Sunday, March 22, 2015

Delaware Building, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger
 [Delaware Building, Chicago (1872/1874) Wheelock & Thomas, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
It hadn't been a great week for J.W. Bryant, upstanding citizen of Louisville. On June 22, 1879 the Chicago Tribune carried a large banner headline titled, "The Odorous Bryant Block," followed by an article describing "the God forsaken rendezvous," "where loafers loll in filth," "and pimps and prostitutes hold nightly orgies." The paper went on to describe in one sensational sentence after another how the person "presiding over the the renting department" of the property had been renting rooms "in one of the best buildings in the city, in the heart of the business district" to these undesirables. Bryant felt that he had to make it clear that he bore no responsibility for the building bearing his name, nor the nefarious activities occurring on the northeast corner of Randolph and Dearborn Streets that summer of 1879. He sent the Tribune the following statement, "I no longer have any control over the building. It is now and has been for about 2 years in the hands of Henry P. Isham, Receiver of the Court. J.W. Bryant."
  [Delaware Building, Chicago, 36 W. Randolph Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
This wasn't the first Bryant Block to stand on the busy central business district corner, the Louisville investor's first block had come down in the Great Fire in the Fall of 1871, and this highly detailed Italianate facade was already on the drafting boards of the office of architects Wheelock & Thomas in January, 1872. Otis Wheelock was one of the first architects in the city - following close on the heels of the the very first man to be crowned with that title, John Van Osdel - and the office was teeming with work as the business and financial communities made a commitment to see Chicago rise again from the ashes. By the first week of April, Bryant was in town to give his okay to the architects plan for a new five-story building on the site, and within a week contracts were being let for construction. The project was then expanded to the east two years later when Bryant secured a long term lease for the land on two adjoining lots.
  [Delaware Building, Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Although Mr. Bryant claimed no responsibility for the goings on in his block in 1879, his heirs were in litigation in 1885 to prevent foreclosure proceedings from moving forward on a $19,000 still held mortgage on the property. Four years later, the matter was resolved when Chicago's Real Estate Board moved in, and added three floors with an updated the name - the new Real Estate Board Building. The Board never had problems with prostitutes or pimps during their tenure, but by the turn of the 20th century the organization was on the move and in search of larger and newer quarters. This is when attorney Levy Mayer entered the picture. Mayer had come to Chicago months before the fire burned down the old Bryant Block, and by 1900 had made a fortune as one of the country's top constitutional and corporate lawyers. He began adding Randolph Street properties to his extensive real estate portfolio, and was one of the attorneys involved in the land lease negotiations for a Randolph Street parcel next door to the Real Estate Board property as the spot for the new Iroquois Theatre building.
  [Delaware Building, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Then, after the devastating Iroqouis fire in 1903, Mayer returned to the negotiating table in 1906 representing Klaw & Erlanger and their Metropolitan Theater Company in negotiations to secure the lease of the rebuilt Colonial Theatre. Seizing on an opportunity, Mayer bought the land under the theater from a trust for a cool $380,000 and now owned almost the entire north side frontage of Randolph between Dearborn and State Streets. As his law practice grew, so did his downtown Chicago real estate holdings, and when he died of a cerebral hemorrhage in 1922 his estimated $25 million estate made him the nation's wealthiest practicing attorney. His widow Rachel Meyer Mayer and their two daughters were now in control of some prime downtown Chicago real estate. When the local fraternal organization known as the Masons, decided to ditch their substantial Burnham & Root designed building at Randolph and State for new headquarters, they continued negotiations begun with Levy Mayer and secured the Colonial Theater as the location of their new building. The Masons also acquired those two parcels of land that J.W. Bryant had leased all those years ago when he expanded his building, and took over 40 feet of the easternmost two bays of the aging Delaware's Randolph Street frontage. When demolition began on the at the end of May 1924, Bryant's Block lost a chunk of itself.
  [Delaware Building, Chicago, Chicago Loop / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The National Register and City of Chicago Landmark is one of a handful of immediate post-fire buildings still standing in the Loop business district, and a reminder of the commitment, daring, and fortitude of a group of business leaders, financiers, and architects, which gave rise to the city we see today.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

William N. Pelouze Buildings
 by: chicago designslinger
 [William N. Pelouze Buildings (1907) Hill & Woltensdorf (1918) Alfred S. Alschuler, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
It started with a scale. Not of the Richter or architectural variety, but instead the type of measuring device that you’d find in a kitchen, or on the counter of a grocery store, or perhaps on an office desk. Millions of Americans weighed their flour, candy, produce, and mail on one of a number of scales manufactured by William Nelson Pelouze, Chicagoan, business leader, and brother-in-law of one of the city’s most notorious mayors.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Pelouze came to Chicago by way of his east coast roots after graduating from the Michigan Military Academy in 1882, the year he married Helen Gale Thompson, granddaughter of early Chicago pioneer Stephen Gale. He found a job with the Walter Wood reaping company before landing a position in 1884 with the Tobey Furniture Company. And it was during his eight year tenure with Tobey that Pelouze secured several patents on scale design and realized his goal of producing an affordable, mass market scale. In 1894 he set-up the Pelouze Scale & Manufacturing Company.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By the turn of the twentieth century the manufacturing plant of the Pelouze company was not only producing thousands of scales, but the enterprising inventor was also churning out a line of other non weight related products, including a popular heater that brought in nearly as much cash as the measuring product line. With the West Jackson Street factory humming and bursting at the seams, the Pelouze went out hunting a for larger space. He found a parcel of vacant land in an area of the city that not long ago had been a marshy swamp. The intersection of Ohio Street and Fairbanks Court – in the future Streeterville neighborhood – was a remote location in 1907 populated by a sprinkling of single family townhouses to the west, a line of manufacturing plants a couple of blocks to the south, and lots of sand and scrub to the east. He bought just under 300 foot stretch of Ohio Street frontage – south facing – just west of Fairbanks for $16,940 and hired architects Hill and Woltersdorf to design a six-story factory building for the eastern third of the parcel. The remaining two thirds would allow for future expansion.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 230 E. Ohio Street & 232 E. Ohio Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By 1916 Pelouze was making scales, telephone transmitters, and electric curling irons – and his brother-in-law, William Hale Thompson, was the mayor of Chicago. It was around this time that the multifarious manufacturer decided to finally do something with the still vacant portion of his Ohio Street property. Instead of expanding the factory complex to the west, he decided to take a chance and build an office building in an area that was increasingly becoming a warehouse and manufacturing district. Stanley Field purchased the ground under Pelouze’s feet for $130,000 cash and then leased the land back to Pelouze for 99-years. Hedging his bet, the risk-taking businessman then hired architect Alfred Alschuler to design a seven-story, reinforced concrete structure with an interior flexible enough to allow for office space, and at the same sturdy enough to hold large pieces of manufacturing equipment. The scheme worked. By the time the structure was completed in 1918, the building had been rented to the offices of the U.S. Army Central Division. In the mid-1950s, the Office of Mies van der Rohe leased a few thousand square feet of office space in the Pelouze’s leap of faith investment.
  [William N. Pelouze Buildings, 230 E. Ohio Street, Streeterville, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The two properties remained in the Pelouze family after William Nelson’s death in 1943 at age seventy-seven. And by the time of Helen Gale Thompson Pelouze’s demise in 1954, the Pelouze name inscribed at the top of 232 E. Ohio Street had been removed, but William Nelson’s surname still sits above the door of his other Ohio Street address.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building (1897) Treat & Shaw, associate architects; (1902) Howard Van Doren Shaw, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Richard Robert Donnelley’s career had had its ups and downs. He came to Chicago in the early 1860s to set up a printing business, and after a few partnerships and the loss of his entire business in the Great Fire, by 1895 he was on a roll. The company’s Lakeside Press branded city directory, which had first seen the light of day in 1875, brought the company a contract to print other directories from other business entities like Chicago’s nascent telephone industry, and as the population increased so did the page counts. When Montgomery Ward came calling and jobbed out the printing of his mail order catalog to Donnelley, adding production of the massive missive of consumer goods put the squeeze on Donnelley’s Monroe Street plant so the printer began to hunt for a new location.

  [Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, 731 S. Plymouth Court, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1896 a handful of other print shops were moving into an area located near the Dearborn Street rail station on Polk Street. The printers Donohue and Hennessey had built a large facility on a portion of the newly created segment of Dearborn Street that the city had cut through in the early 1880s to link the station to the central business district, and other shops were slowly following their lead. The neighborhood was very familiar to Chicagoans. Since the time of the Fire, this compact district just south of the “Loop” was the most notorious red light district in the city. Before Dearborn had sliced its way between Third and Fourth Avenues – which in turn would become Plymouth and Custom House Place, which would be changed to today’s Federal Street – the blocks from Harrison to Taylor and State to Clark, were packed with saloons, rooming houses, and brothels offering men of all ages a place to eat, drink, sleep and have sex. Donnelley found a piece of property on Third just steps north of the station and hired a pair of architects to come up with a plan for a building that would house the company’s offices and carry the weight of large printing presses.

  [Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architect Samuel A. Treat had come to Chicago the year after Donnelley, and the year after the Great Fire he partnered with fellow architect Fritz Foltz. In 1896, now on his own, 57-year-old Treat hooked-up with 27-year-old Howard Van Doren Shaw who Treat brought on board as the associate architect on the Lakeside Press project. Shaw, whose father was a wealthy businessman, was Chicago born and bred and had attended Yale and MIT before beginning to practice as an architect in his home town. Shaw was one of those designers who possessed an innate sense of scale and proportion, and Treat used his young partner’s talents to add a certain je ne sais quoi to very, otherwise, utilitarian building project.

  [Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, Printer’s Row National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When the building was completed in 1897, the fenestration of the south wall facing Polk Street ended at the third floor. At the time there was a two-story building abutting the new Lakeside building, and when Polk was widened and the structure was demolished, the lower two floors of the Press building were finished to match the Plymouth Court facade. Third Avenue had changed to Plymouth Place, and then Court, but the neighborhood, although emerging as the city’s printing center, still clung to its shadier roots. In 1898 the Chicago Tribune shed a “Light on the Levee” and reported on the number of the opium dens south of Harrison Street, two of which operated on Plymouth one of which was two doors north of Donnelley’s recently completed printing plant operation. In 1902 that den of iniquity was demolished when the Lakeside building was doubled in size, when Shaw returned and seamlessly joined the new to the existing five-year-old structure.

  [Columbia College Residence Center – Lakeside Press Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Ten years after expanding the Lakeside builidng to the north, the Donnelley company was on the move again. This time to a parcel on Calumet Avenue between 21st and 22nd Streets, eventually consuming the entire block and then some. The family held on to the Plymouth and Polk address until 1929 when Donnelley’s son, daughter and grandson sold the building to Regal Press. After a variety of subsequent printing related occupants, the building was converted into a residential loft property in 1984 when the former red light district turned printing district emerged as the newly consecrated Printing House Row Historic district. The property underwent one more transformation when Columbia College purchased Lakeside Lofts and converted Treat and Shaw’s flexible use structure into a student dormitory in 1993.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

General Growth Properties - Morton Salt Company Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building (1958) Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

On May 23, 1948 the Chicago Tribune reported that Ida Alpert had purchased the ground she had been leasing from the Katherine Dexter McCormick – recently widowed after the death of her husband Stanley McCormick, son of the Reaper King – for $318,000. Ida owned Ben Alpert, Inc. a parking lot concern that she had taken over nine years earlier when her 39-year-old husband Ben died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving his widow and two young daughters Audrey and Joan heirs to his parking enterprise. At just under an acre, the asphalt surfaced lot was oddly shaped running 140 feet along Washington Street, but only 80 feet along Randolph Street to the north, then 378 feet along the newly constructed north/south leg of Wacker Drive, which ran parallel to 400 feet of Chicago River bank, which edged the property’s border to the west. The neighborhood was changing. Wacker had until recently been called Market, which was appropriate since the street was lined with warehouse buildings that had once stored millions of tons of goods ready for market, but had, by the late 40s, outlived their original purpose. The Lake Street “L” also had a spur line that ran down Market ending at Madison Street, but that was demolished when Wacker Drive added to its exisiting east/west run, transforming the South Branch river district.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, 110 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It wasn’t too many years after Ida bought the Wacker Drive fronting parcel that a proposal came her way for a long term rental of the land. Chicago-based Morton Salt Company were ready to make a change of their own and leave their 30-year-old headquarters building at 208 W. Washington Street designed by the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White for new, modern digs. Board chairman and company heir Sterling Morton along with company president Daniel Peterkin, offered Mrs. Alpert $46,000 a year for 99 years to secure the land and to improve the asphalt sheeted plot with a multi-million dollar building. Ida must have seen merit in the deal because on February 11, 1956 Morton Salt announced that they would be building a 5-story structure on the parking parcel with hopes of moving into their new building by January, 1958.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, South Branch, Chicago River / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White had once been one of the dominant players in the world of architecture. Ernest Graham, protege of the omnificent Daniel Burnham, had partnered with Peirce Anderson, Edward Probst and Howard White not long after Burnham’s death in 1912. The firm was a powerhouse of classical revivalism, and by the 1920s had become the largest architectural office in the United States. After epoch altering events like the Great Depression, followed by the Second World War and the death of the last founding partner in 1942, by the time the salt company came calling the firm had had shed their classical cloak for mid-century contemporism.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, Wacker Drive, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The architects sheathed their project in a skin of polished stainless steel and glass which provided the relatively short box with a gleaming presence on an ever widening vista created by the new drive. Morton Salt was a Chicago institution and had been headquartered in the city ever since Joy Morton first put his name on the old Wheeler salt works in 1879. And as the privately held firm diversified into pharmaceuticals and plastics, the new building spoke to their emerging profile as something more than the company behind the Morton Salt girl. The move into the new building lined with energy efficient windows draped in 4,500 yards of fiberglass curtains in shades of yellow, orange, blue and beige, was finally completed in the summer of 1958 and would be home to the various permutations of the Morton Salt corporation for the next thirty years.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Joy Morton’s salt works had morphed into an international conglomerate by the late 1980s, and the Morton-Thiokol company was ready to move to new quarters. They left 110 N. Wacker Drive in 1992, and the building sat empty, until five years later when one of the largest shopping mall owners in the country, General Growth Properties purchased the former Morton headquarters for just over $24 million, along with the $46,000 a year land lease to Ida Alpert’s heirs. General Growth grew mightier and mightier until it all came crashing down in the Great Recession of 2008. When the company emerged from bankruptcy, they still managed almost of their properties but ownership large chunk of their portfolio had fallen into the hands of the Howard Hughes Corporation, including the building on Wacker Drive. General Growth now leased their Chicago headquarters from Hughes, while Hughes paid the Alpert beneficiaries their annual rent. Although Ida may have thought she was getting a good deal back in the 50s when $46,000 a year sounded like a lot of money, the land lease contained no incremental increases over the 99-year term so her heirs were still only collecting the original lease amount on a property that was now worth millions. In 2014 – with an eye to the future redevelopment of the property – the Hughes Corporation paid Ben and Ida’s inheritors $12.2 million for the 42,000 square foot lot, a piece of property that their grandmother and great-grandmother had paid $7.57 a square foot for in 1948.
Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

[Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago (1914) George C. Nimmons, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1913 Chicago Commerce published an article announcing that 60% of the nation’s population now lived within 500 miles of the city – an easy half day travel by train – and proudly proclaimed that the city was undeniably the country’s Great Central Market. To that end, thousands of warehouses ringed the central business district, lined-up, cheek by jowl, along the banks of the Chicago River and an interlocking web of railroad tracks that shipped millions of tons of goods from the largest rail hub in the world. One of the many industries that benefited from this pivotal distribution point was the wholesale grocery business.

  [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, 325 N La Salle Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Back before supermarket chains and corporate food distribution systems, most of us  shopped at a small grocery store that was within easy walking distance of home. Wholesalers supplied these tens of thousands of mom and pop establishments with the goods that packed their corner grocery shelves, and the city’s rail-linked central location made for a cheap and effective way to distribute teas, coffees, spices, canned goods, and a menagerie of household items. Simon Reid and Thomas Murdoch had the realization early on that big things were happening in Chicago, and relocated their twelve-year-old grocery business from Dubuque, Iowa to the flourishing Lake Michigan adjacent municipality in 1865. It proved to be a wise move. By the time Reid died in 1892, Reid Murdoch & Co. was one of the largest wholesale grocers in the nation, along with Chicago-based firms like Sprague & Warner, Franklin MacVeagh & Co., W.M. Hoyt, John W. Doane, and John Sexton & Co. – a handful of companies that controlled a majority of the wholesale grocery trade in the United States.

  [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When 81-year-old Thomas Murdoch died on Christmas Eve in 1909 his $4 million estate was left to his nieces, and the firm’s management was taken over by a team of executives that had been with the company for decades. In July of that year the Commercial Club of Chicago had released a visionary plan for the city engineered by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett. The scope of the project was immense and called for a rethinking and reworking of Chicago’s built environment in the hopes of creating a better, more livable, and more beautiful city. When the heads of the Reid Murdoch firm went on the hunt for more warehouse space in 1913, they set their sights on a piece of property on the north bank of the main branch of the Chicago River between La Salle and Clark Streets. Not only would the parcel provide easy access to the river, but it also abutted a branch line of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. The Western Warehouse buildings occupied the western two-thirds of the site, and a row of storefronts with “Rooms” above them lined the eastern third along Clark. The grocery concern was able to acquire the warehouses, but only the owner of one of the Clark Street buildings overlooking the river would sell, so although Reid Murdoch would have the entire river frontage from Clark to La Salle, their building would have to step back to allow for the remaining Clark Street row of buildings than ran up to the C&NW tracks. Architect George C. Nimmons would be the first to apply the principles of the Burnham Bennett plan to a river front location.

  [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Nimmons, in partnership with William Fellows, had made a name for himself as architect of the massive Sears, Roebuck & Co. complex on the city’s west side. When Nimmons, now on his own, got the Reid Murdoch commission in 1913 the architect introduced a few of the motifs used by the practitioners of a style that would one day be known as the Prairie School into the design. He nudged the structure’s facade away from the typically utilitarian exterior that encased the standard loft warehouse, and broke up the usual plain, flat brick surface with a repetition of setbacks, embellishment with geometric-patterned, terra cotta. To top it all off, a 5-story clock tower was placed smack in the middle of the river facing facade, and unlike its neighbors, the new warehouse building would sit back from the river’s edge to allow for a bit of Burnham Bennett breathing space.

 [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the early 1920s the city began talking about implementing another piece of the 1909 Plan by widening La Salle Street from Washington Street to Lincoln Park. One segment of the overall scope of the proposed project was spanning the river with a new bridge, replacing the old La Salle Street tunnel that had run under the river since the Great Fire. By the Fall of 1926 construction of the bridge was underway, and not only did La Salle grow by an additional 40 feet in width, but 20 plus feet of the Reid Murdoch building had to be removed in the process. The loss of the one westernmost bay was seamless. The La Salle Street side of the building was removed, rebuilt, and unless you took the time to count, you might not have even noticed that the building wasn’t bay symmetrical any longer. In 1946 Reid Murdoch’s new owners Consolidated Grocers finally purchased the Clark Street buildings for $60,000 not long before the City of Chicago began talking about relocating the traffic court division to a new facility. In 1954 the city paid $2,130,000 for Nimmons warehouse, and over the next 47 years millions of people begrudgingly came to the Traffic Court building. The city sold the structure to developer Albert Friedman in 1998, which sent the Cook County Board into a tizzy since they would now have to pay much more than the token $1.00 a year to rent space for the courts, and were finally out of the building three years later. The renovated, concrete slab floored structure is now home to the headquarters of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a number of retail and office clients. 
Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building (1894) Otto H. Matz, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It was hot. But what else would you expect in July, in Chicago. The morning sun beat down on the crowds of people standing out in front of the old Criminal Courts building, and the air inside Chief Justice John R. Caverly’s courtroom was as thick as a steam bath and smelled like a locker room. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb looked cool as cucumbers according to press reports, as the proceedings of the sensational Bobby Franks murder got underway in the fortress-like building. No trial in the complex’s 30-year history had ever captured such public notice, even though the site on the northwest corner of Dearborn and Hubbard Street had had its fair share of history making events prior to the summer of 1924.

  [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, 54 W. Hubbard Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the spring of 1850 residents on the north side of the Chicago River began clammering for a market hall of their own. The city had built a market hall south of the main branch of the river, but with only the Rush Street bridge traversing the waterway, it was hard to get to. The north siders made enough of a fuss that in October the Council Committee on Markets began to investigate potential sites, and in March 1851 purchased nearly the entire block bounded by Dearborn Avenue, Illinois, Clark and Michigan (eventually Hubbard) Streets as the location for the new North Market Hall. The two-story building combined a market at ground level with a meeting hall above where Frederick A. Douglass was cheered as he addressed an overflow crowd in 1853, and where Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas was vigorously booed and pelted with produce as he addressed a packed house on the merits of the Kansas Nebraska Act in September 1854. Then, in 1871, North Market Hall was one of the over 17,000 buildings destroyed by the Great Fire’s fury.

  [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the rebuilding effort that followed, the city decided to allow Cook County to build a new criminal courts building and jail on the market hall site, and architects Armstrong and Egan designed a handsome three-story stone courthouse fronting Michigan Street, with a brick jail house behind it along Illinois. In the summer of 1886 – 24-years before the Franks sensation – streets around the courthouse were jammed with onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the Haymarket Eight, charged with murder after a bomb was thrown into a crowd on May 4, 1886 resulting in the deaths of seven policeman and at least four onlookers. A year later crowds gathered once again around the county complex when four of the eight men were hung in the jail’s basement gallows. Just as sensational, but a little less volatile, was the 1890 census report that edged Cook County toward the 2 million mark, with nearly 90% of those counted residing within the city of Chicago. The time had come to build a larger court and jail facility, so the County Board voted to fund the construction of a project to be designed by County architect Otto H. Matz.

  [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Matz hadn’t been in position very long when the commission came his way. The Berlin native had come to Chicago from Germany in 1853, and almost immediately secured a position as the in house architect for the nascent Illinois Central Railroad. Matz set to work designing a passenger station and freight depot that sat at the northern edge of the road’s massive rail yard at the River and Lake Michigan, and a number of stations and hotels that lined the Central’s Chicago Branch and Charter Line. He served as the Chicago Public School architect from 1869 to 1871, and won the $5,000 prize for designing a new City Hall and Courthouse complex in 1873 – but the scheme was never built. Matz’s name entered Chicago’s post-fire, pop-culture consciousness when a building he had designed survived the inferno almost entirely intact. His “fireproof” Nixon Building on the northeast corner of La Salle and Monroe Streets, was nearing completion that October, and because of his use of masonry, iron and insulating plaster, the building seemed to withstand the intense heat. It was however missing most of its wood flooring and trim which may have helped in the structure’s survival. Matz was heralded as a genius when the project was ready for occupancy just four weeks after the fire had burned its way through town.

 [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, River North Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Matz’s new six-story criminal courts building would house courtrooms on the upper floors with 18-foot high ceilings, judge’s chambers, jury rooms, the state’s attorney’s office, and a press room. Almost four years to the day that Clarence Darrow had argued against the death penalty for his clients Leopold and Loeb in Judge Caverly’s courtroom, Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur offered a hilarious send-up and insiders peek of the goings-on in the court’s press room when their play “The Front Page” opened in New York on August 14, 1928. By which time the court and the jail were packing it up and relocating to a new facility at California Avenue and 26th Street on the city’s near southwest side. The old courthouse was given over to the city’s Department of Health and the jail was demolished in 1936. By the mid-80s, as the city consolidated office space into the former Kraft Building on Grand Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, Matz’s sturdy structure was put up for sale and developer Albert Friedman purchased and renovated the National Register and City of Chicago landmark. Judge Caverly’s courtroom and the press room now serve as offices for law firms and advertising agencies.
Carl Sandburg Village
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Carl Sandburg Village (1963-1971) Solomon Cordwell & Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 64 A.D. the Subura neighborhood at the base of the Equiline and Viminal Hills in Rome was packed wall to wall with substandard unsafe housing. Once the home of patrician Roman families like the Julians - where a young Gaius Julius Caesar had romped around - by the time of Nero, the upper classes had fled the area for greener pastures up on the Palatine Hill, and the Subura became home to some of the city's poorest residents. Property owners and landlords squeezed as many people as possible into dilapidated buildings collecting rents by the day or week, while offering their tenants little more than a collapsing roof over their heads. Over the millennia, the Subura came to be known as one of Rome's most notorious "slums," a word that showed-up in  A Vocabulary of the Flash Language at the beginning of the 19th century.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Division Street to North Avenue; Clark Street to La Salle Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the early 1950s many urban communities in the United States had come to be officially identified as 20th century slums. On Chicago's Near North Side, an aging neighborhood of overcrowded, unsafe housing was identified as such by city planners. Rows of four-story townhouses lining the east side of La Salle Street from Division to North Avenue, built as single family residences for upper income dwellers, now housed as many as five or six working class families on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. To the east of La Salle, many of Clark Street's ground floor store fronts were topped with single family apartments that had been divvied-up and offered rooms for rent by the day or week. Some of Chicago's poorest citizens were clustered in crumbling buildings without indoor toilet facilities and overrun with rats. The heads of the Chicago Land Clearance Commission, Ted Aschman and John Cordwell identified the 16 acre parcel as part of a larger slum area that needed to be cleared.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Unlike the nearby Cabrini Homes which was a public housing project, the proposal for the North La Salle project would be a public/private partnership of sorts. The city would clear the land through eminent domain, put up for bid, and sell to private developers for the construction of market rate housing. John Cordwell called this "The Pebble in the Pool," theory in an oral history conducted by the Art Institute in 1993. The premise was that like concentric rings emanating from a pebble thrown into a pool of still water, the project at the center of this pool would send out circles of stabilization to "the whole of Lincoln Park." And to Chicago's historically elite Gold Coast neighborhood. Just to the east of Clark stood what had once been the city's wealthiest and most socially connected neighborhood. But times were changing, and more and more of the old mansions were being converted into rooming houses, and, as Cordwell pointed out, houses of ill repute. Similar to a military operation, city officials were hoping that the projectile tossed into this basin of blight would stem the tide of advancing deterioration. On October 8, 1957 the Chicago Tribune announced that the city council was being urged to approve a plan to clear 223 structures from 31.9 acres of land inhabited by 3,871 people, 83 percent of who lived in housing considered blighted and unsafe.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Near North Side / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By this time John Cordwell, who had come to Chicago from England after serving in the Second World War and surviving incarceration in a German prisoner of war camp, was working with Lou Solomon, a well connected contractor and sometime architect. Solomon and his brother Irving had designed and built a number of large apartments buildings on Lake Shore Drive and friends of Chicago real estate mogul Arthur Rubloff. In the summer of 1961, as the city began clearing 16 acres of Gold Coast adjacent land, the parcel was put out for bid, and the Rubloff team - which included Solomon and Cordwell as equity partners and as the architects for Carl Sandburg Center - offered $9.17 per square foot, more that $3.00 above the next highest bid. The offer was accepted and the team handed the city a check for $6,411,000. Cordwell designed a group of 25 and 23 story towers above a cluster of low rise townhouses connected by a pedestrian mall complete with a moat and bridges. Rubloff saw the idea as a liability nightmare, "What if someone gets drunk and walks across one of those bridges and drowns in the moat?" Cordwell got rid of the moat and bridge concept, but he did put all of the parking underground. The urban planner didn't want the project surrounded by islands of parking lots that removed the complex from city street life - that was best left out in the suburbs. And in April 1963 the first tenants began moving into their Carl Sandburg Village apartments paying $125 per month for a studio, to $300 a month for a two bedroom, two bath unit.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

For decades after, Sandburg Village would be examined and re-examined as urban renewal gone wrong - or right. Thousands of low income people were displaced and many had a hard time finding landlords who would rent to large families accustomed to paying by the week rather than by the month. Critics said that the true motivation for Sandburg was to save the Gold Coast. But the irascible Mr. Cordwell had another view of the elite residential district. He said that at the time the great old houses along Astor, State and Dearborn were mostly rooming houses, flop houses, or worse, and that Sandburg helped stem an inevitable tide that was turning the entire area around the southern border of Lincoln Park into a future slum. Today Sandburg is a village of condominiums and the Gold Coast's multi-unit rooming houses have been converted back to their original large single family dwelling purpose. The Lincoln Park neighborhood is one of the premiere residential communities in the city, and nearly the entire Cabrini Green public housing project has been demolished and replaced with a mixture of market rate and subsidized housing. The pebble has rung.