Monday, April 21, 2008

Does This Make My Butt Look Fat?

All of us have body parts that, while fully functional and probably essential, don't always show us in our best light. Seen from the south, the bustle building pictured here forms a perfectly proportioned element of the composition of 1955's Prudential Building. Seen from the southeast, however, the complex appears to be packing a big trunk. (Originally there was supposed to be a twin bustle along the west side of the building.) Probably back in 1955, when the Prudential marked the easterly point where building ended, no one envisioned how new construction would push further and further east, putting the Prudential in the shadow of newer, larger, taller towers, and the bustle on more conspicuous display.

Recently, the indispensable Lee Bey ran a post on his The Urban Observer blog on Naess and Murphy's Prudential Building, built over railroad air rights, and the first skyscraper to be completed in the city after the onset of the Great Depression. Adding a visual marker to the north end of Grant Park, the 42-story structure immediately became the Chicago's premiere office address, and its tallest building. You could see the whole of Chicago from its observation deck, which you accessed from the world's fastest elevators and what were then said to be the world's highest escalators. Within a year, the observation deck had attracted a million visitors. Long before Windows to the World, Stouffer's Top of the Rock restaurant was the place for special occasions and the expense account crowd. And just in case you missed the branding, Prudential, according to Bey, also paid famed sculptor Alfonso Iannelli $7,500 to create the massive relief of the Rock of Gibraltar on the building's western facade.

The restaurant and observatory are long gone. It's not even the Prudential Building anymore, just One Prudential Plaza, to demarcate it from its bigger, but not necessarily better, offspring to the North. From the Chase Promenade of what is now Millennium Park, however, The Prudential still offers up a beautifully scaled landmark that remains one of the most iconic and graceful visual anchors in Chicago.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I used to work there and walked past that bustle every day - I think your being harsh of it. Theres an air of monumentality and sterility that the bustle and the Aon buildings exagerated vertical lines make that seems just right. Although one could squeaze a Dicks Last Resort into it just as well;)

Anonymous said...

The owner is planning to completely alter the facade too, so it won't be a "landmark" for much longer.

Anonymous said...

I remember looking out at the city and the lake as a young child up in the Prudential's observation deck.

They had those flat-faced, bug-head-looking telescopes that you could put a nickel in (or was it a penny) and look down to see people sitting in their boats in Monroe Harbor.

Looking to the southwest, you were looking DOWN on the entire loop. Holy cow, has THAT changed.

Anonymous said...

My mother would take me for dinner on Sundays there when I was young, mid 60s time frame. I can remember great meals and the views were spectacular from the deck. I tried to recreate one of those dinners in 1978 with my wife from my then home of Texas. All gone by that time. Great childhood memory of a great time and a great city.