old chicago skyscraper of the week–jewelers/pure oil

March 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Here’s a rather tragic tale.  Joachim Giaver and Frederick Dinkelberg were two employees of D. H. Burnham & Co.–Giaver an engineer and Dinkelberg one of Burnham’s better classical stylists.  Dinkelberg was generally credited with the interiors of the 1904 Railway Exchange and the 1907 Flatiron Building in New York.  The two formed their own firm after Burnham’s death, when they were each well in to their 60s, and received their one and only skyscraper commission in 1924.  The client was a syndicate interested in providing a central “exchange” for the city’s jewelry trade, much as the Railway Exchange had served as a central meeting and business point for that industry.  Giaver and Dinkelberg responded with a tower announced at 500 feet, but that soon stretched to 547.

The building’s massing was a radical step for skyscrapers under the 1923 zoning ordinance.  Giaver and Dinkelberg set a tall tower atop the limited height of the lower block, but given the full quarter-block site on the new Wacker Drive, they set the tower atop the center of the site, where in earlier generations a light court would have provided illumination to the building’s center.  Instead, the Jeweler’s wrapped a band of offices, retail space, and wholesale showrooms around a block of automobile parking, the first multi-story enclosed garage in the Loop.  This was sold as a security feature to tenants, allowing them quick access to the safety of their automobiles when carrying precious items.

True to Dinkelberg’s reputation as an academically correct classicist, the Jewelers’ was ornamented in encyclopaedic references to various Roman prototypes.  Four corner towers accented the limits of the 260-foot main block, while a dome at the top of the tower served as a crowning element on the skyline.  With the tower pulled back from the street edge, the building’s setbacks featured panoramic views, and were used as observation decks by tenants and the public.  As Wacker Drive was completed at around the same time in this area, the Jeweler’s was entirely in tune with its classical detailing and ornament.

The Jewelry industry never migrated north from its center on Wabash, but the Jeweler’s was popular with commercial clients–Pure Oil moved in as the primary client, and the building was renamed for them shortly after the opening.

Giaver and Dinkelberg designed no other large buildings.  The depression shuttered their firm, and Dinkelberg’s heavy investments in utility stocks bankrupted him.  Forced to give up his large home in Evanston, he died in a rented flat in February, 1935, penniless.  His wife pleaded with local architects to take up a collection to pay for his funeral, which they did.  Ten years later, Chicago architects did the same for her, chagrined that the designer of one of Chicago’s tallest, most visible buildings had come to such poverty.

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