by: chicago designslinger
[Monroe Building (1912) Holabird & Roche, architects (2012) restoration Holabird & Root, architects; Rookwood Tile Co., tile restoration /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Peter Chardon Brooks III was born in Boston, lived in Boston, and built what would become some of Chicago's most recognized landmark buildings. And never once in all of his 81 years did he visit the city where, over a period of 40 years, he'd end-up investing over a million dollars. Peter was heir to a fortune established by Peter Chardon Brooks I, who was born in Maine in 1767, started a marine insurance company in 1789, and died in 1849 leaving his widow and 7 children an estimated $2 million - around $1 billion in inflated 2012 greenbacks. In the 1850s, when Peter III and his brother Shepherd were in their early 20s, they were the beneficiaries of an estate that had grown even larger, which they in turn increased in value by investing in shipping and real estate. In the early 1880s they saw that emerging, post-fire Chicago was on its way to becoming the next great American city, and wanted to get in on the action.
[Monroe Building, 104 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By the time Peter Brooks and his Chicago agent Owen Aldis called on architects William Holabird and Martin Roche in 1910 to design the Monroe Building for the investors's real estate consortium, this team of financiers and designers had built and completed several projects together. All of their previous work however had been confined to a 5 block area near the heart of the downtown business district, and this enterprise would push that boundary out to the eastern edge of the Loop district at Michigan Avenue. Holabird & Roche were very familiar with the site at the southwest corner of Michigan and Monroe Street since they had recently completed a building for the University Club of Chicago, located at the northwest corner. Using the 14-story gable-roofed, club building as a starting point, the Monroe would find inspiration in the profile of the club tower, but would not be a duplicate.
[Monroe Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Monroe's terra-cotta-molded Romanesque Revival details and deep window bays, were quite different than the smooth, hard-edged, stone surface of its Gothic Revival neighbor. Plus the buildings served two distinctly different purposes, the Club was a private venture meant to luxuriously house its fee-paying members, while the Monroe was a speculative real estate venture meant to produce an income for its investors. The architects liked the building enough that they moved their offices from the nearby Monadnock Building Addition, another Brooks/Aldis/Holabird & Roche adventure, to the 14th floor of the Monroe. The building became home to a number of artists and architects over the intervening years, many renting the light-filled attic space at the very top with its rows of skylights.
[Monroe Building, Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The Monroe, like so many of the city's great 19th and early 20th century office buildings, once offering the latest in innovative modern technology, had, by the turn of the 21st century, grown old and tired. After the 2004 opening of Millennium Park, many of the 80 to 110-year-old commercial buildings along this stretch of Michigan Avenue were converted into prime residential real estate, and plans were announced to turn the Monroe into 96 luxury condominiums. But before the transformation got underway James Pritzker, a member of one of Chicago's wealthiest family dynasties, purchased the building and soon thereafter undertook an extensive restoration of the aging structure. Calling on Holabird & Root, the successor firm of Holabird & Roche, and the Rookwood Pottery company who had created all the original tile work, the meticulous 5-year renovation came to a close in July, 2012. The second and third floors have been turned into the new home of the Pritzker Military Library, while the remaining stories of the 100-year-old structure now offer clients the latest in innovative, modern, high-tech, 21st century technology.