Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Pittsfield Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Pittsfield Building (1927) Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects /Images & Artwork: chicag designslinger]

If you're ever standing under the el at the intersection of Washington and Wabash in downtown Chicago, be sure to look up. There is a lot to see in architect's Graham, Anderson, Probst & White's roaring-Twenties spin of Gothic fantasy on the upper stories of the Pittsfield Building.

  [Pittsfield Building, 55 E. Washington Street, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The 1927 building's decoration was somewhat of a departure for a firm still producing buildings in their signature neo-classic style, inspired by their mentor Daniel Burnham's embrace of the French Beaux-Arts approach to design. The group had worked in Burnham's office until his death in 1912, and eventually formed their own partnership producing hundreds of buildings well beyond lead partner E.R. Graham's death in 1936 and Edward Probst in 1942. The firm lasted until 2006 when then owner Robert Surman finally closed up shop after 89 years in business.

  [Pittsfield Building, City of Chicago Landmark /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The building was constructed by the Marshall Field Estate. The merchant prince had been dead for 20 years, and his ironclad 22,000 word will, controlling a fortune conservatively estimated at $200 million in 1906 (around $3 billion today), was left under the control of a board of trustees, guaranteeing a future income for his two primary beneficiaries, 13-year-old grandson Marshall and 11-year-old grandson Henry. Field owned a lot of downtown real estate, he was the city's largest landlord, and the trustees increased the value of the legacy by improving already owned parcels while acquiring more. Burnham had designed a building for the store owner across the street in 1892, starting a professional relationship between Field and Burnham that lasted beyond both men's deaths, and on to Burnham's and Field's successors.
Pittsfield was the name of a town in Massachusetts where a young Marshall worked as a store clerk just as he was starting out on his retailing career. The building's 6-story interior atrium expanded on the Gothic-Art Deco theme and housed trades associated with the jewelry industry, which was centered in this part of the city. The remaining 32 stories were filled with doctor's and dentist's offices, and the basement restaurant was the home of the Chiseler's Club, a consortium of dentists, not money swindlers. Today floors 9 through 21 provide student housing for a group of universities clustered on nearby State Street. If you are in the neighborhood be sure to check out the interior atrium.

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