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Columbus Memorial Building
Life Span: 1893-1959
Location: 31 N. State St. at SE corner of E. Washington St.
Architect: William W. Boyington
Chicago Tribune September 27, 1891
A $1,000,000 MEMORIAL BLOCK.
The Columbus Block to be Erected on One of the Prominent Corners.
A million-dollar memorial building is to be erected on the corner of State and Washington streets. This corner is owned by Higgins & Furber and it has long been a question real estate men as to what disposition would be made of it. Any number of negotiations for its purchase or lease have been begun, but at last the owners have decided to improve it themselves. The corner has a State street frontage of 100 feet and a frontage on Washington street of 90 feet. Early next spring, when the leases of the old building terminate, work will begin on a sixteen-story building to occupy the corner. The owners of the corner desire to erect a building which will be an ornament to the city, and the interest of the public in the World’s Fair has suggested that it be in the form of a Columbus memorial. The new building will be known as “The Columbus.” and will be one of the most imposing structures in the city. Plans for the building have been made by W. W. Boyington & Co. They provide for a building after the Spanish style of architecture.
It will be thoroughly fire-proof, of steel construction, with staying walls of solid masonry on the and east sides. Over a twelve foot entrance opening on State street will be placed a colossal statue of Christopher Columbus in bronze. A bronze tablet extending across the top of this entrance will bear the name of the building. The sides of the entrance will be covered with bronze memorial tablets. The first three stories will be faced with terra cotta, while the upper stories will be faced with brick and terra cotta. Above the eleventh and sixteenth stories will be heavy cornices decorated with Spanish medallions and coats-of-arms. The first floor will be divided into two elegantly decorated stores 42×90 feet. A bank of six elevators located in the center of the building will furnish suitable elevator service. Extending up through the southeast corner of the building will be a light shaft 33×33 feet. The entire building will be surmounted by an octagonal tower, which will be a continuation of the two corner bays. The first five stories will be used for stores while the upper floors will be divided into offices.
Columbus Memorial Building
G. Twose, The Brickbuilder, January, 1894
The designer had in this case and opportunity which he neglected—a fault to be found in nearly all the buildings. Here was a steel building, complete in itself, except for certain elemental protection which its nature demanded, such protection being admirably rendered by terra-cotta, a material ductile to the greatest degree. What, then, would be the natural artistic reasoning in manipulating such covering? Why, surely this; here is a building having been built of a certain material, which is sufficient as far as strength is concerned, admirable in the economy of space and labor which its use permits, possessing endless possibilities, but brought into a regular and ordered system by means of certain laws and principles which rigidly govern its use. This material has, however, to be supplemented in one regard by some other material, and one is quickly found whose chemical composition renders it perfect for such purpose, while at the same time it possesses unbounded capabilities of recording artistic thought; it owes obedience to no system of laws which would be antagonistic to its use in the proposed position; it is weak where the strength of the steel renders such weakness unimportant, and possesses to a very high degree those qualities wherein steel is deficient. Having thus the building of steel on the one hand, and this subsidiary material on the other, it would be by far the most natural, the most logical, and the most artistic proceeding to apply this protective coat to the steel skeleton in such a manner that the steel construction should determine all forms, and dominate the ultimate expression, that the terra-cotta should faithfully follow each line, advance where the steel advances, and retreat where such is the action of construction, indicating joint or connection, flange, cap and bracket—a true and faithful indication of the substructure, modeled into beauty by the hand which applies it.
Columbus Memorial Building
Hyman Berg and Company
Columbus Memorial Building
Hyman Berg Company
A Half Century if Chicago Buildings, 1910
Columbus Memorial Building
THE year 1892 vsas one of inspiration to the city of Chicago. The atmosphere was charged with the enthusiasm that conceived and constructed that marvel of beauty and art, the White City, or Columbian Exposition. Nor was it limited to the White City alone. A new era had set in. The materialism represented by brick and mortar at so much a cubic yard gave way to interpretations of architecture as art. Nowhere was this more excellently illustrated than in the Columbus Memorial Building, built and named in honor of the historic event then celebrated. . Located at State and Washington Streets, it stands a monument to the public spirit of its projector, the genius of its architect, and the sincerity of its builders. It is one of the first of steel structures to rear its towering height fourteen stones skyward. The first two floors are of solid bronze, specially designed for this use, and are richly ornamented with bas-reliefs. The entrance to the building, two stories in height, is ornamented with a frieze of eleven panels, being pictures in bronze bas-relief of the life of Columbus, and above the entrance, extending through another story, is a niche containing the colossal statue of that historic character. Then, for twelve stories, specially designed brown terra cotta carry lines of great beauty to a roof of tile surmounted by an imposing tower. The tower is capped with a great globe to typify the round world of Columbus, and from the front cornice a colossal American Eagle, with out-stretched wings, ornaments and symbolizes the building. The corridor is entirely of rich Sienna marbles, built in columns, and with panels of mosaic containing the narrative of the principal events in the life of Columbus, and from this corridor a marble staircase and five elevators, surrounded by bronze grills, lead to the floors above. The floors and ceilings are of exquisite patterns of mosaic, of such delicate shades of colors that they seem mere like oriental rugs. The lighting effect, with incandescent lamps in bronze fixtures, is a part of the decorative scheme. There is evidence everywhere of that co-operation of interest in constructive architecture, of that wise foresight in regard to real needs, that give the building an air of having grown to perfection. The basement was set apart for safety deposit vaults. Rare marbles, beautiful furniture, and comfortable fittings were installed to make them attractive. There are sections set apart for men and for women. Divans, rugs, and other creature comforts make these vaults a Mecca for busy women, and many organizations constantly avail themselves of their hospitality. Marble and bronze statuary, real works of art, help to add the sense of luxury to comfort. There are twenty-five hundred safety deposit boxes, and any number of small private rooms, where one can undisturbedly attend to his own affairs. The ground floor is devoted to business purposes. The corner, a jewelry store, decorated and furnished by the projector of the building, is probably the most beautiful and extravagantly furnished of any in America. Its walls are mostly of marbles from the Pyranees. in dove color, with ceilings and coves of mosaic in tones of blue, with gold bronze trimmings. Incandescent lamps set in festoons of gold bronze are set in these coves of mosaic, while colunmns of verde antique marble surrounded by electric lights and with pendants of Malachite, Lapis-lazula, and other semiprecious stones meet the eye. The furniture and fixtures are of heavy, rich mahogany, ornamented with gold bronze, all designed by the artist designing the interior decoration of the building, and in color and tone suited to set off the rich displays usually exhibited in fine jewelry establishments. The second and third stores, the former a confectionery shop, and the latter a children’s outfitting establishment, are equally excellent in their appointments. The rear walls of these establishments are covered with two rare mosaic pictures by a master artist.
The east side of State Street from Randolph to Madison, with (left to right) the Columbus Memorial Building, Chas. A. Stevens, and Wieboldt’s.
The pictures were painted and done in mosaic in Italy, and assembled on these walls. They are life-sized human figures representing Columbus’ discovery of America and the raising of the Spanish standard, and his return with gifts and friendly Indians to the court of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The colors are rich and beautiful, and being of mosaic are perpetual memorials rarely or never used as a commercial asset, and fit ultimately to find their way in some public or national museum. A constant stream of people pays homage to these works of art. Mounting the marble staircases for a leisurely examination of details, one is struck by the fact that everywhere the corridors are of marble, the floors and ceilings are of mosaic, and what little wood-work on doors and jambs is of the finest of mahogany. The second, third, fourth and fifth floors are devoted to commercial pursuits. From the sixth up, the medical profession fairly monopolize the space, and a splendid room on the fourteenth floor is devoted to a medical library and reading room. The appointments throughout are perfectly conceived and executed, and the standard set has been many times imitated in the last sixteen years, but never excelled.
In the rush of business and because it is a commercial building, the merits of the Columbus Memorial Building may be overlooked, but it will richly repay anyone who is at all interested in the subject to devote himself, without stint, to exploring its nooks and corners from the medallions on the outside columns to the tracery of the roof. The result will be joy.
1922 Chicago Central Business and Office Guide
This beautiful building is fourteen stories in height, of strictly fireproof construction and modern in every detail. The walls of the main lobby of the building as well as the ceilings, are treated in a most expensive manner with historical mosaics, and trimmed with ornamental bronzes. The elevator grills and all of the metal work of the building are of solid bronze, while the corridor and staircases are paneled with the finest imported marbles that have been brought into this country. All corridor floors are finished in mosaic and all the wood work is of solid mahogany. It is no doubt the most expensively finished office building in the world, and, while practical for commercial purposes in every way, yet, artistically, the building has not been erected that can be called its equal.
In the heart of the shopping district, convenient to the prominent retail establishments in our central business section. and so well located that it is accessible to all of the shopping public, this building offers the very best location for jewelers and the medical profession. It is now occupied, on the lower floors, principally by jewelers, while the upper floors are devoted to offices for physicians and dentists.
In the basement will be found safety vaults with every modern equipment, treated in an expensive and artistic manner, and offering the protection that is the first requisite necessary for a place of safe-keeping for important and valuable papers as well as moneys and jewelry.
Columbus Memorial Building
Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, January 12, 1959
The famed Columbus statue came down from its perch on the front of the Columbus Memorial building Sunday and was placed in storage until a new home for it was found.
It took three hours to get the statue down from its niche on the building being razed. Two giant, 20 ton cranes were used to bring it to the ground.
Then it was hauled away to the Joseph Lumber Company, 2001 Narragansett Av., where it will be cleaned and remain under wraps until a Municipal Art league committee decides what to do with it.
Landmark Since 1893
George M. Keane, head of the committee, says suggestions have included placing it at Calumet harbor, at Navy Pier, in Columbus Park, or in a proposed north side art museum,
The statue shows Columbus holding onto a tiller. He has on a short cloak, light armor, hose and boots, and a large cross hangs from a chain around his neck.
Many Bid for It
It was created in 1893 by Moses Ezekiel, exhibited at the exposition, then transferred to the State street building, Keane said.
It is valued at $60,000. When the announcement was made that the building was to be razed and Columbus left homeless, private citizens, cities named Columbus, and numerous institutions made bids for it.
Last August, the State and Washington Building corporation, owner of the building, decided to give it to the art league. Keane said his committee will meet “some time in the next month or six weeks” to decide the statue’s fate.1
Statue of Columbus ready for storage until new home is found. Examining 14 ton work of art are (from left) George M. Keane, Frank Chesrow, Elliot Frank, David Chesrow, and Harry Joseph.
January 11, 1959
Chicago Tribune, November 4, 1960
Construction of a one and two story building at the southeast corner of State and Washington streets will begin shortly, with occupancy scheduled for March.
Israel Swift, president of the State and Washington Building corporation, said the structure will cost nearly 1 million dollars. He said it will run 150 feet along Washington and 100 feet on State. The Venetian and Columbus Memorial buildings torn down in 1958 had occuopied the site.
The building will be called the Stevens Annex building and be connected to the Stevens building to its south. Chandler’s, women’s shoe chain, has signed a 15 year lease for the two story section which has the State street frontage. It will be the chain’s seventh store in the Chicago area.
The Gap, which closed in 2017 had a store in the Stevens Annex building.
1The statue is now located at Arrigo Park, 801 S. Loomis Street.