by: chicago designslinger
[Astor Tower (1964) Bertrand Goldberg, architect (1996) curtain wall replacement, DeStefano + Partners, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago 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: chicago 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: chicago 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: chicago 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: chicago 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.