Peoples Gas Building

[Peoples Gas Building (1911) D.H. Burnham & Co., architects; (1986) renovation, Eckenhoff Saunders Architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Even though they built the building, Peoples Gas hasn't owned their D.H. Burnham & Co.
designed structure at the corner of Adams and Michigan Avenue since 1985, and haven't occupied the granite and terra-cotta clad behemoth since 1995. The former Peoples Gas, Light & Coke Co. moved up-the-street into newer more modern quarters, leaving over half of the building's square footage vacant, and yet, 17 years later, the building still bears their name.

[Peoples Gas Building, 122 S.Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Peoples Gaslight & Coke Co. - notice that gas and light were once joined together -
received a charter from the State of Illinois in 1855 to supply the City of Chicago with natural gas. The coke part of the title came from the tons and tons of coal that the company burned, which was converted into the flame-producing gaseous mixture, and then delivered to customers through an extensive underground system of cast iron pipes. By the late 1870s the invisible-to-the-naked-eye substance also provided fuel for the flames that lit over 35,000 street lamps. In 1885 Peoples moved their offices into a building at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street where the Pullman Palace Car Company was busy moving out of the 6-story, post-Chicago Fire structure.

[Peoples Gas Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

This northwest corner had once been the site of the large and socially prominent home of Henry H. Honoré. Honoré was a wealthy Chicago businessman and father of two daughters - one of whom married President Ulysses S. Grant's son Frederick, and the other, Bertha, who married the far-richer-than-her-father, Potter Palmer. The Palmer's wedding reception was held in the Honoré home in 1870, and in October 1871 the mansion was one of the hundreds of thousands of dwellings that burned to the ground in the Great Fire. After assessing the post-fire situation, Honoré decided not to build another house, there was money to be made going commercial and built a typical looking for the era, 6-story business block which George Pullman rented in 1872 for the headquarters of his Pullman Palace Company.

[Peoples Gas Building /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the early 1880s Pullman needed more space, and his company was raking in the dough, so he hired architect S.S. Beman to design an $800,000 purpose built office structure for the railroad car manufacturer. The site was directly across Adams Street from the Honoré property, and once Pullman moved-out, Peoples Gas moved in. As the 19th century turned into the 20th, Peoples needed more office space and instead of building new and relocating to another part of the city's central business district they chose to stay on their corner - and then some. The company acquired the 4 plots of land to the north of Honoré's building for a total of 196 feet of Michigan Avenue frontage and 171 feet along Adams, then hired one of the city's preeminent architectural firms D.H. Burnham & Co. to design the 21-story structure, and paid in the neighborhood of $12 million for the entire package.

Burnham's exquisite interior light court disappeared in a 1950s remodel to create more
office space, and after Peoples sold the building in 1985 the new owners, First City Development Corporation, spent $55 million to update the aging structure and restore some of its original elements. Unfortunately, the light court wasn't part of the plan.

See Peoples nearby neighbors at the: Municipal Court Building, Michigan Avenue, Chicago; Heroic Athleticism; the building that replaced Pullman's 1885 home: Borg-Warner Building; and the: Art Institute of Chicago.

  • Trackbacks are closed for this post.

  • 12/3/2012 9:33 AM JEN wrote:
    I was once told that the building has an amazing stained glass ceiling that was covered up for years and only recently re-discovered. Do you know if that is correct? Have any photos?
    Reply to this
    1. 12/4/2012 5:31 AM designslinger wrote:
      There was an intricately designed pattern of clear glass and iron - think the Rookery lobby ceiling - but don't know of the use of any colored glass. The pattern was replicated in an imitation of sorts when the lobby was rejiggered once again in the 1980s retail mall redo. Don't know of any rediscovery, unless some pieces or sections of the old ceiling removed in the demo of the old lobby/light court have been found salvaged somewhere. But when Peoples decided in the 1950s that the grand 2-story space would be better used as offices, their devastatingly insensitive demolition was pretty complete.

      Reply to this
Leave a comment

Submitted comments are subject to moderation before being displayed.

 Name (required)

 Email (will not be published) (required)


Your comment is 0 characters limited to 3000 characters.