Crane Company Building - 888 S. Michigan Avenue
by: chicago designslinger
[Crane Company Building (1912) Holabird & Roche, architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Back when a cloud meant the thing that we see in the sky and not a gathering place for data, another series of technologically advancing events transformed the way business was conducted. In the middle of the 19th century the U.S., like other industrializing nations, underwent a revolution in the way goods were manufactured, sold and marketed. As chimney stacks filled the air with smoke and massive manufacturing plants cranked-out more materiel than seemed humanly consumable, the number of employees needed in the front office to keep track of all this product increased. Businesses that once had a clerk or two sitting behind a table top now found themselves employing ten, twenty, thirty, or even forty or more people, working away in a sea of desks entering data the old fashioned way with a pen and ink, or the laptop of its day, the typewriter.
[Crane Company Building, 836 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Most of this front office work was done in the factory plant itself or in an adjacent purpose-built building. But with the advent of communication systems like the telephone, and the confluence of a network of transportation systems in cities like Chicago, many business leaders left the plant behind and moved downtown into ever expanding central business districts. The McCormicks left the reaper plant on Blue Island and Western Avenues and moved downtown to Dearborn Street. George Pullman built his headquarters on Michigan Avenue and Adams Street, several miles away from his palace car works on the far south side of the city. They, and many of their colleagues, were now within walking distance of one another, and more importantly close to the financial institutions that provided the funding to keep the engines of industry humming. The elite Calumet Club on the south side of town near Prairie Avenue, or north sider's Union Club on Washington Square Park, were usurped by the much more conveniently located private clubs in the center of town.
[Crane Company Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
One of the city's great industrialists Richard T. Crane was late in coming to the downtown party. The 23-year-old, like many of his fellow New Englanders, came west and settled in Chicago in the mid-1850s. On his arrival Crane opened a small forging shop in a frame building located in his uncle Martin Ryerson's lumber yard and began operating a wrought-iron-pipe rolling mill. And as the inveterate tinkerer and inventor introduced new and innovative pipe and steam related products into the marketplace he moved from one location in the city to another, but unlike his fellow manufacturing moguls, Crane never felt the need to leave the plant and move downtown. Front office operations were always within the factory itself, and Crane's desk sat right in the middle of it all. There were no hierarchical, partitional separations at Crane Bros. Manufacturing Company, and this belief in being close to the action and part of the workforce, kept the plumbing and radiator maker from making the move that so many of his colleagues had undertaken.
[Crane Company Building, 888 S. Michigan Avenue Apartments /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
In 1905 the company moved from its Jefferson Street plant to a much larger piece of property located at Canal and 12th Streets. Crane hired architect Louis Sullivan to design a foundry building and a free-standing 6-story office building on the site, but all of the buildings were torn down in 1912 after Crane sold the acreage to the Burlington railroad in 1911. The 79-year-old valve, plumbing and bathroom fixture manufacturer then purchased 160 acres on the southwest side of the city at 39th and Pershing Road and built his largest manufacturing plant. And, finally, the company made plans to build a dedicated office building close to the central business district located at the corner of Michigan Avenue and 9th Street - but R.T. Crane never made the move. He died suddenly of a heart attack on January 8, 1912 before the building was completed and left the Crane operation in the hands of his sons Charles and Richard, Jr. The site of the 12-story headquarters building was only 40-feet wide which gave architects Holabird & Roche the opportunity to construct column-free floor plates. 40-foot long, steel-spanning girders were big enough to carry the floor load leaving the floor plates wide open, and in Richard Crane, Sr. fashion, partition free. The company was eventually purchased by a New York investor in 1959 and the corporate office was moved to Park Avenue in Manhattan. Then the Standard Oil Company of Indiana moved in. When the property was converted into residential condominium housing in the 21st century, the the 40-foot by 160-foot open spans were partitioned and divided, and the building was renamed 888 South Michigan Avenue.