In the late 19th and early 20th century, Chicago’s Loop central business district was surrounded by a ring of fine-quality industrial buildings. Often these loft buildings were of mill construction, and typically employed masonry construction on its exterior facades, with a heavy timber structure behind. This was later followed by fire-proof reinforced concrete construction methods, to accommodate the heavy loading required by many industrial uses of the era. These structures are often characterized by a brick façade and expansive windows to maximize natural light. Ceiling heights were tall, often ranging from 10 to 14 feet. They are typically low to mid-rise, often between three to seven stories and have a wide footprint.
Ornament in industrial buildings is typically restrained for reasons of economy, but many exhibit a high level of architectural design. Pride of ownership likely contributed to the attractive design. These industrial buildings were typically owned and built by the business owner and as such, the buildings came to represent the company to visitors including customers, vendors, and professionals. Additionally, these buildings served as collateral for business loans to support growth. As a result, many of Chicago’s finest architects were commissioned to design these buildings.
Henry J. Schlacks is best known for designing some of Chicago’s most beautiful Roman Catholic churches. Certainly, there were vast differences between designing religious buildings and an industrial building. When he was hired in 1902 to design a new factory and headquarters for the Tyler & Hippach Glass Company Building, Schlacks applied his architectural brilliance to this very different genre and focused on material, massing, and composition. The results were an impressive building and an outstanding example of the “Chicago School or the Chicago Commercial style.”
The same design elements that were so important to industrial users in the late 19th century, including wide, open floor plans, expansive windows to maximize natural light, tall ceilings, and fireproof construction are many of the same design elements that are important to contemporary residential developers and residents. This helps to explain the success and desirability of many of the Chicago School Industrial buildings that have been converted to condos or apartments.
While many Chicago School Industrial buildings have been successfully converted to residential or office lofts, those that remained industrial have more recently been targeted for demolition and replacement by developers of high-rise residential or office towers. The proximity to the Loop central business district makes the location attractive to developers looking to convert an industrial use to a residential or office use. Additionally, the typical wide footprint covered by a single building and owned by a single entity creates an ideal site for a new high-rise tower which requires a large parking garage on the lower floors.
Chicago School industrial buildings are highly adaptable for residential or office use, but the critical factor that determines whether a developer will choose conversion or demolition is typically the underlying zoning. If the height allowed by the zoning generally matches the existing building, then developers typically find it more economical to adaptively reuse the existing historic building and convert it to residential or office.
However, if there is a zoning mismatch where the underlying zoning allows for a building that is twice, five times, or even 10 times taller than the existing building, this essentially ensures the demolition of the historic building. The potential profits from a 25-story building versus a five-story building are simply overwhelming. Regardless of the quality or significance of the building, even if the historic building were built of solid gold, the zoning mismatch seals the ultimate fate of the structure and condemns it to demolition. The primary method to redirect these powerful market forces into a more preservation-sensitive direction are to adjust zoning to match the historic buildings or in certain extraordinary cases to designate the building as a Chicago Landmark.
Eckhart & Swan Company Wheat Mill
The Eckhart & Swan Company/ B.A. Eckhart Milling /ADM Wheat Mill and Silo complex at 1300 West Carroll Avenue at the west end of the Fulton Market District is an amazing series of buildings which should have been creatively reused for an innovative development. The existing 250,000-square-foot ADM mill facility sits on a 2.2-acre site and includes a series of brick loft buildings ranging from three to six stories tall and a soaring concrete structure with more than a dozen silos. The oldest buildings in the complex were built in 1897 and were designed by William Carbys Zimmerman and John J. Flanders. It was reportedly the largest mill in Illinois at the time it was built.
The grain elevator was designed by M. A. Lang in 1927 and the grain silos were built by Bulley and Andrews in 1948. The complex was in constant operation until it was shuttered by ADM in 2019. It was reported to be Chicago’s last active grain elevator.
Shortly after Archer Daniels Midland announced plans to close the historic wheat plant in June 2017, the property was sold to Sterling Bay, one of the most active developers in the Fulton Market District and Chicago. Preservation Chicago met with Sterling Bay to encourage adaptive reuse of at least some portion of the historic building complex. Sterling Bay has experience with the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, and initial renderings released by Sterling Bay in January 2020 indicated the adaptive reuse of the 6-story mill building and a few of the silos.
Preservation Chicago would have celebrated the development if it had proceeded per the rendering. It would have been a creative adaptive reuse that recognized and honored this interesting building and the Chicago history it represents.It also would have represented a significant investment in the construction of a large, modern office building.
But the renderings were only conceptual and aspirational. With no protections in place to prevent demolition of the historic building, a demolition permit was applied for, issued, and demolition commenced the following day in February 2021. When pressed, Sterling Bay admitted that they planned to clear the entire site.
Experience developers know that it is far easier to develop a vacant lot than to replace a historic building, so they often will seek to demolish historic buildings prior to beginning the process of seeking approval for a new construction project. This way community stakeholders will be presented with the option of supporting either a building or a vacant lot.
The timing of the demolition is unfortunate, but not surprising. Neither the specific development plan nor the necessary increased zoning request has yet been presented by the developer to the City, Alderman, or neighborhood. By the time these stakeholders have an opportunity to comment on the proposed development, all of the historic elements will have been demolished. Any potential future negotiation to grant a highly valuable zoning increase in exchange for preserving some of the historic building has been eliminated by the timing of the demolition.
Preservation Chicago recommends that the City of Chicago eliminate this problematic “scorched earth” loophole. If the demolition permit and construction permit were issued simultaneously, this issue would be addressed. One of the potential solutions is the City could require a two-year freeze on zoning increases for properties after they demolish a building 50 years or older, unless the demolition permit and construction permit were issued simultaneously. Another option would be to mandate detailed review of all demolition requests for buildings 50 years or older. Recommend reuse where appropriate, and place greater fees and building material reclamation requirements to foster more opportunities to consider reuse.
Tyler & Hippach Glass Company
The Tyler & Hippach Mirror Company Factory / Wm. J. Cassidy Tire Building, located at 344 N. Canal Street, is threatened with demolition to make way for a new 33-story apartment tower.
Tyler & Hippach Glass Company was founded in 1887 and produced high quality glass and mirrors for furniture companies in Chicago and across the country. In 1902, they hired renowned architect Henry J. Schlacks to design their new headquarters and factory on Clinton Street. Schlacks was a highly accomplished architect who is better known for designing many of Chicago’s most beautiful churches. He was no stranger to commercial architecture and began his architectural career working in the office of Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan. The building is an excellent example of a “Chicago School” or “Chicago Commercial Style” and is a fine example of a steel-framed structure of its era.
The Chicago & North Western Rail Company purchased the building from Tyler & Hippach and made plans to move the entire 6,000-ton structure approximately 220 feet to the south and east. William Grace & Company was hired, and they brought in Harvey Sheeler, a highly regarded engineer and building mover, to prepare plans to move the massive brick factory building. Sheeler had patented a system for moving large and heavy objects on steel rollers, a system which was celebrated for its great successes.
In 1908, tracks, screw jacks and teams of workers were assembled to move the building 52 feet south and 168 feet east to the building’s current location at 344 North Canal. At the time, Sheeler claimed it was the largest building ever moved. Others marveled that not a single crack formed in the masonry or that even one brick was loosened.
Preservation Chicago believes the building could be considered for Chicago Landmark designation as it was designed by a prominent architect. Other structures by Henry Schlacks are protected under a Chicago Landmark designation, and this is a rare surviving example of an industrial building by him.
Preservation Chicago has encouraged the City of Chicago to take steps to create a Chicago Landmark designation and encourage the developer to incorporate the Cassidy/Tyler & Hippach Glass Company Building into the larger residential development proposed for this site. There is ample room for both new and old to coexist.
Wrigley Lodge / Salvation Army Building
Due to skyrocketing valuations, the Salvation Army is planning to sell it’s building complex at 509 N. Union Avenue. The Salvation Army had considered renovating the four buildings on the site, but ultimately decided to offer the property for sale. The complex of buildings is expected to sell for between $30 million and $40 million. The underlying zoning would allow new development much taller and denser than the existing structures.
The Wrigley Lodge / Salvation Army Building is a unique blend of two distinct architectural styles. A soaring Streamline Modern element joins the 5-and 6-story red brick industrial lofts to create wonderfully balanced asymmetry. The result is an iconic building. Its distinctive appearance and important history make this building an important one to save.
The Wrigley Lodge served as a homeless shelter throughout the Great Depression and World War II. Following the war, it increasingly served as a veterans’ rehabilitation center to assist returning servicemen.
After the war, the Salvation Army began a fundraising campaign to remodel the building, and on December 9, 1947, a permit was issued for the alterations. It was remodeled in the Streamline Moderne style including the striking, asymmetric, vertical entryway with glass block and rounded corners.
Once an important element of Chicago’s historic urban skyline, the number of rooftop water tanks in Chicago has declined steeply. However, the Salvation Army water tank atop the building was restored in 2017. The Salvation Army is to be commended for restoring the building’s highly visible and iconic rooftop water tower and saving an important remnant of a once ubiquitous part of Chicago’s cityscape.
Due to skyrocketing valuations, the Salvation Army is planning to sell the building complex at 509 N. Union Avenue. The underlying zoning would allow new development much taller and denser than the existing structures. It is likely that a developer would demolish the historic buildings and clear the site.
The Salvation Army building is an outstanding structure that should be protected and preserved as part of any redevelopment of the site. Preservation Chicago encourages the Salvation Army, 27th Ward Alderman Walter Burnett, and the City of Chicago to make this a requirement upfront so that potential buyers will accommodate this in their plans from the outset.
West Loop Industrial Buildings Make Preservation Chicago’s Most Endangered Buildings List; This year’s list includes the Old Archer Daniels Midland Wheat Mill and the Tyler & Hippach Glass Company building, also known as the Cassidy Tire Company building, Mauricio Peña, Block Club Chicago, 2/24/21