Monday, August 18, 2014

Butchered Burnham Monday - Will New Owners at the Bankers and Edison Buildings Rescue Massively Botched Facade Repairs?

The short answer would be appear to be “No”, but there's always room for hope.

Two vintage office buildings sit kitty-corner to each other at Clark and Adams.  Both began as elegant, upper-end structures, but neither has been treated kindly by time.

The Edison Building
click images for larger view
On the northeast corner, right across from the Post Office of Mies van der Rohe's Federal Center, is Daniel Burnham's Edison Building.  Completed in 1907 in Burnham's best late classical pompous style, it's anchored along both Clark and Adams by arcades of three-story high Corinthian columns. 
Above the base, the facade becomes very, very busy.  (Think Peoples Gas.) No surface remains unornamented.  It's all a bit over the top, but the Edison still has a kind of grandeur that you don't see much anymore, offering a nice counterpoint both to Mies' austerity and to its more restrained Chicago School neighbor, Holabird and Roche's 1895 Marquette Building, right next door.
The Edison tops out with another three story arcade, this one with arches sitting atop rectangular columns.  Just beneath, there's a base of inset windows set between ornament that alternates between the company logo and the lion heads that D.H. Burnham became so found of.   Lions were an extremely popular motif on Chicago buildings, a clear symbol of power.
In our own time, of course, lions are less a symbol of power than a lesson on how we're killing the animals we prize to the point of extinction.  The Edison Building is not about to become extinct, but it's certainly been battered.  In 1977, former Chicago Public Schools head Paul Vallas announced with great fanfare how much money the CPS was going to save by abandoning their offices in one of the great  Central Manufacturing District warehouses on Pershing Road and purchasing the 20-story building from Commonwealth Edison to serve as their new headquarters.  The purchase price was $8.2 million, with another $20 million was budgeted for renovations.

Little of that renovation budget seems to have been spent on the building's facade,  If the contract didn't actually go to someone's connected brother-in-law, it certainly looks like it did.  The exterior renovations read as shockingly cheap, with damaged textured terra cotta replaced with bare slabs that make the facade look like a fool's motley.
Late last month, Crain's Chicago Business's Ryan Ori reported that the CPS has sold the Edison to Blue Star Properties, for far less than the CPS had wanted.  (CPS will now be renting space in the former Boston Store building at State and Madison recently vacated by Sears.)  Ori says that Blue Star claim to be investing more than $30 million making the interiors more contemporary loft office space, removing drop ceilings to restore the original 11-foot floor heights.  No word if the facade is in line for much-needed TLC.

The Bankers Building - 105 West Adams

As with new residential structures, many developers seem to have taken the tack that people don't really care what their building looks like on the outside, as along as they have good light, a view, and the kind of interior amenities they've come to expect. 
That same principle may be at play at the building across the street from the Edison, which we wrote about last year.  By the time the 476-foot-high Bankers Building - now known by its address, 105 West Adams - was constructed in 1927, Daniel Burnham was long gone, and the design was done by the firm of his sons, Burnham Brothers.  At 41 stories, it was one of Chicago's proudest skyscrapers. Emporis cites it as the tallest Chicago building clad entirely in brick.  In retrospect, that may not have been a great idea, as over time that brick suffered the same fate as the Edison's terra cotta, but at an even greater scale.  On the inside, 105 West Adams remain a highly viable building, said to be 85% leased.  On the outside, it's become a massive billboard of visual blight, a mosaic of filthy original brick and lighter slapdash repairs stippling the facade like cheap makeup applied with a trowel.
Last week, Ryan Ori in Crain's reported that 105 West Adams is being purchased by developer John Murphy, who is also transforming nearby 100 West Monroe into a Hyatt Hotel.  On Sunday, the Trib's Blair Kamin had an article (behind the Digital Plus wall, unfortunately) on how Murphy is also planning to make the long-vacant Art Deco Chicago Motor Club Building into a hotel.  Ori says that at 105 West, Murphy's upgrades will include a new fitness center, and other renovations targeted to mid-size tenants who have seen their rental options shrinking.

It's probably too much to ask to expect something to be done about the facade, but in its present state, the exterior of 105 West Adams is a depressing presence.  Set within the landmark architecture of the South Loop, it's a civic embarrassment of major proportions.

Read More:

Image courtesy the Chuckman Collection
The Bankers Building: Improv of Decrepitude
Inside the Art Deco Chicago Motor Club: Has it Finally Found a Future?


CockHound2009 said...

Sadly, I think the only solution for the Bankers' Building is paint. If you gave it a meticulous cleaning, the repair bricks would still stand out. And there's no way anyone's going to redo the repairs with matching brick. Paint. The place could look great with a good coat of paint on it - do it with a light touch so as to preserve the texture of the brick, and the place would actually look great for the first time in a long time.

Unknown said...

It’s real unfortunate site to see a structure like Bankers Building in such miserable condition. It’s a hell of a task to carry out restoration work for these old buildings, but, at least, these buildings deserve a good paint job. The Edison Building is lucky for it still have some elegance left in its bricks.