Posts Tagged 'Architecture'

The Tallest Rock (5-3-1973)

Chicago put one over on New York today.  The Sears Tower was topped off.  Our city had the tallest building in the world.

Sears had maintained its main office in North Lawndale for decades.  During the late 1960s the company decided to build new headquarters.  After looking in the suburbs, they chose a downtown site.

The original plan was to build two separate buildings.  That was changed to a single structure, 1,454 feet high.  As board chairman Gordon Metcalf explained, “Being the largest retailer in the world, we thought we should have the largest headquarters in the world.”

Construction began in 1970.  The foundations were dug, and the steel frame began to rise slowly over Wacker Drive.  On the way up, the Sears Tower passed the former record holder, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

Today’s ceremony was almost postponed.  The weather was raw and windy.  The final girder contained the signatures of the 12,000 people who had worked on the project.  The construction chief was worried that the 2,500-pound beam might smash into some windows on the way up.

But a few hundred people had already gathered at the site.  Cardinal Cody and Mayor Richard J. Daley had come to give their blessings.  The girder was hoisted and set in place.

That was the signal.  A chorus of electrical workers burst into song, serenading the crowd with such lyrics as:

“She towers so high,

Just scraping the sky.

She’s The Tallest Rock.”

Speeches followed from various dignitaries.  Then the mayor brought the proceedings to a close.  “I want to thank [Sears] for staying in Chicago when so many are leaving,” he said.  “Sears, Roebuck—a name that means everything to the people of America—has no equal in the business world of Chicago.”

Everyone went home happy.  The Sears Tower lifted the spirits of Chicago.  Having the World’s Tallest Building helped the city get through some tough years.

Still, records are made to be broken.  The Sears Tower kept is title until 1996.  Today all the sky-piercing structures are going up in Asia.

Meanwhile, in 1992, Sears again moved its headquarters, this time to Hoffman Estates.  The tall building on Wacker Drive is now known as the Willis Tower.

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The Hotel Sherman

The state may soon be putting the Thompson Center up for sale.  It’s an impressive looking building, but it’s supposed to be hell to work in.  The upkeep is expensive, too.  What will happen to this Helmut Jahn masterwork is anyone’s guess.  Maybe someone will repurpose it as a new Hotel Sherman.  That’s what Jahn’s building replaced on the northwest corner of Clark and Randolph Streets.

In 1844 a man named Francis Sherman bought Chicago’s pioneer City Hotel and renamed it the Sherman House.  Over the next decades, the Sherman name was kept alive in a succession of downtown hotels.  The last of them went up in 1911, with 757 rooms.  A 23-story tower was added to this structure in 1925.  Boasting over 1600 rooms, the revamped Hotel Sherman was said to be the largest American hotel outside New York City.

A year after the expansion,  the hotel hosted a peace conference—of Chicago gangsters.  The result was the Hotel Sherman Treaty of October 21, 1926, which established a Madison Street boundary line separating the North Side Moran outfit and the South Side Capone mob, as well as settling other issues of concern.  The peace lasted a little over two months.

Besides catering to gangsters, the Hotel Sherman’s location across from City Hall made it a favorite gathering spot for local politicians.  The College Inn became a well-regarded restaurant.  But eventually, occupancy declined.  The Hotel Sherman closed its doors early in 1973.  The building stood vacant for several years, until it was torn down to make way for that new State of Illinois office center in 1980.

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Benjamin Marshall, Architect

In Chicago, architects have been celebrities. Sullivan, Adler, Wright, Mies van der Rohe–the names come easily to mind. There is also Benjamin Howard Marshall. Though not as well-remembered, he left a lasting imprint on the city.

Marshall, Benjamin

He was born into a wealthy South Side family in 1874. As a boy he loved animals and would often smuggle pets into school. Once he brought a pony to church. Ben Marshall would always do things his own way. He was charming enough, rich enough, and talented enough to carry it off.

While he was in high school, Marshall was impressed by the grand buildings of the Columbian Exposition. He decided to become an architect. Rather than waste time in musty academic studies, he apprenticed himself to a local design office. He became a partner there at 21. A few years later, he opened his own firm.

Marshall specialized in large public buildings. His first major commission was the Iroquois Theater in 1903. The theater was destroyed by fire in less than a year, with a loss of 602 lives.

Tragic though it was, the Iroquois fire had little effect on Marshall’s career. In 1905 he went into partnership with Charles E. Fox. Over the next two decades, Marshall & Fox designed such classic structures as the Blackstone Hotel, Lake Shore National Bank, the Edgewater Beach Hotel, South Shore Country Club, and the Drake Hotel. The partners also built many stylish apartment buildings along the Gold Coast.

Marshall cut a flamboyant figure. He designed much of his personal wardrobe, which included elaborately ruffled shirts, flowing ties, and–for the golf course–a large sombrero with built-in ventilators. He drove a white, customized Packard convertible. On one occasion, he threw a party for the entire cast of the Ziegfeld Follies. He had money and he spent it, all the while giving the impression that if he didn’t have it, he would have spent it anyway.

Marshall's 1550 North State Apartments

Marshall’s 1550 North State Apartments

The 1550 North State Apartments is a fine example of Marshall’s style. Its opulent Second Empire design suggests it might easily have been placed on the Champs Elysees, and in fact, Marshall labeled his plans in French. When the building opened in 1911, it was considered the height of luxury.

Each of the twelve floors had only a single apartment, a living space of 9,000 square feet divided into 15 rooms. The rooms facing east and north had magnificent views of the lake and Lincoln Park. The windows were fronted with iron balconies. Even the appliances were special–the kitchen ranges had three broilers, two gas and one charcoal, “so that steaks and fish need never be prepared on the same broiler.”

Marshall lived in the 1550 building for nine years. Then he erected a combination home and office in Wilmette. This complex included an entire room from a Chinese temple and an architectural studio large enough to accommodate a staff of forty-five. The property was so lavish it was listed as an attraction in Chicago guidebooks.

In 1936 Marshall sold his Wilmette holdings and retired to a suite in the Drake Hotel. He died there in 1944.   Today the Benjamin Marshall Society educates the public on his life and works.  This May 15, the society will celebrate “Big Ben’s” 142nd birthday with a gala at the Marshall-designed Drake Hotel.

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Chicago Under Construction in the 1970s

Some months ago I posted a few pictures of the old Senate Theatre on Madison Street, as it fell to the wrecker’s ball in 1976.  I also took some pictures of local construction projects during that same era.  Here are a few of them—

1971--Touhy Avenue @ Kedzie

1971–Touhy Avenue @ Kedzie

This is now the Winston Towers complex.  Note the old gas tank in the background, at Pratt and Kedzie.

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1972--North Avenue @ Sedgwick

1972–North Avenue @ Sedgwick

In 1972 the city widened North Avenue between LaSalle and Orchard, so all the overhead wires for the trolley buses had to be redone.  Less than a year later, CTA junked the trolley buses and had that new wiring taken down.

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Kimball Avenue @ Lawrence

1974–Kimball Avenue @ Lawrence

CTA was replacing the 1907 terminal of the Ravenswood (Brown) ‘L’ line.

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1976--Diversey Avenue @ Nagle

1976–Diversey Avenue @ Nagle

Thunder Mountain Ski Resort didn’t work out, so The Brickyard Shopping Mall was under construction on the onetime site of the Carey Brick Works.  More recently, the mall itself has been rebuilt.

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1978--Clark Street @ Roosevelt

1978–Clark Street @ Roosevelt

Dearborn Street Station had been closed, and the Dearborn Park development was being built on the old railyard.

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Gateway Theater

When I was growing up around Montrose and Austin in the early 1960s, the Patio was our neighborhood movie theater. It was convenient and cheap—convenient, because it was only a few blocks away, cheap because it booked movies after every other theater had run them.

But if we wanted to see a movie fresh out of the first-run Loop theaters, we went to the Gateway.Gateway Theater-b (1979)

The Gateway was located at 5216 West Lawrence Avenue, at the eastern edge of the Milwaukee-Lawrence shopping district. I’ve never been able to find out why the owners chose this particular name, though I’ve had my suspicions.

Coming down Lawrence Avenue from the east, you passed under three railroad viaducts within a few blocks. As you emerged from the third one, boom—there was the giant, vertical “Gateway” sign on your right.  You were at the gateway to Jefferson Park.

The Gateway opened in 1930. With 1800 seats, it was bigger than the Patio.  Unlike the Patio, the Gateway had a full-fledged balcony.  It also had those twinkling lights in the darkened auditorium ceiling that were supposed to remind you of the night sky.  The snack selection was better, too.

I don’t know how many dozens of movies I saw at the Gateway in the course of 20-plus years. I do remember the Guns of Navarone in 1961.  That movie sticks in my mind because we had to wait so long to see it—Guns was such a big hit that the first-run theater downtown kept it for about three months.

Gateway Theater side

One tradition from my childhood was the cartoon fest on the Day-After-Thanksgiving (nobody called it “Black Friday” yet). With the kids off from school, and the parents needing a break after Turkey Day, the Portage Theater at Six Corners would show something like three hours of continuous cartoons.  One year the Gateway staged the program instead of the Portage.  That was also memorable because the theater had a celebrity guest—Jocko Conlan, a famed National League umpire.

The Gateway closed in 1981. Today the building and its movie auditorium are part of the Copernicus Center.

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Save the Garrick! (6-1-1960)

Today the city decided that the Garrick Theater could be torn down.  Another obsolete building was being replaced with something more modern and more functional, in this case a parking garage.

Not quite.  The Garrick was an official city landmark.Schiller Building

Located at 64 West Randolph Street, the Garrick was a combination theater and office building, 17 stories high.  The architecture was by the noted firm Adler & Sullivan.  When it opened in 1892, it was called the Schiller Building, and the theater featured stage plays.

The Schiller eventually became the Garrick, and live theater gave way to movies.  The Balaban & Katz chain bought the building.  In February 1960, the Garrick was one of 38 structures included on Chicago’s first list of architectural landmarks.

Two months after the designation, the office tower was cleared of tenants.  In May Balaban & Katz announced the building would be demolished.  Now, in June, the city’s commission on architectural landmarks ruled it was “not feasible” to save the Garrick.

“The office building has proved to be uneconomical for the owners to operate for some years,” the commission said.  “The design of the theater is such that it is virtually impossible to adapt it to the present wide-screen requirements of a motion picture house.”  The wreckers could get on with their work.

Preservationists were stunned.  What good was landmark status if a building could be torn down so easily?  Mayor Richard J. Daley came out in favor of saving the Garrick.  He appointed a commission to study the matter.  Meanwhile, the city refused to issue a wrecking permit.

The owners went to court.  Demonstrators marched with “Save the Garrick” signs.  Aldermen toured the shuttered building, and discussed whether the city could use it.  A few people declared that the Garrick was a “useless relic,” and that the property owners should be free to dispose of it.

In November the appellate court ruled that the city had acted illegally in denying a wrecking permit.  The issue was decided.  On January 16, 1961, demolition began.

6-2--second city.jpg

Part of the Garrick facade was saved.  Featuring portraits of German writers, it is incorporated into the Second City Theater building.  And as a result of the Garrick battle, Chicago’s landmark preservation ordinance has been strengthened.

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Ritz Theater

Ritz Theater (1979)

The Ritz Theater complex, located at 6337 West Roosevelt Road in Berwyn, opened for business in 1926.  The theater itself had 2,000 seats.  I saw a bunch of movies there when I was dating a girl from Cicero, though the only one I recall was The Night of the Generals, starring Peter O’Toole as a particularly nasty Nazi.

The Ritz had recently closed when I moved to Oak Park in 1978.  Fond memories prompted me to snap a photo before it was torn down.

Ritz today

As it happened, the building survived.  It remained standing vacant until 1986, when it was converted into the 52-unit Atrium Condos.  The second photo shows what the former Ritz looks like today.

Now I’m going to see if I can find that old Peter O’Toole movie on Netflix.  It was pretty good.

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