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Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue

Planning and Development, 1900-1930

Since its opening in the 1920s, Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue has been one of the city’s most prestigious commerical corridors, lined by some of its most architecturally distinctive business, residential, and hotel buildings. Planned by Daniel Burnham in 1909, the avenue became the principal connecting link between downtown and the wealthy, residential "Gold Coast" north of the Loop. Some thirty buildings were constructed along its path in the ten-year period before the Depression, an urban expansion comparable in significance to that of Pennsylvania and Park Avenues.

John W. Stamper traces the complex development of North Michigan Avenue from the 1880s to the 1920s building boom that solidified its character and economic base, describing the initiation of the planning process by private interests to its execution aided by the city’s powerful condemnation and taxation proceedings. He focuses on individual buildings constructed on the avenue, including the Renaissance- and Gothic-inspired Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower, and Drake Hotel, and places them within the context of factors governing their construction—property ownership, financing, zoning laws, design theory, and advertising.

Stamper compares this stylistically diverse mixture of low- and high-rise structures with earlier, rejected planning proposals, all of which had prescribed a uniformly designed, European-like avenue of continuous cornice heights, consistent facade widths, and complementary stylistic features. He analyzes the drastically different character the avenue took by 1930, with high-rise towers reaching thirty stories and beyond, in terms of the clash among economic, political, and architectural interests. His argument—that the discrepancies between the rejected plans and reality illustrate the developers’ choice of economic return on their investment over aesthetic community—is extended through to the present avenue and the virtual disregard of the urban qualities proposed at its inception. Generously illustrated, with an epilogue condensing the avenue’s history between the end of World War II and the present, this is an exhaustive account of an important topic in the history of modern architecture and city planning.

344 pages | 145 halftones, 29 line drawings, 6 tables | 6-1/2 x 9-1/4 | © 1991

Chicago Architecture and Urbanism

Architecture: American Architecture

Chicago and Illinois

Table of Contents

Introduction: Early Development of Michigan Avenue and Pine Street McCormickville, Streeterville, and the Gold Coast
1. The Urban Imperative: Planning and Public Improvements
Early Plans for a North-South Connecting Link
Daniel Burnham and the 1990 Plan of Chicago
Publicizing the Plan
The Widening of North Michigan Avenue
The North Central Business District Association Plan
2. Commercial Architecture of the Early 1920s
John Crerar Library
Wrigley Building
Italian Court Building
Lake Shore Trust and Savings Bank
Palmer Shops Building
London Guarantee and Accident Company Building
3. The Chicago Tribune Tower
The Tribune Tower Competition
Final Design and Construction
4. Commercial Architecture of the Mid-1920s
Central Life Insurance Company Building
National Life Insurance Company Project
Bell Building
Michigan-Ohio Building
Hibbard, Spencer, and Bartlett Building
Lake-Michigan Building
Farwell Building
Malabry Court and Erskine-Danforth Buildings
5. Hotel, Club, and Residential Architecture
Drake Hotel
Allerton Hotel
900 North Michigan Avenue Apartment Building
Illinois Women’s Athletic Club
Women’s Chicago Athletic Club
Medinah Club
6. The Later 1920s Architecture of Holabird and Root
Tobey Building
333 North Michigan Avenue
Palmolive Building
Michigan Square Building
Michigan-Chestnut Building
Judah Building
Terminal Park
7. Commercial Architecture at the End of the Decade
Michigan-Superior Building
McGraw-Hill Building
Music Corporation of America Building
Union Carbide and Carbon Building
Cuneo Tower Project
The Corporate and Commercial Avenue in 1929
Appendix One: The Planners of North Michigan Avenue
Appendix Two: The Architects of North Michigan Avenue in the 1920s
Appendix Three: The Developers of North Michigan Avenue in the 1920s
Selected Bibliography


Illinois State Historical Society: Illinois State Historical Society Award

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