Monday, June 9, 2014

Negotiations on Dearborn -- June 9, 1955

A masterpiece of mid-century modernism (JWB Photo)
Back in 1955 the Chicago School Board owned lots of valuable property, property that in some cases was not used for schools.  Perhaps the most conspicuous plot was the entire block bounded by Monroe, Dearborn, Madison and State Streets.  On this date, June 9, in 1955 the school board’s finance committee authorized the beginning of negotiations for a section of that property that extended 192 feet on Dearborn and 120 feet on Monroe.

It must have hurt to give up that much valuable property in the heart of the Loop, but School Superintendent Benjamin Willis had disclosed that in the following four years the board would be spending a minimum of 50 million dollars for school construction because of an anticipated need of 250 new classrooms each year through 1960.

Standing on the property were two buildings.  The first was the 1878 Crilly Building, which housed the Chicago Stock Exchange until 1894.  It was in this building that the Harris Trust and Savings bank began as well as the first headquarters of Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures.  On the north end was a three-story structure, a portion of the old Saratoga Restaurant and Hotel, built in 1888.  It was in the Saratoga Restaurant that many believe the first jazz was played in the city.  [Chicago Tribune, August 12, 1955] 

 What the Board of Education lost in the sale, along with the old buildings that the city would lose were more than made up for  -- because the buyer that sought the property was the Inland Steel Company.  With offices located across Dearborn on two floors of the First National Bank of Chicago, the rapidly growing company was looking to expand.

And what an expansion!  In a design by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s Walter Netsch and Bruce John Graham, this was the first major structure in the Loop in more than two decades.  Its office floors were supported entirely by seven columns on the east and west sides, located outside the building’s perimeter. As a result all the office spaces had a clear span across the entire floor.  []  A 24-story service building supports the office tower, holding the elevators and mechanicals.

Negotiations between the Board of Education proceeded quickly, and by early September of 1955 the great mid-century modern masterpiece was begun.  By 1958 its completion moved the city into the forefront of modern skyscraper design.

Inland Steel and One South Dearborn (JWB Photo)

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