Friday, February 27, 2009

Status Update: 465 North Park and the Waldorf=Astoria

How are things going along East Illinois Street where two massive projects are supposed to be underway? If you listen closely, you can hear crickets.

The front part of this lot, surrounded by the blue tarp fence is supposed to be 465 North Park Drive, a 57-story residential tower.  The back part, with all the cars parked on it, is supposed to be the new Waldorf=Astoria hotel.  Neither of them appear to be going anywhere, and with the lack of construction machinery or even an office trailer on site we don't expect much to happen this year.

Last year there was lots of work in the front (465) section.  Contractors were working on dealing with the soil, which like a lot of the dirt in the area, is contaminated with radioactive thorium from the old Lindsay Light factory that used to be here.  It sounds scarier than it is.  Remediating the soil before building a tower is S.O.P. for Streeterville and Lakeshore East.

As for the hotel?  You might want to bet on the Spire completing before you bet on the Waldorf=Astoria reaching 107 stories here in Chicago.  It's been hit with a double whammy: The mortgage came due and no a spade of earth ad been turned.  At the same time, DeStefano + Partners is suing the developer for $711,000 in unpaid feed for designing the building that looks nearly identical to one in China.

Status Update: The Nichols Bridgeway

After yesterday's mini-rant about the Art Institute's Modern Wing, it seemed logical to follow that up with an update on the bridge that will link the museum with Millennium Park.

The 620-foot-long bridge has a Renzo Piano pedigree and like most modern architecture is simple in design.  In fact, it's a big white pipe cut in half.  A culvert, really.  Which I guess is symbolic or ironic or something since it's supposed to "funnel" people into the park from the museum.  Clever.

Did we really need to spend a brazillion dollars to have Piano tell us to build a pipe?  And did we even need a bridge in the first place?  I'm not questioning the utility of finding a way to get thousands of tourists across Monroe Street.  I've seen enough of them almost get creamed while jaywalking with their noses buried in their pop-out maps.  But was a bridge the best way to go?  Couldn't we have sent them under Monroe along the existing pathway at a fraction of the price?

Regardless, the bridge is here and I'm going to try hard to learn to love it.  Currently it has a lot of nasty rust all over it and it looks like a broadcast antenna fell down.  But come spring when it's all nice and shiny and painted I hope I'll find it's the next best thing to sliced bread.  Or one of those pop-out maps.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Status Update: ARTIC Modern Wing

As good downtown neighbors and proper Loop boosters, I know we're supposed to be all excited about the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, but I just can't seem to get there.

To me it looks more like an aircraft maintenance hangar than a museum.  For all that I've read about dramatic angles, prophetic use of space, and the intricacies of manipulating natural light it still just looks like another midwestern glass box to me.

I've heard from some people who've been inside.  Real people, not toffee-nosed architects or pointy-headed academics.  They assure me that it is truly a breathtaking experience.  I'll have to take their word for it until I, and the rest of the public, can get in there later this month.

Sure, it's got a Renzo Piano stamp on it, but I can't help but feel like the "starchitects" we looked to in the 80's and 90's for inspiration have gone off their feed.  Gehry's become a one-trick pony.  Hadid churns out fantasy after fantasy but hardly any get built.  And did I.M. Pei go into Witness Protection or something?

Slice of Life: Olympia's Show

The Olympia Centre (737 North Michigan Avenue) towers over its immediate neighbors.  From most angles it is up to its bellybutton in last-generation architecture, which prevents people from appreciating its slightly sloping Fuji form.  From this vantage point, it's possible to see just how tall this place is.

It gets to claim a Michigan Avenue address because its podium is the Michigan Avenue Neiman Marcus store.

And for what it's worth, according to the Tribune, this is where Mike Ditka lives.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Status Update: The Park Monroe

You can call it the Park Monroe all you want, but to us it's still Mid-Continental Plaza .  The conversion of the upper stories of this office building into swanky double-height condominiums actually appears to have done the building some good.

It's no longer a boing box of grey pinstripes.  The change in form at the residential level gives it an interesting visual cap and helps it stand out more than it did before.

Status Update: The Legacy at Millennium Park

If the Waterview Tower ever gets completed, I'd like to think that this is what it would look like.  The Legacy at Millennium Park spent a couple of years trying to restore and preserve some pretty nasty retail storefronts.  Now that it's free to rise upward, it is; and at quite a pace.

There are three reasons I like this building:

  1. It echoes the art deco-era towers that sit in front of it along Michigan Avenue
  2. It helped with the massive clean-up of Wabash Street that's turned it from a scary alley into the beginnings of a neighborhood.
  3. It blocked my old bosses view from her condo.  Suck it, Diana.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Status Update: The still unnamed new Loyola building

Only a couple of weeks after we posted our article about Loyola University planning to tear down a grungy strip of retail stores on Chicago Avenue it actually happened.
Though Crain's Chicago Business and others predicted that demolition wouldn't happen until spring or even summer, if you blinked, you missed it.    Dunkin' Donuts, Tony's and the random vacant space are all gone and the newsstand has been closed up tight.  Look for that to disappear soon.  It will be stored in a city warehouse until the project is finished.

Soon to come -- a Loyola University building with offices, classrooms, and street-level retail.  Since the economy has made us new fans of McDonald's dollar menu, we'll keep a close eye on this for you.

Status Update: Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower

You can't call it "complete" yet, but "topped out" seems appropriate for the vertical expansion of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower fronting Millennium Park.  If you get our Twitter feed, you were alerted a while back when the eastern crane was taken off the building.  Now it looks like most of the structural work is done and we can finally start calling this building 57 stories instead of 32.

The vertical expansion is an unusual thing to see, even though there are several buildings in downtown Chicago and the Loop that were intentionally designed to be extended in height later.  Some of them are even from the 1800's.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Status Update: The Ritz-Carlton Residences

Things are chugging along at the heart of North Michigan Avenue where the Ritz-Carlton Residences are going up.  The building in this photo is actually not part of the project.  It is being protected while the ritzy digs go up all around it.

Garrett's Popcorn, Starbucks, and the Terra Museum of American Art were all torn down to make way for the new high rise which will have just 33 homes in it.  Hanig's Footwear had to move to the John Hancock Center where it appears to be doing very well.

With those buildings gone, we can see a glimpse into the city's architectural history.  The demolition has allowed sunlight to once again penetrate the eastern wall of the building which abuts this property to the west (Sanitary District or Railroad Pension building or something).  Those office workers better not put any plants on the window sills, though because the new building going in is going to be huge.

At 500 feet tall, the Ritz-Carlton Residences is going to reach even higher than its neighbor, City Place which will suddenly be plunged into shadow for much of the day.

Worse off is the Express store on the ground floor.  It's already struggling to lure in foot traffic by putting up giant "Open During Construction" signs.  What happens when Chicago Place across the street goes under construction to convert it into an office building?  Will anyone even see the Express behind all the Jersey barriers?

Children's Hospital Gets Its Crane On

If you follow our Twitter tweet feed , then you got the alert on February 5th when the crane went up at the new Children's Memorial Hospital on Chicago Avenue.  Now that it's in place, construction is really starting to move along.

Up to this point, virtually all of the construction work had been going on underground.  Now that the crane is in place, things are starting to spring up.
As of this writing, just a couple of days after the photo above was taken, the elevator shaft has already risen a couple of stories above the construction fence.  It shouldn't be too much longer before the exterior starts to take shape.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Quickie: Marriott Pulls Out of 150 East Ontario

Crain's Chicago Business reports that Marriott has decided to pull out  of the mixed condo and hotel tower planned for 150 East Ontario .  The tower was going to be the home of a Marriott "Edition" hotel -- one of 100 planned around the world.

Crain's says the developer still plans to go ahead with the project, which would replace a small strip of unremarkable shops and restaurants just east of Michigan Avenue.

While more and more new hotels are going brandless lately, in these uncertain times it's good to have a brand's reservation system feeding you bookings when a hotelier opens a new property.

For what it's worth, Chicago still lacks an Adam's Mark hotel.  Maybe that's a direction the developer could turn.

Quickie: Unbuilt Mandarin Oriental Faces Foreclosure

Crain's Chicago Business  (naturally) reports that the as-yet-unbuilt Mandarin Oriental Hotel is now the subject of a foreclosure suit.

The 74-story building was to go in the vacant slot on Stetson Place in the Illinois Center.  In spite of its location, it planned to use a Michigan Avenue address.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hell Freezes Over: Lakeshore East Gets a Grocery

Nearly six years ago we were first promised by a Lakeshore East sales staffer that a grocery store was coming "soon."  Now, three years after we moved out of Lakeshore East, the former golf course at the corner of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan is finally, really, truly, going to get a grocery store.
Crain's Chicago Business reports that Milwaukee grocery store chain Roundy's has signed a lease to open a store in a space that was at first supposed to be a Treasure Island and then a Target and then... well, it was anybody's guess for a long while.
The store will be inside a three-story $60 million building called "Village Market Center" backed up against 340 On the Park, filling in an area that's been pretty much mud since 2002.  Construction is scheduled to start around May-ish... assuming a construction loan can be landed by Magellan Development.
Grocery shopping for the 10,000 or so people who live in Lakeshore East is more than a little bit of a chore.  There's a store in the basement of Harbor Point Tower, but it's little more than a glorified 7-Eleven.
The best option for a while was the Bockwinkle store inside the Park Millennium.  But that ended a couple of years ago when the public toilet elevator connecting Lakeshore East with Upper Columbus Drive was demolished to make way for the construction of Aqua .

That left people with two options: schlep their groceries over the river and through the woods from the Dominick's at The Fairbanks , or get them delivered from Peapod.  We went with Peapod during our stay at Lakeshore East.
One interesting note is that the Crain's report states that Fifth Third bank plans to open a branch inside Village Market Center.  There is already a full Fifth Third branch inside The Shoreham .  It remains to be seen if that will stay open.  Considering that it took five years to get Rom to move into The Shoreham, finding a replacement for that Fifth Third could prove challenging.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Last Chance To Dance: Lakefront VA Hospital Almost Gone

For the last eight months or so, demolition crews have been very methodically and very loudly disassembling the old VA hospital in the heart of Streeterville .  If you've never seen the X-shaped building or have some attachment to it, better pay your respects soon, before it's too late.
What used to be four wings 15 stories tall is now down to just three, and those won't last long.

The VA sold the hospital for $52 million, and what plans Northwestern University has for the property haven't been disclosed to the public yet.

The best use would be a big fat park, but that won't happen.  You don't pay millions of dollars to house squirrels.  Somehow the owners have to recoup the money spent, and that means building up.

The hospital as demolition was beginning.

Status Update: Six North Michigan Avenue

It was a slow and tedious process, but the top of Six North Michigan Avenue is finally complete.

It's been shrouded in tarps and scaffolding since at least 2003, probably longer while restoration work was done on its crown and the inside converted from offices into condos.  The shroud came off this winter and the result is pleasing.  It's also nice to see another residential option on Michigan Avenue.

But there are a couple of things that could have been done better.  First, the redeveloper could have come up with a more imaginative name.  Of course, the idea was to cash in on the "Michigan Avenue" cachet, but it would have been nice to somehow incorporate the building's original name: The Montgomery Ward Tower.

Second, it would have been fantastic if the building could have been restored to its pre-1947 condition.  In that year the ten-story tower was taken off the top of the building along with a three-story pyramid roof, similar to the one that used to cap the tower at the Dearborn Street Station.  Seeing 6 North Michigan Avenue in old pictures is kind of startling at first, but it goes well with the Pittsfield Building to the north and the Willoughby Tower across the street.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fourth Presbyterian Tower: Still Dead

Last week I told you about how the Fourth Presbyterian Church has given up on its plan to build a 64-story tower across the street from the 100-story John Hancock Center and the 66-story tower at 900 North Michigan Avenue.  Since then, I've been given a copy of a letter from Pastor John Buchanan that has some interesting details in it.

  • The reasons cited for abandoning the tower plan are politics, the economy, and time.
  • The church had been working on the tower plan for eight years.
  • Alderman Brendan Reilly refused to meet with Fourth Presbyterian to talk about the tower.

According to Pastor Buchanan, "Attempts to met with him to present the new proposal and to discuss the church's mission and goals have been unsuccessful."  Didn't we elect Reilly to represent all the people?  Doesn't that mean he should listen to both sides of an issue?  Isn't blind one-sidedness the reason we kicked out Burt Natarus?

If the alderman won't even look at the new proposal, how does he know it's bad?  How could he use his position of power to help kill this project?  Was he operating on hearsay?  I wasn't information from the paper, because both the Sun-Times and the Tribune endorsed the project.

The church still has its space problem to solve, and will move forward putting together a new plan for that. It will likely involve a piece of property purchased along Chicago Avenue.  Assuming it, too, is not in the heart of NIMBY country.

Details on New 41 Story Apartment Tower For West Loop

Elsewhere on this blog someone asked for some information on the surface parking lot at 108 North Jefferson Street.  I answered the question there, but since most people don't spend their time reading all of the comments on this blog, I thought I'd make a separate post for it as well.

These facts are, of course, fluid.  Nothing is concrete until it's built in concrete.  So things may have changed radically, but here's the latest I have on 108 N. Jeff.:

Name: 108 North Jefferson
Stories: 41
Height: 430 feet
Use: Rental apartments
Architect: Solomon Cordwell Bunez
Office space: 93,000 square feet
Retail space: 12,500 square feet
Apartments: 311
Garage: 5 stories
Parking spaces: 246

Naturally a swimming pool and all the usual amenities are planned.

Last I heard this is still in the permitting stage.  Traffic and other studies have to be done first.  If anyone has any better information, post it here.

Another Hotel to Open Soon in River North

Yet another Near North Side flophouse is becoming respectable again.

The old Hotel Wacker at 111 West Huron Street is becoming the Hotel Felix .  Wacker was a pretty nice place when it first opened in the 1920's, but like a lot of the city's once classy hotels, it went downhill as the neighborhood went from residential to commercial to industrial.  Now that the people are back, so's the hotel, though under a different name.

The new "Felix" name isn't specific to any person.  It was chosen just because it's a happy little name that sounds a little like "felicity."  Inside, the building is getting a lot more than a new name.

The building is essentially being gutted and re-built on the inside.  Because of this, the developers (Oxford Capital which also converted the Hotel Cass on Wabash from an S.R.O. into a Holiday Inn Express) are able to make this the first downtown hotel to achieve LEED Silver status.  It does this through a number of innovations, including the use of sustainable and recycled materials when possible, low flow plumbing, compact florescent lighting throughout the property, the use of low VOC paints and carpeting, and having an employee bike room and shower to encourage them to pedal to work.

The hotel will be a "rooms box" meaning, just 225 rooms and a bar -- no conference or banquet facilities.  It was gutted and re-built because if the building was torn down, modern zoning regulations would have only allowed a much smaller building to be erected in its place.

Because of its history, the building's rooms have an unusual and rather small layout.  The furniture has been custom made to take every advantage of the available space.

The developers tried to have the building landmarked, but the city wouldn't go for it.  It was designed by Levy and Klein, the same people behind the Majestic Theater, but that's not enough.

Look for a soft opening on March 1, 2009 to get the kinks out and a grant opening in late April.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Details About the IBM Building Hotel Conversion

More details are coming out about the conversion of a portion of 330 North Wabash (the old One IBM Plaza) into a hotel.  I was at a meeting recently with John Rutledge, the C.E.O. of Oxford Capital.  That's the company doing the conversion, and he had some very interesting things to say.

The big question in everyone's minds these days is, "Is this really going to happen?"  The answer at this time is "yes."  The project was not financed with debt, so when the debt markets crashed and sent the economy into a tailspin it was no big whoop for Oxford Capital.

That said, Oxford is not in any particular hurry to complete the project.  There's some asbestos abatement that has to be done, and Oxford plans to take its sweet time with that in order to help wait out the recession.  The original plan was to begin work in 2009 and open in 2010.  Now the plan is to start in the spring or summer of 2010, if there are signs that the economy is recovering.

Oxford bought floors 2-13 of the building on March 18, 2008.  It actually had to fend off competing bids from two other hotel companies that wanted to do the conversion.  Because of the way Ludwig Mies van der Rohe designed the building, it's a very easy conversion from office to hotel.

As part of the purchase, Oxford petitioned the city to have the building landmarked.  This helped make the financing possible because it lowered the property taxes the hotel will pay from the higher hotel rate down to a landmark rate, which is similar to the rate being paid when it was offices.  It's the youngest building in Chicago to receive landmark status, and the carrot used to get the city to approve the idea was the estimated $50 to $80 million dollars a year in taxes that hotel is expected to generate.

Some people have wondered if a hotel in the old IBM Building can compete with Trump's hotel just next door.  Rutledge thinks the answer is once again, "yes."  In fact, he says the success of the Trump Tower actually made 330 North Wabash more valuable as a hotel.  Moreover, it fits in with Mayor Daley's plan to turn the main branch of the Chicago River into the city's next big tourist destination.  "The New Gold Coast" is what the Chicago Tribune once called it, but that may be something of an overstatement.

As for the proximity of the Trump Tower to the IBM Building, it's not as bad as you might think.  At its closest, the Trump International Hotel and Tower is 120 feet away from 330 North Wabash.  From the ground it's a tight fit, but the view from the windows above is supposed to still be pretty good.  In spite of the proximity of Trump they're supposed to be among the best hotel views in downtown Chicago.  As someone who's stayed at the Hotel 71 , I can imagine that might be true.  Also, Rutledge claims that design of the building will allow the hotel to have the largest luxury rooms in the city.

The hotel will be managed by Noble House Hotels in a joint venture with the Hotel Sax next door.  People who work in the building will have access to the hotel's amenities.  And having a one million square foot office building on top of the hotel is a benefit because it means you have a built-in customer base for their visiting clients as well as for large meetings.

Speaking of meetings, there will be some alteration to the building.  The most drastic measure will be the removal of a portion of one of the floors in order to create a two-story ballroom.  The ballroom will be about 5,000 square feet.  Other changes include the addition of a green roof, and a slight reconfiguration of the lobby.

Details are still being worked out, but the lobby may be divided into two separate spaces, one for the hotel and one for the office.  Another idea is to simply have a welcome desk in the lobby and an elevator which takes guests to the second-floor sky lobby for registration.  That second floor is already planned to have a restaurant, a bar, and a lounge, so moving check-in up there isn't that big a deal.  Still, at this time it's all very fluid.  The Four Seasons at the Seagram Building in New York is being eyed as a model.

How about a name and a brand?  Well, there will be no brand.  Rutledge wants the hotel to stand on its own and maybe become the flagship property of a new luxury brand, so it will not be affiliated with any of the existing hotel chains.  As for a name, that hasn't been decided yet.  Oxford looked into doing something like "The IBM Hotel" in order to tap into the building's history, but trademark issues won't allow that to happen.

And speaking of pipe dreams -- Rutledge floated a very interesting fantasy for the hotel that utilizes its luxury status and its location.  He imagines the hotel's concierge service dispatching a classic wooden motor boat like a Chris-Craft to pick up guest arriving by train at Union Station, and then cruise up the river to a private dock next to the hotel so they can arrive in style.  It sounds a little extravagant considering the number of people who arrive in Chicago by train these days, but maybe in partnership with Trump and the Hotel Sax he might just be on to something.

How to Settle Chicago Neighborhood Fights

Have you ever gotten into an argument with someone about exactly where one neighborhood ends and another begins? It's not uncommon to hear people in the office or the corner bar discuss and debate where the boundaries of the Gold Coast are, or what the Hell is "North Center."

The problem is that the city maintains two different classes of neighborhoods. One is actually called "neighborhoods." The other is called "community areas." The good news is that the city maintains detailed maps showing exactly where the lines are. So for your dispute-settling needs, download the following PDFs:

The Official Chicago Neighborhood Map

The Official Chicago Community Area Map

You'll notice a few things right off the bat -- that the Gold Coast begins at Chicago Avenue, not at Division like a lot of people assume. And that the Cathedral District doesn't officially exist. Oh, and that brownstone two-flat you bought on Jackson past the United Center that your real estate agent swore up and down was the "West Loop." Yeah, well he's a big fat liar. You're represen'in' Garfield Park.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quickie: Chicago Lodge Could be Razed

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the Chicago Lodge has been bought.  The motel on Foster Avenue near the lakefront is considered an eyesore by some.  The buyer is none other than the Dominick's grocery store next door.

So, does this mean redevelopment?  Perhaps more retail opportunities?  Crain's thinks the motel is going to be replaced by a new upscale Dominick's.  Considering the way the economy is these days, I wouldn't be surprised if it didn't just end up a parking lot expansion.

Who Knew? Lake Shore Drive Inspired a Video Game

Who knew?

Lake Shore Drive was the inspiration for the 1980's Activision game "Freeway."  Well, the original name was "Bloody Human Freeway" but most of us remember it being marketed with a chicken, not a person, crossing the lanes of traffic.

From Atari Age:
Even though Freeway looks a bit like Frogger at first glance, the two games are actually very different. According to David Crane, he got the idea for Freeway from watching a man trying to cross Lake Shore Drive during rush-hour traffic while attending Chicago's Consumer Electronic Show.
More at Atari Age including a ROM you can download and play the game on your computer.

New Barney's New York New Update

We have a few more details about the April 2nd opening of the new Barney's New York store on Rush Street.

  • The first floor will be all accessories, meaning scarfs, wallets, handbags, and things like that.  
  • The cosmetics area which is normally on the first floor of department stores in the Midwest is going into the basement, like in Bergdorf Goodman and Barney's in New York.  "Basement" probably isn't the best word to describe it.  It's actually an inviting, light, airy space that just happens to be subterranean.  
  • Chelsea Passage is getting smaller and will share the top floor with Fred's, the new restaurant (Get it?  Fred's at Barney's?). 

Quickie: Amex Out, NatCity In

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the American Express travel office in the Loop has to find a new home.  It's being pushed out by an incoming branch of National City Bank.  The good news is that when National City lands at 55 West Monroe it will also suck up the space left vacant by Sharper Image when it closed its Loop store last year.

Monday, February 9, 2009

In Case You Missed It: More Grocery Store Talk for Lakeshore East

It's been five years since the first time a salesperson at Lakeshore East told us that a grocery store would be open at the complex, "any day now... six months, tops."  Since then we've heard similar lines from Lakeshore East salespeople half a dozen times and yet the nearest serious grocery shopping option is the Dominick's on East Illinois Street.

In fact, that Dominick's was built and opened within two years of us first being told that a Lakeshore East grocery store was right around the corner.  So you can imagine the yawns with which we greeted this piece of news from Crain's Chicago Business: Roundy's is looking at Lakeshore East .

The article states that the minor Wisconsin grocery store chain is looking for a location on the West Side, and one in Lakeshore East.  Roundy's is reportedly looking for about double the space of the never-built Treasure Island grocery store.  As luck would have it, a nearby hotel recently pulled out of the Aqua project, so many it can find some space in the building's podium.

Or not.  We'll believe it when we see it.

(On a side note, we lived in Lakeshore East for two years and frequented both Bockwinkle's at The Park Millennium and the one in Harbor Point Tower .  While both are nice, neither is useful for "serious" grocery shopping.  For that, it's the Dominick's in The Fairbanks , the Jewel on State Street, or our favorite option --

In Case You Missed It: Chicago Place mall becoming offices

We didn't mention it here, so in case you missed it: the mall portion of Chicago Place is being turned into offices .
Saks will stay, and the former Talbott's space is still becoming Zara.  And in between the two of them, 11,000 square feet of what used to be the mall lobby will become some other as-yet-unannounced store on Michigan Avenue.  But the rest of the Chicago Place mall is destined to become a cubicle farm.

It will be interesting to see how this is accomplished. The low-impact (and lower cost) way would be to leave the atrium open and have the offices ring it, like the Lloyd's of London headquarters .  But there has been talk in the past of decking over the atrium back when a hotel looked like a better way to go.  We'll see what happens.

Quickie: Chicago Spire update

The Irish newspaper The Independent has published an article updating us on what's going on with the Chicago Spire.  In a word -- nothing.  The paper lifted a couple of quotes from a New York Times article and tried to present it as something new, but it told us nothing we didn't already know -- 1, that the Spire needs money to be built; and 2, that the banks aren't willing to part with any money right now.

Skyscraper of Big Shoulders

The architecture of the Avenue Hotel (160 East Huron Street) architecture  doesn't get much attention these days.  Mostly because it's difficult to appreciate since it's squished in with so many similarly-sized buildings.  But from those neighbors, it's possible to see the details of the skyscraper's exoskeleton and also come to appreciate its broad shoulders.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Quickie: West Loop Office Building May Get Landmark Status

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the office building at 300 West Adams Street might get landmark status.

The 1927 building doesn't look like anything special to us, but maybe some of you out there can explain why it should be landmarked, other than lowering the tax burden to its owners.

The Hen Roosts Backwards Tonight

Convenience stores are a little less convenient in the West Loop these days with the closing of one of the White Hen Pantry shops.  I'm sure in the daylight it made sense to simply flip the old "White Hen" signs around in the pylon outside the store.  This was obviously done by a manager or some other person who only works 9-5 and didn't realize that signs light up at night.  Doh!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Status Update: 10 East Delaware

It looks like 10 East Delaware is almost half way to its planned height of 35 stories on the edge of State Street.  The tower replaces my wife's favorite restaurant, Jia's and a 7-Eleven and some other assorted shops.

The design is neoclassical and will hopefully look very classy when it's completed later this year.

Dearborn Street: Mandatory Breakdance Zone

What's this wackiness we found outside of Marina City ?  Looks like some kind of CDOT-enforced mandatory breakdance zone.  This isn't a case of having a screw loose this sign is intentionally in this position as evidenced by the bolts holding it in place.

So next time you're crossing the Dearborn Street Bridge, be sure to borrow a scrap of cardboard from the nearest vagrant and get your backspin on.  It's the law.

Quickie: Fourth Presbyterian Tower Officially Dead

Crain's Chicago Business reports that the plan to build a condominium tower on Fourth Presbyterian Church's Michigan Avenue property is officially dead.

The idea was to use some property immediately behind the church to construct a tower with offices and meeting space for the church at the bottom, and condos at the top.  The church would have gotten $20 million to help keep it afloat, plus a lot of much needed space to conduct and expand its programs that help the community.

But that didn't sit well with the neighborhood NIMBYs, especially those in SOAR and across the street at the John Hancock Center.  They didn't want the 64-story tower taking away their views -- the same views they took away from people in other buildings when the 100-story Hancock Center went up decades ago.   They cited traffic, noise, light, congestion, and neighborhood character as reasons it shouldn't go up.  Interestingly, those are all the same arguments that were made against the construction of the Hancock Center back in the 1960's.

Now that the Fourth Presbyterian Tower is dead, what next for the church?  It's hard to say.  The tower proposal was a drastic step to keep the church alive and well, not just some money-making lark.  If Fourth Presbyterian moves or closes, we'll have the usual suspects to blame.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Holy Name Cathedral Fire Update One

Here's a statement from Alderman Reilly's office.  Not too much new, but it clarifies a few points.

At approximately 5:30 am this morning a fire broke out at Holy Name Cathedral, located at 735 North State Street. The fire began in the attic of the cathedral, just above the sprinkler system and in the east of the transept.

While the origin of the fire is being investigated by the Chicago Fire Department, the fire started in an area where new beams were being installed for structural improvements. The fire left the roofline compromised and the church ceiling exposed.

First responders were on the scene approximately two minutes after the initial call to 911. Engine #98 was the first to arrive at 5:33am. The firefighters of Engine #98 took decisive action which prevented the blaze from spreading throughout the structure with potential catastrophic results for the Cathedral.

Once the Fire Department completed its initial interior and exterior inspections, the fire was upgraded to a second alarm fire at approximately 6:00am and further upgraded to a three-alarm fire at 6:45 a.m. A total of 38 fire companies, including 121 firefighter and paramedic personnel were on the scene to combat the fire. Emergency crews successfully brought the fire under control by 7:30 a.m. and it was extinguished by 8:00 a.m.

Upon learning of the fire at roughly 6:30 a.m., Alderman Reilly rushed to the scene to meet with Fire Commissioner Brooks and 18th Police District Commander Georgas, representatives of the Office of Emergency Management and Communications (OEMC) and Diocesan staff to discuss details related to the emergency and implications for the building and surrounding neighborhood area.

Thankfully no civilians were injured during the emergency and one firefighter suffered minor back injuries and received a precautionary medical evaluation at nearby Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Streeterville. Fire and safety officials are currently on the scene with structural engineers to determine the extent of the damage. Repair crews have been dispatched to the roof to place construction tarps over the exposed roof and ceiling. Another team is working with the Chicago Fire Department to pump water out of the basement and main floor of the church to prevent further damage to the interior.

As a precaution, classes were canceled at the Frances Xavier Warde School for the remainder of the day. The school will remain in contact with students and their families to provide additional status updates regarding the school schedule.

Street closures are in effect at the following locations: State Street, from Chestnut Street to Huron Street Chicago Avenue, from Wabash Avenue to Dearborn Street (with the exception of Chicago Transit Authority buses) Superior Street, eastbound traffic lane to Dearborn

Weekday masses (6:00am, 7:00am, 8:00am, 12:10pm, 5:15pm) will be held again starting tomorrow (Thursday, February 5, 2009), but they'll be in the Parish Center club room.

All vigil masses will be held this weekend (5:15pm and 7:30pm Saturday, 7:00am, 8:15am, 9:30am, 11:00am, 12:30pm, 5:15pm Sunday), but they will be in the auditorium just north of the cathedral.  Signs will be posted.  

Weekend masses (Saturday 8:00am, 12:10pm) will also be in the club room.

We're Breathing What?

Chicago has far more beautiful blue sky days than any city in which I've ever lived.  Especially in the spring and autumn, it can seem like an enchanted place.

But Chicago is far from pristine when it comes to its air.  Much of the time it looks beautiful because we're standing on the ground, looking up into the blue sky.  But the air around us is filthy.

Here's a web site which shows the air quality from day-to-day: Illinois Air Quality Index

And here's a photo illustrating the problem:
That slice of muck at the surface is polluted air.  At the time this photo was taken, the Air Quality Index was at 126, which is "Unhealthy for sensitive groups."  But if you were to go outside and look up, it would just appear to be an ordinary overcast day.  The true extent of Chicagoland's pollution only unveils itself when you're up in the good air looking down on the bad.

Status Update: Waterview Tower

Is it cruel to publish a status report on Waterview Tower ?  I was walking by the other day and decided to shoot this photo for posterity.  The Tribune reported a couple of weeks ago that the workers packed up their tools and left.  Now all we have is a quarter of an empty shell of the building we expected.

I feel bad for Waterview.  I used to live around the corner and even considered buying a condo there.  Now I'm glad I didn't, because I'd be worrying about my deposit.  At what point is a building declared dead?  Chicago has a few dead skyscrapers, but none are in so prominent a location.  Maybe some clever advertising person can wrap the thing in Tyvek and use it for a giant billboard like they do in Eastern Europe.  It's better than looking at a mud-colored skeleton hunched along the Chicago River.

Holy Name Cathedral burns

By now many of you have heard that Holy Name Cathedral is burning.  

The fire was first discovered around 6:00am today and from what I've seen on TV, all of the priests and nuns got out of the rectory and convent safely.  Neither Casa Jesus nor FXW school are threatened.  The fire was mostly put out by 8:00am.

From my bedroom I look down on the cathedral, and it's been heartbreaking to watch the streams of water from the Chicago Fire Department snorkels peel back the roof tiles in order to get to the interior of the roof where the fire is located.  Early indications are that the inside of the cathedral is OK, just suffering from water damage and most of the fire damage is limited to the area between the ceiling and the external roof.

We sent out a tweet about this a few minutes after six this morning.  If you're not on our Twitter list, you may want to join here: CAI on Twitter

On a personal note, this is my church.  I'm a regular at the 7:30pm Saturday masses.  I guess the only good thing is that the roof repairs over the summer gave the parish a contingency plan for what to do if the sanctuary is unavailable, so everyone will probably go back to having services in the auditorium again.  I'll probably end up at Saint Peter's in the Loop, though.  It's where I went before I moved to the North Side.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Barney's New York Closing and New Store Opening Dates

For those of you wondering about Barney's New York's big move across the street, we're finally hearing some firm dates.

Latest word is that the current Barney's New York store will close March 15, 2009.  The inventory will be moved across the street and the brand spanking new store will open April 2, 2009.

Considering the state of the economy, this is likely to be the largest and most interesting retail opening we see in Chicago for the next few years.  Moreover, the new store will draw in a lot of high-end tourists who want to see what it's like, so that will be a nice little extra boost for the area.

As for the old Barney's store... We still haven't heard anything.  Have you?

Three Kinds of Blue on Dearborn Street

Have you seen the new subway entrances that the CTA is using in the Loop?  They're nice.  They remind you of the quaint Quincy elevated station (the only CTA station without advertising).
When a pack of businessmen in trench coats and fedoras flush out of the tunnel during rush hour it just feels like you're looking back in time.  I'm not sure if Chicago is the only city in the world where men still wear fedoras and pork pie hats, but I'm grateful that some things haven't changed.  Especially when you consider the alternative.
This monstrosity is just a block away and represents the worst of the city's mass transit architecture.  According to Chicago-L , this entrance is from the mid-80's based on designs from the 70's.  It looks like it.  Utilitarian in the worst sense of the word.  But there's relief just two more blocks away.
Unlike London, Tokyo, Paris and other cities, there aren't many private subway entrances in Chicago.  This may be the only one.  It's in front of the Chase Tower (10 South Dearborn) and instead of having layers of caked-on blue paint, it features nice brass plaques and stonework that matches the nearby plaza.  Chase finished this project in 2008 and the results are great.  Though most people don't think of it, it's a little gift to the city from the bank.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Status Update: Walton on the Park

Work is progressing, albeit slowly, on Walton on the Park.  The combination townhome and skyscraper residential project is inching along, but the parking garage isn't even finished yet.  But in this economy some progress is better than no progress.

Quickie: Chase-Wamu Fallout

The consolidation of Chase and Washington Mutual retail locations has begun.

In the downtown area, the Washington Mutual branch at 501 North Milwaukee Avenue is going away.  Wamu customers are being directed to the Chase branch at 330 North Desplaines Street.

The Milwaukee Avenue Wamu closes March 6, 2009.

Diagrams: Best Buy's Impact on the John Hancock Center

Last week a resident of the John Hancock Center told me almost breathlessly that the plans were out for the design of the Best Buy going in on the ground floor of the landmark building.  With a mix of fear and indignation she stammered, "it's going to have neon."

The truth is a lot less awful than it sounds.  I managed to get my hands on a copy of the plans, and they don't look bad.  They're certainly a magnitude of order lighter and more colorful than what men's clothier Paul Stuart did with the space before it moved to 107 East Oak Street last year.

The designs by Experience Development Group show the main entrance will see the addition of a smallish "Best Buy" sign above the doors, flanked by blue awnings over the neighboring windows.

There will be illuminated signage, and that might be what had the Hancockers worried.  But the specs show signs will be three feet tall, four feet wide, and only placed at the corners of the building.

Far more visual appeal is planned for upstairs where the equipment racks and merchandise shelves placed against the windows will be backed by large-scale photos of happy neutral people enjoying the benefits of technology.  The Best Buy signs will once again be relegated to the corners.

Whether these displays end up looking garish, or adding much-needed color to an otherwise drab block remains to be seen.  We'll find out in May, 2009 when the grand opening is planned.

The residents of the John Hancock Center are notably concerned.  Many of them have lived in the skyscraper long enough to remember when "Boul Mich" was compared to the great boulevards of Paris.  Since then it's gone through a period of neglect, a period of growth, and now it's something closer to an outdoor mall than the Champs-Élysées as most of the boutiques have fled for the side streets and neighborhoods north.  Most Chicagoans don't realize or remember that the Hancock Center was where Cartier had its Chicago store for many years.

Still, Best Buy is better than nothing.  And considering the state of nearby buildings like Chicago Place, the Peninsula Hotel block, and the Esquire Theater, "nothing" could have been a real possibility.  And surely, people who patronize L'Appetito, the wanna-be Italian deli staffed by the least-friendly stone faced Russian robot chicks in the Midwest, cannot be all that picky, right?

Freedom Museum Leaving Michigan Avenue

Over the weekend the McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum announced that it is closing the doors on its Michigan Avenue home.  The not-quite-three-year-old museum spent $10 million to convert the Hammacher Schlemmer store adjacent to the Tribune Tower into a showplace for the notion of freedom of the press.

Regardless of what you think of the museum's content, it was an unusual choice.  It's quite possible that the former McCormick Tribune Foundation may have been able to arrange favorable rent from the Tribune Company at the time of its opening.  But times have changed.  Tribune is now bankrupt, and the foundation has dropped the Trib's name from its title.  It seems like as good a time as any to move on.

With Sam Zell running things at Tribune these days, we can only hope that the soon-to-be-vacant storefront will attract a high-profile tenant.  The space is not without its problems, though.  It has an unusual number of columns to support the weight of the building above it.  These columns are essential to the building and cannot be moved.  This is one of the reasons that WGN television was never able to open a streetfront studio in what would seem to be the perfect location.  There simply isn't enough column-free space for a modern television studio.

As a side note, the Trib Tower annex that the Freedom Museum is leaving is actually called the WGN-TV Building, as noted on its cornerstone.  WGN television moved out of the building in the 1960's to its new home in the little known North Central neighborhood , better known as "the neighborhood next to Roscoe Village."