Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Metropolitan Tower - Straus Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Straus Building (1924) Graham. Anderson, Probst & White, architects (2008) adaptive reuse, Pappageorge/Haymes, architects /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1924 S.W. Straus & Company was one of the leading investment bond brokers in the country as well as one of the nation's largest property financiers. Straus was started in Chicago in the 1870s and still occupied office space in a building the company had moved into soon after its founding. S.W. himself chose a south Michigan Avenue site for the company's new Chicago headquarters in a developing south Loop market. The area had been looked upon as the business district's poor relation, but now was considered hot property by the city's real estate community.

  [Metropolitan Tower/Straus Building, 310 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White designed the building just after a major zoning change was approved by the city. Up until 1919, when the code was revised, there had been a height limit of 260 feet on tall buildings. Under the revision the limit was extended, and you could build taller once you figured out how to comply with the formulaic rule based on the lot size, the building footprint, cubic feet, adjoining building heights; As long as the building stepped back from it's bulky base as it climbed into the air, you could build taller than 260 feet, and for a brief time the Straus was the tallest building in the city. The architect's choice of a ziggurat cap, topped by a beehive-shaped, blue-glassed light beacon, allowed the design to pass zoning muster, and made the building, to this day, stand out along the architectural streetscape of South Michigan Avenue.

  [Metropolitan Tower/Straus Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Straus & Co. were forced to give up their building and their business empire in 1935 when the company went into receivership. The Continental group of insurance companies (which once included the Metropolitan Accident Company of Chicago) purchased the building in 1943 and used the property as their headquarters until 1972 when they relocated into a new building built around the corner. By 2004 the condo market was booming and many of the old office buildings along the Michigan Avenue wall were no longer competitive in a real estate market providing a series of brand spanking new, commercial office spaces in the city's business district. So the former Straus tower joined a number of other Michigan Avenue neighbors and flipped from commercial to residential, and in the process got a new name, Metropolitan Tower.
In one of those weird coincidences of history, when the Straus building was constructed in 1922 it replaced the 1872 Leland Hotel, which once provided luxury accommodations in 275 rooms. When the Metropolitan Tower condos came on line, the building provided 242 high-end, luxury apartments.

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