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London Guarantee Building
Life Span: 1923-Present
Location: 360 N. Michigan
Architect: Alfred S. Alschuler.
Chicago Tribune, January 24, 1959
Ninth article in a series
Occupying part of the site of old Fort Dearborn, the 21 story London Guarantee building at the southwest corner of Michigan avenue and Wacker drive has become a landmark in its own right since it was completed in 1923.
And altho it followed Fort Dearborn on the site by a century, it did some pioneering, too, as one of the first big buildings designed to fit in with the city’s plan for development of Wacker drive—a project that continues to the present day.
The building got its name from London Guarantee and Accident company, the British company for which it was built. The company had planned to have its main American office in Chicago, but decided instead on New York City and took only a small partt of the Chicago building for a branch office.
Alfred S. Alschuler, Inc., the Chicago architectural firm now known as Friedman, Alschuler and Sincere, designed the building and Dwight P. Robinson & Co. was the contractor. The building has a steel skeleton frame. Its caisson foundation goes down about 125 feet to bed rock.
FOUR Corinthian columns at the main entrance, eight three story columns on the front near the top, and a four story cupola on the top of the building are prominent exterior features. In 1929 the architect was awarded a gold medal for the design.
Identifying it with Fort Dearborn is a plaque near the Michigan-Wacker corner of the building. A huge bronze relief depicting Chicago’s pioneer days was removed from over the entrance during extensive remodeling and was presented to the Chicago Historical society. For pedestrians, the site is marked by a metal strip embedded in the sidewalk.
Still other reminders, but for the eyes of some future generation, are contained in the corner stone, placed in December, 1922, by William Robert Wood, great-grandson of Capt. John Whistler, who built the fort. Fifty-five soldiers from Fort Sheridan, the same number of men as was in the Fort Dearborn garrison at the time of the massacre in 1812, served as honor guard at the ceremony.
The British owners sold the building in 1946 to a Chicago company, Michigan Wacker Building corporation. London Guarantee moved in 1948 to La Salle street. But La Salle street reciprocated in 1953 when what is now Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., the country’s biggest brokerage firm, established a second downtown office in the London Guarantee.
In the last year and a half $1,400,000 has been spent on complete air conditioning, automatic elevators, remodeling of entrance and lobby, and other alterations, said, Leslie H. Klawans, head of Leslie H. Klawans & Co., managing agent. The largest space user in the building is Erwin Wassey, Ruthrauff & Ryan, Inc., advertising agency, with offices on three floors. The building houses the offices of many publishing and manufacturing companies.
Chicago Tribune June 28, 1921
BY AL CHASE
Chicago’s most historic bit of real estate—the site of the old Fort Dearborn blockhouse, facing tho plaza at the south end of the new Michigan avenue bridge—is to be improved with one of the finest office buildings in the country, to cost, with the land, approximately $4,000,000.
John S. Miller, attorney, a member of the firm of Miller, Starr, Brown, Packard & Peckham, owner of the site, has closed, through Frederick J. Tucker of ‘Willoughby & Co.,.what is claimed to be Chicago’s largest lease. He has leased the entire building to the London Guarantee and Accident company tor fifty years, at a net annual rental of $230,000, or $11,500,000 for the term. The gross annual rental, of course, probably would bring this flguro up to $20,000,000.
Main Entrance Lobby
Plans Twenty-ono Story Building.
Architect Alfred S. Alschuler has drawn plans for a twenty-one story building to front 69 feet on Michigan, 94 on the bridge esplanade and 122 feet on the new South Water street boulevard. The building will cover 13,620 sq. ft. of the 16,720 site.
If terms can be made with John W. Keogh for his two story building property, 24×55. at 344 Michigan avenue, the total Michigan boulevard frontage will be 93 feet. Present plans call for tho use of his property as a light court, the big building surrounding it on three sides.
The headquarters of the American business of tho London Guarantee and Accident company will be in the upper five floors, The building will be named for the company. The balance of the structure will bo sublet.
Part of S. Water St. Project.
This will be the first big improvement planned to fit into the great South Water street project. With the wrecking of all buildings on tho northwest side of River street and the northwest side of Water street, the new London Guarantee building will have three frontages on boulevards.
Work will start on the new structure as soon as possible, this being dependent on conditions In tho building trades.
Here stood Fort Dearborn and here stands the London Guarantee building, one of Chicago’s best known office buildings, at the southwest corner of Michi- gan avenue and Wacker drive.
This photograph was probably taken in 1925, since the vantage point seems to be the Tribune Tower (1925). The London Guarantee and Accident Building, and both the Wrigley Building (1921) and its Annex (1924) are completed, while Wacker Drive, which opened in 1926, is under construction. Grant Park is still largely undeveloped. Illinois Central facilities dominate the area south of the river and east of the buildings that line the east side of a widened Michigan Avenue.
Photographer: Kaufmann & Fabry
Leo Burnett had their main offices in this building till thgey moved into the new Prudential Building on 1 November 1957.
The $4,000,0000 Joke
Chicago’s newest great office structure, the London Guarantee and Accident building,on the site of old Fort Dearborn, fronting on the southwest plaza of the Michigan Avenue Bridge, is in one sense a $4,000,000 joke upon a land owner. The property owner, John W. Keogh, refused to sell a small tract of land upon which stood a two story brick building. Architect Alfred . Alschuler designed the skyscraper so that space above this brick structure, indicated in the picture above by an arrow, was used as an airshaft. After construction started, John S. Miller acquired a long term lease for the small lot and the architect designed a five story structure compatible with the base of the main building to fill the space.
Willoughby & Co. will manage the building
The Economist, July 1, 1922
John W. Keogh’s Holding Will Now Comprise Part of Site of London Guarantee Building.
The site of Fort Dearborn Corporation has leased from John W. Keogh the land at No. 344 North Michigan avenue, 24 x 55½m for 198 years at an annual cost of $15,000 and this plot will now form part of the site of the home of the London Guarantee and Accident Company when it is completed. Capitalizing the rent upon a 4 per cent basis is equivalent to $375,000 for the land or $15,625 a front foot and a trifle less than $280 a square foot.
Much surprised is expressed that it should be necessary for Willoughby & Co. to institute action in the courts to collect $100,000 from the Site of Fort Dearborn Corporation, being the commission for the negotiation of the lease of the building to the London Guarantee & Accident Company. The plaintiffs made numerous attempts to collect the commission without resorting to the courts, it is understood. They offered to submit the matter to arbitration—the arbitrators to be selected by the defendants—but without avail, according to Sidney Adler, attorney for the plaintiffs.
The star at No. 344 North Michigan indicates the land leased by site of Fort Dearborn Building Corporation from John W. Keogh.
Readers of The Economist are acquainted with the project. Willoughby & Co. negotiated a lease of the 22-story building to be erected on the southwest corner North Michigan and River street for the late John S. Miller, Sr., to the London Guarantee and Accident Company for 50 years, at a rental of $70,000 annually for the land and 8 per cent on the cost of the building, including fees of the architects. Willoughby & Co. were to receive $42,000 for negotiating the ground lease and 3 per on the cost of the building up gto $2,000,000; or $0,000 from this source, and $102,000 in all. Of this amount $22,000 has been paid. The late John S. Miller organized the Site of the Fort Dearborn Corporation to which he conveyed his interest, the latter to pay him therefore a fixed sum plus an annual rental for 60 years. In addition Mr. Miller, Sr. gave to Willoughby & Co. his note for $20,000 in part payment of the commission. This was renewed by a son, John S. Miller, Jr., and is past due and payment is refused. In addition to the $80,000 interest, attorneys’ fees and other charges bring the total up to $100,000.
Chicago Tribune December 2, 1937
A LINE O’ TYPE OR TWO
IF YOU OBSERVE the London Guarantee building at Wacker drive from the Michigan avenue side you will notice a section of the 21 story structure that rises only five stories high. There Is a curious reason, which was recalled by a recent courtroom shooting. The building stands upon a historic spot, the site of old Fort Dearborn. It was something of a civic occasion, Indeed, when the corner stone was laid in 1922. Documents of historical importance were sealed withIn. Wacker drive was then a project of the future. The problems presented by its diagonal route were unusual, but far less puzzling than the one which confronted the architect, Alfred S. Alschuler, when he learned that one piece of property on the proposed building site could not be had. Upon it, almost midway in the avenue frontage, stood a squat two story building, 24 by 50 feet. The builders said they could not pay the price asked by the owner, John W. Keogh. Mr. Alschuler found a solution: build on three sides of the Keogh property and use the space above the Keogh building as a court. His plans were complete when the Keogh building was unexpectedly acquired, and he saw no reason for changing them. Instead, the new building was erected according to the original drawings and the Keogh building was replaced by a five story wing.
Mr. Keogh was 72, a crusader for reapportionment of the state, when on Jan. 13, 1936, he shot and killed Christopher G. Kinney, an attorney, in the courtroom of Judge John Prystalski. The man who had so altered the shape of one of the city’s greatest buildings had suffered financial reverses and had come to court to fight a creditor’s attempt to set aside a trust fund set up to protect the land he had leased for the building. Suddenly he drew a tiny gun from his pocket and began firing. Although mental experts pronounced him insane and had him sent to an institution, he maintained to the last that he had fired not in anger over the possibility of losing his property but to call attention to his campaign.
Fort Dearborn Magazine, December 1922
CORNER STONE LAID FOR SKYSCRAPER ON SITE OF OLD FORT DEARBORN
EVENTS and scenes in Chicago’s pioneer days were stirringly brought to mind at the ceremony for the laying of the corner stone of the London Guarantee & Accident Company’s building on North Michigan Avenue at the south bank of the River, the site of old Fort Dearborn, on the afternoon of December 3rd.
The exercises were held under the auspices of the Chicago Historical Society and of the one thousand or more persons who attended, many were descendants of Chicago’s first settlers. A military escort of fifty five men from Fort Sheridan, the same number of soldiers at Fort Dearborn at the time of the massacre in 1812, acted as a guard of honor. A military band also from Fort Sheridan, participated in the ceremony.
On the tower at the southwest corner of the Boulevard Bridge in view of the assembled group was the marble tablet placed in 1881 on the Hoyt Building, which formerly occupied the spot, to mark the site of Fort Dearborn.
Wm. H. Bush, chairman of the committee on arrangements of the Chicago Historical Society, called the meeting to order, wielding a gavel made of wood from a timber of the old fort. After the invocation by the Reverend John Timothy Stone, D. D., the president of the Chicago Historical Society, Clarence A. Burley, offered greetings.
The principal address of the day was given by Brigadier General George Van Horn Moseley, general commander of the Sixth Army Area, U. S. A. Shorter talks were made by Mayor Thompson, Frank J. Loesch, secretary of the Chicago Historical Society and Thomas J. Condon, representing the London
Guarantee & Accident Company.
Ceremony at the Laying of the Corner Stone of the London Guarantee & Accident Company’s Building on the Site of Old Fort Dearborn.
September 3, 1922.
William Robert Wood of Omaha, a great grandson of Captain John Whistler, first commander of Fort Dearborn, under whose direction the post was built, laid the stone on the spot where his ancestor placed the sills of the block house in 1803.
Miss Caroline M. McIlvaine, librarian of the Chicago Historical Society, assisted by Miss Katherine Whistler Joy, of Marshall, Michigan, a great great granddaughter of Captain Whistler, lowered a cop per box in the crypt of the corner stone containing a number of documents and relics of Chicago’s earliest history gathered by the Historical Society.
Among the objects stowed away in the corner stone are: A blue print of the plans for the original Fort Dearborn filed in the war department by Captain John Whistler; a photograph of a letter written by Captain Whistler to his superior ofi‘icer, Col. Jacob Kingsbury, dated Fort Dearborn, November 3, 1804: and a cross section of a hand~hewed oak timber from the second Fort Dearborn, 1816-1871.
The plan is to place the Fort Dearborn Memorial Tablet, formerly on the wall of the How Building. in the entrance hall of the London Guarantee & Accident Company’s 21-story skyscraper
London Guarantee & Accident Building
Fort Dearborn plaque on the London Guarantee and Accident Building