Saturday, September 19, 2009

PEOPLE'S GAS BUIILDING. Indignities of Age

A close inspection yesterday of the bay windows at the People's Gas Building showed significant general deterioration of base, sill and cap. Two kinds of stone irregularly meet the sidewalk.... Also possible modifications of the enclosure are indicated at the entry doors.... Multiple storefront frame types and materials....
I had previously assumed that the Bays at People's Gas were original and an obvious reference to earlier Burnham Buildings. They are not. (They had me fooled. I have some retracting to a later post).
People's Gas Bay Windows are not original to the building. They are a later addition. A closer look at existing construction detail and the original floor plan revealed this and more. The revolving doors are not original either (of course). Their location in relation to the building line is altered. The Adams Street entrance has been removed and is now occupied by Patty Burger. The original interior space is gone, replaced my some "maximized retail gross leaseable area." These, and deferred maintenance issues complete the "diminished" character of the People's Gas Building I referenced in an earlier post. Summarizing:

1. The huge cornice "cap" is gone.

2. The Loggia that once overlooked the City is surrounded and dwarfed by newer structures. Columns with delicate capitals and highly ornate flutes and swags have been replaced with yellow brick.

3. The masonry of the building's Body has been significantly discolored by airborn dirt and moisture.

4. Painted Metal Panels meant to emphasize both loggia and colonade have faded.

5. A deeply recessed line of storefronts, which would have allowed the building to "float" on those massive ionic columns has been pushed outward, their protrusion is highlighted with applied signage. The entrances, whose deeper recess would have "keyed" their visual location have also been brought forward.

6. The columned, skylit interior space has been "downsized" and is no longer scaled to the building, no longer adds to its depth or richness. (What happened to the brass lamps?) And is no longer visible through a line of plate glass windows from Michigan Avenue.

7. Electric Lighting as an architectural element is now commonplace. People's light fixtures would have been a remarkable site when viewed from a horsedrawn carriage.

7. And then, there are those Missing Eagles. With corporate restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, this Building along with many others (particularly of the early twentieth century) is no longer broadly associated with the with the men who built it. It is no longer a building and a symbol of power and accomplishment. It is simply, a building.

I have photographs documenting each of these problems, but have decided not to post them. Instead I hope that you can allow your imagination to visualize the original Building, (take another look at that Pat Sabin postcard) and understand why Peirce Anderson, the most powerful and prolific Architectural designer in Chicago for nearly 20 years listed People's Gas Light and Coke among his most important accomplishments.

Credits for the Floor Plan to Kristen Schaffer's DANIEL H. BURNHAM, Visionary and Architect,
which is considerably more than a coffee table book.

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