Thursday, February 19, 2015

McConnell Apartments, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [McConnell Apartments, Chicago (1897) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

What did the neighbors think when they saw a large steel framework rising up out of the ground on the corner of Division and Astor Street in their new, mansion-filled Gold Coast neighborhood in 1897? It couldn't possibly be one of those office buildings that were popping up all over downtown Chicago, not in their neck of the woods. And once the brick skin started defining the rounded and angled bays it looked even more like the type of building architects Holabird & Roche were also building in the heart of Chicago's commercial district. But the designers and their client were not laying out office floor plans for the interior but large, multi-roomed apartment floor plans for the exact same clientele that packed the streets of the Gold Coast with large, single family mansions.

  [McConnell Apartments, Chicago, 1210 N. Astor Street, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

John McConnell was a property man. He bought and sold empty lots, bought empty lots and put up buildings, then sold the buildings, or held on to them for long term investment. Holabird & Roche, at the time, were at the forefront of a new building system using a skeletal steel framing system to hold the building up, which in turn could be covered in any type of skin the architect and client desired. The local residents weren't wrong in their assumptions that the building looked an awful lot like the architect's downtown structures with its projecting bays and elaborate cornice, and from the outside, there were similarities. But on the inside it was large, luxurious living for a discerning clientele.

  [McConnell Apartments, Chicago, Renaissance Condominium, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Even if it wasn't an office building, no one was sure they wanted an apartment building in their midst. After all, who would live in an apartment? Certainly not a Social Register registree, it was too déclassé. But John McConnell could see that the future, even for the upper strata of society, was about to change. Not only did he have all the apartments rented out before the building was completed, a number of the tenants were Socially Registered. In 20 years, more, much taller apartment towers filled the area, towering over the old mansions. A large, multi-roomed apartment in a socially select building, was much easier to maintain than a huge house and the staff that went with it.
John McConnell's apartments were eventually subdivided and converted into smaller units, hence the unattractive fire escape hanging from the front facade, a zig-zag of iron that did not hang from the front of Holabird & Roche's original exterior.

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