Friday, March 6, 2015

Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago (1929) Burnham Brothers, architects (2003) adaptive reuse; Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates; Lucien LaGrange, architects; Yabu Pashelberg, interior design / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Change was in the air. Names, places, styles, nothing seemed to be immune from the roar of the 1920s. As the decade opened, women in the U.S. got the right to vote, and flappers with slicked back hair in sleek shift dresses glistening with ropes of bejeweled beading, came to define the look and feel of the age. Artist Tamara de Lempicka's 1925 "Portrait of the Duchess of LaSalle" draped the Duchess in a jazzy tableau. In 1928, as the decade was drawing to a close, MGM released "Our Dancing Daughters" with dance-crazed Joan Crawford Charleston-ing her way through a streamlined geometric world created by the studio's innovative production designer Cedric Gibbons.  That same year two brothers decided that the time had come to let go of a filial obligation to the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome and go for the gusto.

 [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, 230 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Hubert and Daniel Burnham came from an architecturally royal pedigree. The figure of Daniel   Hudson Burnham, Sr. cast and long and weighty shadow, but even so, both men decided to pursue their father's profession as their own. They joined the firm of D.H.Burnham & Co. and followed in Dad's classical revival footsteps even after his death in 1912. The rejiggered, renamed Graham, Burnham & Co. picked-up where the leader had left-off in a seamless, and to the public and client's eyes, unchanged company. In 1917 the Burnham boys decided to strike out on their own back under the familial mantle of D.H. Burnham & Co., and after over ten more years of producing flourishing neoclassical arabesques, tentatively began to dip their toes into the more geometrically graphic forms of their times.

  [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1928, the New York based Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation- which had figured out a way to make ethylene out of natural gas giving birth to the modern petrochemical industry - maintained a regional headquarters in three separate downtown Chicago office buildings. The scattered office approach was not a very efficient way to conduct business, so the company went out on a search for a piece of property to purchase and consolidate into one location. They set their sights on the aging 6-story building located at the southwest corner of Michigan and South Water Street that had, until recently, been occupied by Chicago wholesaler E.B. Millar & Co. Henry Paschen, a major player in the Chicago's heavy weight construction industry, had recently bought the building and secured a 99-year leasehold on the land from the heirs of the original property owner. A great deal maker, Paschen signed an agreement with Carbide to construct a building for the chemical manufacturer and then sell them his leasehold, the chemical makers could then purchase the valuable lot outright from the heirs. The Burnham brothers were chosen as the project's architects.

  [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago, North Michigan Avenue / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It hadn't been that long ago that this section of Michigan Avenue was primarily stocked - party wall to party wall - with a variety of wholesaler commission merchants selling and warehousing their wares. The city's main wholesale district was right around the corner on South Water Street, which ran along the south bank of the main branch of the Chicago River. In 1909 Chicago's Commercial Club published a plan devised by Daniel H. Burnham, Sr. and architect Edward Bennett which called for the demolition of the unsightly, aging, river bank market place to be replaced by a beautiful, Parisian-inspired boulevard. By the time the brothers were chosen to design the new building for Carbide and Carbon, Bennett's 1924 proposal for the area had transformed the dilapidated South Water Street into Wacker Drive, and the Burnhams had begun their transformation from Neoclassicism to Deco. Their Carbide project would take them beyond their first tentative steps into a new decorative design territory, and the Carbide and Carbon Building become one of their most recognized projects. In 1928, with the Carbide commission in hand, D.H. Burnham & Co. became Burnham Brothers, Inc.

  [Carbide and Carbon Building - Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The sleek, dark green building trimmed in bronze and glistening gold, stood like a massive    exclamation point among its Michigan Avenue neighbors, and garnered national recognition for the architects. The area continued to transform itself into an unrecognizable version of its former self, but by the turn of the 21st century the aging commercial towers in this three block stretch of North Michigan Avenue were on the cusp of outliving their original useful purpose. Modern business required modern interconnected infrastructure technology, and the outdated mechanical systems in these 70-year-old structures couldn't compete. So in 2001 a proposal was put forward to convert the tower from an office building into a hotel. A lot of people thought it wouldn't work. Who would want to stay in this netherland of Michigan Avenue with nothing to offer guests once they stepped out the door other than wishing they had booked on the north side of the river? When the Hard Rock Hotel, Chicago opened for business in  a reconfigured, refurbished, gold-leaf-spired Carbide and Carbon Building on New Years Eve 2003, the hotel was a lone wolf. Today, around the corner the former Chicago Auto Club building is undergoing a conversion from office tower to hotel, just up the street so is the London Guarantee Building, to the south the 101-year-old Federal Life Building is being converted into an Indigo Hotel, while over at Lake and Wabash the Old Dearborn Bank Building will soon open as a Virgin Hotel. 

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