Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Old Colony emerges from the Gloom

In 1979, the great Harry Weese created a study for the U.S. Interior Department, Four Landmark Buildings in Chicago's Loop, that laid options for the adaptive re-use of four of Chicago's most important early skyscrapers.

Two of those buildings found loving owners - William McDonnell in the case of the Monadnock, and the MacArthur foundation for the Marquette - who painstakingly restored them to their original glory. The Manhattan was converted to condo's.
Only the Old Colony, despite being designated an official Chicago landmark in 1978, failed to find a saviour. In 1979, its 133,000 square feet were 85% leased, but in a Crain's report from this past March, one of the building's angry tenants said it had largely "emptied out" as the Old Colony, under an ownership group headed by a man Richard M. Daley once labeled a slumlord, became increasingly dilapidated. Crain's reported the building has now been bought by Joseph Cacciatore & Company, although no one at Cacciatore was talking, and their ultimate plans remain unknown.
Already, however, there's a very distinctive evidence of the new owner on Dearborn street (and thanks to Joel Flaxman for tipping us off about this.) Decades of grime that have given the Old Colony, for as long as anyone can remember, the patina of a coal bin, are being cleaned away to reveal - surprise, surprise, a light handsome brick.

The arcade, beneath the still-intact cornice, is revealed to be, not the dank aerie to which we've grown accustomed, but a wonderfully bright and graceful vertical coda.
The amount of work needed to bring the Old Colony back, inside and out, is almost beyond imagination. But here's hoping.

7 comments:

BWChicago said...

oh wow! what a lovely surprise!

Thomas Westgard said...

This is definitely a case of the photo being worth 1000 words. You can describe it, but nothing beats seeing the difference as the grime comes away.

sabrina said...

In my office, I just moved into an east-facing space from a west-facing area and today I looked out the window and absolutely gaped to see the Old Colony building. I walk past it regularly and take the scaffolding for granted, but I had no idea what they were doing. It is astonishing to see the cleaned brick appearing -- I had no idea it wasn't made of black brick! Thanks for the blog post to help explain!

Agent_Luke said...

Great pics. Good story.

Rick Lightburn said...

Alas, even the bath isn't enough to save it, IMO.
The Old Colony has a slant that's quite noticeable: look at the seam with the Plymouth building south of it, and you can see that it leans west and north.
The Old Colony was built as a mate with the Marquette--same architects, same time--but the changes to the lobby entrance have been huge, and maybe too much.
The brick veneer has deteriorated badly, and these scars are deep and visible. Unless it gets a deep-pocketed owner like the MacArthur Foundation, it won't get restored like the other buildings.
It won't have the benefit of the great sitelines that the Marquette, Monadnock, Rookery, or even Fisher building had. It's too close to the El, and was on the wrong side of those tracks for two long.
Finally, it's plumbing and heating system is somehow integral to the structure of the building, so it can't be replaced.
Yes, it's a lovely surprise.

BWChicago said...

Gee, hope you never have to go in the Auditorium Building

Nate said...

A great link to information about the Old Colony building systems.

http://www.chiefengineer.org/article.cfm?seqnum1=525

In addition to the cleaning, the Van Buren facade will be restored and the windows will be repaired.