Waterman Building, Chicago
by: chicago designslinger
[Waterman Building, Chicago (1920) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
If you ever find yourself wandering down State Street in the vicinity of Chicago's Palmer House Hotel, you may notice a storefront next door to the 1920s-era hotel that looks like something out of the Deranged Manual of Design. It wasn't always that way. When the place was built in 1920 architects Holabird & Roche's retail and loft building was a handsome addition to the street, and a modern compliment to the old, post-fire Palmer hotel which was still standing at the time.
[Waterman Building, 127 S. State Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The building was designed with a specific client in mind, the L.E. Waterman Company, manufacturers of fountain pens. Before ball points, Sharpies or smart phones, many people wrote with a pencil, or if you could afford it, a fountain pen. The notion that you could use a writing utensil without having to dip a quill into a bottle of ink was revolutionary, and Louis Edson Waterman figured out how to make ink flow directly to the nib via ink-filled cartridge enclosed within the writing instrument. He opened his Ideal Pen Company in New York in 1884 while his brother Elisha came out west and set-up a sales desk in the back of the Congregational Bookstore on Chicago's Wabash Avenue. The pens were immensely popular, and after renting several downtown Chicago business locations the Waterman Company decided to build from scratch and chose the site of a 6-story post-fire building on State Street.
[Waterman Building, Loop Retail National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Holabird & Roche's design topped-out at 7 stories, with an elaborate ground floor storefront decorated in some 500 shades of encaustic mosaic. Once you passed through the doors and into the store shoppers entered into an exquisite retail showroom that rivaled the interior of Waterman's flagship location in New York City. The upper floors were designed to be used as pen assembly and stock rooms, and the architects provided astonishingly wide, natural light producing window spans outlined in slim, Gothic-inspired, decorative terra-cotta. In 1925, soon after Waterman's opened their State Street location, a big change occurred along the adjoining brick party wall when the old 7-story hotel was demolished and Holabird & Roche's new 25-story Palmer House began construction. The new building towered over, and nearly gobbled-up, the 7-story Waterman Building. Then in 1938, with fewer pen sales due to the Depression and stiff competition from other pen makers like Parker, Sheaffer and Eversharp, Waterman's no longer needed their showroom and workspace on State Street, so the company signed a lease for space in a building around the corner on Adams and Wabash Streets.
[Waterman Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By the time the Three Sisters women's clothing store moved into the former Waterman salesroom in the 1940s, the desire by subsequent retailers to keep-up with the times and modernize, had begun to take their toll on Holabird & Roche's multi-colored encaustic storefront. The ground level was reworked into a sleeker two-story, limestone trimmed facade that mimicked the design of the neighboring Chandlers Shoes and Baskin mens stores. Then in the 1950s another reconfiguration of the lower two floors was accompanied by a large enamel-paneled sign board that provided the background for immense red, neon-lined lettering, which devoured two more floors of the original design. Finally, after the Beef & Brandy Restaurant moved-in in the late 1960s, white vinyl siding with plant-on windows framed by vinyl shutters was plopped-on to the second floor - an interesting choice that looks like it was made out of leftovers from a suburban developer's "Colonial" model home - while the ground floor was given a modernizing redo of curved glass, shaded by the existing burgundy awning.