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.
Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

[Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago (1914) George C. Nimmons, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1913 Chicago Commerce published an article announcing that 60% of the nation’s population now lived within 500 miles of the city – an easy half day travel by train – and proudly proclaimed that the city was undeniably the country’s Great Central Market. To that end, thousands of warehouses ringed the central business district, lined-up, cheek by jowl, along the banks of the Chicago River and an interlocking web of railroad tracks that shipped millions of tons of goods from the largest rail hub in the world. One of the many industries that benefited from this pivotal distribution point was the wholesale grocery business.

  [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, 325 N La Salle Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Back before supermarket chains and corporate food distribution systems, most of us  shopped at a small grocery store that was within easy walking distance of home. Wholesalers supplied these tens of thousands of mom and pop establishments with the goods that packed their corner grocery shelves, and the city’s rail-linked central location made for a cheap and effective way to distribute teas, coffees, spices, canned goods, and a menagerie of household items. Simon Reid and Thomas Murdoch had the realization early on that big things were happening in Chicago, and relocated their twelve-year-old grocery business from Dubuque, Iowa to the flourishing Lake Michigan adjacent municipality in 1865. It proved to be a wise move. By the time Reid died in 1892, Reid Murdoch & Co. was one of the largest wholesale grocers in the nation, along with Chicago-based firms like Sprague & Warner, Franklin MacVeagh & Co., W.M. Hoyt, John W. Doane, and John Sexton & Co. – a handful of companies that controlled a majority of the wholesale grocery trade in the United States.

  [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

When 81-year-old Thomas Murdoch died on Christmas Eve in 1909 his $4 million estate was left to his nieces, and the firm’s management was taken over by a team of executives that had been with the company for decades. In July of that year the Commercial Club of Chicago had released a visionary plan for the city engineered by architects Daniel Burnham and Edward Bennett. The scope of the project was immense and called for a rethinking and reworking of Chicago’s built environment in the hopes of creating a better, more livable, and more beautiful city. When the heads of the Reid Murdoch firm went on the hunt for more warehouse space in 1913, they set their sights on a piece of property on the north bank of the main branch of the Chicago River between La Salle and Clark Streets. Not only would the parcel provide easy access to the river, but it also abutted a branch line of the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. The Western Warehouse buildings occupied the western two-thirds of the site, and a row of storefronts with “Rooms” above them lined the eastern third along Clark. The grocery concern was able to acquire the warehouses, but only the owner of one of the Clark Street buildings overlooking the river would sell, so although Reid Murdoch would have the entire river frontage from Clark to La Salle, their building would have to step back to allow for the remaining Clark Street row of buildings than ran up to the C&NW tracks. Architect George C. Nimmons would be the first to apply the principles of the Burnham Bennett plan to a river front location.

  [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Nimmons, in partnership with William Fellows, had made a name for himself as architect of the massive Sears, Roebuck & Co. complex on the city’s west side. When Nimmons, now on his own, got the Reid Murdoch commission in 1913 the architect introduced a few of the motifs used by the practitioners of a style that would one day be known as the Prairie School into the design. He nudged the structure’s facade away from the typically utilitarian exterior that encased the standard loft warehouse, and broke up the usual plain, flat brick surface with a repetition of setbacks, embellishment with geometric-patterned, terra cotta. To top it all off, a 5-story clock tower was placed smack in the middle of the river facing facade, and unlike its neighbors, the new warehouse building would sit back from the river’s edge to allow for a bit of Burnham Bennett breathing space.

 [Reid Murdoch Building, Chicago, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the early 1920s the city began talking about implementing another piece of the 1909 Plan by widening La Salle Street from Washington Street to Lincoln Park. One segment of the overall scope of the proposed project was spanning the river with a new bridge, replacing the old La Salle Street tunnel that had run under the river since the Great Fire. By the Fall of 1926 construction of the bridge was underway, and not only did La Salle grow by an additional 40 feet in width, but 20 plus feet of the Reid Murdoch building had to be removed in the process. The loss of the one westernmost bay was seamless. The La Salle Street side of the building was removed, rebuilt, and unless you took the time to count, you might not have even noticed that the building wasn’t bay symmetrical any longer. In 1946 Reid Murdoch’s new owners Consolidated Grocers finally purchased the Clark Street buildings for $60,000 not long before the City of Chicago began talking about relocating the traffic court division to a new facility. In 1954 the city paid $2,130,000 for Nimmons warehouse, and over the next 47 years millions of people begrudgingly came to the Traffic Court building. The city sold the structure to developer Albert Friedman in 1998, which sent the Cook County Board into a tizzy since they would now have to pay much more than the token $1.00 a year to rent space for the courts, and were finally out of the building three years later. The renovated, concrete slab floored structure is now home to the headquarters of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and a number of retail and office clients. 
Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building (1894) Otto H. Matz, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

It was hot. But what else would you expect in July, in Chicago. The morning sun beat down on the crowds of people standing out in front of the old Criminal Courts building, and the air inside Chief Justice John R. Caverly’s courtroom was as thick as a steam bath and smelled like a locker room. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb looked cool as cucumbers according to press reports, as the proceedings of the sensational Bobby Franks murder got underway in the fortress-like building. No trial in the complex’s 30-year history had ever captured such public notice, even though the site on the northwest corner of Dearborn and Hubbard Street had had its fair share of history making events prior to the summer of 1924.

  [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, 54 W. Hubbard Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the spring of 1850 residents on the north side of the Chicago River began clammering for a market hall of their own. The city had built a market hall south of the main branch of the river, but with only the Rush Street bridge traversing the waterway, it was hard to get to. The north siders made enough of a fuss that in October the Council Committee on Markets began to investigate potential sites, and in March 1851 purchased nearly the entire block bounded by Dearborn Avenue, Illinois, Clark and Michigan (eventually Hubbard) Streets as the location for the new North Market Hall. The two-story building combined a market at ground level with a meeting hall above where Frederick A. Douglass was cheered as he addressed an overflow crowd in 1853, and where Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas was vigorously booed and pelted with produce as he addressed a packed house on the merits of the Kansas Nebraska Act in September 1854. Then, in 1871, North Market Hall was one of the over 17,000 buildings destroyed by the Great Fire’s fury.

  [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In the rebuilding effort that followed, the city decided to allow Cook County to build a new criminal courts building and jail on the market hall site, and architects Armstrong and Egan designed a handsome three-story stone courthouse fronting Michigan Street, with a brick jail house behind it along Illinois. In the summer of 1886 – 24-years before the Franks sensation – streets around the courthouse were jammed with onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the Haymarket Eight, charged with murder after a bomb was thrown into a crowd on May 4, 1886 resulting in the deaths of seven policeman and at least four onlookers. A year later crowds gathered once again around the county complex when four of the eight men were hung in the jail’s basement gallows. Just as sensational, but a little less volatile, was the 1890 census report that edged Cook County toward the 2 million mark, with nearly 90% of those counted residing within the city of Chicago. The time had come to build a larger court and jail facility, so the County Board voted to fund the construction of a project to be designed by County architect Otto H. Matz.

  [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Matz hadn’t been in position very long when the commission came his way. The Berlin native had come to Chicago from Germany in 1853, and almost immediately secured a position as the in house architect for the nascent Illinois Central Railroad. Matz set to work designing a passenger station and freight depot that sat at the northern edge of the road’s massive rail yard at the River and Lake Michigan, and a number of stations and hotels that lined the Central’s Chicago Branch and Charter Line. He served as the Chicago Public School architect from 1869 to 1871, and won the $5,000 prize for designing a new City Hall and Courthouse complex in 1873 – but the scheme was never built. Matz’s name entered Chicago’s post-fire, pop-culture consciousness when a building he had designed survived the inferno almost entirely intact. His “fireproof” Nixon Building on the northeast corner of La Salle and Monroe Streets, was nearing completion that October, and because of his use of masonry, iron and insulating plaster, the building seemed to withstand the intense heat. It was however missing most of its wood flooring and trim which may have helped in the structure’s survival. Matz was heralded as a genius when the project was ready for occupancy just four weeks after the fire had burned its way through town.

 [Courthouse Place – Cook County Criminal Courts Building, River North Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Matz’s new six-story criminal courts building would house courtrooms on the upper floors with 18-foot high ceilings, judge’s chambers, jury rooms, the state’s attorney’s office, and a press room. Almost four years to the day that Clarence Darrow had argued against the death penalty for his clients Leopold and Loeb in Judge Caverly’s courtroom, Chicago reporters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur offered a hilarious send-up and insiders peek of the goings-on in the court’s press room when their play “The Front Page” opened in New York on August 14, 1928. By which time the court and the jail were packing it up and relocating to a new facility at California Avenue and 26th Street on the city’s near southwest side. The old courthouse was given over to the city’s Department of Health and the jail was demolished in 1936. By the mid-80s, as the city consolidated office space into the former Kraft Building on Grand Avenue and Lake Shore Drive, Matz’s sturdy structure was put up for sale and developer Albert Friedman purchased and renovated the National Register and City of Chicago landmark. Judge Caverly’s courtroom and the press room now serve as offices for law firms and advertising agencies.
Carl Sandburg Village
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Carl Sandburg Village (1963-1971) Solomon Cordwell & Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 64 A.D. the Subura neighborhood at the base of the Equiline and Viminal Hills in Rome was packed wall to wall with substandard unsafe housing. Once the home of patrician Roman families like the Julians - where a young Gaius Julius Caesar had romped around - by the time of Nero, the upper classes had fled the area for greener pastures up on the Palatine Hill, and the Subura became home to some of the city's poorest residents. Property owners and landlords squeezed as many people as possible into dilapidated buildings collecting rents by the day or week, while offering their tenants little more than a collapsing roof over their heads. Over the millennia, the Subura came to be known as one of Rome's most notorious "slums," a word that showed-up in  A Vocabulary of the Flash Language at the beginning of the 19th century.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Division Street to North Avenue; Clark Street to La Salle Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the early 1950s many urban communities in the United States had come to be officially identified as 20th century slums. On Chicago's Near North Side, an aging neighborhood of overcrowded, unsafe housing was identified as such by city planners. Rows of four-story townhouses lining the east side of La Salle Street from Division to North Avenue, built as single family residences for upper income dwellers, now housed as many as five or six working class families on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. To the east of La Salle, many of Clark Street's ground floor store fronts were topped with single family apartments that had been divvied-up and offered rooms for rent by the day or week. Some of Chicago's poorest citizens were clustered in crumbling buildings without indoor toilet facilities and overrun with rats. The heads of the Chicago Land Clearance Commission, Ted Aschman and John Cordwell identified the 16 acre parcel as part of a larger slum area that needed to be cleared.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Unlike the nearby Cabrini Homes which was a public housing project, the proposal for the North La Salle project would be a public/private partnership of sorts. The city would clear the land through eminent domain, put up for bid, and sell to private developers for the construction of market rate housing. John Cordwell called this "The Pebble in the Pool," theory in an oral history conducted by the Art Institute in 1993. The premise was that like concentric rings emanating from a pebble thrown into a pool of still water, the project at the center of this pool would send out circles of stabilization to "the whole of Lincoln Park." And to Chicago's historically elite Gold Coast neighborhood. Just to the east of Clark stood what had once been the city's wealthiest and most socially connected neighborhood. But times were changing, and more and more of the old mansions were being converted into rooming houses, and, as Cordwell pointed out, houses of ill repute. Similar to a military operation, city officials were hoping that the projectile tossed into this basin of blight would stem the tide of advancing deterioration. On October 8, 1957 the Chicago Tribune announced that the city council was being urged to approve a plan to clear 223 structures from 31.9 acres of land inhabited by 3,871 people, 83 percent of who lived in housing considered blighted and unsafe.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Near North Side / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By this time John Cordwell, who had come to Chicago from England after serving in the Second World War and surviving incarceration in a German prisoner of war camp, was working with Lou Solomon, a well connected contractor and sometime architect. Solomon and his brother Irving had designed and built a number of large apartments buildings on Lake Shore Drive and friends of Chicago real estate mogul Arthur Rubloff. In the summer of 1961, as the city began clearing 16 acres of Gold Coast adjacent land, the parcel was put out for bid, and the Rubloff team - which included Solomon and Cordwell as equity partners and as the architects for Carl Sandburg Center - offered $9.17 per square foot, more that $3.00 above the next highest bid. The offer was accepted and the team handed the city a check for $6,411,000. Cordwell designed a group of 25 and 23 story towers above a cluster of low rise townhouses connected by a pedestrian mall complete with a moat and bridges. Rubloff saw the idea as a liability nightmare, "What if someone gets drunk and walks across one of those bridges and drowns in the moat?" Cordwell got rid of the moat and bridge concept, but he did put all of the parking underground. The urban planner didn't want the project surrounded by islands of parking lots that removed the complex from city street life - that was best left out in the suburbs. And in April 1963 the first tenants began moving into their Carl Sandburg Village apartments paying $125 per month for a studio, to $300 a month for a two bedroom, two bath unit.

  [Carl Sandburg Village, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

For decades after, Sandburg Village would be examined and re-examined as urban renewal gone wrong - or right. Thousands of low income people were displaced and many had a hard time finding landlords who would rent to large families accustomed to paying by the week rather than by the month. Critics said that the true motivation for Sandburg was to save the Gold Coast. But the irascible Mr. Cordwell had another view of the elite residential district. He said that at the time the great old houses along Astor, State and Dearborn were mostly rooming houses, flop houses, or worse, and that Sandburg helped stem an inevitable tide that was turning the entire area around the southern border of Lincoln Park into a future slum. Today Sandburg is a village of condominiums and the Gold Coast's multi-unit rooming houses have been converted back to their original large single family dwelling purpose. The Lincoln Park neighborhood is one of the premiere residential communities in the city, and nearly the entire Cabrini Green public housing project has been demolished and replaced with a mixture of market rate and subsidized housing. The pebble has rung.
Chicago Historical Society - Dearborn Street Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Chicago Historical Society - Dearborn Street Building (1894) Henry Ives Cobb, architect / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Although the narrow blade sign at the northwest corner Dearborn and Ontario Streets has borne the names "Limelight," "Excalibur," and most recently "Castle" over the past 29 years, the name carved in stone over the doorway of the imposing structure still reads, "CHICAGO - HISTORICAL - SOCIETY" the organization that constructed the rough-hewned Romanesque composition in 1892 - but hasn't occupied since 1932. The hefty red granite mass was the largest and most prominent of the Society's multiple homes since its founding fathers first came together and organized the repository of historical artifacts in 1856.

  [Chicago Historical Society - Dearborn Street Building, 632 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By the mid-1850s Chicago was becoming a major player on the nation's economic stage and was no longer the remote fur trading outpost of just twenty years ago. A handful of the city's well-known and esteemed businessmen decided that the time had come to create a repository for the collection and preservation of materials pertaining to the history of the North West territory and its emerging capital city, and formed the Chicago Historical Society. Their endeavor was a success, and as the collection of books and manuscripts grew, moving from one office space to another was becoming more and more cumbersome and impractical - the time had come to find a permanent home. So in 1864, as the month of November was drawing to a close, Isaac Arnold, E.B. McCagg, George Rumsey, William B. Ogden and his business associate Edwin H. Sheldon, raised $24,000 toward the purchase of a piece of land where they could build a fire-proof building to house the accumulating materials. By February the trustees had plans in hand, drawn-up by architect Edward Burling for the 120 x 132 foot lot they had acquired on the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue at Ontario Street.

  [Chicago Historical Society - Dearborn Street Building, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Twenty-four thousand dollars wasn't enough to build the entire project as designed, but it was enough to get the western third of the building constructed on Ontario Street. As often happens, that first burst of energetic momentum leveled-off as the organization settled in, and raising the rest of the money to complete construction as well as to grow the collection proved to be more of a challenge. The consuming conflagration of 1871 devoured not only the one-third of Burling's design that got built, but also the entire collection of materials that the Society had been able to accumulate since 1856. Recovery was slow. It took another six years before Arnold, Rumsey, Sheldon and a few of their friends were able to raise enough money to build a small, "temporary" brick edifice to house a small reconstituted collection, but the trustees had high hopes that a new building would soon be on its way and a collection larger than the one the fire had swept away. It took another fifteen years, but in the spring of 1892 the Chicago Tribune announced that a new $200,000 building designed by architect Henry Ives Cobb, was going to rise at the corner of Dearborn and Ontario.

  [Chicago Historical Society - Dearborn Street Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Cobb was on a roll that year. He had come to Chicago in 1882 with an engineering degree from Harvard and a job designing the Union Club where his brother served as treasurer. Well connected and socially astute, Cobb's business acumen and design sensibilities made him one of the city's "go-to" architects, and by 1892 his 130 person office was the largest in town. The design he proffered for the Historical Society looked for all intents and purposes as fireproof as a bank safe, and Cobb did as much as he could to make sure that fire fueling materials were kept to an absolute minimum. The thick stone facade encased a wood-free interior; staircases were steel and marble, floors were concrete and mosaic tile, all trim work was done in stone. The plaster lath was metal as were the window and door frames. So were the doors themselves, as were all the desks and chairs. If a piece of paper somehow came into with an open flame, the structure would not add fuel to the fire.

  [Chicago Historical Society - Dearborn Street Building, River North, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Society thrived in their new home, and by the late 1920s the collection had outgrown its large fire-proof repository. It was time to move yet again. A deal was worked out with the city and the state to take over a corner of Lincoln Park at North Avenue and Clark Street, and the last few boxes were taken through the stone-carved doorway to their new home in 1932. With the shades pulled down over the large window openings of the vacant building, the old place finally found a tenant in 1946 when Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Institute of Design moved into the castle-like structure. The merger between the Institute and the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1949 led to the design school's removal from Cobb's granite behemoth in 1955 when the ID relocated to architect Mies van der Rohe's recently completed building for IIT's School of Architecture. After a stint as the home of Boulevard Recording Studios and Gallery men's magazine, the sturdy structure became the Chicago outpost of nightclub impresario Peter Gatien's "Limelight." The drinking and dancing continued on for the next 29 years as the Limelight became "Excalibur," and then in the past year "Castle Chicago," which closed the first week of January. And yet, the name over the door still reads, "Chicago Historical Society."
John DeKoven House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [John DeKoven House (1874) Edward Burling, Burling & Adler, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The line of business tycoons streaming through the front parlor of the home of their recently   departed friend and colleague John DeKoven on the first day of May in 1898, encompassed nearly the entire list of Who's Who in Chicago. Offering-up an avalanche of accolades and tributes to the deceased banker and director of financial institutions and railroads, were men, who like the sixty-five year old former bank cashier had come to the city in the early 1850s and transformed a sleepy western outpost into one of the largest economic engines in the world. On hand to greet the mourners were DeKoven's forty-five year old wife of the past eight years Annie Larrabee Barnes DeKoven, and his forty-one year old daughter and only child Louise Hadduck DeKoven Bowen. Marshall Field served as a pallbearer.

  [John DeKoven House, 1150 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

He was only nineteen years old when John DeKoven came west and first sloshed through Chicago's mud filled streets in 1852. He found a job, courted and married Helen Hadduck the only child of wealthy Chicago pioneer Edward Hadduck, and by the time of the fire in 1871 had advanced to the position of head cashier at Merchant's National Bank and an increasingly lucrative career in finance and railroads. As the city's movers and shakers worked hard to put Chicago back on the post fire map, the DeKovens decided to join some of John's business compatriots on the north side and build a house on the northwest corner of Dearborn Avenue and Elm Street. Edward Hempstead and Ira Scott were at Dearborn and Maple. George Dunlap was building a little further south at Dearborn and Oak near DeKoven's friend and colleague Edward Waller's large single family residence, just south of the Potter Palmers who would briefly take-up residence on Dearborn before heading over to their purpose-built-palace on Lake Shore Drive. It was a cozy community of like-minded businessmen with similarly styled homes. John and Helen chose Edward J. Burling as their architect, who was also at work on the Hempstead, Scott and Dunlap houses.

  [John DeKoven House, Washington Square Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Burling had been practicing architecture in the city almost as long as DeKoven had been living  there. He came to Chicago as an apprentice carpenter and by 1871 had not only had a reputation as one of the city's most reputable designers, but had become one of its most prolific builders of fine buildings. After the fire had destroyed virtually his entire portfolio of work he teamed-up with Dankmar Adler, a young architect making a name for himself, and was commissioned by one former client after another to rebuild what had been consumed by the great conflagration. And although the DeKoven house would also be a new build - with its stone facade, window bays, and bracketed Mansard roof - the finished product didn't look much different than many of the mansions you would have seen around town before the fire had burned them all away.

  [John DeKoven House, Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

On March 25, 1886 while Louisa DeKoven was busy making plans for her upcoming June wedding to Joseph Bowen, her mother Helen died. Helen, born in 1835 within the palisades of old Fort Dearborn and the only child of early Chicago pioneers Edward and Louisa Graves Hadduck, had recently inherited a large part of her father's extensive real estate portfolio - which made Helen one of the city's wealthiest women. Now Louisa - she would replace the "a" with an "e" - an only child herself, would be the beneficiary of her grandfather's largesse. There was a bit of a surprise in store for the upper levels of society when, four years later, on April 9, 1890, among the names listed in the Chicago Tribune's record of marriage license applicants was Mr. John DeKoven, 56, and Mrs. Ann Larrabee Barnes, 36, a widow. Annie Larrabee was herself a member of old line Chicago pedigree, so although the age difference was two decades, social acceptance was never in question. When John breathed his last breath as April turned into to May in 1898, the house and its contents were left to Mrs. Barnes DeKoven, which would revert back to Louise when Annie died. That transaction transpired 50 years later when Ann DeKoven finally bid her earthly existence a farewell in 1948 at the ripe old age of ninety-five. Louise sold the house the following year.

  [John DeKoven House, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The buyer was Marie Biggs. Her late husband Joseph had created a catering company in Chicago in 1882, and was able to convince some of the city's well-heeled matrons to make use of his services at a time when most families of means had a large in-house staff to cook and serve their elegant meals in their highly ornamented dining rooms. Over the years Biggs moved from one location to another in and around Rush, Wabash and Huron streets on the city's north side, often taking over recently vacated family mansions. When the DeKoven house came on the market, Marie Biggs decided to leave her House of Biggs location at 30 E. Huron and take up residence on Dearborn where she not only operated the family business but lived above the store. In 1964, eighty-two year old  Marie decided that the time had finally come to hang up her apron and sold the entire Biggs operation to Edison Dick and Ray Castro. Dick came from money, his father Albert had founded a business in Chicago which made mimeograph machines among other things, and Edison used some of his good fortune to invest in restaurants like Cafe de Paris and Maison Lafitte. The new Biggs restaurant was going to put itself out on an untried limb and offer only a pre-fixe meal at a set price of either $6.50 or $7.50 per person - excluding alcohol - reservations only. Biggs became a Chicago dining institution before closing its doors for good in as the 20th century was coming to its own close. After a short stint as Il Mulino, the mostly intact historic house has been sitting vacant state since 2012, while chef Art Smith serves his Southern-inspired cuisine at Table 52 in the former DeKoven coach house on Elm Street.
Oliver Typewriter Co. Building
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Oliver Typewriter Co. Building (1907) Holabird & Roche, architects; (1997) adaptive reuse and facade restoration, Daniel P. Coffey Associates, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

As Spring came into bloom in 1902, Arthur F. Lyman, Lawrence Lowell, and Arthur Lyman, members of old-line Massachusetts families and trustees of a piece of downtown Chicago real estate, secured a long term lease for their land which wrapped around the northeast corner of Randolph and Dearborn Streets. The property, fronting 60 feet on Randolph and 110 feet on Dearborn, bracketed the Chicago Realty Board Building which sat directly on the corner. But the lot proved to be no challenge for architect Benjamin Marshall who had been hired by a theater syndicate to design a new performance venue on their Lyman/Lowell leased land. Marshall wrapped the Iroquois Theatre around the old Bryant Block Realty Board building, placing an elaborate entryway on the Randolph Street side, and with a right angled degree turn to the left, had the theater's back stage wall sitting just 38 feet east of the Dearborn Street lot line. It was a decision that would come to play a significant role in the property's future.

  [Oliver Typewriter Co. Building, 159 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1891, and again in 1894, Thomas Oliver, a minister and an inveterate tinkerer, patented a new kind of typewriting machine, one in which the typist could actually see the keys striking the paper and read what was being typed as it was being typed. The device caught the attention of Lawrence Williams, Douglas Smith and Samuel Lyde who, in December 1895, incorporated the Oliver Typewriter Company in Chicago with a capital stock of $200,000, enough to get Reverend Oliver's invention into production and out into the marketplace. The odd looking device was a hit, and in 1898 Oliver secured another patent for a new and improved Oliver Typewriter and the company was on a roll.

  [Oliver Typewriter Co. Building, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1896 the young company moved its manufacturing plant from Iowa to a new facility in Woodstock, Illinois about 60 miles north of the corporate office in downtown Chicago located at 107 Lake Street. In November 1906 the Lyman/Lowell trustees came to an agreement with Oliver president Lawrence Williams to lease the strip of ground over on the Dearborn Street side of things, and architects Holabird & Roche were hired to design a 5-story building for the site. H&R were one of the innovative design firms who had helped develop a new commercial building style that would come to be known as the Chicago School, and had gained a reputation in the city as a team who could deliver a handsomely marketable building to real estate developers on time and on budget.

  [Oliver Typewriter Co. Building, North Loop, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The land lease was made a matter of record in July 1907 when the the Oliver Typewriter Company took up occupancy in their new corporate home. The fanciful facade fronted a typical loft-columned interior, supported by a foundation that could one day carry the weight of an additional five floors should the need arise. Thirteen years later, the need did arise and on June 13, 1920 the Chicago Tribune reported that Holabird & Roche would oversee the addition of  three more stories to the Oliver Building. It was Lawrence Williams last major corporate decisions. The president of the Oliver Typewriter Company since it's incorporation in 1895, died six weeks later at age fifty-six. Thomas Oliver had died years earlier when he dropped dead of a heart attack while waiting for a train on the platform of the Argyle Street elevated railroad station. By then he was busy running his Oliver Cotton Harvester company. When the Tribune reported the inventor's death on February 10, 1909 not one mention was made of his relationship to the widely popular Oliver Typewriter, only his involvement and inventiveness with the Harvester company made it into the paper.

  [Oliver Typewriter Co. Building / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Neither man lived to see the company take a precipitous decline in the years following Williams' death - by 1928 the company was out of business. The building served its original purpose as a commercial office property until the mid-1990s when the auditorium housing the theater next door was scheduled to undergo a massive restoration. The Iroquois had a disastrous fire in 1903, and after reopening eventually became the Colonial Theatre, which was torn down and replaced by a tall commercial structure that housed a wonderful 1920s-era movie palace, the Oriental. One constant through all the changes had been that the back stage wall of all the theatrical incarnations always remained 38 feet east of Dearborn, adjacent to the east wall of the Oliver building. The reinvigorated Oriental was going to be a live performance venue and needed a deeper stage, and to make it work, the Oliver property would have to be incorporated into the rejiggered performance space. So after much legal wrangling and to the chagrin of some preservationists, the interior of the Oliver building was gutted, Holabird & Roche's decorative facade masked the backstage area of the theater, and the original Lyman/Lowell lot had one contiguous building space sitting on it.
School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center
 Illinois Athletic Club Building
 by: chicago designslinger

[School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building (1907) Barnett Haynes & Barnett, architects; (1984) addition and renovation, Swann & Weiskopf, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1904, a decade before William Hale Thompson, Jr. won his first term as mayor of Chicago and created a legacy as one of the most corrupt mayors in the city's history, he was just another in a line of young man who had the good fortune to have been the beneficiary of a father's profuse patrimony. Colonel William Hale Thompson, Sr. had come to Chicago in 1866, gotten into the real estate business, and by the time he died in 1891 left his wife, daughter and three sons an estate valued at around half-a-million dollars. It may not seem like much, but today that figure would be in the $13.5 million range. Bill, Jr. was out in the southwestern United States living it up as a cowboy at the time of his father's death, and reluctantly hung-up his chaps and spurs to head back home. He looked after the family's investments, joined the right clubs, went out on-the-town, and like his father before him, entered politics and got himself elected the alderman of the city's 2nd Ward in 1901.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building, 112 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The cosmopolitan city dweller was still a rebellious cowboy at heart, and replaced the excitement of cattle drives and mustang running with yacht racing and competitive swimming. When he heard that a guy named Charles H. Genslinger was in town promoting the idea of a new health club in Chicago, Thompson took an interest. He was already a member of the prestigious Chicago Athletic Association, the physical work-out sibling of the city's very prestigious and very hard to get into Chicago Club, and liked the idea of creating a club that was less restrictive and could offer a broader scope of athleticism to the city as a whole. On November 10, 1904 the New Illinois Athletic Club was incorporated with William H. Thompson as president, Genslinger as secretary, and Charles B. Pike as treasurer - with no capital or assets listed. Genslinger had served as a consultant, adviser and organizer of three previous club projects, and Pike, like his friend Thompson an avid golfer and member of the Washington Park Club, was a wealthy, high-profile attorney.  If you could afford the $100 initiation fee and $30 a year membership, that's all it would take to join the New Illinois Athletic Club. And in an effort to make the club as accessible as possible to the general public, new members had the opportunity to pay their initiation fee in installments.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

With hopes of signing-up 5,000 members, the trio set their sights on a Michigan Avenue location just down the block from the Venetian-inspired palace that architect Henry Ives Cobb had designed for the Chicago Athletic Association. They found a three parcel lot just south of Monroe Street and were able to secure pretty good terms from owner Carl Young for a 99-year land lease that began on January 1, 1905 at $25,000 a year. Young would net an average rental of $8,680 a foot-front - not bad for a piece of property that had cost Edmund Hunt $450 a foot-front forty years earlier. Next up they had to pick an architect to design their new club, and with all the firms to choose from in Chicago, they picked St. Louis based firm, Barnett Haynes & Barnett. Thomas and George Barnett's father George had been a prominent St. Louis architect and the brothers joined with their brother-in-law John Haynes to start their own namesake firm in 1894. Genslinger had advised, consulted and collected a fee for overseeing the organization and construction of  the posh Missouri Athletic Club in 1903 - in St. Louis.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The design team came up with a 12-story building capped by an elaborate and athletic-inspired Greek frieze, with heroic bronze figures framed by arched window openings overlooking Michigan Avenue. Inside members and their guests had access to a pool, gymnasium, indoor running track, billiard room, bowling alley, a large two-story dining room, and 150 guest rooms for an overnight stay - which didn't come cheap. When Chicago mayor and future governor of Illinois Edward F. Dunne laid the cornerstone on October 27, 1905 and future governor and congressman Colonel Frank O. Lowden proclaimed that, "The poor man with health and physique is far richer than the millionaire with dyspepsia," the Illinois Athletic Club's poor man membership stood at a reported 3,200. Not enough to pay for the entire $500,000 project, but at least enough to get it off the ground.

  [School of the Art Institute of Chicago - MacLean Center - Illinois Athletic Club Building / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

By March the entire steel frame was in place and the first two floors had their limestone covering,   but membership had only increased by about 300 and the partners had raised just $200,000. So Thompson got to work using his connections to put together a bond issue in the hopes of raising the much needed $300,000. By April it looked like Thompson had an underwriter, the Mississippi Valley Trust Co.,  then the San Francisco earthquake hit and Mississippi Valley, which had underwritten a large amount of bond issues in the hard-hit city, pulled out. By July construction on the Athletic Club came to a halt, and general contractor Thompson Starrett Co. filed a lien. Pike, still the treasurer, blamed Genslinger for all their troubles, and the club promoter was removed from his position without receiving his full consulting fee. A plea to members raised enough capital to finish the project, and on December 22, 1907 the Illinois Athletic Club held its dedicatory dinner in the club's two-story dining room. Ten years later the room underwent a transformation when club member and architect W. Gibbons Uffendel added a balcony and second entry so that women could dine unescorted by male company in the public dining hall. Club membership remained steady for the next 70 years, but by 1984 the organization had barely 1,000 members and the 170 shareholders sold the property to Charles Vavros, who owned and operated the Charlie Club chain. Vavros hired architects Swann & Weiskopf to update the aging structure and add an additional 6-stories to the building. Vavros sold the club to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1992 as the educational institution began expanding out beyond the walls of its Institute building campus.