[Poetry Foundation Building (2011) John Ronan Architects, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger] When poet, author, and resolute publisher Harriet Monroe died in 1936 she left$19,000 to be divided among family membersand friends, $5,000 to the University of Chicago, and $6,000 to Poetry, the monthly magazine she had founded in 1912 and edited until her death. When Ruth Lilly, the great-granddaughter of Eli Lilly the founder of the pharmaceutical giant died in 2009, she left behind an estate valued at $1 billion - $100 million of which had been given to Monroe's visionary publication in 2002. This combination of one women's drive, determination and commitment to verse, and another's desire to be a poet, resulted in architect John Ronan having the opportunity to design a dedicated headquarters building for a publication that had spent 99 years renting in places like the bedroom of an old mansion and a library's basement.
[Poetry Foundation Buildling, 61 W. Superior Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The story begins on December 23, 1860 when Martha and Henry Monroe welcomed their second child - another daughter - into the family. Infant Harriet's father had come to Chicago four years earlier and by the time of her arrival he had begun, what would eventually become, a modestly successful law practice in the city. Like many Chicago families of certain means Harriet was sent to Chicago's Dearborn Seminary before heading-off to continue her education at Visitation Convent, an all girls academy in Georgetown, Washington D.C. After graduating in 1879 Harriet traveled extensively, filling her calendar with a variety of artistically-inclined salons and literary-minded events both here in the U.S. and abroad. She got her first poem published in 1888, wrote an ode that was read at the dedication of Adler & Sullivan's Auditorium Building the following year, and landed a job working as the art critic for the Chicago Tribune - which paid the bills.
[Poetry Foundation Building, Superior and Dearborn Streets, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Then on January 15, 1891 Dora Monroe Root, Harriet's older sister, became a widow whenher husband John of the architectural firm Burnham & Root, died of pneumonia. The architect was in the planning stages of the World's Columbian Exposition when he was taken ill, and after his death, Harriet moved-in to her sister's Astor Street townhouse and began to write. In 1896 Monroe's tribute to her immensely talented brother-in-law, John Wellborn Root: A Study of His Life and Work, was published. Unfortunately her career as a poet wasn't heading in the direction she had hoped it would, and finding herself frustrated by the lack of contemporary publications publishing modern verse, she decided to take action. In 1910 Monroe began visiting the offices of Chicago's leading businessmen in an effort to raise enough money to start her own publication. Determined and unstoppable, Monroe gained a new respect for all the women she encountered who acted as the guardians of their male employer's inner sanctums, and by connecting with these unsung heroes of the business world, gained access to these titans of commerce and raised the $5,000 she needed to start her publication.
[Poetry Foundation Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Monroe rented a room in an old mansion that stood at 543 Cass Street just south of Ohio Street which had been converted into office space. Although the former E.B. McCagg home is long gone and Cass Street is now Wabash Avenue, Monroe launched Poetry: A Magazine of Verse from that location on September 23, 1912. For the next 24 years, through sheer force of will, Monroe was able to turn-out a monthly journal that published some of the first works of authors whose names would come to be recognized around the world, and who would go on to win Nobel Prizes. Ruth Lilly hoped that one day she would become one of those people. Although Poetry never published one of Lilly's submissions, she was so touched by the magazine's encouraging rejection letters that she endowed fellowships for young poets through the magazine's Modern Poetry Association. Then in 2002 she shook the philanthropic, poetic and publishing world with her gift of $100 million in Lilly stock. The little poetry engine that could now became the repository of one of the largest financial windfall's in financial gift-giving history. Then in 2011, after 99-years as renters, the Poetry Foundation, which now oversaw the publication of Monroe's magazine, moved out of their basement headquarters at the Newberry Library and into their purpose-built, wholly-owned, 25,000 square-foot, John Ronan-designed ode to Harriet Monroe.
[Crilly Court, Chicago (1885) / Image & Artwork: designslinger] Like many 18-year-olds Daniel Crilly wondered what he wanted todo with his life. Things weren't going badly for him in his native Pennsylvania but he wanted something more, and in 1857 there were only a few options to choose from - college not being one of them. So he made the decision to head out west and landed in Iowa City, Iowa where he found a job building houses. By 1868 he was ready for a change and decided to make a play for the big time. This move took him to Chicago, and it proved to be a fortuitous choice. By the time of his death in the summer of 1921, Crilly had turned-over a real estate portfolio worth well over $1 million to his children. A million bucks doesn't sound like all that much divvied-up 5 ways these days, but it would translate to around $2.5 million per child in 2013 dollars.
When he first arrived in the city the ambitious young man found work in the meatpacking industry. Once he had saved-up enough money, he bought a piece of real estate as an investment and never looked back. By the time he acquired a 4-acre parcel of property on Chicago's north side in 1884, Crilly owned a downtown Chicago office building bearing his name, and a large home on mansion-lined South Park Boulevard representative of his status as a successful businessman. His north side investment ran along the west side of Wells Street north to Florimond Street (now St. Paul), then over to North Park Avenue, down to Eugenie, and back over to Wells. The tract was owned by Florimond Canda, a former officer in Napoleon's army, who had inherited the Chicago acreage upon the death of his brother Charles.
[Crilly Court, Chicago, Old Town Triangle Historic District /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The real estate developer built a group of homes along his North Park property line and a row of conjoined townhouses on a tiny lane he cut through the middle. He named the block-long street Crilly Court, and had the word "Private" carved into the stone pillars at either end. With the stroke of a masons chisel, Crilly made it clear that this enclave was a cut above the rest. The decoratively-trimmed row of houses were rented to middle class businessmen and their families, and although students were among the renters, they came from reliably respectable, Blue Book listed families. Once the houses were completed in 1885 Crilly kept the remaining land vacant until the demand for housing in the population-expanding neighborhood increased. In 1893 he built an apartment complex that ran along the east side of Crilly, and paid tribute to his children by putting their names in the decorative rectangular stone pediment over the entry doors.
At the time of his death, Crilly's real estate investment in the neighborhood had grown to include the southern half of the Wells Street block that sat directly across from his Crilly Court, children-named, Wells-facing building. But, by the time the first quarter of the 20th century was roaring, the area around the "Private" lane had seen better times. In 1931 Edgar Crilly - Daniel's son and legatee - decided that the time was right to try and improve the fading fortunes of the area now known as Old Town. By the time of Edgar's death 30-years later, Old Town's bohemian, trendy, and property-value-increasing reputation was well on its way, and when the family decided to sell Daniel Francis Crilly's multi-acred parcel in 1963, the heirs became $2 million richer.
[Essex Inn (1961) A. Epstein & Sons, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Chicago's Grant Park-facing stretch of Michigan Avenue has a long and storied hotel history. In 1870 the elegantly appointed Michigan Avenue House hotel rose on the southwest corner of Congress Street, and narrowly escaped being consumed by the flames of the Great Fire a year later. Post fire, the Gardner Hotel rose out of the ashes on the southwest corner of Jackson Street, followed by the Beaurivage and the Richelieu - all in the same block. Then in 1889 came Adler & Sullivan's monumental, multi-purpose Auditorium Building with its combined hotel/office/theater complex, followed by architect Clinton Warren's Auditorium Annex three years later. That building was enlarged in 1902 with a design by Holabird & Roche and renamed the Congress Hotel, then in 1908 architects Marshall & Fox designed the Blackstone Hotel for the Drake brothers a little further down the street. Finally, in 1927, Holabird & Roche returned - this time at the southern end of the accommodating avenue - with their massive Stevens Hotel.
[Essex Inn, 800 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger] By the late 1950s a new hotel hadn't risen along Michigan Avenue's park-facing frontage in over 30 years, but Eugene Heytow was about to change all that. The 25-year-old entrepreneur along with his investor, dermatologist, brother-in-law Martin Gecht, had created an entity called the Aristocratic Inns of America and were interested in three corner properties at the southern end of Michigan overlooking the park. Each parcel contained a gas station with lots of room to spare so the partners snapped-up all three and then hired the architectural firm of A. Epstein and Sons to draw up plans for three hotels for each corner. Abraham Epstein had started his structural engineering firm in 1921 and when Raymond and Sidney joined their father's company in the mid-1940s, the Sons were added to the company's name. By that time Epstein had morphed into a design/build firm overseeing not only the structural components of construction but also the design. The mixing of two different disciplines ruffled the feathers of the esteemed American Institute of Architects who felt that architects were designers not contractors, and Sidney never forgot the, "snobby snub." He refused to join the AIA, even as he and Raymond grew the company into one of the largest firms in the country, and still refused to join even after the architectural association changed their policy.
The contiguous wall of Michigan Avenue masonry that had faced the park for generations had recently been broken by the steel and glass structure Epstein & Sons had designed and built for the Borg-Warner Corporation, while Heytow's hotel projects would be of a smaller scale. Of the three, the hotel at the southwest corner of 8th Street and Michigan would be Aristocrat's tallest and glossiest. At 14-stories it didn't beat-out the 29-story Stevens - now Hilton - Hotel. But its sleek, modern, metal and glass curtain walls stood in stark contrast to the weighty, soot-coated surfaces of the Auditorium and Congress Hotel, and garnered enough attention to land Gene Heytow in Life Magazinestanding on the balcony of the newly completed Essex Inn.
The association between the brothers-in-laws and Sidney Epstein went beyond hotel design and construction. Epstein was an investor in the Aristocratic Inns venture and served as a director of Heytow and Gecht's Amalgamated Bank. And by the time Heytow died in 2010, Life Magazine's Chicago wonder boy had become the owner of a number of other hotels, been a majority shareholder in a few more banks, and served as chairman of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, overseeing the McCormick Place Convention Center complex and Navy Pier. Martin Gecht kept-up his dermatology practice until his death at the age of eighty-four in 2005, leaving behind an art collection which was donated to the Art Institute of Chicago. Sidney Epstein is still going strong at ninety, while the 52-year-old Essex Inn is approaching middle age.
[Aon Center - Amoco Standard Oil Building (1974) Edward Durell Stone, architect; Perkins & Will associate architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger] When John D. Rockefeller died in 1937 he was the world's richest person - a title thathe has been able to hold on to even though he's been dead for over 75 years. If you able were to gather together the estimated net worth of today's top 5 billionaires and put all that money into one account, that horde of cash still wouldn't reach Rockefeller's net worth at the time of his death - which would be around $365 billion in 2013 dollars. His fortune was based on oil - the gathering, refining, marketing and selling of the planet's liquid gold. But according to the federal government the oil tycoon's control of 90% of the domestic market was illegal, and in 1911 the billionaire was compelled to break-up his Standard Oil Trust into a series of subsidiaries, one of which, Standard Oil of Indiana, was based in the midwest and headquartered in Chicago.
[Aon Center - Amoco Standard Oil Building, 200 E. Randolph Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Standard Oil had maintained offices in Chicago since the 1880s and in 1927 consolidated their scattered workspaces into one location on south Michigan Avenue. Forty-years later when company chairman John Swearingen decided that it was time to move, Standard of Indiana had grown into one of the world's largest oil-producing corporations and the old building didn't prominently proclaim the company's dominant presence in the global marketplace. He picked a potentially eye-catching site on the north edge of Grant Park at Randolph Street close to the 41-story Prudential Building and a little west of the 40-story Outer Drive East apartment building. Standard purchased land that sat several feet below the elevated deck of Randolph which bridged a sliver of acreage that belonged to the Illinois Central Railroad. The property had once been the home of the massive railyard of the Illinois Central Railroad, and while the rail line had begun making plans for a monumental redo of their lake front acreage in the late 1920s, the Great Depression and the Second World War stymied their efforts. So the plan didn't really start to take shape until the Prudential Insurance Company built their project in the early 1950s. After securing the site, Swearingen selected over two dozen architectural firms to submit ideas, narrowed the field, had the remaining firms refine their proposals, and the winner ended up being New York-based architect Edward Durell Stone with Chicago-based Perkins & Will as the local architects of record. Stone
would be responsible for the overall design of the building while Perkins
& Will would take on the job of translating the concept into the
actual working drawings and oversee construction.
[Aon Center - Amoco Standard Oil Building, Illinois Center, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Swearingen was a Chicago powerhouse. Standard of Indiana employed over 8,000 people in the region, and it was during the native South Carolinian's tenure that the company went from what he considered a "second rate" oil company, into one of the world's largest corporations. Architect Edward Durell Stone got noticed after designing the new home of New York's Museum of Modern Art with Phillip Goodwin in 1939. He gained international recognition in 1954 for his U.S. Embassy building in New Dehli, and designed the General Motors Building and the controversial museum building for Huntington Hartford in New York City in 1964. The facade of the new, 83-story, Standard Oil skyscraper resembled Stone's General Motors project but the internal structure of the equal-sided square tower in Chicago was supported by the exterior wall frame and an inner central core which provided for column-free floor plates, much like the design architect Minoru Yamasaki's would utilize for his World Trade Center buildings in lower Manhattan.
[Aon Center - Amoco Standard Oil Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger] When the building was completed in 1974 it was the tallest building in the city, and was a very publicly projecting testament to John Swearingen's tenure. Stone's structural-plan-providing narrow vertical bands of windows framed by equally narrow vertical bands clad in white Cararra marble made the already towering skyscraper appear even taller. Unfortunately the choice of the Italian-quarried-stone proved to be a bad one. Given Chicago's unforgiving climate the marble slabs didn't hold up well when faced with the city's weather extremes. In 1992 Standard Oil of Indiana, now known as Amoco, undertook a massive desconstruction/reconstruction of their four 1,136-foot tall facades and replaced the marble with a more climate resistent granite. John Swearingen had retired by then, and in 1998 British Petroleum began retiring the Amoco brand after purchasing the American-based conglomerate. BP began moving personnel out to the suburbs soon thereafter, and in 1999 the Aon insurance company moved into the vacated space. They took on the name of the tower for themselves, then in 2012 Aon moved their corporate headquarters to London. Ironically, ten years after BP began moving personnel to the burbs, the company moved back into the city since their increasingly younger workforce had chosen the city over the suburbs. However, BP did not choose to re-relocate back into the Stone/Swearingen tower. See more of the story at:Michigan Avenue Lofts - Karpen & Standard Oil of Indiana Building; and Aon's next door neighbor at: Prudential Building - One Prudential Plaza.
[Michigan Avenue Lofts - Karpen & Standard Oil of Indiana Building (1911) Marshall & Fox, architects (1927) addition, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
In 1880 a 22-year-old German-Jewish immigrant named Solomon Karpen took the $580 he had saved-up since arriving in Chicago eight years earlier and opened a furniture upholstery business. Solomon's father Moritz had been a cabinet maker in a part of Prussia that had once been Poland - and returned to being Poland after the First World War - and brought his wife and eight sons to Chicago hoping for a better life in the 19th century's version of the land of milk and honey. Upon his arrival in the U.S. in 1872, the oldest Karpen boy used the carpentry skills he had learned under his father's tutelage to find work in the Chicago's burgeoning furniture manufacturing industry. With his savings he opened S. Karpen & Bros., and as Solomon's younger siblings came of age the brothers portion of the company expanded along with the business.
[Michigan Avenue Lofts - Karpen & Standard Oil of Indiana Building, 910 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
When you're strolling down Michigan Avenue today past Chicago's Art Institute and the ever popular Millennium Park, it's hard to believe that when Karpen & Bros. moved into a shop and showroom on the lake-facing boulevard, the avenue was lined with loft manufacturing buildings that stood side-by-side with some of the city's more prestigious hotels. Their 6-story building on the west side of Michigan at Adams Street looked directly into the looming glass facade of the Interstate Exposition Building and was close to the city's bustling manufactured-goods-transporting train stations. The network of rail lines that converged at the center of the centrally located U.S. city turned Chicago into a manufacturing mecca, which in turn greatly improved the fortunes of Solomon and his brothers. But, as he wrote in a 1912 essay titled, How to Become A Millionaire, "No matter what money you have, don't alow it to be idle."
[Michigan Avenue Lofts - Karpen & Standard Oil of Indiana Building, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Solomon never allowed any monies invested in property to sit idle. He sold theAdams Street corner to the Peoples Gas Light & Coke Company for a tidy profit, bought the bankrupt Hotel Richelieu building just down the street for a song, and by the time he was able to realize a tidy profit from the sale of that building in 1910, S. Karpen & Bros. had become the largest upholstering and furniture manufacturing company in the world. For his next move Solomon took a long-term leasehold on a large corner lot at Michigan and Eldridge Court (today's 9th Street) for 99-years from the Otto Young estate. He had the architectural firm of Marshall & Fox draw-up plans for a 20-story building even though the furniture-making-mogul would only be building to a height of 13-stories, where the company occupied less than half of the space and rented-out the rest. In 1926, after 15 years of occupancy, even though Karpen Bros. had plenty of money in the bank, Solomon sold his 13-story, U-shaped structure to the Standard Oil Company of Indiana for $1 million more than he'd paid for it.
[Michigan Avenue Lofts - Karpen & Standard Oil of Indiana Building, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger] In 1889 John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company established a 1,400-acre refinery in Whiting, Indiana adjacent to the Illinois border - which also just happened to be near the recently expanded border of the City of Chicago. Given the size of the Whiting refinery, the oil tycoon decided that Standard needed a regional office in the area and instead of choosing nearby Gary, Indiana he chose to go a little further up the Lake Michigan shoreline and opened offices in Chicago's bustling central business district. By the time Standard purchased the Karpen Building and the land underneath it from the Young estate in 1927, Rockefeller's Standard Oil trust had been broken-up into several subsidiary companies and Standard of Indiana had become one of the largest and most profitable of the regional outposts. The purchase of the building and land allowed Standard to consolidate their scattered Chicago offices into one building, and needing more space, they undertook the construction of the additional floors that Marshall & Fox's structural framing had planned for. Architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White not only added a few more floors to the structure, they also incorporated a discreet "S" and "O" into the white terra-cotta heraldic panel near the top of the now 20-story building. By the late 60s Standard was ready for a new, modern, up-to-date, Chicago-centric headquarters and began construction on a new building at the north end of Grant Park. The aging Karpen & Bros. property sat vacant, was rented by the State of Illinois for a period of time in the 1980s, sat vacant again, and was converted into residential condominiums in the mid-1990s. It marked the beginnings of a long line of conversions that now stretch along the entire length Michigan Avenue's Grant Park-facing facades.
[Fred Eychaner House (1997) Tadao Ando, architect /Image & Artwork: designslinger] In October 1991 New York's Museum of Modern Art exhibited the work of Tadao Ando, a renowned Japanese architect who had never attended architecture school or spent several years apprenticing at an architectural firm, he just taught himself what he needed to know. Ando became famous for his use of concrete and glass and creating a signature style that was all about light, space, and privacy. His early projects turned inward away from the messy chaos often found in Japan's intensely, tightly-packed cities, and it was his 1976 Azuma Row House that brought him the first taste of international recognition. Apparently while attending the New York exhibit a wealthy, intensely private Chicago newspaper printer and broadcast station owner decided to contact Ando in Japan about building a house in Chicago.
[Fred Eychaner House, 665 W. Wrightwood Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Fred Eychaner owned and operated a company that printed newspapers for small publications who didn't own their own presses and contracted the work out. He used some of his printing income to invest in a television station, which in turn brought him even more money. When the time came to build a home on a large lot on a densely-packed city street, Eychaner wrote Ando a letter in early 1992 and offered the architect his first project in the United States. It took five years to get the house built. The first contractor left when the architect and client realized that the concrete work wasn't working, the second also couldn't get a handle on the design, but a third was finally able to finesse the project to completion. Ando's aesthetic perfectly suited Eychaner's very private personality. The concrete slab, street-viewable facades gave the print and broadcast owner a perfect barrier between a surprisingly open, airy and light-filled interior living space and exposure to the public way. Divided into three sections, the separate living environments were joined together by glass-enclosed transitional areas that belied the structure's bunker-like public face.
[Fred Eychaner House, Lakeview, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The property Eychaner had purchased for his Ando house contained two exisitngs buildingswith a wide yard on the east side of the plot. The 2-story single family dwelling at 665 W. Wrightwood had started-out with the address 1729 W. Wrightwood, and originally sat in the middle of a large oversized lot. When the city finished its revamp of the street numbering system in 1910, 1729 became 665 and not long after, the large lot grew a little smaller when a 3-story apartment building was squeezed into the sideyard to the west. Eychaner returned the property back to its original generous dimensions by tearing down the original house and the apartment building. But instead of locating his new home back to the middle, he used the far eastern edge of the plot of land for Ando's concrete composition, leaving room for a tree-filled, green, privacy screen to the west.
[Park View - Park Grove Manor Apartments (1922/1927) E.E. & Elmer Roberts, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Who knew that Oak Park resident and Chicago area-based architect Eben Ezra Roberts had such a sense of humor. Thirty-five years into a very productive career, Roberts introduced a bit of architectural playfulness into a handsome courtyard apartment building that hadn't shown-up in any of his previous projects. Perhaps it was his son Elmer, who was working with his father by this time, who had suggested that they have a little fun with this one.
[Park View - Park Grove Manor Apartments, 173-181 North Grove Avenue, Oak Park, IL. /Image & Artwork: designslinger] E.E. Roberts came to Chicago in 1888 and found a job in the office of architect Solon S. Beman at a time when Beman was busy cranking out projects for railcar innovator George Pullman. Then, with a few years of experience under his belt, in 1893 Roberts decided to set-off on his own and establish a firm in the suburb of Oak Park. There was also another young, up-and-coming architect at work in the west Chicago suburb, and even though Roberts never achieved the worldwide recognition of his neighbor Frank Lloyd Wright, more Roberts designed buildings appeared on Oak Park's streets than Wright's. Unlike the Prairie Style nonconformist, Roberts was willing to adapt any number of popular, revival styles and apply them to his residential and commercial work as needed. He was a much more comfortable choice for many his more traditional minded neighbors.
[Park View - Park Grove Manor Apartments, Oak Park, Oak Park Historic Landmark, Frank Lloyd Wright-Prairie School of Architecture Historic District /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Roberts was the client as well as the owner of the Grove Avenue apartment building complex. The multi-phase project, constructed in two sections in 1922 and then in 1927, sat on a sizeable plot of land at the southwest corner of Grove and Ontario Streets. The architect had combined two individual pieces of property - each of which had a large, single family, home sitting on it - for his U-shaped multi-unit real estate investment. The lot on the north side of the conjoined parcel had been the residence of businessman William Spooner, who like many of his upper-middle-class neighbors commuted to his downtown Chicago office by train. Spooner was also very active in the Congregational Church which was located just around the corner on Lake Street, and served on the board of the Scoville Institute, which his across-the-street neighbor James Scoville had constructed at the corner of Grove and Lake. It was a very tight-knit community.
[Park View - Park Grove Manor Apartments, Oak Park /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
The house to the south had once been the home of J.L. Cleveland, another commuting businessperson who served as the assistant land commissioner of the Chicago & North Western Railroad. Roberts bought the two properties, had the houses torn down and the first phase of construction got underway. And although the expressive gargoyle-like faces didn't make it on to the upper part of one section of the "U" if you circle over to the Ontario Street facade and look up, you'll see the that father and son had even more fun with the countenances framing the service entrance.