Essential Architecture-  Chicago Loop South

Mather Tower

architect

Herbert Hugh Riddle

location

75 E. Wacker Dr.

date

1928

style

Skyscraper Gothic Art Deco

construction

Clad in Gothic-inspired terra cotta

type

Office Building
 
 
 
 
 
   
This building is Chicago's most slender skyscraper, a "Jazz Age" silhouette against the city's dramatic skyline. Clad in Gothic-inspired terra cotta, Mather Tower is one of Chicago's finest "Modernistic" skyscrapers, combining modern form with lush historic ornament both in its exterior and interior. The form of this "needle" skyscraper was encouraged by the 1923 Chicago Zoning Ordinance which called for tall, slender, "setback" towers. Mather Tower's design-a tower with many shallow setbacks rising to a height of over 500 feet-epitomizes the verticality possible under this pioneering zoning ordinance.
 
Mather Tower is a building located in Chicago, Illinois at 75 East Wacker Drive, in Chicago's downtown. Completed in 1928, the 41-story building rises 521 feet. The slender, octagonally-shaped upper section of the building has the smallest floors of any of Chicago's skyscrapers.

Mather Tower was designed by architect Herbert Hugh Riddle to serve as the headquarters for the Mather Stock Car Company, which manufactured rail cars, especially for transporting livestock. The company's founder, Alonzo C. Mather, originally intended to build an identical skyscraper next to Mather Tower, but when the stock market crashed, plans for the second building were scrapped.

In 2000 the four-story crown was demolished for safety reasons after pieces of terra cotta fell from the facade. A replacement was installed by helicopter on the weekend of November 23-24, 2002 from a barge on the Chicago River.

The octagonal upper stories are now a private, members-only hotel (Club Quarters), with office space below. In 2006, the renovated building received a National Preservation Honor Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
 
National Trust Presents National Preservation Honor Award to Mather Tower in Chicago

Pittsburgh, Pa. (November 2, 2006) – Today, the National Trust for Historic Preservation presented Mather Tower in Chicago its prestigious National Preservation Honor Award. The project was one of 21 national award winners honored by the National Trust during its week-long 2006 National Preservation Conference in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Completed in 1928, the 41-story Mather Tower is Chicago's most slender and distinctive skyscraper, with its octagonal-shaped, telescoping "needle" tower and Gothic-inspired cream-colored ornament. Once the tallest building in Chicago, it is also the skinniest – the building's site is only 65 feet wide by 100 feet deep. With a fine perch on the Chicago River, a half-block from the Michigan Ave. Bridge, Mather Tower, constructed as an office building by railroad car tycoon Alonzo Mather, was part of an unparalleled ensemble of early skyscrapers, which includes the Wrigley Building and the Tribune Tower.

Everyone agreed that the Mather Tower was great to look at, but making it work was something else. Its needle-like spire gave the skyscraper a distinctive silhouette – but floors in the spire were too small for most tenants. By the 1990s, Mather Tower had fallen into considerable disrepair with chunks of the terra-cotta skin falling off, sparking calls for demolition. The condition of the 45-foot-high terra-cotta crown at the top of the building was so serious that it had to be completely removed, and there was talk that the entire 17 stories of the "needle" tower would also be dismantled.

The building looked like a goner – but today it's very much alive, still a stunning presence on the Windy City skyline. In 2000, Masterworks Development Corporation stepped in to purchase Mather Tower, undertaking a complete rehabilitation of the building. Utilizing federal tax credits and city incentives, the structure's lower half has been rehabbed as first-class office space, while the upper half is a hotel that makes good use of the small floors and provides economic viability. Outside, the ornate terra-cotta cladding has been cleaned and repaired. Topping the tower with flair, the four-story "crown" that had been removed years earlier has been reconstructed – a process that required dramatic helicopter lifts since the cramped site couldn't accommodate a crane.

"In a city known for its historic architecture and preservation, the rehabilitation of the Mather Tower stands out," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "Carl Sandburg may have called Chicago the 'city of the big shoulders' – but the restored Mather Tower proves that a skinny guy can turn heads too."

Co-nominees honored today for the Mather Tower Preservation Award are Masterworks Development Corporation, City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Koenen Associates, Thos. Rewerts & Co., LLC., and Berglund Maintenance Company.

The National Preservation Awards are bestowed on distinguished individuals, nonprofit organizations, public agencies and corporations whose skill and determination have given new meaning to their communities through preservation of our architectural and cultural heritage. These efforts include citizen attempts to save and maintain important landmarks; companies and craftsmen whose work restores the richness of the past; the vision of public officials who support preservation projects and legislation in their communities; and educators and journalists who help Americans understand the value of preservation.

http://www.nationaltrust.org/news/2006/20061102_npa_mather.html

links

With special thanks to the City of Chicago website, www.egov.cityofchicago.org , for much of the info on this page.
Photos copyright City of Chicago.
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