WIN: The Commercial National Bank Building at 125 S. Clark Street Sold After Comprehensive Renovation

Commercial National Bank Building, by D.H. Burnham & Company, 125 N. Clark Street, Postcard Credit: Chuckman Collection
Commercial National Bank Building prior to exterior cleaning, 125 N. Clark Street, Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

The Commercial National Bank Building designed by D.H. Burnham and Company and located at 125 S. Clark Street has been comprehensively renovated by Chicago-based Blue Star Properties and Wolcott Group with architect Aric Lasher of Chicago-based HBRA. They purchased the former Chicago Public Schools headquarters in 2014 for $28 million and invested $91 million to restore and lease up this 18-story commercial office building. Prior to CPS, it long served as the headquarters for Commonwealth Edison.

Most noticeably, the building received a much-needed exterior cleaning which altered the color from a mottled grey to a gleaming white. As reported in Crain’s, the building is now 88% leased with notable new tenants including WeWork, Shure, SpotHero, and Revival Food Hall. Also reported in Crain’s, the building has been sold to the German real estate investor group Commerz Real for approximately $200 million.

Located on the ground floor across 24,000 square foot space, Revival Food Hall has emerged as a vibrant new loop food destination. The name is homage to the Classical Revival style of architecture that Daniel Burnham embraced in so many of his great building commissions. According to Craig Golden, founder of Blue Star Properties, the design was intended to embrace the history of the building, not hide it. “Take, for example, the flooring of the food hall” Golden says. “It’s three different types of marble, some concrete, some terrazzo. You really see all the different periods. It’s a bit of a road map of the history of the building.”

Instead of attempting a new aesthetic, Golden and Lasher smoothed the style mélange into a modern-feeling space that incorporates every part of the site’s history— what he calls a “historic remix.” “Obviously this type of space didn’t exist at that time, but Lasher tried to do what he thought Burnham would have done if it had,” Golden explains. “It’s really our idea of the modern version of a Burnham building. (Keller, Architectural Digest, 10/26/16)

The Commercial National Bank Building was designated as a Chicago Landmark in 2016. The Classical Revival style Commercial National Bank Building, located at the northeast comer of Clark Street and Adams Street, is the oldest surviving high-rise commercial bank building in the Loop designed by D. H. Burnham & Company.

The Commercial National Bank Building was also among the first of Burnham & Company’s designs to tie the tripartite commercial high-rise to the iconic temple-style bank building to create a new form of bank building in Chicago. Firm architect Ernest Graham used engaged Corinthian columns to mark the second-floor banking hall, recalling the colonnades of traditional bank buildings, while retaining the relatively unadorned center shaft and ornamented cornice typical of high-rise commercial buildings of the period. This marriage of forms would characterize nearly two dozen downtown bank buildings designed in Chicago and other US cities by Burnham and its successor firm, Graham, Anderson, Probst and White, throughout the 1910s and 1920s. (Commercial National Bank Building Final Landmark Designation Report, April 7, 2016)

Preservation Chicago was part of many hearings and testimonies to support this project and applauds Craig Golden, Blue Star Properties, Wolcott Group and architect HBRA for their success at beautifully restoring and activating an important Chicago Landmark building.

Cornices played a highly important role in the visual appearance of Chicago School Skyscrapers and other buildings of the later 19 th and early 20 th centuries. Unfortunately, many important historic buildings across Chicago have been lost their cornices over the decades due to neglect and modernization efforts. Preservation Chicago urges the City of Chicago to strongly encourage the developers of historic buildings to include as part of the scope of their redevelopment plans the replacement or restoration of cornices that is closely modeled on the original design.

Additional Reading
German investor buying Loop office building; the sale would complete a massive turnaround and huge cash-out for the investors that bought and redeveloped the former Chicago Public Schools headquarters. Danny Ecker, Crain’s Chicago Business, 10/22/18

You Can Now Eat Lunch in an Iconic Daniel Burnham Bank Building; Chicago’s Revival Food Hall repurposes a historic structure, Hadley Keller, Architectural Digest, 10/26/16

Commercial National Bank Building Final Landmark Designation Report, April 7, 2016

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