North American Building, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[North American Building (1912) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
On a December day in 1910 it was announced that change was coming once again to Chicago's main retail thoroughfare, State Street. The Chicago Tribune published an article letting its readers know that the old North American Building on the northwest corner of State and Monroe was going to be replaced by a new taller, sleeker and more modern North American Building. Since Potter Palmer had almost single handedly began to shift the city's retail focus from Lake Street to State Street nearly 50 years before, State had been through several building transformations as the demand for space along that Great Street grew in value - and in height.
[North American Building, 36 S. State Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Developers Stumer, Rosenthal and Eckstein hired one of Chicago's busiest, and best, tall building architectural firms Holabird & Roche for the project. William Holabird and Martin Roche, along with a team of talented designers and engineers, had developed a commercial building system that was not only pleasing to the eye, but more importantly for an investor could be built quickly, efficiently, and ready for rent-paying tenants on schedule. They were instrumental in helping make what came to be known as the Chicago School world famous.
[North American Building, Loop Retail National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Their office was humming when the North American commission came their way in 1911. On the drafting tables and under construction at the time were Chicago projects that included buildings like the Otis at La Salle and Madison Street, the Monroe on Michigan Avenue, plus two more State Street projects the Mandel Bros. store building and the massive block long retail emporium for Rothschilds. There was the Rand-McNally at Clark and Harrison, an addition to their McCormick Building on Michigan Avenue at Van Buren, along with another addition being added on to their telephone company building on Washington near today's Wells Street. Holabird and Roche had developed an integrated system that worked, and it worked well.
[North American Building - Metropolis Condominiums /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The building sat on a prominent base. The street level retail space was capped by two floors of tall, wide open window spans which could potentially provide prominent display space. The upper stories would provided income producing flexible floor plans tailored to a clients needs. The architects capped it all off with a pinnacle of elaborate Gothic Revival details - and an owl or two - which carried the bands of white glazed terra-cotta into the sky. Like a lot of buildings, the North American went through several changes over the years. The original design contained a sweeping marble lined staircase centered on the ground floor corner at State & Monroe which led to a restaurant below. There was another very eye catching, customer attention grabbing staircase at the back of the ground floor leading-up to the second floor. All of that is gone now, including the row of spiky Gothic pinnacles that once crowned the top, while the flexible office space has been converted into condominium apartments.