Thursday, March 5, 2015

300 W. Adams Building, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [300 W. Adams Building (1927) Jens J. Jensen, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

After the Chicago Fire had wiped the city's central business district slate clean, rebuilding began almost immediately. New "fire-proof" 5 to 6-story office blocks rose-up along Wabash, Dearborn, Clark and La Salle streets while large warehouse blocks began to fill-in burnt-out sections to the west along streets like Fifth Avenue (now Wells Street), Market, which morphed into today's the north/south leg run of Wacker Drive, and Franklin.

  [300 W. Adams Building, 300 W. Adams Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Prior to the fire Franklin Street, which sat between Market and Fifth, broke its contiguous north/south line at Adams Street on the south and Madison on the north. Post-fire the street was cut-through and joined together, creating a new intersection at Adams and Franklin as well as four very valuable corner pieces of real estate. George Armour and James H. Dole set their sights on the newly created northwest corner of Adams and Franklin, purchased the recently carved-out city lot, and set about building a standard 6-story, brick post-and-beam, loft-style warehouse. Armour & Dole was one of the city's mega elevator concerns, not of the people variety of elevating transport but of the grain storage facility type, a business venture that made both Armour and Dole very wealthy men.

  [300 W. Adams Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the 1880s the area around the Armour & Dole building was filled cheek-by-jowl with warehouse buildings. Not only was the wholesale loft district close to the river's transportation system, but it was also within blocks of the rail lines that comprised one of the world's largest and busiest commercial railroad hubs. Marshall Field had arrived on the scene in 1885 when he commissioned famed Boston architect H.H. Richardson to design a massive warehouse block diagonally across the street from the Armour & Dole building, which brought Richardson much acclaim. The grain traders realized even more profit by leasing out floor space in their corner building, and eventually Field's State Street neighbors Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co were the only tenant in the entire 50,000-sqaure-foot building. As the 1920s roared along, the warehouse district underwent changes. With the advent of modern transportation systems like long-haul trucking and the new way in which goods were able to be stored, many of the 19th century buildings were made obsolete. When Carson's purchased the John V. Farwell & Co. wholesale dry goods concern in 1925 and moved a block west on Adams Street over to the Farwell building, David Schetnitz acquired a 99-year leasehold on the property.

  [300 W. Adams Building, West Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Schetnitz had been working with architect Jens J. Jensen - not to be confused with landscape and parks designer Jens Jensen - on a project the real estate developer was trying to make happen on Michigan Avenue. When that deal fell through, Schetnitz and Jensen got to work on the Franklin Street corner. At first the developer was simply going to replace the outdated 6-story warehouse structure with a new 6-story office building, but the established business district to the east was moving westward and Schetnitz saw opportunity coming his way. Jensen's design grew by another 6-stories and the architect came up with an elaborate decorative scheme for the now "first-class" rental property. Jensen's blend of Gothic Revival with a contemporary streamlined twist, gave the building an unusual but visually enhancing facade. The 12-story, glistening white-glazed terra cotta corner tower, stood-out among its shorter, coal-soot darkened, masonry neighbors. Schetnitz had a property that he could easily market in the "first-class" category.

  [300 W. Adams Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

His scheme worked. The Chicago-based U.S. Gypsum Company took over most of the building and made it their world headquarters. In 1963 the company moved two blocks to a new home on Wacker Drive, and by the time Harry Zell, father of real estate mogul Sam Zell, purchased the property a decade later the warehouse district around Adams and Franklin was undergoing a transformation. Even by the 1930s Richardson's acclaimed Field Wholesale Warehouse building was considered obsolete and was torn down and turned into a parking lot, and by the mid-1970s another westward shift of the older established business district was underway. One warehouse building after another was turned into a heap of rubble to make way for new, modern high-rise office towers like the 110-story Sears Tower which loomed over the corner of Franklin and Adams.  Sam Zell sold the building in 2007 and in 2009 the new owners undertook an extensive renovation and restoration. Now a City of Chicago landmark, Jensen's Gothic fantasy is nearly buried in the shadow of its substantially taller glass and steel neighbors, but every so often 300 W. Adams' glazed face catches a glimpse of light.

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