Monday, March 9, 2015

Inland Steel (The Big Announcement) -- March 9, 1955

Inland Steel from the north side with its exterior columns supporting
the massive two-story cantilevered entry (JWB Photo)
Sixty years ago today on March 9, 1955 The Chicago Tribune ran an article about a bold proposal for a new kind of building intended for the heart of Chicago’s Loop.  The article’s lead read, “Inland Steel Company disclosed yesterday that its new 6 million dollar, 19 story building at the northeast corner of Dearborn and Monroe strs. will be a steel and glass structure, with an adjoining 23 story high shaft housing the building’s service system.”  [Chicago Tribune, March 9, 1955]

In a news conference Joseph L. Block, Inland Steel’s president gave the public its first glimpse of the building, the first new skyscraper in Chicago’s Loop in over 20 years.  The paper described the model as a structure in which “Seven slender columns rising 19 stories from the sidewalk on Dearborn st., with seven matching columns on the opposite eastern side, will be the building’s most striking exterior feature.  With the columns on the outside, all floors will be clear of supports.”

Seven stainless-steel clad exterior columns on the east and west side
of the building support the structure -- pretty sexy engineering
(JWB Photo)
 The stainless steel, windowless shaft on the east side of the building, connected to the office tower by a short hallway, would contain all the heating, air conditioning, wiring and plumbing necessary to support the structure. 

Nathaniel Owings of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architects of the building, said the whole thing would occupy only 57 percent of the lot on which it would stand.  The rental agent for the building, Fred Kramer of Draper & Kramer, Inc. said that the new structure would give the Loop some needed “dash.”

Comin' in out of the shadows to hear the jazz go down . . . (JWB Photo)
Chicagoans walk by this building by the thousands every day, and most of us never give it a second look.  I must admit that I was one of those until about five years ago I was leading a private architectural tour for a group of architects from Philadelphia.  After circling the building and pausing at every side, one of them said, “Everything about this building – everything, from the stainless steel to the clear spans to the double-glazed tinted windows – had never been done before in one place on one project.”

From that moment I saw the building in a different light.

The Landmark Designation Report on Inland Steel, submitted to the Chicago Landmarks Commission said of the building, “The Inland Steel Building came out of the springtime of Chicago's postwar construction boom. In a steel-building city, it retains a lightness, serenity, and polished grace that continue to make it an influential emblem of modernism. In a city with a hundred-year history of distinguished architecture, the Inland Steel Building is an important monument to a particular period of that history and stands as a testament to an important Chicago manufacturing firm and as a major early work of one of the city’s major architectural firms.

The springtime of Chicago’s postwar construction boom . . . I like that.  As we enter the first warm weather in Chicago in months, it might not be a bad idea to walk past this gem on Dearborn and give it a once-over.

Definitely a bold leap ahead of the Bedford Shirt Company Building

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