Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Holden Block at 1027 West Madison

Steven Vaughan Shipmans 1872 C. C. P. Holden Building (JWB, 2012)

Walking east in the 1000 block of West Madison Street last Sunday, on my way to the Dominick’s deli after finding the doors of the Washington Boulevard Subsway shop closed as tight as Mayor Emmanuel’s jaws, I came upon a building that stopped me in my tracks. 

It’s not listed in the AIA Guide to Chicago, and I’m sure that thousands of folks walk past it every day without giving it a second glance.  But this is a really special building, so special that the Commission on Chicago Landmarks has given the Holden Block at 1027 West Madison Street landmark status.

With good reason . . . because it’s a great old Chicago building that combines history, larger-than-life individuals, and a happy ending into a particularly attractive package.

The resorted facade of 1027 West Madison
(JWB, 2012)
Designed in the Italianate style and finished just a year after the Chicago Fire, the commission’s landmark designation report calls the Holden Block “arguably the finest surviving example [of the standard building block of Chicago’s commercial streets in the 19th and early 20th centuries] on the Near West Side and one of the best citywide in its overall architectural design and detailing.”   

The builder and owner of the Holden Block, Charles C. P. Holden (1827-1905) was one of Chicago’s original settlers.  Born in Groton, New Hampshire in 1827, he came to Chicago with his family in 1836, just a year before the city was chartered.  At the age of 19 he joined Company F of the Fifth Regiment of the Illinois infantry and fought against the Navajos in what is now New Mexico.

By 1855 he began an 18-year career with the Illinois Central Railroad as a land agent with over 2,000,000 acres of the state’s land grant under his administration.  Mr. Holden served as President of the Chicago City Council from 1870 to 1872 and was in charge when the Chicago Fire leveled the city.

In 1874 Mr. Holden was elected to the Cook County Board of Commissioners and served as its president in 1876.  He laid the cornerstone for the 1877 County Courthouse and oversaw the construction of the first Cook County Hospital on Harrison Street.

The Holden Block on Madison Street was a speculative project, and Mr. Holden sold the property within a year.  His name still stands at the top of the structure, though, and above his name the year that the building was finished -- 1872.

The style of the building in the Italianate style was popular in Chicago and much of the country from 1860 to 1885 or so.  Based to a greater or lesser extent on the Italian country villa, it stood as a more relaxed alternative to the rigid classicism that dominated architecture at the time.

Window Detail of Holden Block (JWB, 2012)
According to the report of the Chicago Commission on Landmarks, “. . . the use of decoration around windows and doors and along rooflines enhanced street-facing facades.  In Italianate-style buildings, paired brackets typically ornament elaborately detailed cornices.  Tall, narrow windows, topped by decorative stone lintels, often with incised floral medallions, can be found in many shapes.”

The emphasis on window treatment and elaborate cornices was perfect for the flat façade of the post-fire business block in Chicago.  And what a treatment the Holden Block was given.  There are 24 windows in the north face of the building . . . treated with eight different window surrounds.  The windows are designed with the greatest complexity on the second floor and get simpler as the building rises.

Window detail & Buena Vista
Sandstone (JWB, 2012)
The front façade of the Holden Block is clad with ”Buena Vista stone,” a sandstone quarried in Ohio.  Because there was virtually no visible difference in its granular structure, it could be cut in any direction.  Its popularity in Chicago was made possible by the growth of the railroads, which made transportation of the highly valued stone possible.  The height of Buena Vista stone’s popularity coincided almost exactly with the date of the Holden Block’s completion.  Bedford limestone from the area around Bloomington, Indiana replaced Buena Vista as the stone of choice in Chicago as it had the same uniform quality as the Ohio stone, while being far more resistant to weathering.

The architect of the Holden Block was Stephen Vaughan Shipman.  Born in Montrose, Pennsylvania, he learned the building trade from his father.  He established an office in Madison, Wisconsin in 1855 and designed the first dome and rotunda of the second Wisconsin state capital.

He entered the Civil War in the First Wisconsin Cavalry Regiment as a first Lieutenant and was ultimately promoted to Colonel as the war progressed.  Upon returning to Madison in 1865 he was elected City Treasurer.  He was drawn to Chicago after the Great Fire because of the opportunities for men of his experience in the re-building of the city. 

The Original Presbyterian Hospital
One of his designs was for the first Presbyterian Hospital on Chicago’s west side.  He also designed the block at 10 West Hubbard, where Architect Harry Weese established his practice.  It is now the location of Carol Ross Barney’s firm. Three of Stephen Shipman’s buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The Holden Block before the renovation by S/C/C
(Google image)
You’re always looking for good news when you stop to admire these older buildings.  And in the case of the Holden Block there is good news.  Schafer/Condon/Carter, a highly respected Chicago advertising firm, purchased the Holden Block and, after an extensive renovation, moved its operations to the 34,500 square-foot building in the fall of last year.

The care taken in the renovation is obvious, and this hidden gem on the near west side now looks deserving of its newly gained landmark status.
The Holden Block after the renovation by Schafer/Condon/Carter (JWB, 2012)


Jason_Neises said...

Great article, Jim! Do you know what architecture firm did the renovation? Looks like it was very well done.

WindowLady said...

Widler Architecture. Brent Widler. He did a fantastic job and was great to work with!

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