One of the Few Buildings to Survive the Great Chicago Fire Is Reimagined as Class A+ Office Space

156 N. Jefferson, the Crane Co. Factory Building (originally Northwestern Manufacturing Co.), is a unique building in the context of Chicago. Built in 1865, it is one of the few remaining pre-Great Chicago Fire (Oct. 8-10, 1871) industrial buildings that exists today. It also is the oldest documented building associated with Crane Co., which was founded in 1855 as a pipe and metal-parts manufacturer (and later made elevators and bathroom fixtures).

156 N. Jefferson is a 3-story, 36,800-square-foot Italianate loft (the most popular style in Chicago in the 1860s and ’70s).

The building itself, a 3-story, 36,800-square-foot Italianate loft (the most popular style in Chicago in the 1860s and ’70s), was part of a larger complex of buildings that extended from Jefferson Street to Des Plaines Street and from Randolph Street to Lake Street.

In 1869, the complex was adjacent to the site of the Haymarket Square Riots, which forever changed Chicago and the labor movement. In recent years, the building had hosted offices for various professional services.

A joint venture of Promus Holdings and RDG Funds purchased the historic building in 2017 with the intention of turning it into their own corporate offices. Because the building is located in a popular West Loop neighborhood, near Fulton Market, the new owners saw this building as the perfect opportunity to create unique corporate offices with an industrial loft flare.

Hirsch MPG was brought on board as the architect of record for the entire project and the designer of the core and shell elements. Mike Shively Architects, which had previously designed the private residence for the owner of Promus Holdings, was brought in to design the interiors.

The building has been an integral part of Chicago history. Built in the Italianate loft style for Crane Co. in 1865, the building was adjacent to the site of the Haymarket Square Riots of 1869 and survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Although much of the character of the original building remained, including many exterior details, such as door and window lintels, roofline brackets, corbelling and exposed metal ties, previous renovation work had altered some significant elements and compromised the structural integrity of the building.

On the exterior, every other third-floor window had inexplicably been raised, cutting right through the arched stone lintels to the underside of the corbelled cornice. An arched carriage entrance at the south end had been bricked in and replaced with a standard window. The main entrance to the building led directly into the primary stairway preventing the building from being accessible. Removal of tension rods had left the timber structure unable to span without the help of temporary steel columns, as well as unable to support new rooftop loads.

The new owners of the building wanted to preserve as much of the existing building’s historic character while providing a high-end corporate interior reflecting their private investment business strategy. They liked the fact that the building and location were not what is typically found in the corporate towers of the central business district. They thought this would lend itself to an industrial chic aesthetic, balancing raw, industrial elements with refined materials and sumptuous furnishings.

Core and Shell

It was an easy decision to restore as much of the original design on the building exterior as possible. To that end, new windows were provided, and the third-floor openings were restored to their original size with new stone arch lintels. The brick infill in the carriage entrance was removed and a full-width window provided, aligning with the large arched stone lintel above.

The new owners liked the fact that the building and location were not what is typically found in the corporate towers of the central business district. They thought this would lend itself to an industrial chic aesthetic, balancing raw, industrial elements with refined materials and sumptuous furnishings.

A new building entrance was needed, to make the building handicap accessible and to better reflect the scale of the building, combining two windows into a larger, single opening. A new entry canopy was designed of plate steel that projects out into the public right-of-way to create a sheltered arrival experience. The building address, 156, is cut out of the plate steel canopy on the exterior; its silhouette casting a shadow of the building address on the brick façade and sidewalk in the morning hours from April through September. The entry canopy continues into the lobby, defining the ceiling and folding down as a feature wall at the back of the lobby.

The floor was lowered in the lobby bay to allow access at street level, and a new elevator serves all levels of the building. The existing south stair, the former entrance to the building, was reconfigured and the unique masonry keyhole arch restored and made a prominent feature of the lobby. The opening created by the arch was infilled with fire-rated glass to allow the stair to be visually open to the lobby and natural light to pass through it. The old, inadequate wood railings were replaced with a folded steel plate guardrail that reflected the design of the entrance canopy, further tying inside and outside together.

The building’s roof had steeply sloping structural members that allowed for significant height on one end but not on the other, and the third-floor space was lacking in natural light. To resolve this, a new industrial-style clerestory structure was provided through the roof, exposing the timber and steel beams and columns, reinforcing the loft character of the structure and providing an abundance of natural light. Exposed steel channels were used to reinforce the timber beams.

PHOTOS: Mike Schwartz Photography

About the Author

Howard M. Hirsch, AIA, LEED AP
Howard M. Hirsch, AIA, LEED AP, is founder and president of Hirsch MPG LLC.

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