Posts Tagged ‘Jeweler’s Row Chicago’

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:



November 8, 2007

vw out my windowS

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

This view is protected – for now.

One of the reasons we preserve historical things is a desire to preserve history, which is related to a desire to learn from history. The presumption is that learning from history can positively impact our decisions about the future.

In discussing the proposed addition to the Chicago Athletic Association on Michigan Avenue, most preservationists talk about the terrible precedent being set. The rear two-thirds of the building will be demolished and a two-stage glass addition will be added to the top, limited by the height of the original Madison Street addition. The precedent, of course, is that every other building on Michigan Avenue will demand to do something similar.

We had a similar precedent-setting issue regarding the Legacy, the 80-story monster being perched on top of three historic facades in the Jeweler’s Row district right next to our building. It’s precedent was the Heritage three blocks north, although not a designated landmark district. We have the horrible precedent of North Michigan Avenue’s Farwell Building, to be skinned and reclad on a new structure, just as the McGraw-Hill Building was a decade ago (setting the precedent).

I have a problem with precedent. I like to argue that preservation is a practice beyond precedent because it recognizes the particularity, singularity and uniqueness of every structure in its history and design. No decision made for one building can prefigure another because they are not equivalent buildings. Preservation denies the economists’ passion of alienating every aspect of the material world into an interchangeable commodity. There is only one other building on Michigan Avenue with an L-shaped plan that comes out on the sidestreet (and it is an individual landmark), so the Chicago Athletic Association is pretty unique. Does it merit individual landmark status that would preserve more than the first 30 or 50 feet? Of course.

Lawyers love precedent. It IS English Common Law, which is just a series of historical decisions descending from the weakness of King John in 1215. The idea of precedent is tied to the idea of equity we wrote down in the Constitution – equal rights under law, speedy trials, habeas corpus and all of that democracy stuff that was so popular during the 20th century.

Regular people like precedent too – other owners in the district will march in with their own glasstop additions if this is approved, that much is sure.

Precedent is history, and it follows that same idea that we can learn from history. Nice idea, although history does not bear it out. We don’t learn from history and everyone who tries fails at predicting the future. As a student of history, I find it much more anarchic. I love history not because of its patterns or its predictability but because of its particularity, singularity, uniqueness and anarchy.

The question for you is – do you want anarchy on Michigan Avenue or predictability? Because that is the question that has created most historic districts in this country and the overwhelming answer, the democratic answer, is predictability.

Behind The Scenes

October 12, 2006

legacy face opensS

Originally uploaded by vincusses.

They are pounding huge caissons into the sidewalk (?) just outside our building as they continue work on The Legacy – a 70-plus story tower they are building next door to our building. I’m trying to suss the structural reason for caissons out there – maybe to transfer loads since they are saving the facades of three landmark district buildings. I was chatting with Mark Igleski about the facades, since his firm is working on them, and he noted that even though the facades date from 1870s – 1970s, the buildings behind are ALL 1870s.

You don’t get buildings older than 1872 in downtown Chicago because it all burned down in 1871. They often have cast iron structural columns, the predecessors to the famous Chicago School steel frame skyscraper of the 1880s.

I never knew about these Wabash Jeweler’s Row buildings – the Kroch & Brentano’s was a classic 1910 Chicago School facade with big windows and cornice and clean brick piers. Turns out, according to Mark, that the entire facade was rebuilt – even changing the number of bays – but the rear of the building remained 1870s. Same with its terra cotta neighbor. Only one building has anything of the 1870s on the facade, and then only two stories, with two top stories screaming 1905 and two lower stories bellowing 1975.

So, another irony on this already-objected-to facadism – the oldest parts of the buildings are going in the dumpster, in order to save the facades. Chalk it up as another reason to avoid facadism.

By the way, it is snowing in Chicago today.