Posts Tagged ‘Carson Pirie Scott building’

Sharp Building 2009

December 26, 2009

Most people think of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as the institution that resided above and below the museum it gave birth to over a century ago. Yet for over 30 years the school has had its own building and in the last 20 years the School has grown even more, filling five different buildings in the Loop and occupying space in even more.

In 1976 the School occupied the Walter Netsch modernist building on Columbus Drive behind the museum, and 12 years later it purchased the Champlain Building, now the Sharp Building. A couple of years later it bought the old Illinois Athletic Club building (1908, Barnett, Haynes and Barnett) as a dorm, later converting it into classrooms and renaming it the Maclean Building.

A few more years and SAIC turned the Chicago Building (1904, Holabird & Roche) into a dormitory, which was particularly gratifying to me because I had helped save it from demolition in 1989 when I worked at Landmarks Illinois.

The School also saved a 1917 Christian Eckstorm Building on State Street and incorporated it into a new dormitory by Larry Booth, a building I had the pleasure of teaching in last year.

But I want to talk about the place I have taught for the last 15 years, the Sharp Building at 37 S. Wabash.

The Sharp Building was originally built in 1902 for the Powers school, which taught clerical skills like German, stenography and bookkeeping. My Research Studio students – first year BFA candidates – are working on an exhibit interpreting the history of the building, which is appropriate since it has just been restored.

This is also the building where we have our Master of Science in Historic Preservation studios, lab, resource center and faculty offices. We used to be on the 13th floor but now we are on the 10th, where we have two large studios overlooking the corner of Monroe and Wabash Streets.

The building’s entrance and ground floor has just been restored to the original Holabird & Roche design, which involved recreation of the elaborate terra cotta entrance, largely destroyed in the 1933 remodeling as the Champlain Building.

The restoration also involved bringing back the brick piers which originally defined the ground floor, lost in the 1947 Skidmore, Owings and Merrill transformation into a TWA ticket office.

That’s 1947.

That’s today.

There is a lot of fascinating history here: When TWA was selling airplane tickets here in 1947, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was on the 9th floor designing the Farnsworth House.

Thirty years later, my father had a travel business in the building. The TWA ticket office turned into a restaurant and then later into a bank and again into a restaurant before closing a half dozen years ago. Our program began in the building in 1993, the same year it was DENIED landmark status. Later in the 1990s it was landmarked as part of the Jeweler’s Row district. A controversial project saved the facades of three Jeweler’s Row buildings for the new 80-story Legacy highrise. That project is responsible for the restoration of the Sharp Building’s ground floor, which has just debuted this month.

It is exciting for our historic preservation graduate students to work in a building that is seeing such a sensitive restoration, expecially after the disappointing replacement of most of the original windows a decade ago.

That’s the BEFORE – note the profile and depth.

That’s the AFTER – butchered and blinded. And they’re aluminum which means they are REALLY COLD right now. This was one of the events which kicked off my window rants back in ’01. Our class even produced alternatives to replacement, to no avail.

The lobby has bits of each period – we apparently still have – in storage – the elevator doors decorated with relief French and Indian figures during the 1933 remodeling by onetime SAIC dean Hubert Ropp, who also designed lunette murals, long lost to a dropped ceiling.

My BFA students are exploring all of these themes as well as the history of the corner of Monroe and Wabash, which includes the legendary Palmer House hotel, and the Sullivan facades recently revealed on Wabash Avenue across the street, on buildings incorporated into the Louis Sullivan designed Carson Pirie Scott store at the turn of the last century.

It is a great place to work, and an especially great place to teach the many arts and sciences of heritage conservation.


Here is the show we had up this April from students in the BFA program first year:


Oh Carson’s

August 27, 2006

carson cornice

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

Chicago is beset by losses of its iconic industries of late. It seems Millenium Park has opened the door to the future and that door is slamming the back of the city’s identity. Marshall Field’s is stooping to become Macy’s as we speak, the Berghoff closed in February in a transparent ruse to demolish a landmark building, and now Carson Pirie Scott is leaving its State Street flagship store, designed over a century ago by Louis Sullivan.

The building of course, is one of the city’s first protected landmarks and was just restored to its original glory – its cornice has reappeared. The upper floors are already offices – even our new Architecture Interior Architecture Designed Objects program at SAIC is occupying the 12th floor with its character-defining column capitals – students arrive this week.

So, unlike the Berghoff dodge, Carson’s the building is in good shape, but the store goes. This is tough for me personally, because it is about the only place I shop. I got rid of my Field’s card in ’99 when they stopped making Frangos. Half of my furniture and clothes come from Carson’s.

But I see retail has changed, even as it has returned to State Street, and the Carson’s store interior was dowdy by any standards, and department stores as a type are on the downswing, even the bottom fishers like Wal-Mart.

The most excitiing thing going on in Carson’s is undoubtedly the AIADO’s new space on the 12th floor, which will have a big opening later this fall. Very cool space – made a bit less cool by current code interpretations, but hey – building codes are like medical science – they sway with the winds of fashion and change every few years.

Maybe the store’s move will free up space for the Historic Preservation program, also located in a landmark at 37 S. Wabash.

This will cause many more laments about how Chicago has lost its icons, but that has been going on for 30 years, during the whole transition away from an industrial city and into a boutique city. We don’t make steel and candy and cars and sausages so much (although we do make them) as we make lawyers and artists and IT managers and all that. Students and tourists are the downtown’s number one industry nowadays.

Landmarks are about change, not stasis. What makes something a landmark – especially an architectural landmark – is that it looks good over long, long periods of time. And through different uses.

That is what historic preservation is really about – repurposing the fabric of the past. It is the opposite of fashions that come and go. Carson’s didn’t even start out as Carson’s – Louis Sullivan worked for Schlesinger and Meyer. Now it will be something else, but that will work too.

Plus, I get to get rid of another credit card.