Saturday, March 7, 2015

General Growth Properties - Morton Salt Company Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building (1958) Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

On May 23, 1948 the Chicago Tribune reported that Ida Alpert had purchased the ground she had been leasing from the Katherine Dexter McCormick – recently widowed after the death of her husband Stanley McCormick, son of the Reaper King – for $318,000. Ida owned Ben Alpert, Inc. a parking lot concern that she had taken over nine years earlier when her 39-year-old husband Ben died suddenly of a heart attack, leaving his widow and two young daughters Audrey and Joan heirs to his parking enterprise. At just under an acre, the asphalt surfaced lot was oddly shaped running 140 feet along Washington Street, but only 80 feet along Randolph Street to the north, then 378 feet along the newly constructed north/south leg of Wacker Drive, which ran parallel to 400 feet of Chicago River bank, which edged the property’s border to the west. The neighborhood was changing. Wacker had until recently been called Market, which was appropriate since the street was lined with warehouse buildings that had once stored millions of tons of goods ready for market, but had, by the late 40s, outlived their original purpose. The Lake Street “L” also had a spur line that ran down Market ending at Madison Street, but that was demolished when Wacker Drive added to its exisiting east/west run, transforming the South Branch river district.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, 110 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It wasn’t too many years after Ida bought the Wacker Drive fronting parcel that a proposal came her way for a long term rental of the land. Chicago-based Morton Salt Company were ready to make a change of their own and leave their 30-year-old headquarters building at 208 W. Washington Street designed by the architectural firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White for new, modern digs. Board chairman and company heir Sterling Morton along with company president Daniel Peterkin, offered Mrs. Alpert $46,000 a year for 99 years to secure the land and to improve the asphalt sheeted plot with a multi-million dollar building. Ida must have seen merit in the deal because on February 11, 1956 Morton Salt announced that they would be building a 5-story structure on the parking parcel with hopes of moving into their new building by January, 1958.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, South Branch, Chicago River / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White had once been one of the dominant players in the world of architecture. Ernest Graham, protege of the omnificent Daniel Burnham, had partnered with Peirce Anderson, Edward Probst and Howard White not long after Burnham’s death in 1912. The firm was a powerhouse of classical revivalism, and by the 1920s had become the largest architectural office in the United States. After epoch altering events like the Great Depression, followed by the Second World War and the death of the last founding partner in 1942, by the time the salt company came calling the firm had had shed their classical cloak for mid-century contemporism.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, Wacker Drive, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The architects sheathed their project in a skin of polished stainless steel and glass which provided the relatively short box with a gleaming presence on an ever widening vista created by the new drive. Morton Salt was a Chicago institution and had been headquartered in the city ever since Joy Morton first put his name on the old Wheeler salt works in 1879. And as the privately held firm diversified into pharmaceuticals and plastics, the new building spoke to their emerging profile as something more than the company behind the Morton Salt girl. The move into the new building lined with energy efficient windows draped in 4,500 yards of fiberglass curtains in shades of yellow, orange, blue and beige, was finally completed in the summer of 1958 and would be home to the various permutations of the Morton Salt corporation for the next thirty years.

  [General Growth Properties – Morton Salt Company Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Joy Morton’s salt works had morphed into an international conglomerate by the late 1980s, and the Morton-Thiokol company was ready to move to new quarters. They left 110 N. Wacker Drive in 1992, and the building sat empty, until five years later when one of the largest shopping mall owners in the country, General Growth Properties purchased the former Morton headquarters for just over $24 million, along with the $46,000 a year land lease to Ida Alpert’s heirs. General Growth grew mightier and mightier until it all came crashing down in the Great Recession of 2008. When the company emerged from bankruptcy, they still managed almost of their properties but ownership large chunk of their portfolio had fallen into the hands of the Howard Hughes Corporation, including the building on Wacker Drive. General Growth now leased their Chicago headquarters from Hughes, while Hughes paid the Alpert beneficiaries their annual rent. Although Ida may have thought she was getting a good deal back in the 50s when $46,000 a year sounded like a lot of money, the land lease contained no incremental increases over the 99-year term so her heirs were still only collecting the original lease amount on a property that was now worth millions. In 2014 – with an eye to the future redevelopment of the property – the Hughes Corporation paid Ben and Ida’s inheritors $12.2 million for the 42,000 square foot lot, a piece of property that their grandmother and great-grandmother had paid $7.57 a square foot for in 1948.

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