This mighty mountain of Skyscraper Gothic rises from the western Loop at Randolph and Wells; the Loop elevated runs right next to it. Built in 1929 as the Steuben Club Building, and also known as 188 W. Randolph Street, it’s among the very last of its breed, the historicist revival skyscraper. Already declining due to the rise of Art Deco, large-scale period revival would all but vanish in the face of the Great Depression. This would not be the last historicist design by architects Vitzthum & Burns, but it was nevertheless the end of an era.
The building consists of a 28 story base and a 17 story upper tower. The amount of intricate ornament is impressive; it becomes astonishing in light of its inaccessible location, 26 stories above the street. Many of the shields, arches, medallions, crockets and finials are essentially invisible without binoculars.
Lush with details, heavily weathered by decades of Chicago smoke and grime, this is a building that begs to be examined up close, and I’m only too happy to break out the zoom lens and deliver the goods.
That magnificent upper tower, sadly, has had some problems with its skin in the past. Metal straps have been wrapped around the curvaceous terra cotta flying buttresses that surround the tower base, presumably to keep them from falling apart. Pieces of terra cotta broke loose from the tower facade and fell in 2001, landing on the lower roof. Nothing fell all the way to the ground, but the city shut down the surrounding streets and the Loop lines until protective scaffolding could be erected around the building’s base and over the adjacent L station. The building subsequently went into foreclosure.
Today, this is the bizarre sight that greets travelers walking east from Ogilvie Transportation Center, as half of the tower’s west face has been wrapped in protective scaffolding. The building has sat idle for several years, deteriorating as redevelopment schemes have been formulated. Latest word: construction is to begin in 2008, converting the building to 288 apartments — including 15 floors of penthouses in the tower, and a $15 million facade restoration.
More detail photos may be seen at my Flickr space.