Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Chicago City Hall & Cook County Building
  by: chicago designslinger

 [Chicago City Hall & Cook County Building (1908-1911) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

If you didn't know better, the monumental colonnaded building that sits heavily placed on the city block bounded by Clark, Randolph, La Salle and Washington Streets in the heart of Chicago's Loop district, looks like one huge office building. And it is. The structure houses the workings of local city and county government - but in reality it's two totally separate spaces that just look like one.

  [County Building, 118 N. Clark Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The block is sliced from north to south, between Clark and La Salle, dividing the property into two equal halves. Cook County has held title to the square block since 1830 when the first map was commissioned by the Canal Commissioners, planting a grid on a gird-less landscape. Near the center of town was Block No. 39, which was turned over to the County of Cook by the federal officers of the Illinois & Michigan Canal for use as public property in perpetuity. By 1845, a two-story brick building with a meeting hall on the first floor and offices on the second stood at the northeast corner of the square, which was soon found lacking - the county needed more space.

  [Chicago City Hall, 121 N. LaSalle Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

City government on the other hand wasn't deeded any free land by the feds, so in 1837 the newly incorporated City of Chicago rented space in the Saloon Building at the corner of Lake & Clark Streets - to meet with, and greet, its citizens. After one more move to rented quarters at La Salle & Randolph, in 1848, a 40-foot-wide, purpose-built building running right down the middle of State Street between Randolph and Lake Streets, was constructed. Dubbed Market Hall, the 2-story structure, designed by the city's first official architect John Van Osdel, had market stalls on the ground floor, with a large meeting hall and offices on the second. Just four years later, as the size of city government grew in proportion to the exploding overall growth of the city, Market Hall was bursting at the seams, and another move was in the works.

  [City Hall - County Building, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It just so happened that at the time, the county had outgrown their corner building as well. Plans were being made to build a multi-storied building smack in the middle of their block, which would give the county a proper courthouse building set in a landscaped town square. The city saw an opportunity. The county owed the city $30,000, and in lieu of the debt proposed joining the county in one-half of their new building. The county board agreed to the terms, deeded the western half of the block to the city, and built their first city hall/county-combo building. Van Osdel was called upon once again to design a governmental structure, this time a 2-story, domed, cupola centric affair which opened to the public in 1853, and he continued working on the building, with one addition after another, until the fire in 1871. Burned-out of their offices, the city relocated temporarily to the Madison Avenue Police Station and then moved into a 2-story brick building constructed around an old water tank called the Rookery, in 1873. The County Board immediately began developing plans to rebuild on their old site, and asked the city to rejoin them, but no one could have foreseen that it would take the next 12 years to get the dual-purpose serving structure completed. The new building was a disaster from the start, and by the time both branches of government finally moved in to their new home in 1885, it was already deemed to small and out-of-date. In January 1905, after settling nearly a foot, the clunky pile of overwrought Victorian goo-gaas severed a gas pipe, caused an explosion and fire, and plans were made to start anew - once again.

  [Labor on Land, County Building, Hermon MacNeil, artist /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

A design competition was held, and the members of the building committee awarded first prize to an exterior design submitted by New York architects Shepley Rutan & Coolidge, second prize for an interior plan by local architects Holabird & Roche, and third place to still another plan laid-out by still another firm. The committee set a date for a meeting when all three winners would come before the members and pitch plans based on the choices made by the indecisive group. Prior to pitch day, Holabird & Roche set-up meetings with various county department heads to find out what their needs were, so when it came time to sell their scheme to the committee they were well prepared. The county awarded the contract to the firm, but the city balked. Construction went forward on the county side of the block, while the city sat on their hands in the old building. Then after the county's half was completed in 1908, the city began their side of the architect's seamless looking structure, and city employees were at work in the new complex by the spring of 1912. By 1920 the county was already looking to lease additional space since they'd outgrown their Clark Street side of the structure, and the city was on the hunt for leasable space outside of their La Salle Street headquarters soon thereafter.

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