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Chicago Apartments

A Century of Lakefront Luxury

By Neil Harris, with preface by Sara Paretsky, Acanthus Press, 352 pages, 2004, $75

Book cover

Book cover

By Carter B. Horsley

This excellent book on Chicago apartment buildings has superb black-and-white photographs of almost 100 distinctive buildings, many with pictures of some of their spectacular interiors.

It is written by Neil Harris, the Preston and Sterling Morton Professor of History and Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago.

860 and 880 North Lake Shore Drive

860 and 880 North Lake Shore Drive

Mies van der Rohe, architect, Holsman, Klekamp, and Pace Associates, associate architects, 1951

Mr. Harris remarks in his book that "these two 26-story towers, the Glass Houses as they have long been known, are among Chicago's most photographed buildings and probably constitute the most celebrated apartment houses of the 20th Century."

"Almost at once," he continued, "860-880 North Lake Shore Drive received international recognition and won an impressive set of awards. Mies van der Rohe's design, brought to fruition because of developer Herbert Greenward's energy and confidence, helped move Chicago and much of America down the road toward modern steel and glass buildings as the basic prototype for high-rise office and residential structures alike. Few if any of these later buildings matched the formal elegance of the $6 million Glass Houses, whose refinement rested not simply on the functionalist ethos Mies proclaimed, but on a formalist aesthetic which required use of some of the structural materials as ornament. The floor plans went through a series of changes; developer Greenwalk persuaded Mies to make them tighter and less open, thus more appealing to American tastes. The two buildings contain more than 200 units; 860 was planed for 90 three-bedroom apartments, and 880 for 158 one-bedroom apartments. Many owners have created their own spaces by combining units. Modest in scale and simple in layout, the apartments enjoyed views enhanced by the glass walls."

The buildings were erected the same year as Lever House in New York, which was designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, and several years before the Seagram Building one block away on Park Avenue, which was designed by Mies and Philip Johnson. Along with the earlier United Nations Building in Manhattan, these projects set the standard for glass curtain-wall buildings for decades and remain as some of the most famous architectural masterpieces of the 20th Century.

Lake Point Tower

505 North Lake Shore Drive (Lake Point Tower)

Schiporeit-Heinrich, Architects; Crane Construction, builder, 1968

The most beautiful skyscraper in the United States, Lake Point Tower was designed by Schiporeit-Heinrich for Crane Construction in 1968. George Schiporeit and John Heinrich had worked for Mies van der Rohe and this design was influenced by one of his unrealized designs from almost half a century earlier. "The 69-story, Y-shaped, curtain-walled structure sits atop a podium, which contains the garage and various support facilties. A small garden with pools and playground gives the building its own landscaped setting....Originally a rental with a string of one-bedroom and efficiency apartments complementing larger units, Lake Point Tower is now a condominium with quite a few units that have been combined," according to the book."

John Hancock Center

175 East Delaware Place (John Hancock Center)

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architects; Tishman Construction, builder, 1970

The book notes that the "complex construction challenges" of 175 East Delaware Place "clouded the fortunes of its original developer, Jerry Wolman, who had to sell it before its completion to the John Hancock Life Insurance Company." "The joint product of architect Bruce Graham and engineer Fazlur Kahn, who devised his ingenious braces and tubular contruction for the building, the Hancock Center," the entry continued, "contains the world's highest residences. The 44th floor lobby and swimming pool begin a set of apartments that continue through the 92nd floor. It originally housed 711 apartments, but some have been combined. The building also contains 29 floors of offices, an observatory, restaurants, stores - including its own grocery store - and other facilities." The rental apartments were converted to condominiums in 1973.

The building's elegant slanting lines and bold but almost delicate bracing combined with its dark color make this stunning monolith the best formally dressed mixed-use tower in the country.

Marina City

Marina City, 300 North State Street

Bertrand Goldberg, architect; James McHugh Construction Company, builder, 1964

Marina City is one of Chicago's most famous 20th Century architectural icons. The lower quarter or so of its twin, "corncob" towers are devoted to parking and are separated visually by an indentation below the baclonied apartments in the mixed-use complex.

Mr. Harris provides the following commentary:

"These two 60-story reinforced concrete tower mark a key moment in Chicago's rebuilding after World War II. Built at a time of anxiety about the future of American cities, this urban enclave's mingling of offices, apartments, restaurants, shopes, recreational spaces, marina, and parking was meant to counter the growing appeal of the suburbs. The Building Services Employees International Union, led by William McFetridge, purchased the land from the Chicago and North Western Railway and turned to Bertrand Goldberg for a plan. After some initial proposals, Goldberg offered the tallest cylindrical buildings yet constructed, containing almost 900 apartments and space for as many automobiles. Its choice riverfront location and distinctive appearance helped propel the project to success, and gave Chicago another widely recognized architectural icon. Room sizes were relatively modest, accepting the dominant post-war standards; kitchens were small, there were no formal dining rooms, and heating and cooling elements were visible below the windows. Yet the balconies and superb views helped compensate for the spatial constraints brought on by the unusual design, and the whole made for, in Carl Condit's words 'a staggering exhibition of structural virtuosity' on a site that seemed extradinarily appropriate for it."

The Powhatan

1648 East 50th Street (4950 South Chicago Beach Drive)(The Powhatan)

Robert S. Golyer, architect; Charles B. Johnson & Son, builder, 1929

"An art deco landmark inside and out, the limestone-faced Powhatan bears the influence of Eliel Saarinen's second place entry in the Chicago Tribune Tower Competition just a few years earlier, as well as the design ideals of Charles L. Morgan, the associate architect. Morgan was an active graphic artist, avowed modernist, and associate of Frank Lloyd wright. He was responsible for the colorful mosaics and specially designed tiles lining the inner and outer lobbies as well as the elegant ballroom and the terra-cotta details ont he exterior. A couple of mosaic panels in the swmming pool suggest the mural abstractions at Wright's Midway Gardens, where Morgan had worked; that complex was being demolished just as the Powhatan was nearing completion....The well preserved ballroom sits atop the building, with terraces north and south. 'All the luxuries of an ocean liner,' marveled a contemporary Chicago journalist. American Indian references can be found throughout, from the entrance doors and light fixtures to the extraordinary spandrels, whos colorul abstractions were intended to evoke native themes and the waters of Lake Michicagn."

The Eddystone

Rendering of unbuilt 421 West Melrose Street (The Eddystone)

Holabird & Root, architects; Lind Construction Company, builder, 1929

Albert W. Swayne planned a huge cooperative apartment project to house more than 2,000 people with a central tower rising 420 feet high designed by Holabird & Root. The Depression intervened, however, and only a small component with 85 apartments was erected.

The Windemere

Entrance and driveway of 1644 East 56th Street (the Windemere)

C.W. & George L. Rapp, architects; Thompson Starrett, builder, 1924

An elegant, 12-story, C-shaped building that faces Jackson Park and the Museum of Science Building, the Windemere was erected just to the esat of the famous old Windemere that had been built in 1893 for the World's Fair and the two buildings were connected by tunnels, according to Mr. Harris. The old Windemere had been wired for a telephone in every room and the new one was wired for radio. The building was foreclosed in the Depression and in the 1970s it was acquired by the University of Chicago only to be resold about a decade later and renovated as a rental apartment building.

1260 and 1301 North Astor Street

1260 and 1301 North Astor Street

Philip B. Maher, architect; Ouilmette Construction Co., builder, 1931

1260 and 1301 North Astor Street are two very strongly designed towers that are very similar and which appear to have been cut off at the tops. They were designed by Philip B. Majer in 1931. "Completed at a time when many Chicago cooperatives were starting to go to bankrupt, 1260 Astor was saved by the wealth of its organizing syndicate which included stockbroker Barrett Wendell, George Ranney, president of International Harvester, and Sterling Morton, of Morton Salt and Teletype Corporation. These last two occupied customized duplex apartments on the building's four top floors, which were designed by Paul Schweikher, who worked in the Maher hoffice. Philip Maher designed at least two other apartments as well. Other early residents included Potter Palmer III."

1500 North Lake Shore Drive

1500 North Lake Shore Drive

McNally & Quinn Architects; Rosario Candela, associate architect; Turner Construction, builder, 1929

Mr. Harris provides the following commentary for 1500 North Lake Shore Drive:

"1500 North Lake Shore Drive occupies the site where the great Chicago newspaper publisher Victor Lawson had built his million dollar, built-to-last mansion. Portions of the house were, in fact, inserted into some apartments of the new building. At 25 stories high, of limestone and brick in French Rensaissance style, 1500 presented itself a s a different kind of cooperative from the start. 'Olympus is more beautiful,' Ruth Bergman wrote in the Chicagoan, 'but the gods have never chilled their nectar in such magnificent ice boxes.' For one thing, there was its expense, estimates running at $5 million for land and building. For another, there was the New York participation of architect Rosario Candela, real estate advisor Douglas Elliman & Co., and Turner Construction. 'Manhattan seems to figure excessively in this project,' Al Chase reflected in the Chicago Tribune. Finally, the 57 apartments, most of which were sold before the building had been completed, offered purchasers the opportunity of being individually designed. Their only common features, noted one journalist, were silver vaults and wood-burning fireplaces. a series of architect created interior spaces for individual clients, although Turner Constuction completely finished the building's interiors to the architects' specifications."

1540 North Lake Shore Drive

1540 North Lake Shore Drive

Huszagh & Hill, architects; Avery Brundage, builder, 1926

The 17-story apartment building at 1540 North Lake Shore Drive was designed by Huszagh & Hill and built by Avery Brundage, who would later get involved in the Olympics, in 1926. It is particularly striking not only for its steep slate, French chateau-style roof and three-story rusticated limestone base in the Adam style, but also for its three very narrow but bold light-colored piers on its front, red-brick facade culminating in three large stone columns that demark some double-height windows. The buildig had two eight-room apartments on most floors and went into receivership during the Depression but the entry notes that in 1947 ninety "percent of its 30 resident families combined to return the building to cooperative status."

200 East Pearson Street

200 East Pearson Street (Campbell Apartments)

Robert S. Golyer, architect, Nelson Bedgbo, builder, 1917

A classic modern version of an Italian Renaissance palazzo, the six-story apartment building at 200 East Pearson was designed by Robert S. Golyer for Nelson Bedgbo in 1917 and with its pronounced stringcourses, quoins and cornice and rusticated entrance surround it is an imposing structure that appears more monumental than its actual size. "The brown brick building, with cast concrete and metal trim, is locally celebrated as the home of Mies van der Rohe, who continued living there after completing and apparently briefly contemplating moving to to his Lake Shore Drive Glass Houses a few blocks away. Whatever the reasons for his decision, the obvious ironies have served critics of modernism as a metaphorical label for its shortcomings," Mr. Harris wrote.

3300 North Lake Shore Drive

3300 North Lake Shore Drive (Sheridan-Aldine Apartments)

Rissman & Hirschfeld, architects; Edwin D. Krenn, associate architect; McLennan Construction, builder, 1927

The quite stately, 17-story apartment building at 3300 North Lake Shore Drive is distinguished by its stone urns on a balustrade at the top of the building and the 12-by-10-foot sun parlors at the building's curved corner at the intersection of Aldine Avenue and Sheridan Road.

The book's entry notes that the Italian Renaissance-inspired structure "was part of the real estate empire of the Edith Rockefeller McCormick Trust, which purchased the land in 1925." "Mrs. McCormick, daughter of John D. Rockefeller, lived for a time in the building," it continued, adding that "The principal architects, Maurice B. Rissman and Leo S. Hirschfeld, devised a series of significant Chicago apartment buildings, several of them quite large by contemporary standards."

919 North Michigan Avenue

919 North Michigan Avenue (originally Palmolive Building and former Playboy Building)

Holabird & Root, 1929; condominium conversion, Booth Hansen, 2004

Mr. Harris describes the tower at 919 North Michigan Avenue as having been "Chicago's most distinctive art deco monument," adding that "its elegant setbacks, carved elevator door panels, nickel metal mail boxes, walnut and marble lobby, etched glass lighting, revolving Lindbergh Beacon, and sleek profile summed up the spirit of the 1920s moderne." "After Colgate-Palmolive moved out in 1934, the building was sold a number of times, and served for some years at the headquarters for Playboy Enterprises," the entry for this building declared, adding that in the 1930's Bror Dahlberg, the president of the Celotex Company, had an apartment on the 32nd floor and the book includes two interior shots of that apartment.

Olympic Centre

161 East Chicago Avenue (Olympia Centre)

Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, architects' Paschen Contractions; Gust. K. Newberg Construction, 1986

Olympia Centre is a 63-story, sloping, mixed-use tower whose retail base is occupied by Neiman-Marcus.

1418 North Lake Shore Drive

1418 North Lake Shore Drive

Solomon Cordwell Buenz, architects; Mayfair Construction, 1983

The book entry on 1418 North Lake Shore Drive, which was designed by Solomon Cordwell Buenz for Mayfair Construction in 1983 noted that it was the first multi-family structure with one residence per floor to be constructed in Chicago since 1929. The 28-story building has 27 apartments and "three tiers of angled and cantilevered windows permit the residents to see the wall of apartments to the south and north as well as the lake itself."

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