Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Y Crane? Truss Me, Block 37 is Rising Again!

click images for larger view
It's a story a  quarter-century in the making, but could well be the fastest start of any Chicago skyscraper ever.  As soon as west coast developer CIM Group announced that they had obtained all necessary permits for their new tower on September 10th, scaffolding appeared along Randolph Street next to the troubled Block 37 retail mall that will serve as the project's base.  Soon, a y-topped crane was in place, rising far above the roof of the existing four story building.
image courtesy The Chuckman Collection
Once this had been the site, at the corner of State and Randolph, of architect Peter Wight's Springer Block, built in 1872, and modified by Adler and Sullivan in 1884, and, at the corner of Randolph and Dearborn, Holabird and Roches's 1921 United Artists (Apollo) theatre. In 1989, the entire block was demolished for a sugar plum vision of a massive new development that would reinvigorate State Street, but for decades thereafter all that remained was a dirt-covered vacant lot.  Proposal after proposal - including one with towers by by Helmut Jahn  - failed to come to fruition.  Although right across from Marshall Field's Macy's massive flagship, the highest use this prime property achieved was as a temporary art gallery and winter ice skating rink.

Finally, in 2005, ground was broken for the four-story Block 37 shopping mall, which upon its opening promptly became a huge white elephant.  Where Lord and Taylor and Harrods of London had once been mentioned as tenants, there was, instead, a mall without an anchor, its top floors completely empty.

While the angled walkways and central light court give the interior a certain elegance, on the outside,  it's a numbingly generic building.  Shorn of the artwork value-engineered out of the original plan, the exterior finds its only relief from the visual monotony in undulations in the metal facade that, if you're lucky, self-animate when they reflect the light from signs on adjacent buildings such as the Oriental Theater . . .
or, if you're not, make the whole thing looks like slabs of aluminum siding with a case of hiccups.

Eventually the original developer lost control of the project, which was taken back by the lender, Bank of America, for $100 million, and then sold it to CIM Group for $84 million two years ago.  While 64% of the mall's 275,000 square feet remained empty, CIM has recently struck a deal for a new restaurant and earlier this month, another with AMC to bring an 11-screen, 44,000 square foot cinema complex to the tumbleweed-populated fourth floor.
Now the residential tower that was always envisioned for the northwest corner of Block 37 is finally coming into play - and quickly.  Those same hiccups that enliven the mall facades are being used by architects Solomon Cordwell Bunez to break up the monotony of the curtain wall facade of their new skyscraper, with a giant zipper of incised windows running up the full height of the tower about two thirds in on the Randolph Street side..  The roof of the mall structure will become home to an "amenity deck" for the apartment residents, including an outdoor deck, pool, spa and fitness center.  According to the building permit, structural work will include "a 5′-6″ matt transfer slab, steel transfer trusses approximately 30′-0″ tall, post-tensioned concrete slabs, concrete columns and concrete core-shear wall."
At 38 stories and 436 feet high, the Block 37 apartments at 25 West Randolph will tower over its neighbor across the street, Rapp and Rapp's 1926, 300-feet-tall Oriental Theater building, and nip away at the decades-long visual dominance of Jacques Brownson's 648-foot high Daley Center across the street to the west.  With 690 units, it will be the largest apartment building every constructed in the Loop, and the largest addition to date to a city center that has already seen its number of residential units triple - from about 2,000 to over 6,000 by next year.  It will either be culmination of a boom, or the first victim of the next real estate bubble - or perhaps both.
If things proceed as quickly as they began, we can probably expect the first tenants to move in next Friday.

Epic Flail: 
25 years of trials and tribulations at Block 37

What Would You Put under Block 37?  Crain's Opens up the Big Hole, and Wants to Know

Pebbles Go Bam Bam or Broken Glass Boogie Woogie at Block 37's 22 West Washington

Tales from the Crypt: City to Bury $300 Million Mistake under Block 37

Can Signage Save Block 37?

Block 37 Regains a Third Dimension

Hope at Block 37? - Ownership Changes Still Again

Mayor Richard M. Daley: The Emperor of Dirt

Block 37 - The Curse Lives!

The Entombment of the Plug Bug

Planning and its Disconnects: The Cautionary Tale of Block 37


Anonymous said...

While Block 37 is no masterpiece, it's still better visually than that giant marble and stainless steel box, otherwise known as Water Tower Place.

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