Chicago Architecture’s Second Life: The Never-Ending Story of Architectural Relics

Architectural relics are the fragments of modified or demolished buildings. You can find these displayed in museums, classrooms and lobbies throughout the city. Despite being an impassioned architect and architectural historian, I am actually not appalled by this removal or displacement of architectural pieces.  The shelf life of more modern buildings is simply not forever. When a building meets its ultimate fate in modification or demolition, I am happy to see its original architecture preserved in any form.

Lost Cornice on Monroe St.

walgreens building monroe architecture

On our Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour, I always like to point out how the modification of Chicago architecture is a part of urban development, though sometimes unwarranted. Things go in and out of style, and architecture is not immune!

We always discuss 79 W. Monroe, a First Chicago School style skyscraper that was once owned by the Walgreens family. The owners removed the entire cornice of this building after WWII because it just wasn’t ‘in’ anymore. We may all agree that the ornament was beautiful and the modification was a little short-sighted, but it’s not there. Those cornices are only a small part of forgotten Chicago architecture that we like to talk about on our architecture tours, because those stories are really fun to tell and make you think, “What if…?”

Architectural Relics at UIC

At the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, the tradition of saving building fragments and bringing them to places of appreciation is vibrant. To date they have several pieces of Sullivan details hung throughout the halls of the Arts and Architecture (A&A) Building on 845 W Harrison Street.

More recently, they were able to obtain an original lighted ceiling canopy, similar to the one found on the Palmer House Hilton entrance, designed by modern architect Bertrand Goldberg. I love being able to walk among amazing ornamental iron work from Louis Sullivan and architectural details by Goldberg inside the brutalist modern A&A building. Putting these historic relics into lived spaces breathes new life into them.

SIU’s Relic Collection

For a “detour” outside of Chicago, another institution that has saved and exhibited Sullivan’s architectural fragments is Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This physical repository for Chicago architecture has an insane amount of ornamental and functional Sullivan details. They have an elevator from the old Carson, Pririe, Scott & Co. Store; porch columns from Charles P. Kimball’s mansion; ornate limestone panels from the entrance to the Knisley Store; as well as the leafy exfoliations of the old Chicago Stock Exchange balustrades and lintels from elevator entrances. Some of the architectural salvage of photographer Richard Nickel is displayed here. He was a key figure in the historical efforts to extend Sullivan’s architecture past demolition.

Lost Louis Sullivan Works

Sullivan’s architecture has become part of public space too, such as the entrance to the old Chicago Stock Exchange at the Art Institute of Chicago. By taking this architectural relic and putting it outside in a grassy area outside the museum, it becomes sculpture.

architectural relics Louis Sullican Stock Exchange Art Institute

Demolition is a touchy subject when it comes to historical buildings, whether it’s the now-gone Chicago Stock Exchange designed by Adler and Sullivan or the almost-gone Prentice Woman’s Hospital designed by Bertrand Goldberg. A building becomes a part of people’s daily lives. People grow emotional attachments to them.

As an architect myself, I want to see buildings saved. But I also am not going to be upset when we save pieces and make way for new histories. This can be done not only in the new buildings that pop up, but also in our existing spaces. When a work of architecture does go down, we just have to find it a place in other spaces. Chicago architecture really is a reassembled and never-ending story.

— Andrew Santa Lucia, Tour Guide

Share:

Share on facebook
Facebook
Share on twitter
Twitter
Share on pinterest
Pinterest
Share on linkedin
LinkedIn

be a
curious
person!

SIGN UP FOR OCCASIONAL UPDATES FROM CHICAGO DETOURS.

Ellen

Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

“Our guide Ellen was exceptional and gifted with a great personal touch.”
Robert
GetYourGuide

Jen

Tour Guide

Whether you are a first-time visitor or a lifelong resident, the vibrant history and modern majesty of Chicago never ceases to amaze. I’m a graduate of Columbia College with an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Art. I’ve worked for many years as an educator at City Colleges of Chicago. As tour guide at Chicago Detours, I integrate my enthusiasm for culture and architecture with my passion as an educator. West Town/Noble Square area is home for me.

“Jen was a perfect storyteller and kept us spellbound for hours.”
Heather
TripAdvisor

Elyse

Tour Guide

With our Chicago neighborhoods, vibrant cultural institutions and nearly two centuries of larger-than-life stories, there’s never a dull moment here! I’m a fifth generation Chicagoan and a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. In addition to guiding tours, I’m a creative writer and amateur genealogist. I also enjoy the city’s dynamic theater scene. You can also read overlooked stories from 19th-century newspapers on my “Second Glance History” blog. I live in River North.

Anthony

Tour Guide

Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.

Marie

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

Chicago’s history is so fascinating, you could spend a lifetime uncovering its secrets…I’m willing to give it a try! I have an M.A. in US History from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and then pursued doctoral studies in Urban History at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I love to learn new aspects of Chicago’s rich history and then share my knowledge as a tour guide with Chicago Detours. I live in Ravenswood.

“Marie was a bubbling fountain of information and contagious enthusiasm.”
Lorit
TripAdvisor

Sonny

Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
“Sonny was extremely knowledgeable about all things Chi-town.”
Wade K
TripAdvisor

Alex

Content Manager and Tour Guide

Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

“Alex was fascinating to listen to. He clearly knows his history and it shows.”
Katie K
Yelp

Amanda Scotese

Executive Director and Tour Guide

I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
“You can TELL Amanda is hyper-passionate about doing the research and getting the story that nobody’s heard before.”
Shelby F
Yelp

Book a virtual tour

Fill in your details below