Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Y Crane? Truss Me, Block 37 is Rising Again!

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It's a story a  quarter-century in the making, but could well be the fastest start of any Chicago skyscraper ever.  As soon as west coast developer CIM Group announced that they had obtained all necessary permits for their new tower on September 10th, scaffolding appeared along Randolph Street next to the troubled Block 37 retail mall that will serve as the project's base.  Soon, a y-topped crane was in place, rising far above the roof of the existing four story building.
image courtesy The Chuckman Collection
Once this had been the site, at the corner of State and Randolph, of architect Peter Wight's Springer Block, built in 1872, and modified by Adler and Sullivan in 1884, and, at the corner of Randolph and Dearborn, Holabird and Roches's 1921 United Artists (Apollo) theatre. In 1989, the entire block was demolished for a sugar plum vision of a massive new development that would reinvigorate State Street, but for decades thereafter all that remained was a dirt-covered vacant lot.  Proposal after proposal - including one with towers by by Helmut Jahn  - failed to come to fruition.  Although right across from Marshall Field's Macy's massive flagship, the highest use this prime property achieved was as a temporary art gallery and winter ice skating rink.

Finally, in 2005, ground was broken for the four-story Block 37 shopping mall, which upon its opening promptly became a huge white elephant.  Where Lord and Taylor and Harrods of London had once been mentioned as tenants, there was, instead, a mall without an anchor, its top floors completely empty.

While the angled walkways and central light court give the interior a certain elegance, on the outside,  it's a numbingly generic building.  Shorn of the artwork value-engineered out of the original plan, the exterior finds its only relief from the visual monotony in undulations in the metal facade that, if you're lucky, self-animate when they reflect the light from signs on adjacent buildings such as the Oriental Theater . . .
or, if you're not, make the whole thing looks like slabs of aluminum siding with a case of hiccups.

Eventually the original developer lost control of the project, which was taken back by the lender, Bank of America, for $100 million, and then sold it to CIM Group for $84 million two years ago.  While 64% of the mall's 275,000 square feet remained empty, CIM has recently struck a deal for a new restaurant and earlier this month, another with AMC to bring an 11-screen, 44,000 square foot cinema complex to the tumbleweed-populated fourth floor.
Now the residential tower that was always envisioned for the northwest corner of Block 37 is finally coming into play - and quickly.  Those same hiccups that enliven the mall facades are being used by architects Solomon Cordwell Bunez to break up the monotony of the curtain wall facade of their new skyscraper, with a giant zipper of incised windows running up the full height of the tower about two thirds in on the Randolph Street side..  The roof of the mall structure will become home to an "amenity deck" for the apartment residents, including an outdoor deck, pool, spa and fitness center.  According to the building permit, structural work will include "a 5′-6″ matt transfer slab, steel transfer trusses approximately 30′-0″ tall, post-tensioned concrete slabs, concrete columns and concrete core-shear wall."
At 38 stories and 436 feet high, the Block 37 apartments at 25 West Randolph will tower over its neighbor across the street, Rapp and Rapp's 1926, 300-feet-tall Oriental Theater building, and nip away at the decades-long visual dominance of Jacques Brownson's 648-foot high Daley Center across the street to the west.  With 690 units, it will be the largest apartment building every constructed in the Loop, and the largest addition to date to a city center that has already seen its number of residential units triple - from about 2,000 to over 6,000 by next year.  It will either be culmination of a boom, or the first victim of the next real estate bubble - or perhaps both.
If things proceed as quickly as they began, we can probably expect the first tenants to move in next Friday.

Epic Flail: 
25 years of trials and tribulations at Block 37

What Would You Put under Block 37?  Crain's Opens up the Big Hole, and Wants to Know

Pebbles Go Bam Bam or Broken Glass Boogie Woogie at Block 37's 22 West Washington

Tales from the Crypt: City to Bury $300 Million Mistake under Block 37

Can Signage Save Block 37?

Block 37 Regains a Third Dimension

Hope at Block 37? - Ownership Changes Still Again

Mayor Richard M. Daley: The Emperor of Dirt

Block 37 - The Curse Lives!

The Entombment of the Plug Bug

Planning and its Disconnects: The Cautionary Tale of Block 37

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Three Splendid Churches, One Over-the-Top Movie Palace: My First Day at Open House Chicago 2014

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The first day of the Chicago Architecture Foundation's spectacular Open House Chicago 2014, which gives the architecture-loving access to 150+ sites often closed to the general public, saw us heading out to South Shore and Pilsen - three churches, one movie palace, and a few extras.  Here's a sampling of what we saw, with more complete stories soon to come.
Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church, 79th and Jeffrey in South Shore.  Joseph W. McCarthy, architect.  Dedicated 1935.

The New Regal Theater (originally the Avalon) , 1600 block of west 79th, South Shore, John Eberson, Architect.  Opened 1927


Bonus: special Open House Chicago ruptured barge sunk in the Chicago River exhibit
St. Paul's Catholic Church, 22nd and Hoyne, Pilsen.  Henry Schlaks, architect. Opened 1899.
Hector Duarte Studio, Gulliver in Wonderland mural, Pilsen
St. Adalbert Church 1600 block of west 17th, Pilsen.  Henry Schlaks, architect.  1914 - 1914
There's last more tomorrow, Sunday, on Open House Chicago's closing day, with a number of new venues that weren't open on Saturday.  I'm heading out to Union Station's to check out the usually out-of-sight women's lounge, and improv it from there.  Check out the full list of sites and hours here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Is This the End of a great Chicago Industrial Monument?

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Alby Gallun of Crain's Chicago Business was reporting yesterday that the State of Illinois is going to give it another try.  Seven years ago, $17 million was the minimum opening bid at an auction to sell off the south side site that holds the spectacular grain elevator and silos constructed by the Santa Fe Railroad in 1906 and owned by the State of Illinois since 1928. At that price, there were no takers.
Now the state's Department of Central Management Services has contracted again with Rick Levin an Associates to hold a new auction that will be on-line from November 2nd to 7th.  This time, the minimum bid is down to $3.8 million.   And I wouldn't even consider that solid.  I can imagine some developer pulling a Bill Davies - grab the property for the required bid, and then simply refuse to cut a check for anything more than 60% of the winning bid.
Transformers film shoot
The Santa Fe Grain Elevator, inactive since a 1977 explosion, has continued to deteriorate.  In 2013, it was used by director Michael Bay for various pyrotechnics for Transformers: Age of Extinction.  Then, it only appeared to be blown up, but we're edging closer to the time when a new owner may well implode the buildings for real, to clear the site for new development.
Which, of course, is a shame.  The elevator and silos are a south side landmark, a defining urban marker just west of the point where the south branch of the Chicago river becomes the Sanitary and Ship Canal, visible in skyline visible from miles away. It's one of the last - and most imposing - architectural artifacts of the grain trade that built Chicago into a great city.  The city takes great pride in its historic commercial architecture.  It's equally path-breaking industrial architecture? Not so much.

As you can see in my post from 2013 on the future and potential of the Santa Fe elevator, other cities have recognized the importance of historic structures like these, and found ways to preserve and repurpose them.  Illinois - and Chicago - simply want to sell them for scrap and make them disappear.   Standing along the Canalport Riverwalk contemplating the immensity of the Santa Fe Grain Elevator, you think how it looks like it was built to last forever, but it's shockingly vulnerable, a detonator button away from instant oblivion.

Read the full story here:

The Power of Uselessness: The History - and Potential - of Chicago's massive Santa Fe Grain Elevator

Architecture as Tinder: Michael Bay's Transformers4 blows the Santa Fe Grain Elevator

Passengers as Butterflies: Ross Barney spins Glass Cocoon on Cermak

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According to the history on the indispensable Chicago-L.org website, there was a station at Cermak for more than three-quarters of a century.  It was one of ten stations along 1892's South Side Rapid Transit, Chicago's first ‘L’ line.  Cermak was never much more than a utilitarian design.  It reached its peak carrying passengers to the Century of Progress Worlds Fair in 1933 and 1934.  As the neighborhood declines in the 1960's, so did boardings at Cermak.  In 1976, hours of operation were curtailed to, ultimately, being open for little more than rush hours.  In 1977, the station closed for good, and was demolished the following year.
Right now on the Green Line, there's a massive three-mile "no-man's land" gap between the Roosevelt stop, and the next one at 35th.  But things change.  Shortly after the turn-of-the century, Bertrand Goldberg's iconic Hilliard Homes underwent a major rehab.  The former gauntlet of auto parts stores constricted.  For the moment, Blue Star Auto endures as a memorial.  New housing and schools became to pop up, with the coffee shops, hair salons and other signs of gentrification close behind.
As early as 2002, the CTA began planning to resurrect a station at Cermak.  In 2011, incoming Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced plans for a new Cermak-McCormick Place Green Line Station station to serve both a reviving community and two of the sugar plums he has dancing in his head: a Motor Row entertainment district, and the new DePaul basketball arena.
rendering: Ross Barney architects
At a estimated cost of $50 million, which the usual TIF slush fund picking up the tab, the station is   designed by Ross Barney Architects, whose new Green Line station at Morgan Street, became at once a perfectly timed amenity and the visual marker for the booming Fulton Market District. Now, Ross Barney stands to be making the same kind of landmark on Cermak.
Koolhaas tube, IIT
The immediate precedent to the Cermak station is Rem Koolhaas's steel tube, created to isolate train noise from his new IIT McCormick Tribune Campus  Center, but there the station is south of the tube.  At Cermak, the station is the tube.
rendering: Ross Barney architects
 According to Ross Barney architects . . .
rendering: Ross Barney Architects
The station is to be built quickly, with a modest budget, without suspension of service, and of durable, low-maintenance materials. This portion of the Green Line runs within city blocks on a narrow right-of-way. Tracks could also not be moved and, as a result, narrow platforms would have to serve trains in an area with an anticipated growth in population and transit use. In addition, the client, the City of Chicago Department of Transportation, wanted a “gateway” treatment for this station that is anticipated to serve a high number of first-time visitors to Chicago.
rendering: Ross Barney Architects
A resolution of the tension in the demands of the project -- Low-cost, speedy construction, no track relocation, narrow right-of-way, and a memorable gateway – was the development of a tube over Cermak Road. Cermak Road is where the right-of-way is widest and also the spot that is most visible to the public. Locating the primary berthing for trains over Cermak Road allows for views to Chinatown, McCormick Place, and Chicago’s Loop. The perforated stainless steel and polycarbonate tube performs multiple duties: Wind and rain protection and their supports are kept off of the platform, creating more comfortably usable space for customers; materials are moved out of easy reach of vandals; and the station is easy to identify from a distance.

Glass, polycarbonate, and perforated stainless steel are used to maximize visibility, views, and natural light in the station houses and on the platform. Where used alone, the percentage “open area”, the amount of material that has been removed, in the stainless steel panels is never more than 23%. With this amount of open area, stainless steel can both provide views to and from the platform and reduce the discomfort of usual winter winds.
Ground was broken in August of 2013 for what will the 146th CTA station,  will entrances both on either side of Cermak, and at 23rd street. 
By June of this year, construction was moving along nicely . . .
  . . . with a whole lot of concrete being poured.
 Last weekend, things were coming clearly into shape.  This is what the main station house looked on Saturday . .  .
. . . and here's how it looks, completed, in this Magritte inspired rendering in which the entrance leads nowhere - no platforms, stairs or escalators are included in the depiction.  
Rest assured they'll be in the finished product, and the elevator tower is now clearly in evidence.
  The beauty of the structure is already emerging, both in its light and elegant structure . . .
. . . and the way the sunlight glistens through the translucent glass sheathing . . .
 Construction has required ten hour suspensions of Green Line service on a succession of weekends, with the last slated for 1:40 to 11:40 a.m. on both Saturday October 25th and Sunday the 26th.
It must be quite a show to see those great arched steel sections being lifted into place.
The stated completion time for the project is the end of the year.
rendering: Ross Barney Architects
Read More:

Instant Landmark: TranSystems and Ross Barney's Morgan Street Station