Monday, September 26, 2011

New Look for the Old Colony

Chicago’s Old Colony building is looking better than it has in perhaps almost a century after a cleanup that has washed away layers of build-up soot.  It’s one of my favorites, for its curved corners, interesting design, and appealing height, and I was delighted the other day to see it cleared of scaffolding and looking bright and clean.   

Completed in 1894 by Holabird and Roche, the slender early skyscraper has a classic Chicago tripartite structure, with a distinguishable base, a plain midsection, and a defined top section, which here includes a colonnade and a projecting cornice.  The most striking and unusual feature is its curved corners, and one can also see the “Chicago windows”, characterized by a large fixed pane of glass flanked on either side by narrower windows with sliding sashes that can be raised.  The Old Colony sits at southeast corner of Van Buren and Dearborn streets in the south Loop, and forms with the Fisher, Plymouth, and Manhattan an interesting row of old, preserved classic Chicago skyscrapers running between Dearborn and Plymouth streets.

Judith Paine McBrien, in her Pocket Guide to Chicago Architecture, says that the Old Colony was “built on speculation by Boston lawyer Francis Bartlett” and was “named for the first English colony in America….  The building was a successful venture, offering 600 offices that were occupied by railroad, printing, and lumber interests who sought space here in the thriving printing center of the Midwest.”  

Ira Bach says, in his Chicago’s Famous Buildings, that “the Old Colony is the last remaining Chicago downtown building with rounded projecting corner bays, a device often employed … to create highly desirable corner spaces on the interior and an interesting silhouette on the exterior…. [Also,] It was the first structure to employ a system of portal arches to brace it against wind loads, an innovative solution to a basic problem of tall skeleton-framed buildings.”  In Chicago on Foot, authors Bach and Wolfson tell us that the building has 17 stories, ... the first four [of which] are of light-blue Bedford stone [while] the upper part pressed brick and white terra cotta.”

Finis Farr in Chicago says that “the design as a whole gave an impression of dignity and power.”  Agreed.  Kudos on the rehab. 

The photo is taken from the west side of Dearborn street, northwest of the Old Colony; part of the Fisher Building is visible on the left, and the Chicago El tracks run on Van Buren Street between the two buildings.  The postcard is postmarked November 1907 to a Miss Underwood in Dayton, Ohio.  Click on an image to enlarge.  A brief Wikipedia article is here

R Balsamo

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