Montgomery Ward Tower Building—Phase II
Life Span: 1887/1899-Present
Location: 6 N. Michigan Avenue (Tower)
Architect: Richard E. Schmidt (Tower)
Chicago Tribune, February 13, 1887
An Important Business Change.
The sale of a property on Michigan avenue for $235,000 to Montgomery Ward which in its details was incorrectly reported in the daily transfer list, is the prelude to an important business change. The building and land sold was that of the United States Storage Company at No. 111, about 125 feet north of Madison street, the grantors being George T. Smith, Elizabeth M. Gaylord, and Annie Cross. The structure is 91.6 feet front and 165.6 deep to a court. It is a very substantial brick building of six stories and basement. Montgomery Ward & Co. will move their dry-goods business from the quarters they now occupy on Wabash avenue, between Adams and Jackson, some time in August, possession of the Michigan avenue property to be given June 1. The new building is to be completely refitted for use as a dry-goods store. There are now two elevators in it, and two more will be constructed. Some partitions will have to be taken out. The purchase includes, besides the building and the ground occupied by it, five feet of the adjoining alley. This change in location, interesting in itself, from the fact that other dealers in dry goods are drifting southward, or to the wholesale quarter where Maeshall Field’s building is going up.
Montgomery Ward & Co.’s Mail Order Establishment
111 Michigan Avenue
Montgomery Ward & Co.
formerly U S. Co.
111-116 Michigan Avenue
Greeley & Carlson’s Atlas of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, April 3, 1898
MONTGOMERY WARD’S NEW BUILDING.
Lake Front Structure Planned to Cost $225,000.
The office and loft building manned for Montgomery Ward & Co., to be erected on the northwest corner of Michigan avenue and Madison street, is 85 feet in Michigan avenue by 163 feet having Madison street, and adjoins Ward & Co.’s present eight-story building The 37 feet having the Michigan avenue frontage is leased from St. Mary’s parish tor a long term of years. The inside 48 feet is owned by Montgomery Ward & Co. The building has been planned by Richard E. Schmidt.
The construction is to be extremely heavy so that any floor may be stored to the ceiling
with the heaviest goods. The fireproofing will be as thorougn as the best materialana
quantity can make it. The upper stories will be furnished without using any wood whatever.
The two street elevations will be of a vitrifed brick, with richly modeled terra cotta in the principal parts; that is. the entrance, tower, and cornices. The main entrance on the corner is to receive particular attention. Around the outer columns and piers there will be sculptured groups portraying American industry, and life away from the cities, as depicted by trapper, hunter, fisherman. farmer, miner. etc. These groups are to be modeled by a well known sculptor. The interior of this entrance or vestibule will be finished in mosaic floors and celling.
The tower on the corner is to have an elevator running to the nineteenth floor level, 225 feet from the pavement. A flight of stairs from here extends to the lantern in the tower, where the eye will be 260 feet above the pavement. The lantern and finial above this will be 40 feet higher, or 300 feet in all.
The foundations will be piling and north line of columns will be supported on cantilever foundation girders, as there is an eIght-story party wall with wide spreading foundations on this line amply strong for eight stores, but not sufficient for twelve. The first floor will be raised about three feet above grade, which will allow a high and dry basement, lighted by Luxfer prism glass. The building is arranged for six freight elevators and three passenger elevators. All of the windows on the alley will have the latest metal frames and sash, glazed with wire glass, thus obviating all necessity of iron shutters
Montgomery Ward Tower Building
The 22.5-foot weather vane, Progress Lighting the Way for Commerce, was set October 20, 1900. It was modeled by J. Massey Rhine.
Montgomery Ward’s “busy beehive” in 1899.
The open-air observatory at the top of the tower was the highest point in Chicago.
Chicago Tribune, December 3, 1899
Tenants in proximity to the new Montgomery Ward & Co. building, Madison street and Michigan avenue, say the new chimney that has just been erected on that building gives every indication of being as bas a smoker as was the old Montgomery Ward & Co. chimney on account of which Smoke Inspector Schubert brought several actions, resulting in the company being fined. At 2:30 o’clock yesterday afternoon smoke was pouring out of the new chimney in a black cloud, in evident violation of the ordinance. The chimney is still surrounded by scaffolding and the building is not yet complete. When A. Montgomery Ward’s attention was called to the chimney yesterday he said:
- We are testing the new boilers this week, and it is impossible to keep the chimney from smoking. We have the best smoke consumer that can be bought. The actions against us on account of the old chimney were simply persecution. I understand we have appealed them.
Inter Ocean, May 19, 1901
In the summer of 1872 Mr. A. Montgomery Ward, President of the great Mail Order House of Montgomery Ward & Co., conceived the idea of selling goods direct to consumers at wholesale prices through the medium of catalogues. At the beginning, two men and a boy were sufficient to conduct the business. By dealing honestly with the people, giving them the best of value for their money, guaranteeing goods as represented or refunding the purchaser’s money, and by, in every way, putting themselves in the place of buyers instead of the seller, they have built up a business which is the wonder of the mercantile world. They now employ 2,000 clerks, who are constantly engaged in filling out-of-town orders, and transact business not only throughout the United States, but in every country. They occupy 25 acres of floor space to conduct their business and own and occupy the buildings shown on this page. Such a mammoth business could only be built up by treating people right, by giving them good goods and by refunding their money if not satisfied. Montgomery Ward & Co. guarantee satisfaction in all their sales, that is, if you should send them an order and upon receipt of the goods they were not what you expected or not what they represented them to be, or in. other words, if you were not entirely satisfied with them, you could return the goods at their expense and they would refund the transportation charges both ways and also return your money tp you.
The world-wide reputation of this great house is such that no one need hesitate to patronize them, because if one is not satisfied then he gets his money back as soon as it is asked for.
Montgomery Ward & Co. have no branch houses, no traveling men, and no agents in any territory. They sell goods direct to the consumer or user through the medium of catalogues, principally their General Catalogue or Buyer’s Guide, which is a book weighing four pounds, has nearly 1,200 pages, over 17,000 pictures of goods they sell, and quotes prices on over 70,000 different things that you eat and use and wear. The cost of publishing this book is enormous, but it has been the custom of the house for years to send it to any one who sends 15 cents to partially prepay postage, although the postage is now 32 cents on each copy. We suggest to you that if you wish one of these mammoth catalogues you send 15 cents in stamps and the catalogue will be shipped you promptly with all charges prepaid.
Montgomery Ward & Co. have two million customers, the largest number of any concern in the world. These customers can be traced from father to son, and to the grandfather, in many instances, as the house has been in business for nearly thirty years.
Many people who will visit the Pan-American Exposition are customers of this great house, and many of course are not, but we suggest to those who have never dealt with them that they give Montgomery Ward & Co. a trial order, for they are bound to be satisfied with what they get.
Another thing, the house guarantees safe delivery; that is, if you buy goods from them and they do not reach your station in proper condition, it is not necessary for you to keep them; you can notify the agent and he will return tham at the house’s expense.
In a little book recently published by Montgomery Ward & Co. which has a very wide circulation, they state among other things:
- We say as we do and we do as we say. We will refund your money if you are not satisfied. $4.00 sent to us will bring better results than $5.00 spent at home. We handle no second-hand, fire-sale or shoddy goods. We guarantee all goods to reach you in perfect condition; if they do not, you can return at our expense. We give you wholesale prices, or the same prices your local dealer pays for the same class of goods.
The buildings occupied by Montgomery Ward & Co. which are considered among the finest for mercantile purposes in the world. From the ground to the height of the tower of their new building is 394 feet; an observatory point has been provided near the top of the tower and from it the visitor gets a magnificent view of Chicago, the suburban towns, and Lake Michigan. Out-of-town people are invited to call at the building and inspect it. to go to the height of the tower and see the magnificent view afforded. They are never asked to buy, as it is a rule of the house that visitors are to be treated entirely as guests; if they wish to buy they may do so, but under no circumstances are they asked to. We suggest to every one who reads this that if they go to Chicago at any time they be sure to visit this great house and see its thousands of employes actively engaged in filling out-of-town orders; but as there are are many who will perhaps and have an opportunity of visiting Chicago for a long time, we suggest that they send and get a copy of their General Catalogue and Buyer’s Guide, which they can get as stated by a remittance of 15 cents in postage stamps.
Chicago Tribune, October 10, 1902.
Montgomery Ward won his long fight for the preservation of the entire lake front for park purposes when the Supreme court of Illinois denied a rehearing in the case. The whole tract from Randolph street to Park row and from Michigan avenue to the harbor line, or breakwater, is thus secured permanently for a park, and the erection of any building in the area is prohibited.
Montgomery Ward Tower Building
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Chicago Tribune, April 6, 1984
By Paul Gapp, Architecture critic
A quiet renaissance going on along Michigan Avenue south of Randolph Street has most of the virtues that architectural preservationists are forever encouraging. With rather consistent sensitivity, the mix of ordinary and distinguished buildings facing Grant Park are being renovated instead of torn down in the false name of progress.
As the work continues, one of the most interestingly redone structures has turned out to be the 20 N. Michigan Ave. building, formerly the John M. Smyth Co. furniture store. It is a splendid example of intuitive architecture –the kind of design and decision-making that cannot be taught by professors or copied from the work of others.
Nagle, Hartray & Associates Ltd. is the Chicago architecture firm that accomplished this transformation. They took a peculiar building that had practically no esthetic merit and turned it into a handsome structure that can hold its own against the classiest architecture on the street.
Beers, Clay & Dutton designed the original eight-story building in 1885 for Montgomery Ward and Co., which used it as a warehouse. It was constructed in stages, which must account in part for its eccentric proportions.
Each floor was of a different height, horizontal spacings were not uniform, windows were of varied sizes and rows of columns were out of alignment. To put it crudely, it was (and to a degree still is) one of the most geometrically cockeyed buildings on Michigan Avenue.
When John M. Smyth took it over in the 1950s, the brick-faced building was given an imitation granite facade on the bottom two stories, a large rooftop sign and such uninspired cosmetic touches as an exterior coat of gray paint. After Smyth moved out in 1982, the U.S. Equities Group bought the building and decided to turn it into a first rate office mid-rise with retail space on the ground floor.
Architect James L. Nagle, partner John F. Hartray, Jr. and colleague Howard Kagan remedied the building`s asymmetrical strangeness by changing certain externally visible proportions under a formula first roughed out by “eyeballing” (Nagle`s word) and later refined with mathematical precision.
If you stand across the street today and look very closely, you can see that 20 N. Michigan Ave. is still not totally symmetrical. Yet no one but an architect or a builder would ever notice, anyway, and the simple elegance of the structure is what really arrests the eye.
The gray paint was removed and upper surfaces taken back to their red color (in several shades, actually). Replacing the phony granite around the base is a limestone skin with deeply set back joints that give the surface a rusticated look consistent with neighboring buildings.
At street level, the window wall facing Michigan Avenue is stepped back to increase retail exposure and form an inviting entryway. The historic
“Chicago window” form (a large section of glass flanked by two smaller ones) adds character to the composition.
At the rooftop summit, shell-like ornaments top each of five piers rising up the side of the building. The shells may remind some people of Botticelli, or what have you, yet they are used unselfconsciously. Illuminated at night, they enhance the view of the skyline from Lake Shore Drive.
The inside of 20 N. Michigan Ave. comes as a pleasant surprise if you remember it from the prosaic furniture store days. Nagle and Hartray carved a skylight-topped atrium up the center–a common device among rehabbers these days, but no less effective for that.
Because the building is framed and floored with wood, tough fire safety requirements had to be met under the city building code. The atrium`s sides are thus enclosed with wire-strengthened glass, and the whole place is chockablock with sprinkler heads. Structural engineer Robert Beer solved some of the most tedious problems.
That leaves the lobby, which is no small success. The rough terrazzo that paves the outdoor entryway becomes smooth as it flows indoors in the same pattern. In the atrium section of the lobby space is a marble and granite sculpture-fountain by Carolann Haggard. Flanking the piece are a pair of trees whose trunks rise from old-fashioned patterned iron grates set flush with the floor.
Angling off from the atrium is a broad passage leading to the elevators. Above each of the elevator doors are miniature versions of the rooftop shells, here used as floor level indicators. Again, the shells simply look right, not cute. The shape of the wood paneling in the elevator cabs thoughtfully echoes the rustication of the building`s exterior limestone skirt.
Nagle and Hartray`s firm grasp of detailing and respect for subtlety never waver in this building. What used to be a bland, characterless structure now has a personality. One may be hard-pressed to hang a stylistic label on it, except to say that it has the strength and clarity long associated with the best design in Chicago.
At the time of its completion, this was the tallest building in Chicago. Originally at 394 feet high, the Montgomery Ward Building is currently 282 feet (86 m) tall, following the removal of a pyramid top and sculpture.