Explore Printers Row Architecture During Lit Fest

Printers Row, a section of the South Loop with historic architecture related to the printing industry, will become the most dangerous part of Chicago this weekend for book lovers. The neighborhood is hosting the 34th Annual Printers Row Lit Fest. Here I have made a brief guide of some of the Printers Row architecture highlights you can see interspersed among all the festival activities.

To give a little background first on the festival, the sidewalks of Dearborn Street will be filled with countless books for sale from dozens of vendors. The Printers Row Lit Fest festival also features guest speakers and child-oriented games and activities. Lit Fest presents a profound threat to the wallets of people like myself: bibliophiles known to make impulse book purchases.

Printers Row Architecture Old Franklin Building Terra cotta decor
The terra cotta depiction of the Gutenberg Press points to the heritage of Printers Row. Photo by Alex Bean.

A celebration of all things written via the Annual Printers Row Lit Fest is especially appropriate for Printers Row. The publishing industry dominated this neighborhood in its heyday, which was about a century ago. Despite many businesses having departed, the area retains fascinating architectural hints to this vanished chapter of Chicago history. (It’s also just a few blocks from where our 1893 World’s Fair and Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tours begin – hint hint.)

Linotype Building

Printers Row architecture Linotype Building
The Linotype Building is perfect for printing or lounging depending on the era you live in. Photo by Alex Bean.

As Adam Morgan wrote in the Chicago Review of Books, this is “the most important building in the history of the printing press.” You’ll find this historic Printers Row building on 531 S. Plymouth. Linotype is the 19th-century invention which enabled modern printing. I’d try to explain how it works, but frankly, you’d need to ask my engineer of a brother-in-law. The details are too mechanical for my humanities-inclined brain. The linotype eclipsed the hand-setting method that good old Johannes Gutenberg had invented 450 years prior.

The beautiful building was constructed to house the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, started by the Linotype’s inventor, in 1886. The heavy Romanesque masonry walls supported the cumbersome printing apparatuses. Look at the top for the arched windows. Huge windows, which face onto both Dearborn and Plymouth Court, illuminate what are today interior residential lofts. The building was converted to loft apartments in 1980. One imagines that those huge windows are a great selling point to residents.

The New and Old Franklin Buildings

Printers Row Franklin Buildings
The Franklin Buildings, New and Old, soar above Dearborn in Printers Row. Photo by Alex Bean.

The Franklin Buildings are the beating architectural heart of Printers Row. The new building, already 106 years old, is a gorgeous 14-story structure. Beautiful terra cotta depictions of printing history embellish the ground floor. A slanting roofline, which has huge skylights, crowns the tower. These skylights were perfect for book binding in the past with all that natural light, and now perfect for morning coffee in the lofts inside now.

The old building next door, where the wonderful Sandmeyer Bookstore is located, was built in 1887. The architects grouped the window panels together with cast iron in order to provide as much natural light as possible. You gotta remember, my friends – this neighborhood mostly predates internal lightbulbs.

I find these to be a perfect glimpse of old Chicago. They are robust and powerful architecture leavened with touches of grace and beauty – quintessential Chicago.

Lakeside Press Building

Printers Row Architecture Lakeside Press Building Columbia College
The gorgeous Lakeside Press Building today houses Columbia College students. Photo by Alex Bean.

Columbia College students apparently have all the fun here on Printers Row. They get to study fine arts and communications in downtown Chicago and some of them get to live in another fabulous historic Printers Row structure. The Lakeside Press Building, which is now student housing for Columbia, was built as the HQ of RR Donnelly, one of the largest mapmaking companies during their peak. The company still exists, in fact it’s on the Fortune 500, but they moved out of Printers Row ages ago.

My favorite part of this beautiful building’s architecture is the cast iron in the facade. Those segments indicate the floors where the printing presses were once located. The cast iron also lends the building a fascinating and textured facade. Your eye can’t help but leap between the brick, limestone, huge windows, and that cast iron.

Donohue Building and Annex

Printers Row architecture Donohue Building
The Donohue Building was the first major printing facility in the area. Photo by Alex Bean.

The Donohue is “the first major printers’ structure in the district” according to the AIA Guide to Chicago. This is where Printers Row was born! The Donohue is an outstanding example of Chicago’s Romanesque architecture. Rounded arches above windows and doors break up the heavy-looking masonry wall. For me, those rounded arches are the dead giveaway of Romanesque architecture. You can also see this feature reflected on the Dearborn Station just down the block.

The Donohue also makes an interesting contrast with the Franklin Buildings directly opposite it on Dearborn. The Franklin Buildings have bunched windows, enabled with cast iron or other, newer methods. By comparison, the Donohue has only one window per opening punched in the wall. It still has tons of windows, but they’re more visually divided.

Also, sadly, the historic M.A. Donohue and Co. sign on the Annex has just been recently blocked. Construction of a new apartment building in the adjacent lot has done away with it. Boo, we say!

Enjoy Printers Row!

We’ve only skimmed the surface of this grand district. Printers Row is one of my favorite neighborhoods to wander. If you make it to the festival this weekend, or any weekend for that matter, make sure to look up and enjoy the architectural details around.

– Alex Bean, Chicago Detours Content Editor and 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