Sunday, April 29, 2012

At Daniel Burnham's landmark, Goodbye Santa Fe, hello Motorola

click images for larger view
The agenda for this Thursday's Permit Review Committee meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks contains the following item . . .
Proposed reface of the existing non-historic illuminated rooftop "Santa Fe" sign with new illuminated "Motorola" copy on existing structure, detailed in plans dated 3/12/12.
What it comes down to is this:  the sign that marked the identify for as long as anyone can remember of the Daniel Burnham designed 1904 Railway Exchange Building, with its porthole windows and gleaming terra cotta, is about to go away.

Last Thursday, Crain's Chicago Business reported that Motorola Solutions is moving 100 of its employees from Schaumburg to the seventh floor of the Santa Fe, owned since 2006 by the University of Notre Dame.   The Santa Fe has other large tenants, including such architectural firms as SOM, VOA and Goettsch Partners, which I would suspect have just as many employees or more, but apparently Motorola's deal includes the right to rename the building.  So now the landmark sign, in front of the nondescript penthouse in which Daniel Burnham wrote his 1909 Plan of Chicago, will soon read "Motorola".
 The company has signed a ten-year lease, but in the churn of global economics, you have to wonder if it will have anywhere near the shelf life of the structure's previous incarnation.
And speaking of the Landmarks Commission, the Commission staff - Terry Tatum, Lisa Napoles, and Matt Crawford, with Eleanor Gorski as editor -  has done another bang-up job in creating a Preliminary Summary of Information report for the Portage Theatre Building, which is up Chicago for landmark status even as the Chicago Tabernacle is fighting to purchase the theater to turn it into a church.  The group, represented by James (wink, wink) Banks before the Zoning Board of Appeals, is trying to blow past opposition from preservationists, neighborhood activists and 45th ward alderman John Arena.

Tower Theatre
The Commission report, beautifully and exhaustively illustrated, includes not only not only a comprehensive description of the Portage Theatre Building, but histories of early Chicago movie theaters, the Portage's architects, terra cotta use in Chicago building, and even of the Portage's "Six Corners" shopping district.  Among the pictures we we found this spectacular rendering of architect Meyer Fridstein's Tower Theater on 63rd street, a 3,000-seat house now almost completely forgotten.  For anyone who cares about Chicago architecture and history, the Portage Theatre Building report is a must-read, and you can download it here.


BWChicago said...

I thought that the developers wanted to remove the Santa Fe sign while the building was being restored but that Landmarks found it significant in its own right. It would make zero sense to allow it to be replaced, as if they had allowed it to be removed, they certainly would not allow it to be added. Could this be an unintended consequence of allowing Toyota at Wrigley Field?

Anonymous said...

This is insane. No!

Pete said...

I hope the owner is smart enough to keep the sign in storage, so it can be put back up in five years when Motorola gets swallowed up by another company and the corporate name disappears.

Anonymous said...


This potentially reflects one of two things, both bad.

Either someone at some exclusive suburban country club is about to win a toke bet about being the a**hole who negotiated the removal of a timeless Chicago landmark, or:

This reflects the cluelessness and thus marketplace struggles of a venerable Chicago corporation.

This is like messing with the Citgo sign in Boston. What idiotic corporate drone would initiate such a losing battling?

Someone better get their resume tuned up...

Anonymous said...

small point:
Goettsch Partners

Lynn Becker said...

bloggers don't proofread. thanks for catching. corrected.