Daily Southtown: South Side shop still sets stones from Indiana that fostered Chicago’s ‘White City’ style

“The rocks embedded in the exterior of Chicago’s Tribune Tower famously were collected by newspaper correspondents on assignment in far flung locales.

“The nearly 150 stones are pieces of famous structures throughout the world, including Egyptian pyramids, the Great Wall of China and St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. There’s even a Chicago brick taken from the home of Tribune founder Robert McCormick that’s dated to 1880.

“But it was the limestone surrounding the famous rocks that received special attention not long ago as the tower’s owners converted the building from newspaper offices to condominium units. The cream colored limestone was installed when the tower was constructed nearly a full century earlier, and portions were in need of repair.

“‘It was in bad shape for many reasons,’ said Tom Van Etten, of Flossmoor, co-owner of Galloy & Van Etten, the firm hired to do restoration work on the building’s stone exterior. ‘Mostly because the steel backing was rusting and there was deterioration over 100 years.’

“A year earlier, they’d completed a similar restoration across the river, at the London Guarantee and Accident building, now known as the London House Hotel, built around the same time as the Tribune Tower, using the same material. A third building, 333 N. Michigan Avenue, is another early 1920s building surrounding the Michigan Avenue Bridge clad with the same Indiana limestone.

“Both projects Van Etten’s company worked on required replacing some of the stone while matching it so the repairs would fit in seamlessly.

“‘You take some existing examples, cut them open to see what they are, go down to Bloomington and find the stone that’s the best match,’ he said. “The beauty of Indiana limestone is the stone they’re quarrying today is the same stone they quarried over 100 years ago.”

“Quarried from huge deposits around Bedford and Bloomington, Indiana, the material already had become a hit in the booming construction industry of the late 1890s. Van Etten’s great-grandfather, Dutch immigrant Abram Van Etten, hopped on the bandwagon as an 18-year-old entrepreneur when he opened his first stone shop at 123rd Street and Emerald Avenue. By 1903, he was able to construct his own shop, using Indiana limestone, at 118th and Halsted streets.

“The stone’s popularity was well deserved, said Kevin Harrington, professor emeritus of architectural history at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, who co-wrote the 2003 guidebook ‘Chicago’s Famous Buildings,’ now in its 5th printing.

“‘It’s an incredibly beautiful stone, and it’s been used for many of Chicago’s most iconic buildings,’ he said.

“Beyond the notable Michigan Avenue bridge area, there are the structures in the LaSalle Street financial district anchored by the Chicago Board of Trade building, much of Chicago’s Museum Campus area, Hyde Park and the Museum of Science and Industry — just about every area of the region.

“As economic conditions created a skyscraper boom in Chicago, ‘the city went from a shorter city to a taller city, and from a city of dark, dark buildings to a city of much lighter buildings,’ Harrington said. ‘Many of those buildings were connected to that classical language that was used at the World’s Fair.’

“Even structures built in subsequent styles, such as art deco and gothic buildings such as Tribune Tower, incorporated the creamy look of Bedford limestone. But more than its color, it was the stone’s maintenance-free qualities that made it the go-to cladding for so much of Chicago’s skyline.” (Eisenberg, Daily Southtown, 2/4/24)

Read the full story at the Daily Southtown

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