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35 East Wacker - Jewelers' Building Chicago
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© Christine Till
Rising 40 floors at the corner of Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue, an area which is also known as 'Jewelers' Row', clad in decorative fire proof terra cotta and among the most distinctive buildings on the main branch of the Chicago River, the Jewelers' Building, also known as 35 East Wacker, is a skyscraper that successfully manages to meld historical styles drawn from Greco-Roman and Gothic architecture. Its complex elements, including cupolas, spires and arched windows, combine to offer an extravagant and pleasing appearance that has led to its designation as a Chicago Landmark. At the time of its construction, the 40-story tower was the tallest building outside of New York City. The building is currently being renovated, with the facade being maintained, but the interiors converted into a more modern configuration.
Completed in 1926, the Jewelers' Building was first built to attract tenants in the burgeoning jewelry trade - commemorated by the initials "JB" for Jewelers Building. It had many different security features. One of them was a really extreme version of a parking garage. Since jewelers would carry their valuable merchandise around with them, they were often in danger of being mugged. So, to make sure no one was attacked on the walk between the car and the office, jeweler's just drove their car straight into the building! A monstrous car elevator would bring driver, their diamonds and the car to the floor they worked on - as high as the first setback level on the 22nd floor - and then drop the car off on one of the parking levels.
The turrets at the four corners of the first setback weren't created for decoration only, but were also part of the original fire suppression system. Each of massive urns held a cast iron tank that was to be used in case of a fire. As they have been removed, the space at the base of each turret is now used as conference rooms, allowing for heavenly views.
The best part of the building is the dome on the 40th floor. Long gone are the days when the cupola was a very fancy nightclub called the Stratosphere Lounge, a Prohibition-era speakeasy operated by Al Capone, serving beer to the public. The only access to the dome was via elevator, so if the police ever tried to raid the Stratosphere, they were able to lock the elevator shaft, essentially locking themselves into the club. The crowning belvedere is now one of those spaces in the Windy City that everyone would love to visit but few actually have the opportunity because today it is a private conference room and showroom for famed post modern architect Helmut Jahn. As expected, the space offers sweeping views of its surroundings, such as the Chicago River, the Loop and the Lake Shore area, dramatically enhanced by the setting of the sun and a clear blue sky.
January 5th, 2013
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