WBEZ: What’s That Building? 600 W. Washington Blvd.

“Stand at the corner of Washington Boulevard and Jefferson Street in the West Loop and almost all around you are tall buildings, some of them dating back decades and others just a few years old.

“The 600 W. Washington building almost looks like separate structures from different eras. The first floor is wrapped in smooth limestone panels typical of a mid-20th century building. Meanwhile, the second floor and partial third are clad in soot-covered red brick with handsome, churchlike peaks and window dormers on its two street sides.

“Because the first floor is almost entirely blank — except for a set of glass doors set into a black stone panel on Washington Boulevard — the building is easy to overlook. But 600 W. Washington has a long history.

“The 600 W. Washington building was made to power cable cars in the surrounding neighborhood. Inside were six giant, coal-burning boilers that generated the steam to crank a wheel three stories tall that kept the cable circulating.

“The exact age of 600 W. Washington isn’t in public records, but the building was in service with the West Chicago Street Railway by 1890. Within 16 years, all of Chicago’s cable cars had been replaced with street cars, which run on steel rails with a pole connected to an overhead wire, making the cable operation on Washington Street obsolete.

“The 600 W. Washington building sat empty for a few years, but was eventually fitted with floors inside what must have been a cavernous space. Beginning around 1911, the building contained offices of various streetcar and transit companies that were predecessors of the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA). When the CTA moved its offices to the Merchandise Mart in 1952, 600 W. Washington again went vacant.

“The Racine, Wis.-based company bought 600 W. Washington in June 2016 for just under $8.5 million. In the deal, Johnson let the IBEW stay until its new building was ready two years later. SC Johnson was moving 175 jobs to Chicago at the time, and leased space for them a block east at 550 W. Washington.

“In 2016, an SC Johnson official implied to Crain’s Chicago Business that the company planned to tear down the former IBEW building and put up something bigger. This wouldn’t be a surprise. As far back as 1953, the Tribune was speculating the site of the obsolete cable car building would be a good place to erect a new skyscraper.

“But seven years later, SC Johnson seemingly hasn’t moved forward. The company’s Chicago office is still a block east and the streetcar building stands empty.”(Rodkin, WBEZ Chicago, 4/20/23)


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