Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Peoples Gas Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Peoples Gas Building (1911) D.H. Burnham & Co., architects; (1986) renovation, Eckenhoff Saunders Architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Even though they built the building, Peoples Gas hasn't owned their D.H. Burnham & Co. designed structure at the corner of Adams and Michigan Avenue since 1985, and haven't occupied the granite and terra-cotta clad behemoth since 1995. The former Peoples Gas, Light & Coke Co. moved up-the-street into newer more modern quarters, leaving over half of the building's square footage vacant, and yet, 17 years later, the building still bears their name.

  [Peoples Gas Building, 122 S.Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Peoples Gaslight & Coke Co. - notice that gas and light were once joined together - received a charter from the State of Illinois in 1855 to supply the City of Chicago with natural gas. The coke part of the title came from the tons and tons of coal that the company burned, which was converted into the flame-producing gaseous mixture, and then delivered to customers through an extensive underground system of cast iron pipes. By the late 1870s the invisible-to-the-naked-eye substance also provided fuel for the flames that lit over 35,000 street lamps. In 1885 Peoples moved their offices into a building at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Adams Street where the Pullman Palace Car Company was busy moving out of the 6-story, post-Chicago Fire structure.

  [Peoples Gas Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

This northwest corner had once been the site of the large and socially prominent home of Henry H. Honoré. Honoré was a wealthy Chicago businessman and father of two daughters - one of whom married President Ulysses S. Grant's son Frederick, and the other, Bertha, who married the far-richer-than-her-father, Potter Palmer. The Palmer's wedding reception was held in the Honoré home in 1870, and in October 1871 the mansion was one of the hundreds of thousands of dwellings that burned to the ground in the Great Fire. After assessing the post-fire situation, Honoré decided not to build another house, there was money to be made going commercial and he built a typical looking 6-story business block which George Pullman rented in 1872 for the headquarters of his Pullman Palace Company.

  [Peoples Gas Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago/Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the early 1880s Pullman's company was expanding and he needed more space, so he hired architect S.S. Beman to design an $800,000 mixed use project for the railroad car manufacturer located directly across Adams Street, and once Pullman moved-out, Peoples Gas moved in. As the 19th century turned into the 20th, Peoples needed more office space and instead of building new and relocating to another part of the city's central business district they chose to stay on their corner - and then some. The company acquired the 4 plots of land to the north of Honoré's building for a total of 196 feet of Michigan Avenue frontage and 171 feet along Adams, then hired one of the city's preeminent architectural firms D.H. Burnham & Co. to design a 21-story structure. Construction began on the north portion of the enlarged site and once that piece of the puzzle was finished the older building was demolished in 1910 and the remaining portion of the $12 million project was completed.
Burnham's exquisite interior light court disappeared in a 1950s remodel to create more office space, and after Peoples sold the building in 1985 the new owners, First City Development Corporation, spent $55 million to update the aging structure and restore some of its original elements. Unfortunately, the light court wasn't part of the plan.

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