The Wirt Dexter building by Adler and Sullivan burned quite badly yesterday. The landmark building was only a couple of hundred feet from where I stayed in Chicago, and close as well to the hotel Walter stayed at.
Among other things, this is resulting in a huge disruption to the el/subway system.
My hotel was right about where the Har of Harrison Street is on this map -
Article from lynnbecker.com here -
Article by Lynn Becker with many photos HERE
A portion of the text here - see link for the rest, and many photos.
Massive Fire Claims Adler & Sullivan's landmark Wirt Dexter Building in Chicago
The loss to fire of two Adler and Sullivan's landmarks, Pilgrim Baptist Church and now the Wirt Dexter Building, in less than a year raises questions about the effectiveness of the Chicago's landmark protection.
-by Lynn Becker
Chicago's dwindling roster of Adler and Sullivan landmarks was reduced again on Tuesday as a massive fire destroyed the 1887 Wirt Dexter building on south Wabash Avenue.The fire came little more than 10 months after another blaze gutted the firm's 1891 K.A.M./Pilgrim Baptist Church to the bare walls.
A building that had been largely forgotten suddenly became the focus of attention as throngs of spectators watched the spectacular fire from outside the Pacific Garden Mission just across the street. Smoke billowed into huge clouds rising high above the building and seeped through South Loop streets, casting them into an acrid fog that moved up Wabash, through the block-long arcade of Adler and Sullivan's Auditorium Building, and, crossing Michigan Avenue, hung over the gleaming metallic forms of Frank Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park. In its dying, an essential landmark that in life could find no one to pay it heed, blanketed the city's center with the pain of its demise.
Although it had received official designation in July of 1996, the Wirt Dexter building was the landmark that nobody wanted. "As far as we know, the building was vacant," Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco said on the scene. Concern continued that the large sign for the long-closed George Diamond steakhouse, the building's last major tenant, would break off the building's Wabash Avenue facade and crash down into the street. The restaurant, a prime venue in the 50's and 60's, underwent a long decline that paralleled that of the area around in it, ending up a threadbare ghost of its former self.
Recently, Chicago's South Loop has been undergoing a major revival, with a massive new dorm for the district's burgeoning student population opening just to the north. Columbia College has been acquiring and renovating vintage turn-of-the-twentieth-century buildings all along the street. The Wirt Dexter, however, continued to be passed by.
The Wirt Dexter was designed by Louis Sullivan and Danker Adler and built in 1887 at a cost of $100,000 as the store and warehouse for furniture manufacturers R. Deimel & Brothers. Unlike the huge Auditorium Building just a few blocks to the north, where Sullivan's design still bears the heavy imprint of Henry Hobson Richardson's Romanesque modernism, the Wirt Dexter, according to biographer Hugh Morrison "show's no trace of Richardson's influence, nor of the characteristic leaf- ornament" that would become integral to Sullivan's work in such buildings as the Carson Pirie Scott store. "It is an entirely mature work," says Morrison, "rigorously thought through," where Sullivan "attained a new simplicity and monumentality growing directly out of the problems of the commercial office building."
The entry level is of sparingly ornamented rusticated granite. The brick facade above is arranged into three simple vertical piers, two windows wide at each end, with a three-window-wide bay between them, slightly recessed and originally terminated in a small gable at the roofline. The openness and lightness of the facade, in the judgment of another biographer, Robert Twombly "anticipated the aesthetics of the steel frame." Perhaps the structure's moststriking feature, visible along the El that went up a decade later in the alley behind it, is the series of tall, perforated iron support beams, placed outside the building to free up space in the interior, perhaps modern architecture's first example of an exoskeleton.
It's still too early to assess the building's final fate, but the outlook is bleak. Early in the blaze, firefighters were pulled from the interior, back to "defensive" positions pouring thousands of gallons of water onto the building from a half-dozen snorkels, when the spread of the fire throughout the interior made the integrity of the building and of its floors and ceilings uncertain.