|photograph: Bob Johnson (click images for larger view)|
With an easement to build a trestle and breakwater a short distance from shore, the Illinois Central Railroad had controlled Chicago's lakefront since the 1850's. From the bank of the river southward, the IC had created a massive railyard, dominated by a huge sign for Pabst beer as it met Michigan Avenue to the east was the most ambitious bit of construction on the site.
|photograph: Library of Congress|
At 42 stories and 601 feet, the Prudential would fall just four feet short of overtaking the Board of Trade as Chicago's tallest building. Designed by Naess and Murphy, it broke ground on August 12, 1952. At nearly 22 million cubic feet, it was the fifth larger building in the city. Each of its 2,617 windows were double-glazed, and designed to allow both sides to be washed from the inside.
Alfonso Iannelli: Modern by Design, Prudential and their architects were determined to incorporate the company's Rock of Gibraltar logo in the design. They considered making it a plaza-level fountain, or depicting it in a stained glass window above the entrance. “In the end, the client and architects decided on a thirty-foot-high bas relief eight stories up the blank west-facing wall of the Randolph Street section.” Iannelli received $14,120 for the commission. It would be his last major work.
The Prudential had its own branch post office, with nearly 100 workers. Overall, the building had a workday population of over 8,000 people. It immediately became Chicago's prestige office address, with tenants including blue chip advertising firms Needham, Louis and Brorby and, from 1956 to 1989, Leo Burnett. Prudential Insurance took up the first eight floors of offices, launching “Operation Crosstown” - 6 large vans, 30 movers and 80 trips - to transport its 1,500 employees from their temporary quarters at the Butler Brothers warehouse at 165 North Canal.
When the $40,000,000 building was dedicated on December 8th, 1955, newspapers and other memorabilia were placed in a time capsule to be opened in the year 2000. Has it ever been uncovered? There's no doubt it would have been a snapshot from a very different time. Two of the four newspaper that existed in 1955 disappeared long ago, and the two survivors don't look too healthy now, either.
|image courtesy The Chuckman Collection|
|Two Prudential Plaza|
report by Ryan Ori in Crain's Chicago Business, the two Prudential buildings have only recently emerged from being “zombie” buildings. The owners had so highly leveraged the two towers that after the 2008 crash, and the loss of some key tenants, there was no longer enough cash flow to finance the basic maintenance and improvements needed to attract replacement tenants for the nearly 40% of the space - mostly in the original Prudential - now or soon-to-be vacant.
In June of this year, a NewYork-based consortium restructured the debt and gained control of the two Prudentials. They've committed $100 million to upgrading the complex. The most visible component of that process is the current bit of street theater, as workers on scaffolds at vertigo-inducing heights are restoring the facade of the Prudential to its original luster.
restoration by Alumitec, “each window frame and spandrel panel will be detailed by hand utilizing abrasive cleaning methods to restore the aluminum to its intended appearance, then sealed with the Alumitec wipe-on sealer to protect the finish and restore its metallic sheen.” South and west elevations are scheduled to completed this year, north and east in 2014. It won't set back the clock to Prudential's original pioneering status, but when those panels catch the sun, they'll flash a moment of architectural history, the mid-20th century set off against the free-form shimmer of Frank Gehry's 21st.
Does This Make My Butt Look Fat?