Thursday, August 21, 2014

Updates, Day One: No Casino for Wabash?? (And no walkway for you!)

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On Tuesday, the Chicago Architecture Blog reported that an invasion of wrecking equipment had shown up at the long-shuttered Lake Shore Athletic club at 441 North Wabash, best known for its windowless walls and inset blue metal stairway . . .
Back in 2013, we had proposed the bunkered building and its adjoining parking lot as the perfect site for a new Chicago casino.  Last year, we reported on how a developer had assembled the site plus the National Realtors Building on Michigan Avenue in the block just to the east, and was floating a proposal to replace it all with some kind of new mega-tower.  Before any details emerged, however, 42nd ward alderman Brendan Reilly quickly spiked the idea, citing the city ownership of the viaduct that is topped off by the Plaza of the Americas, which was also rumored to be part of the new tower plan.

Well, I guess it's time to fire up the rumors again.  Or is all we'll see in the indefinite future is still another surface parking lot?  Is the Goat again in jeopardy?  The most annoying part of all of this for us normal people is that the Hubbard Street walkway linking Michigan Avenue to Wabash, which re-opened after repairs not that very long ago, is again closed off.

Read More:
The Realtors Dream of a New Skyscraper, as Billy Goat's, Benito Jaurez and his plaza Contemplate their Future.

Alderman Reilly puts the brakes to the Realtors . . .

Please Tread on Me.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Butchered Burnham Monday - Will New Owners at the Bankers and Edison Buildings Rescue Massively Botched Facade Repairs?

The short answer would be appear to be “No”, but there's always room for hope.

Two vintage office buildings sit kitty-corner to each other at Clark and Adams.  Both began as elegant, upper-end structures, but neither has been treated kindly by time.

The Edison Building
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On the northeast corner, right across from the Post Office of Mies van der Rohe's Federal Center, is Daniel Burnham's Edison Building.  Completed in 1907 in Burnham's best late classical pompous style, it's anchored along both Clark and Adams by arcades of three-story high Corinthian columns. 
Above the base, the facade becomes very, very busy.  (Think Peoples Gas.) No surface remains unornamented.  It's all a bit over the top, but the Edison still has a kind of grandeur that you don't see much anymore, offering a nice counterpoint both to Mies' austerity and to its more restrained Chicago School neighbor, Holabird and Roche's 1895 Marquette Building, right next door.
The Edison tops out with another three story arcade, this one with arches sitting atop rectangular columns.  Just beneath, there's a base of inset windows set between ornament that alternates between the company logo and the lion heads that D.H. Burnham became so found of.   Lions were an extremely popular motif on Chicago buildings, a clear symbol of power.
In our own time, of course, lions are less a symbol of power than a lesson on how we're killing the animals we prize to the point of extinction.  The Edison Building is not about to become extinct, but it's certainly been battered.  In 1977, former Chicago Public Schools head Paul Vallas announced with great fanfare how much money the CPS was going to save by abandoning their offices in one of the great  Central Manufacturing District warehouses on Pershing Road and purchasing the 20-story building from Commonwealth Edison to serve as their new headquarters.  The purchase price was $8.2 million, with another $20 million was budgeted for renovations.

Little of that renovation budget seems to have been spent on the building's facade,  If the contract didn't actually go to someone's connected brother-in-law, it certainly looks like it did.  The exterior renovations read as shockingly cheap, with damaged textured terra cotta replaced with bare slabs that make the facade look like a fool's motley.
Late last month, Crain's Chicago Business's Ryan Ori reported that the CPS has sold the Edison to Blue Star Properties, for far less than the CPS had wanted.  (CPS will now be renting space in the former Boston Store building at State and Madison recently vacated by Sears.)  Ori says that Blue Star claim to be investing more than $30 million making the interiors more contemporary loft office space, removing drop ceilings to restore the original 11-foot floor heights.  No word if the facade is in line for much-needed TLC.

The Bankers Building - 105 West Adams

As with new residential structures, many developers seem to have taken the tack that people don't really care what their building looks like on the outside, as along as they have good light, a view, and the kind of interior amenities they've come to expect. 
That same principle may be at play at the building across the street from the Edison, which we wrote about last year.  By the time the 476-foot-high Bankers Building - now known by its address, 105 West Adams - was constructed in 1927, Daniel Burnham was long gone, and the design was done by the firm of his sons, Burnham Brothers.  At 41 stories, it was one of Chicago's proudest skyscrapers. Emporis cites it as the tallest Chicago building clad entirely in brick.  In retrospect, that may not have been a great idea, as over time that brick suffered the same fate as the Edison's terra cotta, but at an even greater scale.  On the inside, 105 West Adams remain a highly viable building, said to be 85% leased.  On the outside, it's become a massive billboard of visual blight, a mosaic of filthy original brick and lighter slapdash repairs stippling the facade like cheap makeup applied with a trowel.
Last week, Ryan Ori in Crain's reported that 105 West Adams is being purchased by developer John Murphy, who is also transforming nearby 100 West Monroe into a Hyatt Hotel.  On Sunday, the Trib's Blair Kamin had an article (behind the Digital Plus wall, unfortunately) on how Murphy is also planning to make the long-vacant Art Deco Chicago Motor Club Building into a hotel.  Ori says that at 105 West, Murphy's upgrades will include a new fitness center, and other renovations targeted to mid-size tenants who have seen their rental options shrinking.

It's probably too much to ask to expect something to be done about the facade, but in its present state, the exterior of 105 West Adams is a depressing presence.  Set within the landmark architecture of the South Loop, it's a civic embarrassment of major proportions.

Read More:

Image courtesy the Chuckman Collection
The Bankers Building: Improv of Decrepitude
Inside the Art Deco Chicago Motor Club: Has it Finally Found a Future?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Friday, August 15, 2014

Two Tales of the City: Chicago - History to Rubble, Ice to Glass

One day, we will probably get around to writing a major post.  This is not that day.  Instead, a couple of updates . . .

158 years of Chicago History, Quick Reduction.
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Above is a photograph of the 1855 John Russell house at the time we wrote it about it this past May.  Below is what it looked like last Saturday.
Eric Nordstrom of Urban Remains obtained the salvage rights to the property, and spent many hours exhaustively exploring and documenting the historic structure, even discovering the original western gable all but perfectly preserved in the attic after an addition extended the house. 
photograph courtesy Eric Nordstrom
Eric wrote more on his discoveries here, here and here, and he has a photo gallery on the house's erasure from Chicago's built fabric here.

Skin Transplant at Fulton Market Nears Completion

For a very different trajectory than that of the Russell House, we give you 1K Fulton.  It began as this . . . .
The massive Fulton Cold Storage building, which dominated the Fulton Market food processing district since its construction in 1920.  Things began to change, subtly at first, as Randolph Street west of the Loop began evolving as a strip of trendy restaurants, and residential, art galleries and boutiques began to infiltrate the rough, working-day environment of the Fulton Market District.  Then the dam broke when the owners of Fulton Cold Storage saw the writing on the wall, moved their operations to the suburbs and sold their massive building to Sterling Bay, the developer that is acquiring more and more property in the district.  In a bold stroke, Sterling Bay announced the rebirth of the building as 1K Fulton to design by architects Hartshorne Plunkard Architecture.
rendering: Hartshorne Plunkard
After defrosting decades of accumulated ice within the cold storage warehouse's interior, the original facades were demolished as the building was stripped to its concrete skeleton . . . 
 . . . and a completely new annex builing was constructed to the south.  Last Saturday, the new facade was almost completely on the original Fulton Cold Storage, looking not dissimilar to the old, except that the original brick was now half-brick fused into a precast-panels.
The old terra-cotta ornament was replicated in a special concrete mix molded into the new panels.
The south wall of the old building has no middle piers, but is instead a continuous glass curtain wall, giving a clear view into the interior and the columns of the original structure, and mirroring the glass walls of the new annex building just to the south.  (Inexplicably terminated on the ground floor with incongruous, Prairie-style brick piers.)
When over 500 Google employees will move to 1K Fulton next year, it will mark a tipping point of what is now a booming and rapidly changing Fulton Market District.  In June, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks passed a proposal to make many of the approximately 125 buildings in the area a protected historic district, a move that is being fought by the district's long-term landowners, who appear torn between seeking to continue their businesses amidst a district in which they are increasingly outliers, and wanting to make sure no landmark restrictions lower the price they will get if a developer wants to knock down their building for another high-rise.
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In July, the Chicago Plan Commission approved the Fulton Market Innovation District plan, designed to provide guidelines for ongoing development that preserves the area's historic elements within the high-tech Boom Town that is also “the city's last remaining market district.”

Read More:
Preservation Scorecard: Wreckers 2, Violinists 0
Strippers Attack, Heat Up Fulton Market

Monday, August 04, 2014

Pour le Concret: Chicago's new Riverwalk Emerges

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Work has been going on at the new Chicago Riverwalk, stretching along the south bank from State Street to Wacker, since early this year.   The armada of tour and pleasure boats have been circumventing construction barges all summer, as first the old concrete walkways were demolished, and new pilings put in for the expanded walkway.
After the new edges were constructed, then came the gravel - mountains of it - to create new river landfill.
After the gravel, the rebar.
And now this weekend, the towering yellow concrete pipes were put in place along Wacker, pumping concrete down to the Riverwalk below.

The project has a budget of $90 to $100 million dollars, financed by loan guarantees from the U.S. Department of Transportation, with the money to be paid back (from where has yet to be determined) over 30 years.  A collaboration between CDOT, Ross Barney Architects, and Sasaki Associates, each block of the riverwalk has its own design scheme.   The block between Clark and LaSalle was called The Theater.  Chicago Department of Transportation Manager has described it “as kind of Chicago's Spanish Steps, if you will.  We'll have this great big grand stairwell that comes down to the river, and then gently cutting throughout the stairways is a nice ramp so if you have a wheelchair, or if you have a child in the stroller, you'll be able to come from up to down.”

Before . . .

After . . . 

Read More about the new Chicago Riverwalk:

Part One - Introduction and Block One: The Marina
Part Two - Opera on the River? (or Maybe just some jazz)
Part Three - Conclusion: Swimming Holes and Wolf Calls

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Play With My Feet, Magritte

Imagine if you will, coming out of Lake Michigan after a swim at Oak Street beach.  The sun is warm. the sand hot.  Your eyes slowly adjust to the glare when, suddenly, you see it - a pair of huge silvery feet that turn . . . into boots.
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No, you haven't been stung by a rabid zebra mussel.  It's not the latest experiment in genetic engineering, or even a commentary on Hanig's Footwear being forced from their flagship store.
It's the latest inspiration from Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett in their ambitious Unthink campaign promoting the major retrospective, Magritte: the Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938, which runs at the Art Institute through October 13, 2014.  The strategy is to bring surrealism to Chicago locations other than the City Council chamber.
We've already written about the Unthink Voyeurism mural painted on the roof the Art Institute's Morton Wing, where the most surreal component is not the content of the mural but the fact that it's invisible to everyone not in a nearby tall building or airplane.
The feet at Oak Street Beach are seven feet tall, made out of plywood and carved foam, hard coated in urethane.  Each one weighs 800 pounds..  They're a re-imagining of the pair in Magritte's 1934 painting Le Model Rouge, blown up to Oldenberg proportion.  The AIC press release says they were the artist's “way of calling attention to the fact that we often cover our own flesh with dead animal flesh.” Unlike at the beach, where we uncover our flesh with plant fabric over the naughty bits.
According to the Trib, da feat is expected to stay at Oak Street until mid-month, after which they're expected to stomp down somewhere along Michigan Avenue.
Unlike the rooftop mural, accessible only to the maintenance staff, the Big Feet are doing a pretty good job of engaging beachgoers, skillfully engineered for climbing with shoelace ladders.
Theater on the Lake may have been exiled from its waterfront venue for the season, but urban theater on the beach is alive and well at Oak Street.
 And now, your Ozymandias moment of Zen . . .