Last November, we were covering the destruction of the 1888 George Harvey House, the last of no less than three rare, irreplaceable Adler & Sullivan designed structures to be destroyed by fire in a single year.
2007 comes to close on a more positive note. This time it's not destruction, but construction that's going on at another three of Louis Sullivan's designs.
Last year, Sullivan's ornate long-lost cornice for his 1899 Carson Pirie Scott store was beautifully reconstructed under the direction of preservation architect Gunny Harboe, just in time for the century-old department store to announce it would be closing its doors early in 2007. The new owner, Joseph Freed & Associates, is in the process of converting most of the structure to office space, and is still seeking tenants for retail on the lower floors.
Now the Chicago City Council has given final approval to a $9.48 million TIF subsidy towards the estimated $11.82 million cost of repairing and restoring Sullivan's intricate, almost obsessively fecund foliate cast-iron ornament that frames the shop windows of the first two floors of the building. "Experience the Magic" proclaims the signage covering the scaffolding, echoing the "Something Magic is Happening" slogan on the shade put over Macy's windows when they're being changed, a Disneyfied invocation of the occult that manages to be creepy and insipid at the same time. In the case of Macy's, the unveiled "magic", except during the Christmas holiday, is usually just another pedestrian window setting. At Carson's, at least, the finished product has a much better shot at actually fulfilling the promise.
One block down State Street, opposite the Palmer House, a far more mundane - and largely unnoticed - Sullivan design, the 1884 Morgenthau, Bauland and Company store, trashed long ago in a clunky "modernization", is also covered in scaffolding for a new Ulta cosmetics store.If you look up to the building's crown, you can see the last remnants of Sullivan's ornament.
Things are also looking up at the 1881 Jeweler's Building on Wabash, designed by Sullivan before he became Sullivan, in a sort of 1870's commercial Gothic style that still manages to carry intimations of a master's touch. For as long as I can remember, the building's been trashed by the second floor windows being covered up with green-painted wood inserts.
Now, the wood is gone, the windows again revealed. The building is losing its haphazard derelict patina, and the rough beauty of the young Sullivan's conception allowed to again come through.