Portland Block II
Life Span: 1872-1933
Location: SE corner of Dearborn and Washington streets
Architect: William Le Baron Jenny
Land Owner, June, 1873
REBUILT CHICAGO.—NEW EDIFICES IN THE BURNT DISTRICT.—THE PORTLAND BLOCK.
Thuis elegant structure, not yet entirely completed, stands at the south-east corner of Dearborn and Washington streets, on the site of the old block of the same name. It is one of the grandest and most imposing business palaces in our new Chicago. The original design was for an eight story building, and arrangements have been made for its early completion. The style of architecture is the English commercial gothic, with a very conveniently arranged interior. The owner is Mr. Peter C. Brooks, of Boston, and the architect is W. L. B. Jenny, Esq., of this city.
REBUILT CHICAGO.—THE PORTLAND BLOCK.
Corner of Dearborn and Washington Streets
This building is leased to first-class tenants, among whom we may mention the following:
The Third National Bank.
This staunch monetary institution occupies the main corner banking room, where it has probably the finest fitted up and best appointed banking house in the country. The counters are of polished wood inlaid, with artificial tiles and variegated marbles, in conformity with designs drawn by Mr. Jenny. In the arrangements of the bank, its working departments have been carefully studied, and the economy is complete.
National Bank of Illinois.
The Portland Block also has another of our prominent financial institutions, the National Bank of Illinois, which has a capital of $600,000, and enjoys a large, valuable and constantly growing business. Its office appointments in the Portland Block are complete and arranged with taste and care.
Bradstreet’s Commercial Agency.
The Mercantile Agency of J. M. Bradstreet & Son, who occupy a very large and beautifully furnished office in this building, has been established for many years, each succeeding year adding to its utility and efficiency. It has its headquarters in the city of New York, and its branches are found in every part of this continent, and also in Europe. Each branch is in charge of a superintendent, appointed by and under the direction of the home-office. The agency has a very large and valuable printing and publishing establishment of its own, where all its books and the most of its printing are done under careful supervision, thus securing correctness and dispatch. The increasing business of the house, the very large number of its employees, the incessant traveling required and never intermitted, the immense corps of correspondents, with all the incidental outlay, cause an expenditure not imagined by those unacquainted with the details of the business. The necessity of such an agency is proved by the fact there is scarcely a house of any size who are not patrons, and the increasing business of the country enhances the value of such an institution.
With the fine accommodations and beautiful surroundings of the office in our own city, we bespeak for it a liberal patronage from every business house whose constantly increasing business demands such safeguards as this agency can furnish. In point of equipment, light, convenience and beauty, the office on the Portland Block is not surpassed by any office of any kind in the city, as a visit to it, which will be always agreeable to its officers, will satisfy every one.
American Express and Agency in Europe.
The basement office No. 72 is occupied by the Chicago branch of the “Express and Agency Co., of London,” a general American agency established in London, with branches in the leading capitals of Europe and the principal cities of this country. It has three departments,—a Traveler’s Agency, which renders every possible assistance to Americans visiting Europe,—an Express Agency, which forwards goods and baggage all over Europe and across the Atlantic.—and a Financial Agency, which negotiates loans and the purchase and sale of all standard securities, and procures or cashes letters of credit, exchange, etc. The Chicago agency is managed by Mr. Jas. H. Dowland, a well-known resident of this city.
Ollinger & Ballard.
The corner office of the basement is occupied by this staunch real estate house, who have been in business here five years. Their office is finely fitted up and perfectly adapted to their large land trade. They represent a large number of non-resident capitalists, whose interests have always been safe in their house.
J. C. McCord & Co.
This firm also occupy one of the basement offices on the Dearborn side of the Portland Block, where they have a fine and well arranged office. This firm, composed entirely of energetic young men—and it is young men who are building up the West to-day—have been in business for several years, and possess ample capital. Mr. J. C. McCord has erected a block of eight houses on Langley avenue, worth $100,000, which he now offers for sale.
C. R. Field & Co.
This energetic firm have a splendid office in the Portland Block, as will be seen be reference to the illustration. It is a house too well known in the country to need much comment at our hands.
Portland Block II
Chicago Evening Post, July 14, 1873
The Portland Block, southeast corner of Washington and Dearborn streets, while the subject of some difference of opinion regarding its rank among the finest specimens of architecture in the rebuilt city, is regarded by a large portion of the intelligent public, including critics of architecture, and those accustomed to receive their ideas in regard it from the Gothic models of Europe, as one of the highest and noblest specimens of the art which the city affords. The edifice holds prominence as an object of universal interest and curiosity by reason of the striking originality of its features. By design the building is seven stories and basement, including Gothic roof, though it stands at present four stories and basement, leaving three stories and Gothic roof to the future. The style is commercial Gothic,—material, Philadelphia pressed brick, trimmed with a compact, buff-colored sandstone, and decorated with enameled tile, principally applied in horizontal courses, giving the whole frontage of the building a pleasing, striking, novel aspect of studied simplicity and art-like taste. The elevation of the truncated corner, in which is the main entrance to the Third National bank, forms a tall, slim front of itself, 76×17½ feet. The entrances are colonated Gothic porches, shafts of the columns being polished Scotch granite, with large tile rosette in the pediment of the porch, the sign of the Third National bank being also in enameled tile. All the windows have square heads formed by recessed lintels of cut stone, the weight taken off by external arches of brick, throwing all the weight off from the slim mullions upon the main piers, it being a principle and feature of this style of architecture to exhibit honestly the construction. The foundations are calculated to carry two tons per square foot only, the walls of at the top of the fourth story being twenty inches thick, contemplating three additional stories. It is said the cost of the exterior, per square foot, although making a showy appearance, is only about one-half of that of surrounding buildings of fine cut stone frontage.
The Portland block is perhaps the only building in the city of like cost and capacity that was placed in the hands of the architect for full details throughout, thus enabling the same mind who conceived the outward face of the structure, to construct and embellish the interior with the liberty of an artist, and thus to effect unity and harmony throughout, from the form and outline of the edifice to the finest minutiae of internal decoration, even to color and style in painting, furniture, fixtures, and general appointment, so that the observer who gives a little study to the gorgeous embellishment and ornamentation of some of the large apartments, as the Third National Bank, the National Bank of Illinois and others, that though the rooms would be magnificent or “perfectly splendid” in any other block, yet that their main interest, taste and beauty depends in a measure on their immediate relation to the general design of the Portland block. The interior of the building is remarkable for the conveniences of space, ventilation and sunlight, abd is traversed by a hall and stairway of 32×54 feet with double windows at each landing and surmounted by a skylight of plate glass and iron, 56×14 feet, the vertical sides revolving at the pleasure of the occupant.
The ornamental window woodwork, doors, flooring, wainscoting, and the entire job of carpentry, forming all item in the construction of between thirty and thirty-five thousand dollars, is pronounced by the architect and by mechanics generally, as a most thorough successful, and satisfactory piece of work, and as reflecting a very high degree of credit on the taste, skill, and honest attention to details shown by the carpenters of the block, Messrs. Wrigley Bros. (W. S. and L. S. Wrigley), whose office is just off Dearborn street, south of the Portland block. The hall and office floors are of maple; handsome, firm, and solid, and good for a century of wear and tear; doors of finished butternut, of unusual height, width, and thickness—nine feet high, five feet and a half wide, and three inches thick—their massive weight turning lightly, gracefully, and noiselessly on great bronze hinges; windows of butternut, tastefully trimmed and finished with black walnut. The broad, double stairway, in the middle of the block, ascending by easy steps from the first floor to the top floor, forms so comfortable and so inviting a passage up and down the building as to be preferred by healthy travelers to the $10,000 elevator which forms so splendid a feature in the equipment of the building. It is the verdict of mechanical critics, contractors and good judges generally, that the magnificent job done by Wrigley Brothers, on the the Portland block, entitle them to rank and consideration as thoroughly accomplished mechanics.
Style of Apartments—General Occupancy of the Building.
The corner apartment of the block, which is commonly regarded as the richest and most elaborately decorated bank room in the United States, is occupied by the Third National Bank. The construction and embellishment of these apartments is in a florid style of Gothic, relying to some extent on rich coloring and somewhat fanciful forms. The ceiling is frescoes from designs of the architect P. M. Almini & Co., in the new style of high tints now prevailing everywhere. The ceiling is sky blue ground, decorated with stucco centres, illuminated in rich coloring in the style of the 13th century, The fresco work is concentrated on a few points, and produces desired effect.
The floor of the room is a splendid English tile with enameled border, plain octagon center with enameled dots. The counter that traverses two sides of the room is a most notable piece of marble and cabinet work, done by Messrs. Powles & Bates, 11 to 17 South Canal street. The base and top are of Tennessee marble imported from Italy for the occasion. The columns below are of solid ebony with columns in the upper rail manufactured from solid rosewood. The string courses and names over tellers’ windows and rosettes are ib enameled tile, imported for the purpose. The cost of the counter was about $5,000. In general, in the elaboration and costly elegance of the fixtures and appointments of the room, it will bear comparison with the handsomest banking apartments in the world. The Third National Bank, which now occupies these beautiful quarters, is well known as one of the greatest monetary institutions of the country, with an available capital and surplus of about a million dollars, with a deposit line of near four millions, and a general business at formidable proportions. The old quarters of the bank before the fire will be remembered, at the corner of Dearborn and Randolph, and after the fire at 376 Wabash avenue. The President is J. Irving Pearce, formerly of the Adams House; cashier, Mr. L. V. Parsons, and assistant cashier, Mr. W. S. Smith. The following additional names constitute the directory:
- Geo. M. Pullman, President Pullman Palace Car Company; Nathan Mears, Mears, Bates & Co., Wm. T. Allen, Allen, Congell & Co.; Joseph Medill, Chicago Tribune; Sidney A. Kent, A. E. Kent & Co.; Charles H. Curtis, capitalist; C. M. Henderson, C. M. Henderson & Co.; H. W. Bishop, Thompson & Bisho.
The Basement Offices.
The offices of the basement are constructed and equipped in a style equaling that of those above, and are all designed for a first class occupancy. One of the largest of the basement offices, No. 109 Dearborn, is occupied of Messrs. J. C. McCord & Co., (J. C. McCord, J. T. McCord), the well known dealers in real estate. The young gentlemen composing the firm were formerly known in connection with two of the leading insurance companies of the city, and entered regularly into the real estate business shortly after the fire at 448 Wabash avenue, thence removing to No. 156 La Salle street, where they remained till the completion of the Portland block. Though beginning so recently the firm are already known as very heavy operators in real estate, and as doing a large business in the negotiation of loans and in the purchase and sale of commercial paper, etc. Though making a specialty of negotiating bonds and stock and real estate paper, the firm deal largely in buying and selling real estate property, and have contributed not less than fifty dwelling houses, eight of them marble fronts, costing $12,000 or $15,000 each, toward the rebuilding of the new city. The success of the firm in developing their business and their fortunes to such proportions in so brief a period is something remarkable.
Ayers and Eoff.
The offices entered by No. 74 Washington street are occupied by Messrs. Ayers & Eoff (Ence Ayers, J. Henry Eoff), real estate and loan brokers, before the fire in the Larmon block, and afterward till the completion of the Portland block at No. 541 Wabash avenue. Mr. Ayers has been identified with the real estate business of Chicago during the past twenty-five years. Mr. Eoff having been associated with him for about six years. The firm are generally reputed to do a slow, safe, conservative, but very extended business in negotiating loans and selling residences and real estate generally on commission. Among the other occupants of the basement are the Ocean Express Company and Olinger & Ballard, real estate agents.
National Bank of Illinois.
The large apartments of the first floor to the right of the Dearborn street entrance have just been taken possession by the National Bank of Illinois. The decorating appointments and furniture of this room are similar to those of the other banking rooms described above. The National Bank of Illinois was organized two months before the fire at No. 95 Washington street, relocating after that event at the residence of the President, Mr. George Schneider, No. 703 Michigan avenue, removing thence to No. 14 West Randolph street, thence again to No. 160 La Salle, till its final and permanent relocation in its present magnificent rooms. The bank has a paid up capital of $500,000, with a deposit business of about a million, discounts about a million, and a circulation of near $200,000. A feature of the management the bank is to publish every three months the names of all the stockholders, each individual stockholder being responsible under the law for double the amount of his subscription. The large, general business of the bank is conducted with energy and liberality on the conservative plan, under the management of experienced and thoroughly accomplished financiers. The President, Mr. George Schneider, a resident of the city for a quarter of a century, has been for many years closely identified with the general business and interests of finance, serving as President of the State Savings Institution during a period of eight years. He will also be remembered as Internal Revenue Collector under President Lincoln. The Vice President, Mr. Wm. H. Bradley, is well known as President of the West Division Railway Company. Mr. H. H. Nash, Cashier, was for ten years Cashier of the U. S. Sub-treasury at Chicago.
The second floor is occupied by J. M. Bradstreet’s mercantile agency and a number of law and real estate offices. Thomas Lyman, agent of the Portland Block and general real estate agent, has also an office on this floor, room No. 17. Mr. Lyman is very well known in connection with the management of estates. It is also on this floor that the Messrs. Asahel and Henry H. Gage, real estate dealers, have a very handsome office (room No. 14), elaborately designed and equipped with every advantage and convenience in furniture, capacious vaults, etc., for the comfortable accommodation of their business. The old quarters of the firm before the fire were at No. 46 La Salle street, afterward, till the completion of this block at 224 West Monroe street. The firm deals very heavily in tax sales, and have been known in connection with that brancj of the business for the past ten years. They also deal largely in country property, and have extensive lands of their own at Wilmette, near Evanston. The papers of the firm were saved in the fire by being in the great iron vault now in their apartments, but built for and then occupied by Rees, Chase & Co.
The third floor is occupied by law firms, including those of Lyman & Jackson, Lincoln & Isham, Grant & Swift, Geddis & Read, and C. Gatters. Mr. W. L. B. Jenney, architect of the building, whose genius is the conception of form and in the attainment of unity (the principle by which all art is interpreted) not only in superficial proportions, holding the remotest features of the structure related vitally to each other under one idea, but in the internal details of decoration and construction, so that the idea that finds expression in the outward face of the building is revealed but harmonious effects produced within, the public are indebted for this beautiful monument of the art of architecture, has also an office on this floor (No. 30).
Model Law Offices.
Some of the law offices, as those of Messrs. Grant & Swift, are an improvement on any ever seen in our city, being modeled and constructed upon several designs. The office of the firm consist of one central room of large dimensions, fronting on Washington street, with private offices of comfortable dimensions, entered only from the main office, and looking on Dearborn street. Messrs. Grant & Swift were located before the fire in the Honore Block, and after that event at 371 Wabash avenue. They are widely known in connection with those branches of the law relating to real estate and commercial business.
Rand, McNally & Co’s Bird’s-Eye Views Guide to Chicago, 1893
Fronts 75 feet on Dearborn and 100 feet on Washington Street, at the southeast corner. It is an old-style brick building with somewhat eccentric architectural treatment of materials. There are 6 stories and basement, 65 offices, and 2 passenger elevators. The occupants are bankers, attorneys, agents, and architects. The Portland was rebuilt in 1873, and remodeled in 1885. Its height is 80 feet.
Portland Block II
The first home of The John Marshall Law School, from 1899-1933.
The John Marshall Law School officially opened in the building on Wednesday, September 20, 1899; and day classes commenced on October 2, 1899. Evening classes were instituted as early as October 10 of the same year.
Andreas’ History of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, March 22, 1933
Richard W. Sears, one of the founders of Sears, Roebuck & Co., bought the Portland block in 1900 for one million dollars from D. Percy Morgan, one of the firm of Ennoch Morgan’s Sons. makers of Sapolio. The property, which fronts 120 feet on Washington ond 90 feet on Dearborn, is now owned by Mrs. Anna L. Sears, widow of R. W. Sears. For years it ranked as one of the city’s best known office buildings, with an imposing list of tenants.
Recently it was found that the tax problem had to be solved some way and it was decided that wrecking the building would be the solution. It has not been decided yet whether to lease the cleared space for a parking station or erect a low “tax payer” of one, two, or possibly three stories, according to John R. Magill, agent for the building.
Portland Block II
SE corner of Dearborn and Washington streets
Robinson Fire Map 1886
Volume 3, Plate 1
Chicago Tribune, May 28, 1933
The latest down town wrecking project is the old Portland block, at the southeast corner of Washington and Dearborn. This was built shortly after the fire and for many years ranked as one of the city’s lending office buildings. High taxes have convinced the owners that it will be cheaper to wreck it and lease the site for parking or perhaps erect a “taxpayer.”