The architectural landscape of Chicago is ever-evolving, with many structures meeting their end to make way for new, cutting-edge designs. While demolition is necessary for a thriving metropolis, it often comes at the cost of losing touch with the city’s historical roots and in some cases the demise of beloved landmarks in the name of pragmatism.
In our new series, “Lost Legends,” we aim to bring back to life some of the demolished Chicago landmarks that hold a significant place in the city’s architectural history. We will wind back the clock in the Chicago 3d model (see this version of the Timelapse in the enthusiast tier on rebarradar.com today) to show what each structure would have looked like the year before its demolition.Kicking off our series, we explore the former Chicago Federal Building, an architectural marvel that once graced The Loop. Designed by renowned architect Henry Ives Cobb and completed in 1905, the Beaux-Arts style building was a testament to the grandeur and ambition of early 20th century Chicago.
Location and Design
The Chicago Federal Building was situated on the block bordered by Dearborn, Adams, and Clark Streets, with its entrance facing Dearborn Street. Spanning a total area of 450,000 square feet, the colossal structure housed several federal agencies, including the U.S. Post Office and Courthouse.
The building’s intricate façade featured a blend of granite and limestone, with ornate carvings and sculptures adorning its exterior. A massive central dome, inspired by St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, crowned the building and served as its most distinctive feature. At the time, the 297-edifice was a significant landmark on the Chicago skyline, maintaining its grand presence as one of the city’s largest buildings up until its demolition.
The Chicago Federal Building was a symbol of the city’s growth and development during the turn of the century. It was a bustling hub of civic activity, where citizens interacted with federal authorities and legal matters were settled. Additionally, several high-profile cases were heard within its walls, further cementing its place in the city’s history.
Sadly, the building’s inefficient layout and outdated facilities made it increasingly difficult to maintain. By the 1950s, it was deemed obsolete, and the federal government started considering its demolition.
Demolition and Legacy
Despite efforts from preservationists, the Chicago Federal Building was razed in 1965 to make way for the new 45-story, 562-foot Kluczynski Federal Building, Loop Station Post Office, and accompanying plaza. This remaining segment of the new Federal Center complex officially opened in 1974.
While a major loss in its own right, the demolition of the Chicago Federal Building did have broader, positive repercussions for maintaining the city’s rich architectural history. In response to its demolition, concerned citizens, architects, and historians mobilized to establish preservation groups and advocate for stronger protective measures.
One notable outcome was the creation of the Chicago Architecture Foundation (now known as the Chicago Architecture Center) in 1966, which aimed to promote architectural appreciation and education. Additionally, the city of Chicago enacted the Chicago Landmark Ordinance in 1968, providing legal protection to historically and architecturally significant buildings.