“A Million Times” is a feature on Chicago Elevated that will happen every Wednesday.
I’ll do a building a week that we Chicagoans have walked by a million times and don’t know anything about. They are buildings that are a part of our everyday lives, buildings we work or play in, buildings that have significance to us and the city.
If you have a building you have seen that strikes your fancy, let me know! I’ll feature it.
The first building on A Million Times is possibly my favorite building in Chicago, The Reliance Building (also known as The Hotel Burnham) located at 20 N. State Street.
The Reliance Building was designed by Daniel Burnham, John Root and Charles Atwood. I believe this is one of the prettiest buildings in the city. But it’s not just pretty, like a Trixie with doctorate, it’s got some real heft to it.
The base of the building was completed in 1890 and the top floors in 1894. John Root, Burnham’s partner (really the creativity behind many of Burnham’s early designs) designed the basement and first floor of the Reliance and after Root’s death in 1891, Charles Atwood finished the rest of the design, which was pretty amazing, considering he had to follow the plans of another persons work. Atwood is also to be credited with designing the “Chicago Window,” a flat plate of glass with double hung sashes on the side. Once you notice these windows, you’ll see them on so many others (like Macy’s across the street).
The amazing thing about the Reliance is that even though it was done in 1894 it looks like a more modern building doesn’t it? The use of glass throughout is WAY ahead of its time. It’s a real precursor to many of our “modern” buildings that are clad mostly in glass (think of our Federal Buildings, designed by Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe in the 1960′s).
Also, the way The Reliance was built is so Chicago it cracks me up. There was another building that stood on that same property, filled with dentists and doctors. No one wanted to lose money by closing the existing building until they could build the new one, so what they did was jack up the old building, demolished the lower levels, then built the new lower level while the body of the building was still open for business. Once the lower level was completed, they demolished the top half and finished The Reliance.
The Reliance was on its way down too, when the City of Chicago purchased it in 1994. 2.5 million of TIF money and 19 million dollars from private funding was enough to renovate the dying building and restore it and rename it The Hotel Burnham.
It is considered to be one of the 100 most important buildings in the world. To me it is just fantastic, light and airy, beautiful and so aesthetically pleasing, this is one building that the city did right by and so should we.
The inside of the Atwood Cafe at the base of The Reliance (photo courtesy of Justin Kern):