Monday, July 17, 2017

July 17, 1977 -- Apparel Mart, an Assessment

July 17, 1977 – Paul Gapp, the architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune, evaluates the new Apparel Mart at 350 North Orleans Street, observing that once the Joseph P. Kennedy family bought the land where the new building stands on Wolf Point, family members “began a leisurely study of what to do with it.”  Gapp continues, “After all this high-powered cerebration, one might have expected an imposing structure to rise on a precious patch of 7.5 acres.  Instead, we got the Apparel Mart, a disappointing, $56 million architectural performance that succeeds mostly in saving money … The Mart, inside and out, has that hard-edged crowd control look that speaks of hustling retailers racing up in taxis and airline limos; sprinting from showroom to showroom to buy brassieres and bush jackets; having a late dinner, then flopping into bed for a few hours before arising to catch an early plane back to Cleveland, Omaha, or Sarasota, Fla.”  Gapp seems willing to forgive the buildings “windowlessness” because it “does not intrude into an elegant environment, and thus is not as blatantly offensive as [Water Tower Place] the marble monstrosity on North Michigan Avenue.”  In the Skidmore, Owings and Merrill design Gapp sees “a watch-every-nickel structure of little distinction and absolutely no elegance, done by a first-rate firm.”  Gapp ends his assessment with a remarkably accurate prediction, by way of Skidmore architect Bruce Graham, whose assertion that the Apparel Mart buildings are “’background buildings’ that someday may be dwarfed into nothingness.  “The Mart must stand on its own demerits, even if Graham is right when he says that a skyscraper approaching the size of the Standard Oil Building may be built on the very tip of Wolf Point,” writes Gapp.  A 48-story apartment building, Wolf Point West, a bKL architecture design, opened last summer.  A 60-story commercial building was given approval to begin foundation work in late June.  And the tallest building on Wolf Point will almost completely obscure the Apparel Mart when it rises in the next few years.  The conceptual photo of the completed Wolf Point development project, shown above, seems to validate Graham's belief that the Apparel Mart would one day become a "background building."

July 17, 1881 – The Chicago Daily Tribune prints the report of William H. Genung, the chief tenement house inspector, who provides figures on the work of his department during the preceding week.  The report gives some idea of the size of the problem with which the city is faced as 180 houses are inspected, containing 2,086 rooms, inhabited by 559 families, consisting of 2,550 people.  Small pox will claim the lives of 1,181 people in the last months of this year, and the city is hard at work to eliminate the conditions that foster the disease.  In the Second Ward that today encompasses the east side of the Loop, part of the Gold Coast, and Streeterville, tenement houses such as the one Genung’s department inspected were places in which people lived in cramped circumstances in deplorable sanitary conditions.

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