hancock center site–1962 scheme

Headline, Chicago Tribune, Apr. 16, 1962.

I’ve been diving into the history of the Hancock Center–er, sorry, 875 N. Michigan Avenue–and it’s a particularly rich tale, as you’d expect. The standard narratives about the building shape matching floor dimensions for varying programs and the extraordinary efficiency of the trussed tubes both check out, of course, but the tower’s timing–topped out in mid-1968–and its difficult construction (both brewing as future posts) make its story even more dramatic than I’d expected.

And it has an interesting pre-history, too. Its site, between Chestnut and Delaware on North Michigan, was one of the last blocks to be developed. By 1962, it was surrounded by construction, including two projects being developed by John J. Mack and Raymond Sher, who had hired Shaw, Metz, and Dolio to continue their string of high rise residential towers that had risen all along north Lake Shore Drive. The Continental Hotel, on the north side of Delaware (now a Westin) borrowed Shaw’s by then trademark white brick, vertical banding, and light metal rooftop ‘cap,’ a formula that’s instantly recognizable in their prominent Drive buildings.

Continental Hotel, Delaware and Michigan, Chicago. Shaw, Metz, and Dolio, 1965.

The second Mack and Sher project, two blocks south, was 777 N. Michigan, an apartment tower with a podium of parking and retail–again, done up in Shaw’s white brick and metal spandrel curtain wall:

777 N. Michigan Ave. Shaw, Metz, & Dolio, 1965.

In April, 1962, announcing the start of work on 777 N Michigan, the Tribune reported that the cluster of Mack and Sher/Shaw, Metz, & Dolio buildings on the Avenue would also include a 65-story tower on the block between Chestnut and Delaware. Costing $30 million, the project was to include 1000 apartments, 1300 parking spaces, and a rotating observation deck that would have just topped the Civic Center, then on track to become the city’s tallest building. Set back from the Avenue by a broad plaza, Shaw’s massing would have faced the Fourth Presbyterian Church with a sphinx-like symmetrical plan, a tall central shaft flanked by two shorter bays, and retail ‘paws’ surrounding the central entrance:

from James Gavin, “65 Story Tower Planned.” Chicago Tribune, Apr. 16, 1962.

The 65-story plan languished, and Mack and Sher sold the site in April, 1964 to an anonymous “group of investors from the east” for $4.8 million, or nearly $60 a square foot. Few doubted the possibilities that the land–in the midst of a booming residential district, at the head of the city’s most prestigious retail avenue, within a few hundred feet of the Lake and a (magnificent) mile north of the Loop–would pay off. But few at the time would realize that the “group of investors” would propose and build a structure that would rise nearly twice as tall as Mack and Sher’s headline-grabbing proposal…

VINTAGE PHOTO POSTCARD The John Hancock Center At Dusk Chicago Illinois  1974 - $3.99 | PicClick
Contemporary postcard of the Hancock Center, with 777 N. Michigan in the foreground and the Continental Hotel and Palmolive Building behind.

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