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Reebie Storage Warehouse

October 13, 2010

CNS 2010

Because I am on vacation and unable to profile a new building this week, I hope you instead enjoy this recycled early article first published in January 2010.

2325 N. Clark St.

There are some Egyptian Revival buildings in the country, but not a lot.  There are far fewer Academic Egyptian Revival buildings.  The Reebie Storage Warehouse fits into the category of the latter – it’s one of the best.  And it is definitely the most impressive in Chicago.  To clarify . . .

Egyptology was all the rage in the early 20th century, particularly after the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922.  One effect this had was seen in the popularization of Egyptian Revival architecture across the United States.  However, not all of the buildings were equals in terms of being historically accurate.  Some buildings fit into the category of Egyptian Revival, and some Academic Egyptian Revival.  Egyptian Revival architecture was much more common, and though it had many Egyptian-like elements, it lacked a sensibility to Egypt’s history.  Instead they were “picturesque” – which is lovely, but not necessarily accurate.  Academic Egyptian Revival architecture was historically accurate.  And The Reebie Storage Warehouse is one the country’s finest examples of Academic Egyptian Revival architecture.

The warehouse was based on two ancient Egyptian temples: Dendera and Edfu, both of which date back to the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II (around 200 BCE).  The columns on the Reebie building are replicas of columns at the Temple Horus at Edfu.  The ornamentation on them is symbolic of the unity of Ancient Egypt through the depiction of the bundled lotus flower which represents Upper Egypt, and the water lily representing Lower Egypt.  On either side of the building’s entrance is a statue of Ramses II, representing the two Reebie brothers: William and John.  Beneath the two statues are William and John’s names written in the hieroglyphic equivalent of their phonetic spellings.  Two other hieroglyphic inscriptions read “I have protection upon your furniture and all sealed things” and “I have guarded all your property every day warding off devouring flames, likewise robbery.”  All of the ornamental drawings for the Reebie warehouse were reviewed for accuracy by both the Field Museum and Art Institute prior to their implementation.

What interested me initially about the building had nothing to do with its historical accuracy.  I just learned about that element of the building recently.  Instead, I was struck by the brilliant artistry of the terra-cotta and the Egyptian theme.  The terra-cotta ornamentation was designed by the sculptor Fritz Albert.  As the supervisor and chief sculptor for the Northwestern Terra Cotta Company (the largest manufacturer in the country), he also oversaw the terra-cotta modeling for the Wrigley, Civic Opera, Merchandise Mart and Carbide and Carbon buildings. George S. Kingsley was the architect of the Reebie building which was completed in 1922.  He designed many storage buildings in Chicago in various Revival styles, though the Reebie building was the most prominent.

The Reebie Storage and Moving Company was founded in 1880 by William Reebie who was later joined by his brother John.  It still operates out of the building to this day, and they continue to use the head of the Sphinx in their logo.  I think that their early advertising slogan sums up the story of the Reebie building pretty well: “If old King Tut were alive today he’d store his things the Reebie way!”


For  additional information on the Reebie Storage and Moving Company check out their website. And for a great article that goes into greater detail on the Reebie building and will direct you to some other Egyptian Revival buildings in Chicago click here. Its author, Heather Plaza-Manning, also writes a fun blog about Egyptomania called Dr. Sphinx’s Blog worth checking out.

One last thing: If you’re an EGYPTOMANIAC consider checking out the Chicago Art Deco Society’s upcoming lecture, the Sights and Sounds of Egyptomania at Roosevelt University on November 6th at 1:30pm. Want to know about what other architectural events are happening across Chicago? Check out BLUEPRINT: Chicago’s CALENDAR OF ARCHITECTURAL EVENTS.

word of the week: PAGODA

October 11, 2010

PAGODA: A Buddhist temple or watch tower with roofs projecting from its many stories. Pagodas are most frequently found in China, Japan and Nepal. The first pagodas were built of timber but eventually brick and stone became the more popular material (since the 6th century).

Pagodas can be found in Chicago too — to find a few just head to Chinatown. Pictured here are a couple of modern adaptations of the pagoda. Below is an open-air pagoda, found in Chinatown Square, built not of timber, brick or stone – but metal. Though pagodas are typically independent structures, also pictured here is a pagoda supported by a larger structure — the On Leong Merchants Association building.

1430 W. Berwyn

October 4, 2010

1430 W. Berwyn

The greystone home at 1430 W. Berwyn is a source of fascination for those whom have stumbled upon it and admired the caryatids and other countless architectural artifacts that decorate the house and surrounding courtyard. However, the eclectic ornament on the outside of the building is only a small hint of what is found inside. When Michael Pilsner moved into his apartment on the building’s second floor two weeks ago, all he brought with him was a duffel bag. There wasn’t room for anything else.

His apartment came fully furnished and included an occasional drop-in roommate – the building’s owner Ronald Flores. Mr. Flores bought the property in 1975 for $80,000 and made decorating it inside and out one of his personal hobbies. Trying to discern fact from fiction on this building is no easy task – Mr. Flores is every bit as eccentric and mysterious as his home.

Let’s start with the facts. The house was built in 1904 for a man by the name of C. Christiansen. The architect was George Pfeiffer (Pfeiffer later ended up moving to Miami where he designed buildings in the Art Deco style), and the builder was John P. Flick. With its heavily rusticated limestone façade and gothic embellishments, it’s an interesting mix of Gothic and Romanesque styles. Its defining caryatids were a later addition added by Mr. Flores. He spotted one such caryatid in a sculptor’s studio and asked for him to make three more to fit the turret. Though they look like bronze from below, in actuality they are hollow and constructed of green-painted plaster.

CNS 2010. For more photos visit BLUEPRINT's facebook page

It’s not surprising that a home bedecked with extraordinary ornament on its exterior would have an unconventional interior, but few could imagine just how over-the-top it is. Every iota of space in the second floor apartment is covered in lavish décor reminiscent of the 18th century Rococo style . . . on steroids. It feels more like a museum than a home – all that’s missing are tourists and red velvet ropes. There isn’t a single comfortable chair to sit in or place to put up your feet. However, there is no shortage of unexpected things to look at.

According to Mr. Flores, he bought the home in much of its present state. He claims that the unlikely ornate gold-painted moldings that decorate the walls and turret were already there when he moved in, as were many of architectural artifacts filling the courtyard. He believes that some of the most impressive furnishings even date back to the original owners. Obviously, this seems doubtful – but it’s clear that the eccentricities of the home were not the work of Mr. Flores alone. He said that the furnishings are a mix of things he found in the house and antiques he brought over from a church in Elgin he once owned and lived in for a few years. The focal point of the apartment is the light fixture hanging from the mirrored turret. Like so much of the house, it too is a mystery.

Mrs. (left) and Mr. Christiansen

One important mystery of the home has been solved: what the original owners, Mr. And Mrs. C. Christiansen, looked like. Their busts, dressed in military costumes Mr. Flores found in one of his closets, sit on either side of the living room doors. Apparently, not long after moving into the home a large family appeared at his door claiming to be the descendents of the original owners. One of them still had the Christiansen busts buried in his basement and gave them to Mr. Flores to return them to their rightful home.


Ronald Flores owns and manages a number of properties across Chicago. Today he mostly lives in Elgin. And if the rumors are true, his house there is even more excessive and eccentric than this home in Andersonville. As you can tell, much of the story behind this home is buried in mystery. If you happen to have any information about the house please share it below. In the meantime, take a PHOTO TOUR of the home’s interior, and let us know what you think!

word of the week: PARAPET

October 3, 2010

PARAPET: A low, protective wall at the edge of a terrace, balcony, or roof. It is most frequently used to describe the part of an exterior wall that rises above the roof.

Compare the heavily classical parapet with Moorish influences on the Rookery building to the postmodern parapet with brightly colored zigzags on the Waveland Bowl building.

Carson Pirie Scott

September 29, 2010

CNS 2010

1 South State St.

In the July 1904 issue of the Architectural Record, Henry Desmond wrote the following about Louis Sullivan: “Mr. Sullivan occupies today something of the usually isolated position of the prophet, the forerunner, the intensely personal force . . . For let it be understood, Mr. Sullivan is really our only Modernist . . . He has his precedents no doubt, but his mature work . . . is not to be dated from elsewhere either as to time or place. Mr. Sullivan himself is the center of it. He is his own inspiration, and in this sense may be saluted as the first American architect.” This was written immediately after and in regards to the opening of Louis Sullivan’s Carson Pirie Scott store.

However, when this was written the building was not owned by Carson Pirie Scott, but instead by Schlesinger & Meyer – a dry goods store dating back to 1872. Due to escalating financial difficulties, the store was sold to Mr. Scott in the fall of 1904. Still under the name of Schlesinger & Meyer, advertisements were found everywhere in anticipation of the building’s opening in October of that year. In typical windy city fashion there was no end to the store’s advertised amenities, such as “mahogany and marble fixtures . . . new combination arc and incandescent lights . . .[the] largest and finest display windows in the world . . . reading, writing and rest rooms . . . telephone booths . . . [an] emergency medical aid room . . . [an] exposition of oriental rugs . . . and 10,000 chrysanthemums . . .” That didn’t even include the restaurant, grill and tea room that sat 1,000. What the advertisements failed to mention was the most important feature of all – the building itself.

as the store appeared in 1904

The Carson Pirie Scott Building was the last major commercial building by Sullivan and is considered to be the culmination of his skyscraper designs. Sullivan took the model of a Chicago School commercial building to its highest level. The Carson Pirie Scott building had the most clearly expressed steel frame of any building in Chicago. The frame, sheathed in glazed white terra cotta, allowed for some of the largest windows ever seen and flexible, wide-open spaces. Both of these features were key to a successful department store and examples of Sullivan’s famous design philosophy, “Form follows Function.”

But what really makes Sullivan’s design stand out is the building’s lavish foliate ornamentation. Every inch of the framework surrounding Carson’s bottom story windows is covered in entirely original cast-iron, nature-inspired embellishments. Though many claim that the artist behind the building’s ornament had to have been Sullivan himself, most of it is more likely attributed to his principal assistant George Grant Elmslie. Elmslie claimed the ornament as his own and Sullivan never denied it. However, Elmslie did credit Sullivan as his major influence and teacher in ornamental design, and said that Sullivan looked critically and approvingly over his shoulder as he worked.

CNS 2010

The over all effect of the building is nicely summarized in Willard Connely’s biography of Louis Sullivan: “The effect was festive, a store . . . bedecked for permanent commemoration; but the psychology of it was that an individual shopper should feel that her own visit was being celebrated . . . At the corner, the bulge offered a choice of five arched entrances, to invite approach from all directions, each door being topped with a great wreath of laurel . . . To cross such a threshold . . . confirmed not one’s interest in vulgar commerce, but one’s devotion to art.”


Carson Pirie Scott was sold in 2006, currently stands empty and has since been renamed to “Sullivan Center.” If the rumors are still true, Target is likely to take over as the building’s newest tenant. The good news is that after years of the building’s trademark ornamentation hiding under scaffolding, its full and glorious restoration is complete thanks to Harboe Architects. The next time you walk by this building be sure to look for Sullivan’s initials H.L.S. (Henri Louis Sullivan) buried in the ornament surrounding the main entrance.

click to ENLARGE!

(It’s important to note that the first three bays of the building on Madison street were completed by Sullivan in 1900, the corner and first seven bays on State St. completed in 1904, the next five bays in 1906 by Burnham and Co., and the final three bays on State St. by Holabird and Root in 1961.)

The Rookery

September 22, 2010

CNS 2010

209 S. LaSalle St.

Between 1872 and 1884, after the ravages of the Great Chicago Fire, the corner of LaSalle and Adams streets was the popular hangout for politicians and pigeons alike. It was the location of City Hall and a water tank. City Hall was the place where politicians cheated or “rooked” one another, and the water tank was the favored place for birds or “rooks” to roost. Even after City Hall and the water tank were demolished and a building that invoked awe like no other in the city took its place, there was no hope in the building adopting any other name than The Rookery.

The fact that the Rookery looks a lot like a castle, or what in the game of chess is called a “rook,” is probably coincidental. But the carved rooks flanking either side of the building’s main entrance are anything but a coincidence. They were a small joke of John Wellborn Root.  Root and his partner Daniel Hudson Burnham were the architects of the Rookery completed in 1888. Root was the firm’s master craftsman and engineer, and Burnham was their visionary and salesman. For almost twenty years Burnham and Root were an unstoppable team designing 40 buildings of note in Chicago and another 25 across the country. Only a few of their buildings remain standing today and the Rookery is one of the best. Burnham and Root must have thought so too — they kept their offices on the Rookery’s top floor until Root’s untimely death from pneumonia at the age of 41 in 1891, just as the two began their efforts in planning the World’s Columbian Exposition.

They were commissioned to design the building by Peter and Shepard Brooks – East coast developers with a number of prominent structures to their name in Chicago. The speculative office building was developed under the auspices of the Central Safety Deposit Company of which Daniel Burnham was a stockholder. Root designed an impressive 11-story building that was transitional and innovative in both style and structure. It combines some modern ideas of what became the Chicago School (it’s visually divided into thirds, and celebrates its structure) with a more historic interest in lavish ornamentation. Much of the ornament, such as its pinnacles and delicate terra-cotta carvings, looks almost Moorish in design and lends the building an international flare. The Rookery’s structure was also transitional in how Root used both masonry load-bearing techniques (seen on the walls of LaSalle and Adams streets) and experimented with the new technology of an iron frame (seen in the light well, and first two stories along the alley and Quincy Street).

The Rookery is in the shape of a hallowed square surrounding a light-filled inner court – one of Chicago’s greatest interior spaces. This plan allowed all offices to receive natural light and fresh air from either the street or light well – an important attribute in a time when electrical lighting was weak and air conditioning nonexistent. Times changed quickly at the turn of the century, and by 1905 Root’s iron decorative work in the interior court had already gone out of fashion. Frank Lloyd Wright was commissioned to renovate the interior to more modern tastes. He encased most of Root’s ironwork in white marble incised and gilded with a design inspired by one of Root’s Arab motifs surrounding the Rookery’s entrance. Wright also added the hanging prairie style chandeliers and grand geometric urns.

CNS 2010

Over the years the Rookery has continued to evolve. In 1931 it was renovated again, this time in the Art Deco style by William Drummond – who had worked for many years as one of Wright’s chief draftsmen. His elevator doors decorated with stylized rooks survive today. For a number of years the building also went into a period of great disrepair – the light well was even tarred over to protect the interior court from water damage. The building went through an extensive and award winning restoration and renovation under the direction of the McClier architecture firm during the early 1990’s, bringing the Rookery to the grandeur we see it in today.


Interested in learning still more about the Rookery? The current owner’s website contains a thorough history of the building – visit it here. If you want to take a tour of the Rookery, the Chicago Architecture Foundation leads a great one twice a month. Search their tours here. And the doors of the Rookery are open to anybody. Want to take a look? Just walk right in.

word of the week: CALF’S-TONGUE

September 20, 2010

CALF’S-T:ONGUE: a molding featuring repeated tongue-shaped elements in relief against a flat or curved surface.

Below are two pictures of the calf’s-tongue terra-cotta ornament on the Swedish American State Bank Building – one up close and another shown in perspective of the building’s surrounding ornament. Both show that this building’s terra-cotta is in need of restoration!

Have you seen other examples of this ornament with a funny name elsewhere in Chicago? If so, write a comment about it below!

IBM Building

September 14, 2010

330 N. Wabash

The “City of the Big Shoulders” may have originally referred to Chicago’s industrial history, but the nickname could just as easily be shared with Mies van der Rohe and his muscular buildings that transformed Chicago’s skyline. Mies’s IBM building has the biggest shoulders of them all.

Completed in 1972, The IBM tower was the last American office building designed by Mies before he died in 1969 just weeks after the designs were finalized. It wasn’t an easy project. When Mies first saw the site for the tower he inquired on where exactly the site was. It wasn’t obvious. It was an irregularly shaped 1.6-acre plot of land – small for a tower as grand as IBM had envisioned. That wasn’t the only complication. There were railroad tracks running beneath the site that delivered newspaper rolls to and from what was then the building’s neighbor – the Chicago Sun Times Building.

Despite the limitations he had to work with, Mies managed to erect a tower that looked anything but crammed into Chicago’s streetscape. He designed a 52-story tower and saved half of the site for a surrounding plaza. And though the building may have broad shoulders, it still maintains a sense of weightlessness in typical Miesian form. The lobby soars to a height of 26ft and is encased in floor to ceiling glass. Pilotis elevate and support the upper floors allowing for the lobby to be open and mostly unburdened by structural concerns.

CNS 2010

At first glance many might criticize the IBM building of being just another steel and glass box. But to appreciate a building like this one requires an open mind and a closer look. Mies was known to say, “God is in the details.” His partner traveled through quarries in Rome to ensure that the honey colored marble adorning the lobby’s walls would be carefully cut so that the horizontal grain would be horizontally matched. Follow the lines in the plaza’s pavement – they line up perfectly to the central point of every piloti and window mullion. They even continue uninterrupted inside the building forming a grid of polished marble tile flooring.

Mies was onto something when he famously declared, “Less is More.” His buildings are structurally simple – they celebrate the industrial materials which made them possible: steel and glass. But in their simplicity subtleties become important. The IBM tower is transparent. Its interior and the exterior are separated only by glass. Repeated lines of steel at regular intervals give the building a sense of rhythm. And depending on the time of day the tower becomes a canvas for reflecting all of the complex shapes and colors of its surroundings.

IBM, or the International Business Machines Company, commissioned Mies to design a modern building for a modern company. The motive was to consolidate all of their Chicago offices under one roof. 2100 IBM employees used forty percent of the building, and the rest was available for lease. Because it was full of computers (before computers were popularized), the building had to have a sophisticated system of climate control. Associate architects CF Murphy designed a heating and cooling system that could be automatically controlled by an IBM 1800 computer. And the architects went through the added trouble of double-glazing the curtain wall to maintain a high level of interior humidity.

CNS 2010

So the IBM building isn’t so simple after all – there’s a lot going on inside and outside this steel and glass box.


The official name of the building was changed to 330 N. Wabash when IBM moved out in 2006 – but everyone still calls it the IBM building. Want to learn more about the IBM Building? It was recently landmarked, and everything you’d want to know about it is included in the landmark report. Just for fun, watch this hilarious and educational short video all about Mies.

word of the week: QUOIN

September 12, 2010

QUOIN: The corner of a masonry building that is differentiated from the rest of  its facade by material, color, texture size or projection. Quoins have a purely decorative purpose in buildings.

Pictured is the highly sculptural quoining at the corner of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago Building (originally the Illinois Athletic Club).

Click on the image to ENLARGE it!

SKYLINES — Reflecting on Mies

September 8, 2010

IBM Tower, Mies van der Rohe, CNS 2010


word of the week: RUSTICATION

September 5, 2010

Rusticated base of the Rookery

RUSTICATION: masonry with a raised, rough or otherwise irregular surface texture. It’s typically seen at the base of a building.

School of the Art Institute

Pictured here are two very different types of rustication: very rough as seen on the Rookery, or smooth, raised and clearly outlined as seen in the masonry on the base of the School of the Art Institute (originally the Illinois Athletic Club).

One Museum Park

September 2, 2010

Western Perspective of One Museum Park, CNS 2010

1201 and 1211 S. Prairie Ave.

Something exciting is happening at the southern edge of Grant Park, and that something is One Museum Park. There is an undeniable energy at Grant Park’s northern end where towering buildings compete for attention behind the undulating forms of the Pritzker Pavilion. All of that energy goes static at the park’s southern end – the gaping hole of Chicago’s architectural landscape. The recent completion of One Museum Park is a hopeful hint of what’s to come.

One Museum Park is comprised of two connected buildings: One Museum Park East and One Museum Park West. At 62 stories and 734ft., the eastern building is the star of the two. Depending on your vantage point these two buildings take on entirely different forms. From the west, instead of looking like two separate buildings they merge into one multi-tiered skyscraper. The southern side is the most surprising – one of the buildings is torn open to reveal layers upon layers of elliptical towers. And the eastern short and stubby side is the disappointing perspective. We’re most familiar with the elegant northern side of the complex that faces the park – tall, sleek and slender.

Northern Side, CNS 2010

The local firm of Pappageorge/Haymes, who have designed over 15,000 housing units in Chicago, designed one Museum Park. Though they may be prolific architects, they haven’t always been as popular with the public as they have with developers. George Pappageorge and David Haymes have been criticized for their previously uninspired buildings that dot Chicago’s skyline. But One Museum Park shows what this firm is really capable of. The original design for the buildings was altered when city officials encouraged the developers to build something more interesting – an architectural landmark – due to their prominence on the park.

The buildings are part of a large development in the museum campus area planned by the Enterprise Companies called Central Station. Pappageorge and Haymes designed two more high rises adjacent to One Museum Park that would complete Grant Park’s southern street wall if built (which at this time is looking unlikely). Though with two buildings built, some day more buildings are sure to come.

Southern Side, CNS 2010

With its reflective blue and green glass walls, and playful forms One Museum Park is textbook contemporary architecture. And though it’s far from perfect (as seen from its enlarged eastern side), it’s still something where there was nothing.


To see all of the other buildings that Pappageorge/Haymes have designed around the city and country visit their website. Because the buildings face Grant Park and the lake, the views from One Museum Park are hard to beat. To tour the interiors of the buildings check out the website of the Museum Park Sales Center.

Though One Museum Park stands prominently on the Chicago skyline, it’s not free of criticism. People love it and they hate it. How do you feel about it? Please share your comments below.

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