Thursday, February 19, 2015

J. Ira & Nicki Harris Family Hostel
 by: chicago designslinger

 [J. Ira & Nicki Harris Family Hostel (1886) Treat & Foltz, architects /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Way before this building provided travelers with hostel accommodations, undergrads with student housing, or the el blocking the view on Wabash Avenue, the former George F. Kimball (no relation to the piano king) Building warehoused sheets of plate glass, carpets, furniture, and printing presses.

  [J. Ira & Nikki Harris Family Hostel, George F. Kimball Building, 434 S. Wabash, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Built in 1886 and designed by architects Treat & Foltz, the 7-story structure was your typical timber post-and-beam, open-floor-plan warehouse on the inside, with some decorative flourishes on the exterior that gave the building a little more visual interest. Kimball was a plate glass entrepreneur. He got involved in a new and emerging technology which allowed glass to be rolled in large structurally sound sheets that filled in the large open spaces of a brand new framing system made out of a steel frame. Chicago was a great place for Kimball to have opened his business since the more innovative architects of the period were all working in the city and designing buildings that needed these large pieces of glass to fill-in ever expanding openings.

  [J. Ira & Nikki Harris Family Hostel, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

George was no slouch when it came to understanding a product and its potential. He   hedged the plate glass market in 1884, made a fortune, then linked up with sheet glass manufacturers and gobbled up the distribution rights in territory after territory. He sat on the Board of Directors of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company and was instrumental in making sure that PPG provided 90% of the plate glass purchased in the United States. He sold his Kimball glass company to the Pittsburgh monopoly in 1896, retired, and died of a heart attack 10 years later. His son carried on as PPG's Midwest rep, but eventually sold his father's warehouse building which went on to house a variety of furniture and carpet wholesalers and retailers. The building even housed the printing presses of Encyclopedia Britannica for a time, and in 1947 Scripture Press, the largest independent producer of Sunday school materials, took over 55,000 sq.ft. of floor space.
After being converted into offices in 1985, the building underwent another change of venue in 2000 when the city and state put up money to provide housing for students attending nearby Columbia College and space for Hostelling International Chicago. Ira & Nicki Harris, Chicago philanthropists, gave over $1 million dollars to the project, which is how their name got on the building.

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