Wednesday, January 02, 2008

"Stunning" Burnham and Root San Francisco Chronicle Building restoration unveiled

"Stunning"is how San Francisco Chronicle architecture critic John King describes the restoration of the building Burnham and Root designed for that newspaper in 1890. This is what it originally looked like, in a historic postcard that appears on the Curbed SF website.

According to King, the four-story clock story, ballyhooed by the paper as "the only bronze one in the United States", lasted only to 1905, when it was set ablaze by skyrockets set off by supporters celebrating the re-election of Mayor Eugene Schmitz, who the Chronicle had opposed, as they paraded past its offices. The next year was even worse. The building survived the Great San Francisco earthquake, but a fire broke out in the top floor, sending the heavy typesetting equipment plunging all the way through to the basement.

In the 1960's, long after the Chronicle moved to a new location in 1924, the old building underwent a disfiguring "modernization" that saw Root's original facades covered over in aluminum and glass. Although I made a point of often visiting Burnham and Root's other San Francisco commission, the 1892 Mills Building, when I lived in the city for a few months in 1982, I can't recall ever even noticing their other treasure, buried beneath all that metal. You can see what that atrocity looked like, and the re-unveiling of Root's original Richardsonian entrance arch, in Curbed/SF's sequence of photos.

Ironically enough, the building is now the Ritz Carlton Club and Residences, fronting for a tower King calls "so uninspired it almost undoes the good work below." Sound familiar? It should, because another Ritz-Carlton Residences is pulling the same trick on Chicago's North Michigan Avenue, where the landmark 1920's Farwell Building is being demolished to provide a staging site for the construction of a new skyscraper for the Ritz-Carlton Residences, after which the flayed skin of the Farwell will be slapped onto a completely new building.


Pete said...

What a stunning revelation it is to find such a magnificent old building under that hideous steel shell. Lynn, do you know of any significant historic structures here in Chicago that are similarly hidden behind ill-conceived "modernization" efforts?

Anonymous said...

Will the Farwell be destroyed? The project is far behind schedule and the market is terrible.

Anonymous said...

I was thinking the same thing about the Farwell. But the developers have all but signaled something major is going to happen, given the tacky "30%, 40% Sold" sign that hasn't upticked beyond 40% since August 07. They would probably just let the building sit and rot until the market gets better. That butt-ugly scaffolding will catch whatever falls from the roof or cornice.

Last I saw, the street level retailers are still moving out, though the scaffolding has a bunch of ultra cheapo signs with the retailers' logos inkjet'd on them.

JBP said...

Significant historic structures here in Chicago that are similarly hidden behind ill-conceived "modernization" efforts?...

Holabird and Root's Beef and Brandy building on State Street is always a visual pleasure.