by: chicago designslinger
[Ludington Building (1892) Jenney & Mundie, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Did he or didn't he design the first tall commercial high-rise supported entirely by a metal frame? That question has been debated ever since the "Father of the American Skyscraper" decided to try something new and design a skeletal framing system to support the Home Insurance Building in downtown Chicago in 1885. Some say yes, some say not quite. Whether he deserves the title or not, architect William Le Baron Jenney continued to push the limits of steel technology in tall building, while at the same time employing and training some the city's future brand name architects like Louis Sullivan, Daniel Burnham, William Holabird & Martin Roche.
[Ludington Building, 1104 S. Wabash, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Twenty years before Jenney arrived in the city in 1868, Nelson Ludington headed to Chicago to establish a branch of his Wisconsin and Michigan based lumber company. It was a good move on both their parts. Jenney became a famous architect and Ludington became a rich lumberman and banker. When Ludington died in 1883 he left his wife and two daughters an estate valued in the $800,000 range, and while providing for his wife during her lifetime, the bulk of the money was left to the two sisters. The oldest daughter Mary had caused quite a stir in 1868 when she married Charles J. Barnes, Midwest president and chairman of his family's A.S. Barnes & Co. publishing house. The Ludington-Barnes nuptials included a wedding reception hosted by the bride's father for an unheard of, and newspaper headline worthy, 2,000 guests. Younger daughter Jennie, whose wedding reception was somewhat more sedate, had married into the family business when she chose George Young a Denver-based lumberman as her husband. And although Mary and Jennie were the beneficiaries of their father's bounty, Ludington gave his sons-in-law oversight of their wives booty by naming them the executors.
[Ludington Building, National Register of Historic Places /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Barnes & Co. was one of the top five publishers in the country of children's and school textbooks. In 1890 Barnes, along with the three other top producers, formed the American Book Company to beat out top-spot holder Harper & Brothers. To facilitate the expanded Chicago operations Mary Ludington Barnes, with the approval of her executor and husband Charles, used some of the Ludington inheritance to build a commercial building on the corner of Wabash Avenue and Harmon Court (8th Street) and hired William Le Baron Jenney as their architect. The $400,000 eight-story building would house the offices of the American Book Company on floors 6 through 8, with light manufacturing below, and large display windows on the ground floor for what the Chicago Tribune called "a carriage repository." Jenney wrapped the exterior of his steel structural cage in a veneer of decorative terra-cotta - the largest entirely terra-cotta clad structure of its time - visually exposing the frame in way that other buildings with light steel frames buried their true structural nature in a cloak of heavy masonry.
[Ludington Building, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1910 Charles Barnes retired, and in the same year American Book made plans to relocate from the Ludington Building on Wabash Avenue to 22nd Street and Calumet. Charles died in 1921 followed by Mary a year later. Their daughter Bertha had died in 1913 supposedly of a broken heart following the death of her husband James Clinch Smith on the Titanic in 1912. So the building and the remainder of the lucrative Ludington/Barnes estate was left to their sole surviving child, Nelson Ludington Barnes. Upon his death in 1939, the building and estate was passed to his three children, Mary Ludington Sudler, wife of real estate tycoon Louis C. Sudler, and her brothers John and Nelson, Jr. By the mid-1950s 60+ years of weather and coal soot had turned the exterior into a dingy, dirty mess so the heirs had a coat of white paint slapped on to the dark brown terra-cotta in an attempt to brighten things up a bit. In 1960 the family decided that the time had finally come to sell their namesake building and in stepped Roy Warshawsky. His father Israel had come to Chicago from Lithuania in 1915 and began selling used auto parts at the corner of State Street and Archer Avenue. By the time Roy purchased the Ludington Building, Warshawsky was the largest direct mail auto parts supplier in the country.
[Ludington Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Warshawsky catalog eventually morphed into the J.C. Whitney brand, and in 1999 the company sold the building to the ever expanding Columbia College. The school converted the interior into classrooms and office space, and even though COLUMBIA fills the signboard over the front door, the building is still known as the Ludington.