alleys, sidewalks, towers, and clout

Blocks 43 and 49, Chicago, 1906 Sanborn Map. (Library of Congress Map Collection)

OK, get comfortable. This is a long one, but a good one.

The Sanborn map above shows a block in the old Market district at the SW corner of the Loop. The manufacturing and warehousing buildings on that block persisted even as the wholesale market moved to its current site on the southwest side beginning in the 1940s, but largely fell into disrepair. In the 1960s, a trio of investors calling themselves Fleetwood Realty began quietly buying lots on the block, trying to assemble a large enough parcel to sell to a prospective developer or corporation. Insurance companies and other large corporations had been building on Wacker Drive (Market Street in the map above) since the mid-1950s; America Fore, Mutual Trust, Sinclair Oil all built headquarters on the boulevard. Hartford Insurance built two. More investment came with the Gateway Center buildings across the River and U.S. Gypsum’s rotated crystalline extravaganza in 1963-65. Fleetwood’s acquisitions were well-considered–the site was within walking distance of Union and Northwestern Stations to the west, the El loop to the east, and Congress Expressway to the south.

Fleetwood Realty was actually a partnership between Bernard Feinberg, president of Jefferson State Bank, a small Chicago institution, and two lawyers-turned-realtors, Albert Rubenstein and Philip Teinowitz. Feinberg was a business associate of Alderman Thomas Keane, widely regarded as Mayor Daley’s closest ally and as the “second most powerful man in Chicago.” As the Sun Times put it, where Daley was interested in power, Keane was interested in money, and in addition to mastering the rules and tactics of City Council, Keane masterfully blurred the lines between city business and personal profit.

In 1967, Feinberg and his partners announced that Greyhound would buy the southern half of their block to build a new bus terminal, replacing their aging structure in the central Loop. With direct connections to the expressway, the site made sense, but it faced one ten-foot-wide obstacle. If you look closely at the Sanborn map, you can see that there’s a north-south alley that splits the block between Quincy and Jackson. That was a city alley, meaning that it required a city council resolution to vacate it and sell it to Fleetwood. That all happened in January 1968 but under unusual circumstances. Usually, such actions were introduced by the alderman representing the ward where the land in question actually was. But, in this case, the resolution was put forward not by the 1st Ward Alderman, Donald Parillo, but instead by 25th Ward Alderman Vito Marzullo. Marzullo, too, was one of Daley’s staunchest allies; he represented his west-side ward for 30 years and was famous for inventing the phrase “all politics are local.” Parillo insisted that any sale of the alley should have been cleared by him. Marzullo claimed that he had only introduced it because Parillo had been absent from that council meeting, and Parillo pointed out that he hadn’t ever actually missed a meeting, meaning that Marzullo’s resolution had, in fact, never been formally presented. Feinberg bought the alley for $27,000, or about $12 per square foot, a fire sale price, and Parillo resigned from the city council in disgust. Later, the city estimated that the alley had actually been worth $68,000, but allowed the deal to stand nevertheless.

The Greyhound deal ended up falling through, but Fleetwood did manage to sell the site. New York realtors Cushman and Wakefield approached Feinberg with a risky offer in 1969. If the trio could also acquire the north half of the site within six months, they would purchase the entire block for a corporate client looking to build a 2 million-square-foot headquarters building. Fleetwood took the gamble, buying options on lots on the north side of the block, negotiating successfully for the last lot with only a month to spare.

The client, as you may have figured, was Sears, and in addition to their 2 million square feet, the whole-block site meant that they could also build 2 million square feet of speculative office space on top of their new headquarters. But Sears, too, had to buy an alley from the city–in this case, Quincy Street. They did so, with little objection and, again, at a price well below market value.

Sixteen days after the sale of the alley to Feinberg, Keane and his brother, George, mysteriously acquired 475 shares of Jefferson State Bank. Cook County Board Commissioner Harry Semrow also received 25 shares.

OK. Quick intermission.

And now, Act II.

Image result for 200 w monroe
American Surety, 200 W. Monroe St. Welton Becket, 1973.

Fast forward to 1972. Feinberg and Jefferson State Bank bought and demolished two buildings along Wells St., north of Monroe, and built the 23-story American Surety building in their place. (Jenney’s First Leiter Store stood on this corner, but it was demolished in 1931). The building is a fairly anonymous one–an infilled concrete frame done by Los Angeles firm Welton Becket. But it proved to be the undoing of Feinberg and, in part, of Keane. The two structures on the site were demolished in 1972, but it emerged that their permit was forged to suggest that they had been wrecked in 1971, saving Feinberg a year’s worth of county taxes. The Chairman of the Cook County Board of Appeals, which handled tax disputes? George Keane. Also on the Board? Harry Semrow. Both shareholders of the Jefferson State Bank.

No Chicago jury would have convicted any of the key players for this sort of business-as-usual stuff, but the Feds went after Thomas Keane for a range of similar corrupt practices, ultimately convicting him and Feinberg of mail fraud, since the forged demolition permits had been sent via post. Keane was also convicted of steering public funds to Jefferson–he served 22 months, Feinberg served four.

2 N. La Salle, Perkins & Will, 1979 (left) and 30 N. La Salle, Thomas E. Stanley, 1975

OK, now a coda.

While Keane and Feinberg were in prison, another Jefferson State Bank project 2 N. La Salle, got another sweetheart deal. In the photo above, you can see that there’s a substantial setback between 2 N. La Salle (the white-skinned building) and 30 N. La Salle, the more sinister looking one, which is what Chicago got on the site of Sullivan’s Stock Exchange, but that’s another post. There had been a zoning provision for new construction on La Salle that required a 20-foot setback, as the city’s Bureau of Street Traffic planned to widen La Salle at some point–the idea being that, as all of the obsolete structures on the street were inevitably torn down and replaced with new towers, they’d end up with plenty of room to add high-speed lanes. (Let that sink in–it would have included the Rookery, Jenney’s New York Life, and the Field Building…) 30 N. La Salle complied with the setback but, “somehow,” Feinberg’s 2 N. La Salle got a waiver, despite the Bureau of Street Traffic’s objections, meaning that with one zoning appeal the entire La Salle Street widening project was (thankfully) dead. Alderman Ed Vrdolyak tried to repeal the variance, noting that the jailed Feinberg had quickly transferred land ownership to his brother on entering prison, but Keane’s influence, even from behind bars, was significant, and you can see the results on La Salle Street today.

Feinberg resumed his real estate business after emerging from prison. Both he and Keane remained active in Chicago politics, though not in any official capacity. Feinberg died in 1980, Keane in 1996.


“Council Committee to Study High Rise Zoning Request.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Mar 04, 1971.

“SALE OF ALLEY TO DEVELOPER IS DEFENDED.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Feb 15, 1968.

“The World’s Tallest: Saga of a Chicago Skyscraper: World’s Tallest: Skyscraper’s Saga.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Oct 18, 1970.

“Vrdolyak Hits Loop Zoning OK.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Jul 30, 1977.

Brodt, Bonita. “How Time, Law Dealt with Political Criminals: How Time, Law Dealt with Political Criminals.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Feb 07, 1980.

Honchar, Cornelia. “Keane, Others in Clout Quiz.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Apr 01, 1973.

Kifner, John “Investigation of Chicago’s no. 2 Democrat Appears to Pose a Serious. Threat to the Daley Machine: Called by Grand Jury First News Conference Brother Quit Post.” New York Times (1923-Current File), Apr 08, 1973.

Nagelberg, Alvin. “GREYHOUND PLAN FOR NEW DEPOT TOLD: WILL SELL PRESENT TERMINAL.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Jun 20, 1967.

———. “PLAN GARAGE NEAR LOOP ON ENTIRE BLOCK: EXPECT WORK TO BEGIN SOON.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Jul 27, 1965.

———. “Plan New 23-Story Building in Loop.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Jan 27, 1972.

Phillips, Richard. “On Four Counts: Find Keane Pal Guilty of Fraud.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Jun 28, 1975.

Schreiber, Edward. “ALDERMAN QUITS POST, GOES SKIING: PARRILLO GIVES NO EXPLANATION.” Chicago Tribune (1963-1996), Feb 17, 1968.

hancock cutaway

With archives still closed I’m busy collecting…alternative…illustration possibilites. Call it research via eBay. Today’s find is from the June, 1968 Popular Mechanics, a Thunderbirds-esque cutaway of what I think of as the new project’s third act car chase scene. No deep thoughts here, just a nice, science fiction take on a classic. (Popular Science did one of these, too, but this one’s got more dark, brooding goodness…)

Charles Remsberg, “John Hancock Center: No. Two by 21 Feet.” Popular Mechanics, vol. 129, June 1968. 68–69

old chicago skyscraper of the week–equitable


If you had to pick one site in Chicago as the center of the entire city, it would likely be the Michigan Avenue bridge. The north bank is, according to legend, Jean Baptiste Point du Sable built the first Euro-American settlement and trading post in 1789. Fort Dearborn stood roughly on the south bank, and Cyrus McCormick opened his factory on the du Sable site in 1847. Various industrial concerns moved in and out until 1929, when the north bank was cleared in anticipation of a second Wacker Drive, but the Depression scotched that project and the site became a parking lot. The Tribune bought the land in the 1940s, expecting to build radio and TV studios for its WGN stations, but those ended up in Irving Park and the gateway to North Michigan Avenue remained an eyesore through the 1950s.

Equitable Insurance started discussing the possibility of a combined headquarters and investment tower with the Tribune in 1961. The company had started in New York, in the 1870s and had a long–if checkered–architectural history. George Post engineered their first building, which was known for its early passenger elevators, electric lighting, and fireproof iron construction–which burned, spectacularly, in 1912. Burnham & Co. designed a massive block for the company on the same site–an early collaboration between Ernest Graham and Peirce Anderson. At 40 stories, that building was so overscaled that it helped inspire New York’s zoning code, and Equitable was careful when it expanded in the 1950s to develop urban schemes along with new skyscrapers–particularly in Pittsburgh, where it sponsored the decade-long Gateway Center, and in midtown Manhattan, where it built a plaza-centered tower as part of the Avenue of the Americas extension to Rockefeller Center.

For two decades the company’s Chicago branch office was in a renovated Jenney and Mundie Building on La Salle Street, but Jack Oates, the Chicago native who was Equitable’s CEO at the time found the Michigan Avenue site irresistible for its extraordinary visibility. The Tribune agreed to sell the land on the condition that the new development be set back far enough from Michigan Avenue to guarantee their 1925 Tower views of the River, and the two companies agreed to jointly sponsor a 100,000 square foot plaza that would serve as a forecourt to both buildings. Equitable hired SOM to design the tower, which emerged as what Bruce Graham would call “the most sophisticated building this office has ever done.” With no immediate neighbors, the plan developed as a rectangle of 3 x 5 38-foot structural bays with a central core. Those were large but not excessive; engineer Hal Iyengar recalled later, however, that at 35 stories the tower was at the limit of efficiency for a simple structural frame. SOM relied on welded joints throughout to provide stiffness, oversizing the perimeter girders and columns to create more rigid joints. The result was a step toward the tube frame–Fazlur Khan was working on the DeWitt-Chestnut apartment tower at roughly the same time and there’s at least a fuzzy parallel between that project’s pure tube structure and the Equitable’s stiffened perimeter,

It was Equitable’s curtain wall, however, that represented the most immediate advance in SOM’s skyscraper designs for its extensive use of aluminum, which formed the spandrel and column covers as well as the window mullions and sill rails, which held bronze-tinted glass and granite sill panels in place. The precision allowed by aluminum meant that this curtain wall was subtly more precise than those leading up to it in stainless steel–Inland Steel and Harris Bank in particular–and it marked one more turning point in the gradual move to aluminum for all things curtain wall in the 1960s.

Architectural Record, October, 1965.

Bruce Graham claimed a direct lineage to the city’s expressive skyscraper tradition, and the layering of horizontal and vertical lines here recalls, if abstractly, the woven grids of structure and ornament that he admired in buildings by Sullivan and Holabird & Roche, among others. But he was not above a Mies trick or two, either, spacing the mullions on the structural grid, leaving slightly narrower windows at the edges of each structural bay that add a syncopation and elegant ambiguity between structure and skin.

The building was almost entirely leased even before the structure was finished–in addition to Equitable, the building attracted two of the city’s largest advertising firms, and ALCOA took one floor for its regional branch offices, among others. The plaza, graced by a sinuous stair to the lower riverwalk (now replaced by Foster + Partners glassy, laptop-like Apple Store) and a fountain dedicated to 25 “pioneers” of the city, retained the vista of the Tribune Tower adequately, but has always suffered from its vast scale–despite planting and pavilions that have sought to break it down, the space functions better as a visual corridor than as a public space.

Image result for equitable chicago postcard

As one of the most visible sites in the city, Equitable’s construction became a daily attraction to the tens of thousands of pedestrians and drivers who passed it each day–leading the Tribune to produce a daily 15-minute recorded program that it broadcast on speakers to the assembled “sidewalk superintendents” who gathered to watch the drama of high steel being assembled there. Jack Brickhouse, WGN’s sports announcer, delivered the “construction play-by-play.”