WIN: Residential Conversion and Restoration Planned for Rector Building at 79 W. Monroe

Rector Building / Chicago Trust Building / Chicago Title and Trust Building / Bell Federal Savings & Loan Building, Jarvis Hunt in 1906 with later modifications to the uppermost floors, cornice, fascia, and base of the building by Holabird & Roche to the south in 1924, 79 W. Monroe Street. Photo credit: Loopnet
Existing ornament on upper floors of Rector Building, 1906, Jarvis Hunt, 79 W. Monroe Street. Photo Credit: R2
Original cornice at Rector Building, 79 W. Monroe Street, by Jarvis Hunt in 1906, Historic Photo Credit: The Art Institute of Chicago, Ryerson & Burnham

“The foreign investor that bought part of a vintage Loop office building in June has now acquired the rest of it, which it plans to turn into roughly 100 apartments as demand for downtown residential units soars.

“A high-net-worth European family advised by Swiss investment firm 4c AG paid $8.2 million last month for the upper half of the 14-story building at 79 W. Monroe St., according to sources familiar with the deal. The purchase from Chicago developer R2 came roughly four months after the same buyer paid $40.5 million for the lower half, which is almost fully leased to a school and a Walgreens location.

“R2 had marketed the roughly 80,000-square-foot block of space on floors eight through 14 in the building as an apartment conversion opportunity amid weak demand for downtown offices and record-high downtown apartment rents. Now the buyer plans to execute that vision, betting that the center of the Loop is poised to become more of a mixed-use neighborhood as effects of the COVID-19 pandemic fade.

“The project would be in line with a new initiative from Mayor Lori Lightfoot to incentivize the conversion of outmoded office buildings on and near LaSalle Street into apartments. City officials are dangling public subsidies to help finance such projects—and ensure they include affordable units—counting on redevelopments to help restore vibrancy in the heart of the central business district where many companies have decamped and where the rise of remote work has decimated daily foot traffic.

“R2 Principal Jason Trailov said the buyer has retained R2 as a third-party manager and adviser to help with the partial redevelopment of the Bell Federal Savings & Loan building, which is known for its Weather Bell sign hanging over the corner of Monroe and Clark streets that changes color as it predicts temperature changes. Timing of the project is unclear, but there are a series of small tenants in the space today that would need to move out or be relocated to begin work.

“R2’s continued involvement in the property “demonstrates where we see this asset ultimately going, and fitting into what will hopefully be a more vibrant, 24-7 central business district,” Trailov said.” (Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business, 11/15/22)

The 14-story Rector Building/Chicago Trust Building/Chicago Title and Trust Building /Bell Federal Savings & Loan Building is located at 79 W. Monroe Street. The original Chicago skyscraper was sesigned by Jarvis Hunt in 1906. In 1924 Holabird & Roche designed a highly complementary and seamless addition to the south.

The Bell Federal Savings & Loan Building is well-known for its distinctive weather prediction clock. The “Weather Bell” was installed in the mid-1950s and changes colors based on the temperature. It even had its own 1950’s-era jingle:

When Weather Bell is emerald green
No change in temperature is foreseen.
When Weather Bell is glowing red
Warmer weather is ahead.
When Weather Bell is gleaming gold
A temperature drop is foretold
When Weather Bell is in agitation,
Prepare yourself for precipitation.

Architect Jarvis Hunt also designed the Lake Shore Athletic Club at 850 North Lake Shore Drive, the Chicago Tribune printing plant at 430 N. St. Clair, Peoples Trust & Savings Bank at 30 North Michigan, Saddle & Cycle Club, 900 North Michigan Avenue (demolished), and Lake-Michigan Building at 201 N. Michigan (demolished).

Originally, the building had an elaborate, multi-story masonry cornice. Preservation Chicago strongly encourages the developer to rebuild the lost cornice and other lost elements to return the building to it historic appearance. This beautifully crafted building by architect Jarvis Hunt with later additions by Holabird & Roche would qualify for a Designated Chicago Landmark. Preservation Chicago encourages the developer to pursue a Chicago Landmark Designation for this important Chicago building.

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