Munn Building, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Munn Building, Chicago (1909) Christian A. Eckstorm, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
This extremely elegant facade comes to you from the drafting table of architect Christian A. Eckstorm, and unless you know where to find it, you've probably never seen it. The Munn Building is located in a less traveled section of South Wabash Avenue, off the beaten path, removed from the hustle and bustle just a few blocks north, or over on Michigan Avenue. When Carrie Louise Gurnee Armour Munn commissioned this project in 1908, the neighborhood was bustling, undergoing a transformation from a once prosperous residential community into a commercial loft warehouse district.
[Munn Building, Chicago, 815-19 S. Wabash Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Mrs. Munn had recently competed the Lyon Healy Building further up Wabash, and this project was just one of a number of the Washington, D.C. resident's Chicago investment properties. Carrie Gurnee was a member of a pioneer Chicago-area family who owned the large sections of land north of the city that eventually became the north shore suburban communities of Winnetka, Highland Park, and Gurnee, Illinois. Carrie's main source of income however came from her former brother-in-law and future husband, Joseph F. Armour's estate. Amelia Gurnee married Joseph Armour, president of the Armour meatpacking company, in 1869, and when she died in 1873 the couple were childless. Carrie married her deceased sister's husband in 1875, and when Joe Armour died in 1881, again childless, Carrie became the sole inheritor of $3 million in cash and bonds, as well as all of her husband's shares in the Armour company. Two years after Armour's death the 36-year-old widow married 32-year-old Charles A. Munn, who it just so happened represented his New York-based family's meatpacking interests in Chicago. By the late 1880s when labor strife was drawing unwanted attention to many of the city's robber baron families, especially in the meat industry, Carrie no longer felt comfortable in Chicago and moved her family, and social life, to Washington. She maintained a presence in her former hometown through a number of lucrative real estate investments, and died a very wealthy woman in 1922 after her car crashed into a tree near her Massachusetts estate.
[Munn Building, Chicago, South Wabash Avenue /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Eckstorm was a prolific Chicago-based architect, building everything from office buildings to massive factory and warehouse complexes. But he's not someone whose name pops-up very often in the pantheon of famous Chicago architects of the era. He didn't have an identifiable easy-to-pick-out style, but seems to have been channeling Sullivan or Wright. Prairie School styling was at the height of it's popularity in 1909, and Eckstorm seems to have drawn inspiration from his fellow architect's move away from European Classicism and into American-based, organic architecture for the Munn facade.
[Munn Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1928 Karpen Brothers, a furniture manufacturing company located on nearby Michigan Avenue, purchased the building and acquired a 99-year ground lease from Carrie's estate. The building went through a number of owners over the intervening decades and was converted from warehouse to office loft in the late 1980s before being purchased by the current owners East-West University.