Saturday, March 5, 2016

Montgomery Ward Buildings

As Montgomery Ward grew, the headquarters moved. And the company built huge "order fullfillment" buildings.

(Update: peruse the comments on this post about their retail store on State Street and some more information on the Michigan Avenue headquarters.)

1892 Mail Order Establishment and 1899 Headquarters Tower

Montgomery Ward's first major building was their 1892 Mail Order Establishment building on Michigan Avenue. Michigan Central and Illinois Central had freight houses just across Michigan Avenue from here at that time.
Via Chicagology1
[As expected, there are no cars or trucks. The slot between the tracks and the style of the cars indicates they are cable cars. Electric technology to make streetcars feasible was still being developed in 1892.]

In 1899, they built a headquarters tower on the south side of the warehouse building.
Via Chicagology1, 1910

Historic Chicago posted
Montgomery Ward Building on Michigan Avenue (1900)
A different exposure:
Todd Protzman Davis shared
Andy Kowalczyk

Zachary Taylor Davis - Chicago Architect posted
Schmidt, Garden & Martin’s 1897 Montgomery Ward Tower, c. 1910. Four extra stories would be added on top of the main structure in 1923 by architects Holabird & Roche, wrapping around the lower part of the tower. Until 1947 the building had a steep Italianate pyramid, topped by a 22.5-foot sculpture "Progress Lighting the Way For Commerce". The tower reached a height of 394 feet.
Jim Pinto The base three floors underwent an alteration as well, maybe in the 1930s.

Zachary Taylor Davis - Chicago Architect posted again
The Montgomery Ward & Company Building (now known as 6 North Michigan Ave.) c. 1900-1906. It was designed by Schmidt, Garden & Martin, with additional work by Holabird & Roche in 1923 when four extra stories were added on top of the main structure - wrapping around the lower part of the tower.
This building was built as the headquarters for retailer Montgomery Ward, a pioneer in the mail-order business. The founder, Aaron Montgomery Ward, whose office here faced over the lake, was instrumental in preserving the open lakefront and creating Grant Park.
The building had its steep Italianate pyramid, topped by a 22.5-foot sculpture "Progress Lighting the Way For Commerce" until 1947 - the tower reaching a height of 394 feet. It was the tallest building in Chicago from 1899 to 1922, when it was surpassed by the Wrigley Building.
The first photo is a repeat, but the other two are new.
Zachary Taylor Davis - Chicago Architect posted three photos with the comment: (source)
Richard E. Schmidt’s (Schmidt, Garden & Martin) 1897 (completed 1899) magnificent Montgomery Ward and Company Building at 6 N. Michigan Ave. - pictured here with its original steep Italianate pyramid, topped by a 22.5-foot sculpture, "Progress Lighting the Way For Commerce". The tower reached a height of 394 feet. Four extra stories were added on top of the main structure in 1923 by architects Holabird & Roche, wrapping around the lower part of the tower. This was the tallest building in Chicago from 1899 to 1922 - when it was surpassed by the Wrigley Building.
During the 1990s the Chicago Athenaeum had a two-level architecture museum at the base. The building converted to condominiums in 2001, and at that time the developers considered restoring the pyramid.
Building trivia/mystery: On the 7th of December 1996, mystery writer Eugene Izzi died by hanging (out of the window) in Suite 1418 of the building. Three computer disks were found in his pockets (along with a pair of brass knuckles and $481 in cash), pertaining to a novel about the death of a mystery writer in a similar fashion. It was planned for the book to be his big comeback as a writer.
John Rauch Did the sculpture get moved to the Company’s building at Chicago Ave and the river?
Zachary Taylor Davis - Chicago Architect John Rauch, yes.



When built, it was the tallest building in Chicago at 394' until the Wrigley Building was built in 1922 at 398'. It is now just 282' because the pyramid, open-air observatory, and statue has been removed. But the other reason the tower is no long prominent is that its steel frame and 50' pilings foundation were so strong that they added four more stories on top of the original 12 stories. The observatory was the third highest in the world. [Chicagology1Chicagology2]

Via Chicagology1

Dolores Davison-Schroeder posted
Michigan Avenue 1922
A street car strike led to this traffic jam.
[The headquarter's tower is still intact and it still dominates the Michigan Avenue facade. An interesting question is how many of those other buildings still exist?]

Carey Wintergree commented on a post

Via Chicagology3
The gilded weather vane on top of the tower was either 18' [Chicagology3] or 22.5' [Chicagology1]. It was named Progress Lighting the Way for Commerce. It was dismantled in 1947 along with the pyramid and observatory because they had become structurally unsound.. "Lit by four electric beacons with 1,000 candlepower each, Progress actually did serve as a beacon in at least one instance. On September 18, 1918, Captain Ben Lipsner used these lights to guide his plane into Grant Park after making the first airmail flight between New York City and Chicago, in 9 hours and 13 minutes of stormy weather." [Chicagology3]

Via Chicagology1
[Of particular interest in this illustration is the 8-hitch wagon.]

Zachary Taylor Davis - Chicago Architect posted (source)
From the 1910 folio, One Hundred and Twenty-Five Photographic Views of Chicago - the Montgomery Ward & Co. building at 6 N. Michigan Ave. (1899, Richard E. Schmidt, architect.) The 22.5-foot weather vane, Progress Lighting the Way for Commerce, was set October 20, 1900. The design allowed for the addition of four stories without reinforcing the columns of the lower stories, which was done in 1923 by architects Holabird & Roche, wrapping around the lower part of the tower. In 1947 the steep Italianate pyramid was removed, including the sculpture.
[There are more photos in the comments on this posting.]
The tower and statue of the building is in the foreground of this photo, but it is rather lost in the clutter of the skyline.
Ed Raff posted
Barry Jacobs Titled "Progress Lighting the Way for Commerce." Dismantled 1947.
[The statue on the 1929 Montgomery Ward's building was titled "Spirit of Progress."]
The tower has been removed, but the building still stands.
3D Satellite
The four additional stories were added before WWII.
Glen Miller posted
Special agent making his rounds at night at the South Water Street freight terminal of the Illinois Central Railroad, Chicago (1943) LOC

The original headquarters tower is also visible in some photos of Michigan Avenue.

20th Century Buildings

Bird's Eye Veiw
Montgomery Ward rather quickly outgrew their Michigan Avenue buildings, and they built a new complex along the North Branch of the Chicago River north of Chicago Avenue. It opened in 1908 with a 400,000 sq. ft. Administration Building and a 2.2 million sq. ft. Catalog House. The admin building also included a retail store.

When built, it was the world's largest reinforced-concrete building, and each floor covers six acres with ceiling heights between 12 and 17 feet. Using reinforced-concrete is nothing special now, but in the early 20th century it was a pioneering form of construction. In 1908 they sold the Michigan Avenue buildings.

Kenneth Swedroe posted
the world's largest mail ordering operation.
[I doubt if those ships are unloading products, but the Catalog House had a ground-floor shipping platform that could accommodate 24 railroad freight cars.]

Kristin Robison posted
600 W Chicago, the old Montgomery Ward building

Bill Kolton posted
Great seafood shack on the other side of the river back in the 60's, Joe's.
Because construction with concrete was still new, the contractor couldn't call the local ready-mix company for truck loads of concrete. Since the building was built between Milwaukee's Chicago & Evanston Branch and the river, there was very little space for storage of materials. So they built storage bins and a mixing plant over a switching lead at the southeast end of the site. They also built a mixing plant over the switching lead on the northeast end. The site used four 135' steel derricks. A temporary wooden derrick was built to lift the boom onto the steel tower.
The Engineering Record, May 11, 1097 via Chicagology3
The contractor invented dump buckets that allowed the worker to control how fast the concrete poured out. A slow release of concrete reduced the stress on the forms for thin walls whereas a faster flow could be used to pour thick girders and floors. Narrow gauge tracks were laid on the basement floor so that the buckets could be moved from the mixing plants to under stairwell and elevator shafts that allowed the derricks to lift the buckets to the working height.
The Engineering Record, May 11, 1097 via Chicagology3

3D Satellite
In 1906, A. Montgomery Ward bought a lot of land along the east bank of the North Branch. In 1929 they started construction of the building that is now south of Chicago Avenue. This building had a tower on its northeast corner that supported a statue similar to the one that was still on the Michigan Avenue tower. But this statue's design was consistent with the Art Deco design of the 1929 building. The name of this statue was Spirit of Progress.

Via Chicagology3

Via Chicagology3

3D Satellite
A new 28-story administration building was finished in 1972. It was designed by Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the World Trade Center in New York.

The 1908 building was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. Montgomery Ward went bankrupt in 2001. The Catalog House has now been redeveloped as a mix-use building. The city contributed $28 million, most of which was used to build the river walk. 100,000 sq. ft. of the building exploits the riverfront as retail space. The 28-story admin building is now The Montgomery. And the land he bought in 1906 south of Erie Street is now a riverfront park. So Mr. Ward not only preserved the lakefront as open space, he provided some much needed open space along the North Branch.

Looking at a contemporary view, the Catalog House was obviously expanded on the north side.
3D Satellite

Those expansions happened in 1917 and 1940. [600W] An historic aerial shows the first expansion was done on the east side.
1938 Aerial Photo from ILHAP

Jamal Craft posted
The former Montgomery Ward's warehouse. I worked there from Nov. 1973 to July 1976.
Paul Jevert shared
North Branch Chicago River

1 comment:

  1. I have a circa-1896 envelope with a return address which might have been the old Montgomery Ward building at "111 to 116 Michigan Avenue." Instead of having the Wards name along with the address in the upper right hand corner, however, it carries just the word 'Chicago.' I'm reluctant to think that a growing Wards enterprise would have given up the opportunity to advertise on its envelopes, so this envelope is a bit of a mystery. Any thoughts?