In 2022, plans were announced to demolish of one of the most prominent buildings in the Central Manufacturing District’s-Original East District (CMD East), the Continental Can Building at 3815 S. Ashland Avenue, for the construction of a new cold storage facility. The historic structure, notable for its Gothic terra cotta detailing and eye-catching tower, was designed by the district’s then-in-house architect, Samuel Scott Joy, and completed in 1920.
For over half a century, it housed manufacturing operations for the Continental Can Company, a longstanding and important business that was a major force in the world of packaging throughout the 20th century. The building was also a major visual anchor of the CMD East’s Ashland corridor since its completion. Its tower, once one of many in the CMD East designed by Joy, is now the last remaining of its kind in the district. Located in both the Bridgeport and McKinley Park neighborhoods on the city’s Southwest Side, the Central Manufacturing District’s Original East District (CMD East), is today recognized as an especially important site in the history of Chicago: the first planned industrial park in the United States.
The Central Manufacturing District’s Original East District was designed over the course of decades by numerous acclaimed Chicago architects, offered manufacturers the opportunity to own a custom-built warehouse with front-door access to rail lines and waterways, as well as city services and banking. It was a pioneering undertaking and what is left of the district stands today as a symbol of the great might of industrial Chicago.
The decades since the dissolution of the Central Manufacturing District have seen the disintegration of the district’s many historic industrial buildings. While many remain, some of the district’s grandest structures of the have been demolished due to neglect or redevelopment, prompting Preservation Chicago to name the CMD-Original East District as one of Chicago’s 7 Most Endangered in 2021.
The demolition of this lovely Gothic terra cotta building and tower would be a terrible loss for the CMD-Original East District and, more broadly, the Southwest Side’s industrial heritage. Preservation Chicago encourages the developer to pursue an adaptive reuse of the Continental Can Building, especially the Ashland Avenue tower and facade.