WIN: Mies van der Rohe’s Promontory Apartments Designated as a Preliminary Landmark

“Designed by legendary architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Hyde Park’s Promontory Apartments is on its way to becoming a protected site following Thursday’s vote by the Chicago Commission on Landmarks to grant the building at 5530 S. Shore Drive preliminary landmark status.

“Completed in 1946, around the same time Mies was master planning IIT’s modernist campus in Bronzeville, the 22-story co-op building was Mies’s first high-rise project. The South Side development was also the first International Style tower built in Chicago and the city’s first high-rise apartment built after World War II.

“Although the International Style eventually became so common and repetitive that it spawned entire architectural movements rejecting its austerity, Promontory Apartments was nothing short of revolutionary when it debuted.” (Koziarz, 8/2/19)

Read the full story at Curbed Chicago

Preservation Chicago has supported the Landmark Designation of the Promontory Apartments for many years and specifically in recent months with public comments in support of the designation. The following is the transcript of Preservation Chicago’s t estimony in support on August 1, 2019 of the Preliminary Landmark Recommendation for The Promontory Apartments- 5530-5532 S. Shore Drive, Chicago

Dear Mr. Chairman and Members of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks,

We at Preservation Chicago fully support the proposed Chicago Landmark Designation of The Promontory Apartments by architect, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.

We all recognize the important buildings, projects and commissions of Mies van der Rohe, associated with his work at the Bauhaus in Germany and across Europe, with the Barcelona Pavilion, and the Riehl and Tugendhat (Villa Tugendhat) Houses, among others.

Also such noteworthy commissions as the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois and numerous Chicago projects, including 860-880 N. Lake Shore Drive, IIT-The Illinois Institute of Technology and Crown Hall, and much later, one of his last buildings, the IBM Building, which are all Designated Chicago Landmarks. But just almost a decade after the beginnings of several of the buildings and projects on the IIT campus, came his first tall high rise building, The Promontory Apartments, overlooking the South Lakefront, Promontory Point and Lake Shore Drive at 56th Street in Chicago’s Hyde Park community.

The Promontory building was the first commission of a newly formed partnership with Mies and developer, Herbert Greenwald, and led to a myriad of large high-rise commissions along with Pace Associates and Holsman, Holsman, Klekamp & Taylor, as associate architects. It was Mies’s first opportunity to realize his designs for high-rise buildings, which extended back to his proposed projects and drawings for the “Friedrichstrasse Glass Skyscraper Projects” of 1921-1922 and his “concrete office-building project” of 1923 in Berlin. Greenwald, together with Mies, and financiers Samuel Katzin and Irving “Gus” Cherry formed a partnership and “Their (collective) goal was to devise an architecture that would be commercially successful yet philosophical. It would use technology and rationalization to redeem the soullessness of American capitalism, mass society and mediated culture and would enable freer ways of living within it.”

This all lead in later years to the creation of the 860-880 N. Lake Shore Drive Buildings/”The Delaware Project” (1949-1951), 900-910 N. Lake Shore Drive/”The Esplanade” (1953-1956), The Commonwealth/”Commonwealth Promenade Apartments” (1953-1956), the 2400 N. Lake View/”Fullerton Apartments” (1962-1963) and others–approximately ten building projects in all—some of which were not realized.

The Promontory Apartments also cemented Mies’s reputation in the design of tall buildings and this commission and its varying solutions– including a scheme in steel, led to an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, further placing his work on the world stage. This exhibition of Mies’s buildings, attracted the attention of the Bronfman family—Samuel Bronfman and his daughter Phyllis Lambert, and eventually led to a long friendship and the commission for the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York City.

The 22-story Promontory building is remarkable and employs a reinforced concrete frame, with infill panels of brick and glass. The vertical concrete piers project outward from the exterior wall, separating the eight structural bays of the principal façade. Each pier decreases in size as they reach the upper levels of the building, which further emphasizes the structure and the vertically of the building.

The principal entry is inset from the building’s structure at the first floor, forming a symmetrical recessed portico, with expansive glass walls and transoms extending across the lobby. Buff-colored brick topped by glass transom windows flank the end walls, with both the extreme north and south end bays open to allow for a porte-cochere and access to parking located behind the building. It’s a very elegant solution for a high rise building of its time and the first such tall building commission for the Hyde Park Community, following World War II.

We at Preservation Chicago very much support the Chicago Landmark Designation of The Promontory Apartments, recognizing its great significance. The Promontory Apartments influenced the design of a generation of tall concrete high-rise buildings and some may say its design was often imitated, but it was the very first and the best of its kind.

Looking to the future, we also want to further encourage the Commission on Chicago Landmarks to consider seeking a Chicago Landmark Designation for The Commonwealth Apartments, the 2400 N. Lake View Apartments all by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and the Lakeside Center of McCormick Place—a project heavily studied and influenced by Mies van der Rohe and executed by his students, Gene Summers and Helmut Jahn of the firm of C.F. Murphy and associates.

It would be a huge loss to Chicago to lose these important treasures in the future—as they are true Chicago modernist treasures of the architecture world.

Sincerely,
Ward Miller, Executive Director

Additional Reading
City grants preliminary landmark status for Mies van der Rohe’s Promontory Apartments, The Hyde Park tower was the famed architect’s first high-rise project, Jay Koziarz, Curbed Chicago, 8/2/19

Promontory Apartments Gets Preliminary Landmark Designation. Samantha Smylie, Hyde Park Herald, 8/1/19

Preliminary Landmark Designation Report for THE PROMONTORY APARTMENTS 5530-5532 South Shore Drive, August 2019

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