancient lake bed, and when the last glaciers receded the land mass that eventually became the Loop was a muddy mess. It wasn’t unusual to walk around the remnants of the brick facade of a 4-story building that had collapsed into the street, or to roll a marble from one corner of a room to the other as the building sank into the mud. In the post-fire boom downtown developers built like crazy replacing what had been lost using the same construction methods builders had used before 1871. Baumann saw an opportunity to build a more structurally sound business district in the aftermath of the fire and hoped to encourage developers and their architects to change their pre-fire ways.

 

[Washington Block, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

John Prosper Olinger came to Chicago in 1854, practiced law, became one of the charter members of the Chicago Board of Trade, and invested his money in real estate. His wife Catherine was the daughter of early Chicago pioneers Barbara and Pierre Cure who had once operated a grocery and provision store on Randolph Street in the late 1830s. In 1874 Olinger hired Baumann and his cousin Edward to design a standard, pre-fire, 5-story with basement commercial building on a lot the Cure estate owned on the southwest corner of Washington Street and Fifth Avenue – which had been known as Wells Street. With basement windows half above grade and half below surrounded by an open window well and a prominent corner stair leading up to the first floor offices, by all outward appearances the handsome Athens marble building looked like any number of the other towers rising around it – but it wasn’t. Baumann used his recently published isolated pier theory to keep the building steady on its feet. Like a stepped pyramid, the isolated pier supported the weight of interior columns which meant that the building would settle more gently and evenly without causing walls to collapse or floors to tilt.

 

[Washington Block, Chicago Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Olinger moved his real estate office into the Washington Block as soon as it was completed, and the estate held on to the building until 1905 when it was put up for sale with an asking price of $200,000. The open basement window well was enclosed by an expanded sidewalk that chopped the tall window openings in half, and the second story door opening was turned into a window and a new door was added where the elegant corner stair once stood. Baumann’s isolated piers went out of favor as buildings grew taller and heavier and the pyramids ate up more and more of much needed basement space. Even so, he did go down in history as the person who got Chicago’s architectural establishment to stop and think about how to build structurally sound structures in the city’s uncooperative soil, and the Washington Block is the only remaining example of a Baumann pyramidal design that hasn’t been demolished to make way for more profitable, and much taller buildings.

 

 

See a very tall nearby neighbor at: Willis Tower.

 

 

 

Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Landmarked | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

O.O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago

[O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago (1885) Harald M. Hansen, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

As he looked back over the past twenty years, George Hollenbeck Rozet couldn’t believe how much his life had changed. The native Philadelphian was living with his wife Josephine in New Orleans on March 4, 1861 when Louisiana seceded from the Union, and George signed-on with the southern Confederacy. Two years later the Rozets were on the run as the Union Army entered the Crescent City and headed north to Tensas Parish, Louisiana where they sought refuge at the Westwood Plantation home of Josie’s father Henry D. Mandeville, Jr. At war’s end George didn’t see much of a future in the ruined reconstructing South, so in 1866 he packed up Josie and the kids and headed north to Chicago. It was a good choice. Many businessmen like the retail merchant Potter Palmer had profited from the war and money was pouring into the city. George saw opportunity in real estate, and by 1881 had established himself as one of the top brokers in the city. One of his clients, the Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, was selling off chunks of land that had, not so long ago, been the site of the city’s Roman Catholic cemetery along Lake Michigan’s shoreline. Rozet brokered the property into a commission yielding bonanza.

 

[O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Chicago men of business saw promise in the land that had once held the remains of the dearly departed. They purchased pieces and parcels of the former cemetery as Archbishop Feehan graded streets and divvied-up the sandy soil into salable city lots. In January, 1882 the Chicago Tribune announced that George had brokered a deal between the Catholic cleric and retail pioneer turned real estate mogul Potter Palmer. In one fell swoop Palmer, who already owned several large parcels of property around the old cemetery grounds, plunked down $90,695 to buy a large chunk of the Archbishop’s sandy  subdivision between the not-quite-yet completed Burton Place and North Avenue, where it fronted the newly emerging Lake-Shore drive.

 

[O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago; Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Olof O. Ostrom wasn’t quite in Potter Palmer’s league, but he was doing just fine. When he saw a real estate opportunity, he rolled the dice, and had hit the jackpot a number of times. A piece of the former cemetery that ran east along Schiller Street at the corner of the newly extended Astor Street, was just the right size for Ostrom. He could probably get about seven or eight 20-foot-wide townhouses into the 85-foot-deep lot. The eastern edge of his newly acquired property was adjacent to the large Palmer purchase, and Ostrom was hedging his bets that Palmer would sell his lots with his crazy restriction that only large free-standing houses could be built on the over sized lots. Ostrom on the other hand simply wanted to squeeze as much as he could out of his strip of sand.

 

[O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago; Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1885 Ostrom hired Chicago architect Harald M. Hansen to design the row of conjoined dwellings. Hansen had come to Chicago from his native Norway after a stint in Berlin studying architecture at the BauAkademie. Architecture as a degreed area of study in the United States was uncommon. In 1865 MIT became the first institution of higher learning to develop an architectural school, followed by the University of Illinois in 1869. It took a couple of years for UofI to get its architecture act together, but in 1871, Harald Hansen left his home in Chicago, and headed down to Urbana, Illinois to become one of the first instructors in the new program. Hansen stayed for a couple of years before heading back to Chicago, and the row he designed for Ostrom would become the prototype of a number of townhouse clusters that the architect would design and become noted for. Fellow Norwegian Ole Christiansen served as the general contractor and oversaw the skilled tradesman who constructed the elaborately crafted, 3-story, 14-room town homes.

 

[O. O. Ostrom Houses, 38-50 East Schiller Street, Chicago; Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Even though the eight houses only averaged around 20-feet in width, the developer and his    architect spared no expense. Ostrom was following the lead set by Palmer and other area investors, carving-out an elite residential community that would rival Chicago’s established enclave of exclusivity, Prairie Avenue. Ostrom’s roll of the dice paid off once again. Charles M. Charnley, lumberman and brother of James Charnely who lived nearby in a large home on the northwest corner of Division Street and the Lake-Shore drive, moved into the eastern-most townhouse. A.C. Bodman, a department manager in the Marshall Field wholesale division, moved into a mid-row house, and publisher Alfred T. Andreas took the house at the corner of Schiller and Astor. In 1894 Carter H. Harrison, Jr., son of a Chicago mayor and soon-to-be mayor himself, moved his family into the Andreas corner. The Harrisons stayed until 1906 when William Wrigley of chewing gum fame moved in. The townhouse lost its corner turret for a more sedate Georgian revival facade, and although the front door continued to face Schiller Street, the home’s address was switched over to the more prestigious Astor. Over time the multi-roomed, single family townhomes were divided into smaller-roomed, multi-family apartment units. But in the last few years, a few have been restored back to their original 4,000-plus square-foot, single-family size.

 

 

See a row of nearby Astor Street townhouses at: Potter Palmer Houses, Astor Street, Chicago; 25 East Banks Street, Chicago; and James L. Houghteling Houses – John W. Root House; plus another elaborate roughed-hewned facade from Hansen at: George A. Weiss House.

 

 

 

Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Decorative Arts, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Allerton Building – Art Institute of Chicago

[Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago (1892-1918) Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

He was born into money, made even more money, and gave lots of it away. Robert Henry Allerton, born in Chicago in 1873, had, by the time of his death in 1964, become the Art Institute of Chicago’s most beneficent, living, benefactor. Between his first term as a trustee in 1918 and his tenure as Honorary President from 1956 to 1964, Allerton had donated over 6,000 objects to the museum and made $1.5 million in donations. It may seem like small potatoes in today’s billion-dollar-obsessed world, but his contributions to the museum were held in such high regard that in 1968 the institution honored their benevolent patron by naming their prominent, Michigan Avenue facing structure, the Allerton Building, on the 50th anniversary of Robert Henry Allerton taking his seat on the Board of Trustees.

 

[Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Allerton’s father Samuel came to Chicago in 1856 to trade cattle. He not only made a fortune doing so, but along the way he helped found the city’s Union Stock Yards and became a director of five other yards around the country. He was a founder, director, and one of the largest shareholders of the 1st National Bank of Chicago, and owned tens-of-thousands of acres of farmland in Illinois, Nebraska and Wyoming. Samuel’s son was passionate about art, so he sent Robert on a grand tour of Europe where the young man would be able to see some of the great art and architecture of the Western world. When Robert came back to Chicago and his parent’s Prairie Avenue mansion, Samuel sent his son to Monticello, Illinois to oversee the management of Allerton’s 20,000-acre farm to learn a little bit about the family business. And perhaps it was a good thing that he did, because when Samuel Allerton died in 1914, Robert was the chief beneficiary of his father’s multi-million dollar estate. Cattle was his business, but art remained his passion. When he joined the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute in 1918, Allerton was well on his way to accumulating quite an eclectic group of drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, earthenware, figurines, and hundreds of pieces of textiles. All of which would one day serve as the basis of the museum’s Robert Allerton collection.

 

[Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago, Grant Park, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The building the trustee’s chose to name in honor of Allerton’s commitment to the institution was the original and the oldest structure in the museum’s multi-building complex. It was designed in 1892 by architects Shepley, Rutan & Cooldige for the the World’s Columbian Exposition, even though the building was miles from the Exposition site on the south side of the city. That was because this Bueax-Arts marvel was to become the new home of Chicago’s Art Institute at the Expo’s end. In October 1893 two temporary, 3000-seat assembly halls, built for the fair’s World’s Auxiliary and tucked into the open courtyard behind the elaborate stone facade were dismantled, and the Art Institute moved in to the still-standing, u-shaped structure.

 

[Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Over the course of the next three decades, the open end of the “u” would be closed off by additional gallery space, a permanent lecture hall would be constructed on the north side of the open courtyard, a library to the south, with a grand staircase in between. A gallery/bridge that spanned the below-grade Illinois Central rail road tracks connected the Michigan Avenue building to open landfill. On that newly created piece of land more galleries were constructed around an open courtyard, a theater and buildings for the School of the Art Institute. By time time of Allerton’s death, two wings flanked the original Michigan Avenue structure, and the Institute’s footprint had more than tripled in size. He had been there for all of it.

 

[Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1942 Allerton gave 6,000 acres of his father’s farm to the University of Illinois along with an English-style manor house he had built in 1900 called “The Farms.” Two years earlier the art collector had moved to a 125-acre plot of land he had purchased on the island of Kauai with his “son” John Gregg. In 1922, the orphaned 22-year-old had been introduced to the 49-year-old life-long bachelor during a University of Illinois “Father-Son” football weekend. After Gregg’s graduation, Allerton got the budding designer a job in the offices of Allerton’s friend, the socially prominent architect David Adler. When Adler downsized in 1930 Gregg was out of a job, but by this time he had moved in with his “mentor,” and was known around town as Allerton’s “son.” Then in  1960, after 30 years together, the 87-year-old octogenarian legally adopted his 60-year-old companion. Illinois had passed legislation in 1959 allowing an adult to adopt an adult, and although the two were living primarily in Hawaii, they still maintained their Illinois residency. When Robert Allerton died he didn’t forget his beloved museum. He left 2/3 of his estate in perpetual trust to the Art Institute, with 1/3 going to the Honolulu Academy of Art. John was given the house and property in Kauai along with a $3 million income producing trust. And when John Gregg Allerton sat down for an interview in 1985 he summed-up their relationship. “He didn’t have a son and I didn’t have a father, so we were paired off and lived happily ever after.”

 

 

See more at: Art Institute of Chicago, and Modern Wing – Art Institute of Chicago; stories of two more Art Institute benefactors at: Potter & Bertha Honore Palmer Mausoleum, Benjamin F. Ferguson House; and another 1890s-era project from Shepley Rutan & Coolidge at: Chicago Cultural Center.

 

 

Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Decorative Arts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Trustees System Service Building

[Trustees System Service Building (1930) Thielbar & Fugard, architects; Edgar Miller, lead silhouettes; Eugene van Breeman Lux, sculptor (2003) renovation and adaptive reuse, FitzGerald Associates, architects  / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It was an interesting job, and Chicago artist, designer, and visual innovator Edgar Miller liked a challenge. So when architects John Fugard and Fred Thielbar talked to Miller about a new high-rise office building they were designing, Edgar was intrigued. Miller had carved out quite a niche for himself as one of the city’s more imaginative imagists and was always ready to tackle any new design challenge. He was a painter, a printmaker, stained glass artisan, interior designer, craftsman, and builder of almost anything he could get his hands on. The architects needed something to fill-in the large the 2-story opening over the entry doors of the front lobby and came to Edgar for a solution.

 

[Trustees System Service Building, 182 W. Lake Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

This job was an important one for the architects. Even though both of them had been on the Chicago architectural scene for decades, the building they were designing for the Trustees System Service company was their first big commission as a team. John Fugard had been in a very productive architectural partnership with architect George Knapp until 1925 when Knapp decided to put down his pencil and concentrate on his business investments. Fred Thielbar had worked for one of city’s most prestigious firms Holabird & Roche for 14 years, and although the designer had achieved junior partner status at the firm, by casting his lot with Fugard, the name Thielbar would now be at the front of a firm’s title.

 

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

Trustees System Service was an amalgamation of financial instruments that included commercial banking and management. The company’s bread-and-butter was in making small business loans to thousands of Midwest farmers, and in 1929 the  company made the decision to set-up a subsidiary in Chicago and move their headquarters from Alabama. The site for their new building wasn’t ideal. The south and west facades of the first four floors of the new structure on the northeast corner of Lake and Wells Streets, would sit within 16 feet of the city’s Loop elevated structure.  If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, the city’s building code required that a building filling its lot from edge to edge could be no taller than 260 feet. To make the Trustees project profitable however the structure needed more rentable floor space, which meant that the building needed to be taller. Now if you wanted to go higher, the city had devised a formula which allowed you to build beyond 260 feet but the volume had to decrease the taller you climbed. So architects created set backs, adding a dynamic new architectural feature to Chicago’s skyline.  Thielbar & Fugard not only set their tower back, they added a little extra flourish by capping the set back with an eye-catching ziggurat. They also added a few fashionable Moderne touches to their site restricted building, and variegated the tonal quality of the entire surface by placing darker brick at the bottom which grew lighter as it climbed to the top.

 

[Trustees System Service Building, Chicago Loop Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Meanwhile back in Miller’s studio, Edgar had thought it over and came up with a solution - he would design a series of silhouettes that would be cut out of tin and sandwiched between two pieces of rectangular glass. The patterns would be repetitive, but the figures encircled in the larger panels would each be unique, featuring a male figure performing the kind of work you might find being done on many of the farms that the Trustees System loans serviced, while Eugene van Breeman Lux’s sculptural reliefs would pay homage to many of the financial services the System performed.

 

[Trustees System Service Building, Lake Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Unfortunately the service the System performed was about to collapse under its own mismanaged weight. As a result of the Wall Street crash in 1929 and the economic fallout it engendered, the Trustees company was put into receivership, and when the government discovered that the entire business was one massive Ponzi scheme, the corporate officers were indited by the U.S. Postmaster for using the mails to defraud the public. The Corn Products Company – makers of things like corn starch – moved into the building and because they became the tower’s largest tenant, the building name was variably called the Corn Products or Corn Exchange Building. As the city’s central business district went through decades of change, Thielbar & Fugard’s ziggurat-topped tower, went into decline. The El continued to rattle by 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and in the summer of 1994 scaffolding had to be erected on the sidewalk surrounding the tonal structure because pieces of brick were falling from the aging facade. Time had not been kind to Edgar Miller’s hand cut pieces of lead either, water had gotten in between the two pieces of glass, and the lead was deteriorating. By the turn of the 21st century, more and more people were moving into what had once been an exclusively business-centric district. Thielbar and Fugard’s building followed the trend and was renovated under the direction of architects FitzGerald & Associates and converted into an office/apartment tower.

 

 

See more from Fugard before Thielbar at: The D.L. Moody Church and South Water Market – University Commons; and another ziggerat-topped tower at: Metropolitan Tower/Straus Building.

 

 

 

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

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.

 

 

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

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.

 

 

Posted in 19th Century Bldgs., Decorative Arts, Landmarked, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments