old chicago skyscraper of the week–trustees system services

Here’s a candidate for least-known skyscraper in the Loop that deserves a bit more.  Trustees System Services was a mid-sized industrial bank that sought both headquarters and speculative office space, and in 1929 they hired the relatively new firm of Thielbar and Fugard to design a thirty-story tower on the northeast corner of Lake and Wells.

Despite being recently founded, Thilebar and Fugard had an impressive pedigree.  John Reed Fugard had been a partner in a residential firm that had constructed several high-end apartment buildings on Lake Shore Drive (and he was a native of Newton, Iowa).  Frederick Thielbar was older, and had been superintendent of construction for Holabird and Roche for many years–he was credited with the design of the Chicago Temple.  Together, the firm aided Giaver and Dinkelberg during the construction of the Jewelers’ Building, but along with the McGraw-Hill building on North Michigan the Trustees System Services was their first major work.

Faced with a site of only 85′ x 150′, Thielbar and Fugard had little room to maneuver within the city’s setback code.  They divided the building’s mass into two elements, a block that filled the city’s 264′ height limit and a tower, delimited by setbacks and volume restrictions, that reached to 337 feet.  Like Holabird & Roche’s tower at 333 N. Michigan, the Trustees System Services had its tower pushed to the most public edge of the site, in this case along Lake Street, but Thielbar & Fugard capped theirs with a pyramid similar to that of GAPW’s Straus Building, concealing elevator machinery and mechanical systems in a rooftop penthouse.

Two innovations marked the building–one visible and one not.  To emphasize the building’s vertical thrust, and to unify the block and tower, Thielbar and Fugard chose enameled brick with curved surfaces for the building’s piers, adding texture and a subtle vertical grain.  They also specified brick that became progressively lighter from the base to the top, adding to the sense of height and upward reach.  Structurally, the building employed reinforced concrete and steel, a hybrid that was not, by this point, unusual.  But the building’s columns employed a new patented system that used tapering cast iron cylinders for reinforcing concrete columns.  This co-called “Emperger” system revived cast iron for its formidable compressive strength, but used concrete as both fireproofing and to enable monolithic connections, and thus wind bracing, with adjacent girders.

Much of the building has been converted into apartments, but the exterior has been faithfully preserved.  And while it has merited barely a mention in standard architectural histories, commuters from the north and west sides go past it every day as it forms one corner of the El’s downtown loop.