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Old Colony Building
Life Span: 1893-Present
Location: 407 S. Dearborn St. at SE corner of Van Buren St.
Architect: Holabird & Roche
The Old Colony Building, part of the South Dearborn Printing House Row Historic District at 407 S. Dearborn Street, on the southeast corner of W. Van Buren Street, was completed in 1894, Holabird & Roche were the architects, and Corydon T. Purdy was the engineer. The building is 17 stories (215 feet) high and was built on spread foundation with beam grillages. There are no self-supporting walls.
Old Colony Building
Chicago Tribune, February 5, 1893
“OLD COLONY” SKYSCRAPER
The Latest Addition to the Tall Buildings of Chicago
The latest and perhaps the finest of Chicago’s steel skyscrapers is the Old Colony Building, a description of which has been persistently refused until now by the architects, Holabird & Roche, under orders from the owner, though work on the structure has been in progress six months, and three stories are already up. This splendid edifice will be the property, in trust, of Francis Bartlett of Boston, whose father, Sidney Bartlett. died several years ago. Mr. Bartlett is the owner, in his own right, of the Bay State Buildng, State and Randolph streets, and owns the Old Colony property in trust for his daughter, Caroline, to whom his father-in-law, John F. Slater of Norwich, Conn., once the greatest cotton manufacturer of the country, left a fortune of $1,000,000. The property of the trust has greatly increased and now includes, in this city alone, the Boylston Block and parts of the ground under the Auditorium, Schiller, and Alhambra Theaters.
The Old Colony site is on the south side of Van Buren street, and extends from Dearborn street east to Custom House place, these two thoroughfares being only sixty-eight feet apart, and is 150 feet desp. The ground was acquired by Mr. Bartlett in 1885 from several joint owners in Boston, whoe had owned it for the preceding fifty-three years. The price was $116,000, though at that time the extension of Dearborn street south of Jackson had not been made. The condemnation suits had been closed, however, and the condemnation money paid before the transfer.
The Old Colony Building covers the block, and its height will be sixteen stories and an attic, or 205 feet. Architecturally it is divided into three stages, the first being the lower three stories, the second being the next eleven, abd the third being the fifteenth and sixteenth stories and the attic. The whole is surmounted with a heavily molded and bracketed cornice. Each of the north corners is treated with a circular bay with an interior diameter of thirteen feet, extended from the third story, inclusive, to the cornice. The south extremities of the east and west fronts are treated with corresponding semi-circular bays. The windows of the east and west fronts are arranged in five panels, extending the third up through the second stage, the pilasters accentuating the main supports of the building. On the Van Buren street front the windows, and especially the center windows, are spacious. Those on the fifteenth and sixteenth stories are in a single group of five, and are separated by Italian columns extending through both stories. The result is a great deal of generous lighting and a pleasing variety. The building as a whole bears a striking resemblance to a beautiful column with its base, shaft. and capital.
The main entrance will be in the center of the Van Buren street front, but there will be a minor entrance in the center of the Dearborn street front, and a still smaller one in the center of the Custom-House place front. The Van Buren street entrance will be thirty feet wide, and the lintel will be supported, near each side, with a monolith column twenty-sis feet, or two stories, high. Just beyond the columns will be a partition, with windows at each side, and an arch, with sub-columns and capitals in the center. Over the whole space, in large letters will be the words, “Old Colony Building.” This entrance will be one of the most imposing in the city.
The material of the building will be noveL The first stage, of three stories, will be of dressed blue Bedford stone, the remaining stories of white brick, with sami-glazed white terra cotta trimmings, and the attic of white terra cotta only. The brick are in shape the long end thin kind called Roman brick, and in texture are close and hard. They come from Philadelphia, and are called “paving brick,” though seldom used for that purpose. It is expected that Chicago smoke will soil them, though they are hard to absorb soot so any extent. It is designed to scrub the building off every year or two, so that it will constantly appear something like a white marble.
This building is a typical Chicago steel structure with two important improvements. Some of the tall buildings recently erected here have been planned with an absolute disregard of wind pressure; and in none of them has this feature been so well looked after as in the Old Colony Building. The steel work is hot-riveted in all its connections, and so braced and tied together that it will withstand a much greater wind velocity than the Weather Bureau has ever registered. Then, the architects have anticipated the provisions of the building ordinance now pending before the Council and introduced a system of fireproofing hitherto unknown in this city. That is to say, though the walls will consist in part of sixteen inches of brick work, there wil be in between this brick and the steel work a sheath of hollow tile which more than doubles its security against a great heat.
Just within the van Buren street entrance is a vestibule twenty by twenty-eight feet in size and two stories high, with a staircase at each side leading to the banking rooms on the second floor. From this vestibule a ballway nineteen feet wide runs to the south wall of the building. On the east side of this hall, three on each side of the Custom-House place entrance, will be six large, fast hydraulic elevators. The building will be divided so as to mate from 300 to 500 offices, according to the plan of subdivision, the first two stories being designed for banks.
The floors, which Tiffany is designing, will be mosaic; the wainscoting of Italian white marble; -the woodwork, oak: the ornamental ironwork. Baur-Carffe and fire gilt. Every office will have its vault, especially on the banking floors; the windows will all be plate glass; the plumbing will be copper. Water gas and electric lights will be used. In every respect the appointments be the best, without regard to cost.
Rand McNally & Co.’s Bird’s-Eye Views and Guide to Chicago, 1893
The Old Colony Building
Is one of the latest of the high steel buildings, and fronts three streets at Dearborn, and Van Buren, and Plymouth Place, on the southeast corner of the two streets. Its frontages are 148 feet on Dearborn Street and Plymouth Place and 68 feet on Van Buren Street. The building is 210 feet high, or 17 stories and basement, with 6 passenger elevators. It is built with tower bays at the corners, and presents an ornate appearance. The first four stories are of light-blue Bedford stone and for the upper part Old Colony pressed brick and white terra cotta are used. There are 5 stores and 600 offices. The corridor floors are laid in mosaic tile, and the modern appurtenances and luxuries are seen in profusion. The Old Colony was erected by Francis Bartlett of Boston in 1893, at a cost of over $900,000.
The Story of Chicago, Joseph and Caroline Kirkland,1894
The Old Colony Building
The great structures soaring skyward on either side of the way fitly typify the boundless ambition and enterprise of the citizens of Chicago, especially of those men whose clear insight into the future made them a few years ago, see the possibilities and destiny of Dearborn street. Among the remarkable buildings upon this splendid thoroughfare a structure which has been very generally admired for its beauty is the Old Colony.
Stately, perfectly proportioned, pure in outline and exquisite in tint, it rises at the southeast corner of Dearborn and Van Buren streets with Plymouth place on the east. Built to admit all the light of the heavens, it is yet braced so firmly against all the winds of this “windy city,” that in a store on February 12,1894, in which the wind velocity was the most rapid ever recorded at the Chicago Signal Service Station, when the tempest was blowing at the rate of from 70 to 80 miles an hour, the maximum variation in an upper story as tested by spirit level, transit and plumb line was only three sixteenths of an inch.
The ground on which the Old Colony building stands was bought only ten years ago by Bryan Lathrop for the Bartlett estate, $116,000 being paid for it. The result today puts to route the wise acres who at that time termed it “a reckless investment.” For many years Mr. Lathrop has been the enthusiastic prophet of its future. Immediately following the acquisition of this property he erected upon it a one-story structure, which was probably the first building of so temporary a nature in the city, in which slow burning construction was used. This place,with an usually extensive glass frontage, rented very well, and fullfilled its mission until the hour was ripe for the present splendid pile. The design of the Old Colony building was the work of that very scientific and thoroughly artistic firm, Messrs. Holabird & Roche. To impart beauty and proportion to the modern “skyscraper” is no easy task for the architect. So many practical questions have to be taken into consideration that this is generally left to look after itself. But no such accusation can be made against this stately, symmetrical, serenely imposing edifice; with its strong, gracefully rounded corners, its massive base, simple centre and pillard cornice, it is a delight to the eye and an ornament to the city.
The history and description of what is known as the “Chicago construction” is related in the first volume of this work. It suffices here to say that this form with its latest inventions, additions and improvements is employed in the Old Colony building. The massive steel skeleton that supports the walls rests on a foundation of apparently imperishable solidity. The columns and girders of the building, made at the Phoenix Mills are hot-riveted and after the latest scientific design by the well-known engineering expert, Mr. Purdy of the firm of Purdy & Henderson. This firm also introduced an entirely new system of bracing for this building, which consists of four tiers of steel arches reaching from the basement to the roof. Each arch, extending from the floor to the ceiling, is firmly joined at the bottom with the portal or arch beneath it and at the ends to the Phoenix columns by solid, hot-riveted connections. Over 15,000 rivets were driven in the erection of the seventy great steel arches that strengthen this vast structure and make it impregnable in our fiercest gales.
The Old Colony is most thoroughly built to resist Chicago’s other and still greater enemy, fire. In most steel buildings the distance from the face of the wall, or building, line, to the centre of the steel columns is from twelve to fifteen inches; in this structure, however, it measures twenty-four inches. To quote from one account:
The fire-proofing of the interior columns of this building is equal to the best work in this city, while the fire-proofing of the exterior columns is superior to anything heretofore constructed. Not only are these latter fire-proofed like the central ones, but outside the fire-proofing is built a foot of solid brick masonry. It is believed this work has been so thorough that a fire could not possibly do injury to any part of the steel construction.
Prof. Alex- ander Krupsky, of the Technological Institute of St. Petersburg, Russia, was last year instructed by his government thoroughly to examine into and report as to the manner of constructing and fire-proofing steel buildings in America. After an extensive examination he decided that the Old Colony building in Chicago, was the most completely fire-proofed and best constructed piece of steel work he could find in this country. He made a very careful examination of the building, and before leaving for home he secured copies of all the principal drawings to accompany his report.
So much for internal construction, the great steel skeleton. The exterior of the Old Colony Building is divided as before stated into three divisions required in artistic architecture, the base, centre and cornice. The first three stories are of blue Bedford chiseled stone giving an air of massive strength. The remaining fourteen stories are built of what is called a Roman shaped brick, of a pure cream color and finished smooth as a tile. The grime and soot of the city cannot sink into nor discolor these walls,, which will, by being regularly washed, retain their pure brilliancy. To harmonize with this unusual brick work the exterior trimmings are of white terra cotta, thus completing the exquisitely fresh effect and carrying out the idea of old colonial coloring.
One thing strikes both the layman and the student of this kind of architecture and that is the exceptional amount of lighting surface in this building. Bounded on three sides by regular thoroughfares it presents a lighting area 370 feet in length, so that one is somewhat prepared to learn that there are 75,000 square feet of glass used in the building.
There are three entrances, one on Dearborn street, one on Plymouth place, but the main entrance is on Van Buren street, and is very imposing, with an archway two stories in height and proportionately wide. This and the vestibule are paved with ceramic mosaic, and the walls and ceilings are finished in scagliola. The ceiling is divided into thirty-seven panels by richly moulded beams and connects with the walls by a most artistic cornice. At the three entrances are perfect facsimiles carved in stone of the seal of the Plymouth colony, known as the “Old Colony, whence the building.
Old Colony Building