Champlain Building

[Champlain Building (1902) Holabird & Roche, architects /Images & Artwork: designslinger]

Holabird & Roche have the distinction of designing two buildings in Chicago that eventually bore the same name, the Champlain. This version started life in 1903 as the New Powers Building and bore all the hallmarks of an H&R high-rise commercial structure. The team had come up with a formula of taking a skeletal metal frame, covering it with a minimal amount of fireproofing masonry leaving room for large expansive Chicago windows, which could be done quickly and economically making them a popular choice with commercial real estate developers. Although they've been often marginalized as designers who compromised decorative details to lower per square foot costs, their buildings are quite masterfully detailed, if you just take the time to look.

[Powers Building, 37 S. Wabash, Chicago /Images & Artwork: designslinger]

The building was built by a consortium of investors on a piece of property that already
had a building standing on it. The architectural firm was so good at what they did that their 13-story tower opened for occupancy in December of 1902, just 8 months after demolition had begun on the old building. The new structure was named for Orville M. Powers, the president and founder of the Metropolitan Business College which offered a range of classes from bookkeeping, steno, dictation, Spanish, and German to law. The school took over floors 8 through 12 with an option to expand as needed, and occupied the building until the 1930s when the Gregg shorthand school took over the space and the building was renamed the Champlain. Ironically one of Holabird & Roche's early, groundbreaking designs was also called the Champlain Building, which stood at the corner of State and Madison for a very brief 22 years, from 1894 until its demolition in 1916.

[Sharp Building, School of the Art Institute, Chicago /Images & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1938 after the Powers name change, the building underwent a "modernization" which stripped the first two floors of their original facades. The corner at Wabash and Monroe was changed again in 1945 when TWA moved in and Skidmore, Ownings & Merrill gave the airline a very sleek, and what we would now call "mid-century modern," design. It was also in this year that the Illinois Institute of Technology architecture department moved their classes out of the Art Institute and into the Champlain. Department head Mies van der Rohe also set-up set up his private practice in the building at the same time, which must have made for a very convenient commute from the school to the office where Mies was working on his plans for the future architectural marvel, the IIT campus at 35th & State.

By 1988 the School of the Art Institute itself was outgrowing their studio building at
the museum and purchased the nearby Champlain for additional class and office space. The building recently had its lower levels returned back to the original H&R design, replicating the ornate terra-cotta decoration surround at the Wabash Avenue entry and duplicating the original ground floor window openings, as well as rewrapping the structural steel in brick which was recreated to match the existing masonry. The building was renamed for donors John and Alice Sharp, so although there are no more Holabird & Roche Champlains left in Chicago, there are still a number of very sharp looking H&R designs still around.

See more of Holabird & Roche at: Hotel Annexed, Filling in the Holes, Strikingly TypedThree R's - Rothschild, Renovation and Reuse, and another School of the Art Institute adaptive reuse at: Heroic Athleticism.

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