by: chicago designslinger
[Fisher Building (1896) Charles Atwood, D.H. Burnham & Co. architects; (1907) addition, Peter J. Weber, architect; (2001) restoration and adaptive reuse, Pappageorge Haymes, supervising architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Daniel Burnham & Co.'s Fisher Building does something that no other Burnham project does - it has some fun with the owner's name. With a facade that includes molded terra-cotta salamanders, crabs, and other aquatic related animals, it's hard to imagine the serious, lets-get-down-to business Daniel Hudson Burnham choosing to make such a tongue-in-cheek reference to owner Lucius G. Fisher's last name. Perhaps it was the work of Burnham's right-hand-man and lead designer at the time Charles Atwood - with the boss's approval of course. Atwood's personality was a little more, shall we say, less restrained than his more sober appearing boss, but whoever made the choice, the Fisher Building included fish.
[Fisher Building, 343 S. Dearborn Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The building also referenced the Gothic age of ecclesiastical architecture. With a few foils here and some fish bladder tracery there, the ever effective slim-lined vertical banding that made Gothic architecture soar, helped to visually push the Fisher up and into Chicago's 19th century sky. Almost too high up for some people.
[Fisher Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When paper bag manufacturer and multi-millionaire Lucius Fisher came to the Burnham firm and asked them to design a building for him, his property, located on South Dearborn Street at the northeast corner of Van Buren, was emerging as the hot new spot in an ever expanding downtown business district. Problem was that after architect William Le Baron Jenney's sky-popping 16-story Manhattan Building rose-up just a block south of Fisher's corner, the city, and some architects, began to worry that tall building might reach to far into the sky. Architects including Burnham, William Holabird, and Dankmar Adler testified before a City Council committee considering just how tall a building should go, and on March 9, 1893 the full Council voted 37 to 3 in support of an ordinance limiting the height of a building to 10-stories, or 130 feet. On March 13th, Lucius Fisher was given an exemption, and was allowed to build to the height of 236 feet and 18-stories because he had applied for, and had been given, a building permit prior to the vote.
[Fisher Building, City of Chicago Landmark /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
By the time Mr. Fisher acquired the 50 foot lot north of his building and was ready to expand, both Burnham and Atwood were dead and architect Peter Weber, a former Burnham employee, was given the commission. The addition was even taller than the original building, towering 260 feet above ground level. In 1902 the Chicago City Council had revised their former height limit from 130 to 260 feet after realizing that the limit was not good for business, and therefore not good for the the city. Like many great office buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the turn of the 21st century, the Fisher was old, outdated, and do for a makeover. In 1999 the building underwent a conversion from office space to residential space overseen by architects Pappageorge & Haymes. The original entryways were restored, and over 6,000 pieces of terra-cotta were replaced with exact reproductions.