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Beating the Heat in America’s Early Office Buildings, Pt. 2

5 Aug

Part 1 of this series on early air conditioning can be found here.

America’s earliest skyscrapers in Chicago and New York were profitable for their builders but sometimes less than desirable spaces for those working in them.   Though the occupants of early skyscrapers marveled at how these buildings could rise to such  great heights, these same awe-struck workers grumbled through many a hot, stuffy day up in their offices in the sky.

Adler & Sullivan’s 1889 Auditorium Building in Chicago. The Auditorium Theatre was cooled with air fanned over ice. Photo credit Historic American Buildings Survey

Few early office buildings could claim to have integral mechanical ventilation systems because the technology simply did not yet exist to cool buildings on such a large scale.  Chicago’s 1889 Auditorium Building designed by Adler & Sullivan was one notable exception.  Though the office and hotel spaces remained unventilated, the great Auditorium Theatre at the west end of the building was cooled with air circulated over large blocks of ice.

Ice, however, was not the future.  To keep occupancies high and rents competitive, the thousands of warm-bodied office workers tall office buildings housed must somehow be cooled and ventilated in a consistent and efficient manner.  If the large office building was to be a success, a technology-driven way to maintain comfortable temperature and humidity levels indoors must be developed.  And quick, because if such an effective cooling system could be developed, the result would be no less momentous than the invention of the skyscraper’s own structural steel frame.

Willis Carrier in his later years, a proud papa with his first chiller design. Credit Treehugger (

Enter Willis Carrier (1876-1950) from Buffalo, New York.  In 1902, twenty-six year old Carrier was an engineer for the Buffalo Forge Company, a casting operation that also developed heating coils and fans for industrial clients.  That year, the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing Company of Brooklyn, NY, asked the Buffalo Forge Company to solve a puzzling problem going on in their printing rooms:  the humidity of Brooklyn’s hot summers was causing their paper sizes to fluctuate from day to day and from print to print.  To maintain their printing quality (and to stay in business at all), Sackett-Wilhelms needed a way stabilize their paper sheet sizes by working around the temperature and weather conditions outside their printing rooms.  Young Willis Carrier was tapped by company brass to find a solution and the result was a 30-ton “air washer,”  an enormous mechanism that used fans to draw hot, humid air in, high-pressure cold water jets to cool and clean the air, and exit fans to push the fresh air out onto the printing room floor.

The Buffalo Forge Company, Buffalo, NY, in 1908, where Willis Carrier developed his first mechanical cooling system in 1902. Credit Buffalo Architecture and History (

Four years later on January 2, 1906, Carrier received the patent for his “Apparatus for Treating Air,” a more sophisticated incarnation of his air spraying system and a mechanism that eventually developed into the modern air conditioner.  Carrier’s initial “air washers” were crude, but his success as an air-washing expert would eventually drive him to leave Buffalo Forge in 1915 and start his own eponymous mechanical cooling operation.  Carrier’s later inventions elaborated on these earlier patents and won him the unofficial title of “father of modern air conditioning.”

Stuart Cramer (1868-1940), who popularized air conditioning in Southern U.S. cotton mills to keep cotton fibers cool and manageable in the spinning process. Credit Textile History (

Carrier may be known worldwide today, but it was actually textile mill engineer Stuart Cramer (1868-1940) who first coined the term “air-conditioning.”  The cotton mills Cramer developed at the turn-of-the-century in the Southern United States endured even more hellish conditions of heat and humidity. Cramer became an advocate for the mechanical cooling of these mills, though not in fact to make for a more pleasant work environment for those toiling inside of them.  Instead, Cramer was more concerned with the quality of raw cotton fibers which were much more easily spun into yarn when the air around them was kept cool.

Thanks to engineers and inventors like Willis Carrier, the technology now existed to artificially cool the enormous manufacturing halls pumping out American products and prosperity.  The early careers of Willis Carrier and Stuart Cramer showed more focus and more economic promise in the development of cooling mechanisms for America’s industrial spaces and less on keeping actual human workers comfortable.

Twelve year-old Selina Wall, a worker in the Brazos Valley Cotton Mill, West Texas, in 1913. Cotton mill workers like Selina benefited from Stuart Cramer’s efforts to keep cotton mills — and the cotton fibers processed within them — cool. Photo credit Library of Congress.

But what about the pencil-pushers supporting America’s growing corporate powers?  What about the executives and the assistants and the secretaries who greased the wheels of the nation’s commerce?  Sure, they weren’t the actual physical producers of the industrial products Americans were beginning to buy — they weren’t on the production floor dripping in sweat printing lithographs or spinning cotton yarn — but the roles of communication, accounting, and marketing they played were priceless when it came to getting goods to market and keeping American manufacturing afloat.

Couldn’t a value be put on the office worker’s need to keep cool and dry in hot weather?

Frank Lloyd Wright’s headquarters for the Larkin Company, Buffalo, NY c. 1906. Credit Buffalo Rising (

Darwin Martin of the Larkin Company certainly thought so.  In 1906 with the help of his architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Martin would unveil his company’s new Buffalo, NY headquarters, a “Temple to Labor” designed to be as efficient in its use as an office building as in its mechanical air circulation and purification systems.  It was a structure not so very far from the Buffalo Forge Company where Willis Carrier was refining his own mechanical cooling inventions, and Martin would adopt many of his fellow Buffalonian’s ideas on how to keep indoor air clean and cool.   The Larkin Building would put Buffalo on the map with its innovative marriage of Wright’s design and Carrier-inspired environmental air quality system, and would inspire industrialists and architects all over the world to rethink how they should work how and build.

More to come.

Part 1 of this series on early air conditioning can be found here.


Beating the Heat in America’s Early Office Buildings, Pt 1

3 Jul

The mercury has been topping 90 here in Chicago for the last few weeks.   Time to dust off those window AC units and enjoy some relief until things cool off.

This Chicago cat’s had enough of the heat. Photo by John Cramer.

Though I’m a big fan of passive cooling, I know when I’ve been beat.  I have now utterly surrendered to the heat.  The Sun 1, John 0.  Even the air conditioner at work has conked out on us.  Though the office ceiling fans have been doing their best, the steady stream of frigid air coming out of the vents has been missed.

In offices like mine, like in a lot of contemporary work environments, the fluctuation of outside temperature and humidity makes for an inconsistent air quality.  Plus those electronics that keep businesses functional and connected — the computer, the printer, the server — tend to be happier in cool, low-humidity environments, just like the humans who use them.  From what I’ve seen over my working life, hot and humid office spaces can make for hot and bothered employees.

Oriel Chambers, Liverpool UK, designed by Peter Ellis and completed in 1864. Photo credit Courtauld Insitute of Art

Even as far back as the mid-nineteenth century, architects of the world’s first modern office buildings knew how important interior ventilation affected the work of the world’s first modern office workers.   There was, however, no way to effectively ventilate early offices other than to keep windows operable and pray for sustained cool, dry weather.  Liverpool’s Oriel Chambers (1864), one of the very earliest office buildings ever built, provided its resident barristers inside more than enough light through its innovative glass curtain wall; architect Peter Ellis knew better, however, than to seal the interiors off, and provided mini-casement windows at each of Oriel Chambers’ window bays to allow for at least some internal temperature and humidity modulation.

Chicago’s Marquette Building, designed by Holabird & Roche and completed in 1895. Note the office floors’ Chicago-style windows. Photo from the MacArthur Foundation

Across the pond, architects of America’s first skyscrapers in Chicago and New York anticipated the soaring steel towers we work in today with their early use of structural steel frames, innovative new elevators, and floor upon floor of large-paned transparent glass.  But late nineteenth-century office architects like William LeBaron Jenney, Daniel Burnham, Holabird & Roche, and Cass Gilbert still knew that to keep the workers inside their buildings from roasting within their offices’ glass skins, they had to make the skins of their buildings breathable.  The development of the “Chicago-style” window in the 1880s was one solution to this problem of ventilation, a compromise between aesthetics and functionality;  the Chicago window’s large center pane let in the most light while its adjoining double hung windows allowed occupants to moderate temperature and humidity of their workspaces within as much as possible.  Or it at least allowed them to try to moderate their office climate — on hot, humid days in the city, the soupy air outside inevitably made early office life unbearable.

Chicago-style windows at Chicago’s Marquette Building. Photo by author

The ideas of two unrelated businessmen from Buffalo, New York, changed all of this.  After the turn of the twentieth century, the visions of two men — Willis Carrier and Darwin Martin (with more than a little help from Frank Lloyd Wright) —  heralded the American office dweller’s escape from the flailing variations in his office air quality and pushed architects to rethink the office building’s relationship with the natural environment in which it was built.

Part 2 of this series can be found here.

Hugh Garden’s Chicago West Side Church Needs Some TLC

21 Jun

North facade of Chicago’s Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by author.

The terra cotta and windows of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church on the city’s Near West Side looks like it’s in need of some serious attention.

South elevation of Chicago’s Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by author.

This 1901 church, a designated Chicago Landmark originally designed by architect Hugh M. Garden (1873-1961) to house the congregation of Third Church of Christ, Scientist, is showing its 111 years with spalling white glazed brick along its south elevation.  More concerning is some of its damaged and missing pieces of exterior terra cotta work, particularly at its geometricized column capitals.   The column capitals at its main (north) portico have been wrapped in tarp for years now.  Is work to repair or restore these columns ever going to get underway?

Chicago’s Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church’s north portico with its perpetually wrapped columns. Photo by author.

Broken glass along the west elevation of Chicago’s Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by author.

Probably the most frightening development is the destruction of what appears to be original art glass windows.  Shattered glass in the west facade’s uppermost windows have been filled in with plywood.

West facade of Chicago’s Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by author.

Chicago’s West Side, so impacted by poverty and disinvestment and by the destruction wrought by mid-century urban renewal, has been expecting its own renaissance for the past decade.   Isn’t it important for us to see our historic resources like Metropolitan Missionary as assets in this neighborhood’s revitalization?  Is the City of Chicago going to let one of its own recognized architectural masterworks, and one of its few local landmarks on the city’s West Side, slip into dilapidation?

Avignon in Cicero: John Eberson’s 1926 Design for the Unbuilt Heraldic Theater

16 Jun

As I see it, Chicago’s brief summers are for either spending time in the heat or spending time avoiding the heat, not for writing.   We’ve been spending lots of time in the outdoors, taking trips, and jumping on the bikes for long rides through the city.  It’s time for making beach plans, not sitting in a dark room writing blog posts.  That said, HPRES-ist calls and it’s about time for something fresh and fun and summer-y.

Architect John Eberson’s unbuilt Heraldic Theater (1926). Chicago Tribune, September 9, 1926.

I’ve had a copy of this September 19, 1926 Chicago Daily Tribune article (image above) taped to the wall over my writing desk, a little discovery I made while doing research on my historic preservation thesis project on Chicago’s forgotten recreation center buildings.  This “Fourteenth Century Castle Cinema” was designed by the great theater architect John Eberson (1875-1954) for a 22nd Street site in Cicero, Illinois, just west of Chicago.  The program for this enormous project included a 2,785 seat movie auditorium — Eberson called it the “Heraldic Theater” — and an adjacent 200-room hotel (remaining true to the medieval spirit of the project, Eberson called the hotel a 200-room tavern – that’s some big tavern).

Walter Conley’s rendering of Cicero’s unbuilt Heraldic Theater (1926). Chicago Tribune, September 9, 1926.

With a projected budget of $1.8 million, it’s not surprising the Heraldic remained just a pretty picture.  Lucky for us today, the Tribune published a rendering of the project drawn by Walter Conley, one of Eberson’s Chicago apprentices and later a successful local architect in his own right.   Conley’s drawing shows Eberson’s vision of a medieval French town straight out of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, complete with imposing castle towers and ramparts, a cathedral front with a great stained glass portal, and quaint half-timbered cottages.  At the Heraldic, Eberson’s picturesque French town has been transported to Cicero, Illinois, smashed and squeezed together into a single semi-coherent structure to fit onto a tight suburban structure.  If built, Eberson’s nine-story-plus Heraldic Theater complex would have towered over its one- and two-story Cicero neighbors.

The Palais des Papes in Avignon, France, home to Roman Catholic popes from 1309 to 1377 and inspiration for John Eberson’s unbuilt Heraldic Theater. Image from Wikipedia Commons.

In the Tribune piece, Eberson touts the inspiration of southern France’s former papal palaces.  “We are thinking,” Eberson told the paper, “of Avignon, the walled city of warring popes, a massive golden silhouette, punctured by parapets and turrets, spotted with bright arches, blocked windows, and sealed doorways.”  Eberson waxed poetic about this fortress in the midst of low-rise Cicero:  “the atmospheric expression of 14th century style of architecture, with ramparts, arched bridges, city walls, and house turrets, picture the rain washed remnants of an old castle church and tavern clustered in a medieval hamlet, which is the inspiration and thought behind our architectural treatment of the Heraldic theater and tavern building.”

Call the design of the Heraldic Theater  exaggerated if you like — it’s pretty over the top even for an entertainment center a important as Chicago.  The cache John Eberson’s name brought to the project made for some local admirers.  The Chicago Daily Tribune was a certainly a fan: the first line of its profile exclaims “Ah!  If Only This Were On Our Own Boul Mich!”  The Tribune even suggested topping the ramparts of “this great Gothic structure of impressive beauty and dignity” with machine guns, the perfect antidote to the organized crime that called Cicero home.

Chicago’s Paradise Theatre, designed by John Eberson and completed in 1928 (now demolished). Image from Chuckman’s Collection

Considering the fate of many of Chicago’s greatest entertainment structures like the Eberson-designed Paradise Theatre (built 1928, demolished late 1950s), the long gone Trianon Ballroom (built 1922, demolished 1967) or the Uptown Theatre (built 1925,  on life support but still standing) one wonders if such a building as this “Fourteenth Century Castle Cinema” had been built, would such a giant have even survived for us to see it today?

More to come.  Promise.

Landmarks Illinois Sounds the Alarm for the Hotel Guyon

30 Apr

Chicago's Hotel Guyon, completed in 1928 and designed by architect Jens J. Jensen. Photo by author

One of Chicago’s architectural icons has received some much deserved (and very much needed) attention.   The Chicago-based preservation advocacy organization Landmarks Illinois has announced the Hotel Guyon at 4000 W. Washington as one of Illinois’ Ten Most Endangered Historic Places.

Landmarks Illinois has been keeping an eye on Illinois’ historic resources since 1971. The organization first cut its teeth fighting to save Louis Sullivan’s legendary Chicago Stock Exchange. The Stock Exchange came down but since then Landmarks Illinois has been one of the Midwest’s strongest voices for preservation. In fact, Landmarks Illinois is at the forefront of attempts to recognize the importance of our important architecture from the recent past; architect Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospitala (Chicago, completed 1975) joins the Hotel Guyon on this year’s Most Endangered list.

I’ve talked in past posts about the grandeur of the Hotel Guyon (completed 1928) and the great but all too unrecognized talent of its architect Jens J. Jensen (1891-1969). The Guyon’s neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side has seen its share of ups and downs – mostly down over the past few decades. A rehabilitation of the beautiful Hotel Guyon would be a great kickstart to the renewal of once economically vibrant West Garfield Park community. Leaving the hotel abandoned and window-less as it is today stands if anything as a roadblock to any meaningful rejuvenation of the neighborhood.  The City of Chicago should show its support for its ailing neighborhoods and for their historic resources and make a Guyon rehab deal sweeter for potential developers.

The Guyon and Prentice Women’s Hospital shares the spotlight on this year’s Landmarks Illinois Ten Most Endangered List with a group of equally worthy sites, among them five Illinois public schools that need creative new uses if they’re going to hang on and stay with us. It’s sad to see so many significant historic sites languishing the way they are – thanks to Landmarks Illinois for keeping an eye on them.

Jens J. Jensen: A Chicago Jazz Age Architect at the Supermarket 1930-1960

19 Apr

This is the second of a two-part series of posts on the career of architect Jens J. Jensen.  To learn more about Jensen’s work before 1930, visit my earlier post here.

Taking a long view of the long career of Chicago architect Jens J. Jensen (1891-1969), two elements of his work stand out: his ability to work for any client (commercial, residential, institutional) and in almost any style.  Placing his early works side by side with his late works reveals an architect who truly felt comfortable in his own skin as a designer.  It’s hard to believe that the designer of such ornate — some might say flowery or even over-the-top — terra cotta work atop the 1925 Pioneer Arcade –

The Pioneer Arcade, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1925. Photo by author

and the Moorish inspired masonry and terra cotta work atop the 1928 Hotel Guyon –

A 2009 view of the Hotel Guyon, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1928. The Guyon's windows have since be removed and the building is now open to the elements. Photo by author

– could be the same architect who not even thirty years later designed these mid-century modern supermarkets:

A Jewel grocery store in Mt. Prospect, IL, designed by Jens J. Jensen. Image from the Chicago Tribune January 9, 1954

For Jens J. Jensen, the simplification of his design sense over the 1930s and 1940s was an enforced one.  None of Jensen’s former clients could afford to build much at all, much less in the grandiose revival styles that typified mainstream Jazz Age architecture in Chicago.  The change in Jensen’s building aesthetic was also in part a result of changing architectural tastes across the country.  After all, Jensen spent his entire working life in Chicago, the proving ground for American Modernism, a movement which over time banished the kind of obsessive ornamentation and historicism that had been this architect’s calling card through the boom years of the 1920s.  As America moved through the lean years of the Depression and World War II, Jensen like many struggling architects of his generation felt the shift in public tastes and followed it drafting board in-hand.

A mid-1950s Jewel store in Harvey, IL, designed by Jens J. Jensen. Photo from Jensen & Jensen Architects

Around 1930, after the Depression appeared to have ended his mixed-use commissions for Chicago developer George W. Prassas, Jensen forged a new relationship with the Charles L. Schrager Company, a developer for the Chicago-based Jewel Tea Company.  Beginning as a simple one-wagon outfit in 1891, the Jewel Tea Company had by the mid-1930s expanded from being a mere coffee, tea, and spice dealer to operating dozens of stores in the Chicago area offering all manner of packaged food product and homeware.  While most of Depression-era America businesses expected only doom, Jewel Tea in fact grew throughout the 1930s.

Jens J. Jensen put a face on Jewel’s optimistic growth, designing many of the grocer’s new shops in Chicago’s outlying residential neighborhoods.  Images of these early stores are scarce but it is known that they were generally one-story high and constructed at the corners of busy intersections.  Sometimes these Jewel stores were only one tenant of many in these new developments, but more often than not, Jewel was the sole tenant.

Chicago area Jewel stores of the 1950s designed by Jens J. Jensen. Image from the Chicago Tribune January 9, 1954

Jens J. Jensen’s son joined his father’s firm in 1955.  Jens, J. Jensen, Jr. studied architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his training in modern architecture helped reshape the output of his father’s firm.   The renamed office of Jensen & Jensen continued its close relationship with Jewel stores, developing several prototype stores for the supermarket chain as it expanded out into Chicago’s suburbs.  The typical Jensen Jewel store was a low-slung one-story structure, usually with an adjacent parking lot.  These new Jewels were clad in clean glazed white block with long uninterrupted strings of plate glass displaying towers of can goods and giving glimpses of shoppers inside.  Always positioned at a store’s entrance was the chain’s signature tower fin with the easily-recognizable “Jewel” neon sign.

Jens J. Jensen continued working until he retired in 1961, moving to Scotsdale, Arizona where he died eight years later.  Jens, Jr. continued his father’s close partnership with the Jewel chain (later Jewel-Osco).  The firm Jensen & Jensen is still active in retail work and is now under the direction of Jens J. Jensen’s grandson, Jarrett Jensen.

In many ways, Jens J. Jensen’s work with Jewel from the 1930s through the 1950s gave form to a kind of retail architecture that most Americans visit everyday: the full-service supermarket and drug store.  It was through Jensen’s work that many Chicagoans first came to experience supermarket shopping.  A combined greengrocer- dry goods-bakery-butcher-housewares emporium was met by 1930s investors and the shopping public with some skepticism and it was in Jensen’s and his son’s solutions for  Jewel’s logistically-complex business model that made the chain such a success.

Jens J. Jensen’s work on entertainment structures, on apartment houses, on office buildings like 300 W. Adams (1928), and his suburban Jewel stores (1930-1960) added to the variety of architecture seen along Chicago’s streets during the first half of the twentieth century.  Many of his buildings, particularly his Jewel stores, are lost which is why it’s so important for us to hold close his work that does survive, particularly the Pioneer Arcade (1925) and the Hotel Guyon (1928).

To learn about architect Jens J. Jensen’s early career, visit my earlier post found here.


AIA Guide to Chicago (Alice Sinkevitch,ed., 2004)

Chicago History Museum Collection

Chicago Tribune

Cook County Tract Room

Hotel Guyon, National Register nomination

Historic American Building Survey

Jarrett Jensen, Jensen & Jensen Architects

Jens J. Jensen: A Chicago Architect in the Jazz Age 1915-1929

19 Apr

This is the first of a two-part series of posts on the career of architect Jens J. Jensen.  To learn more about Jensen’s work after 1930, visit my second post here.

The Hotel Guyon in 2009 before its windows were removed. Photo by author

In my last post, I took a closer look at the fantastic Pioneer Arcade, a 1925 Spanish Baroque-inspired bowling palace built at 1535-1541 N. Pulaski Rd. in Chicago’s West Humboldt Park community.  Two miles south of the Pioneer Arcade along Pulaski Road (formerly Crawford Avenue) are two more spectacular works in exuberant Spanish revival styles, and by the same architect too: a two-story storefront at 26 N. Pulaski from 1929, and the imposing ten-story Hotel Guyon at Pulaski and Washington from 1928.  Any study of the architectural heritage of Chicago’s West Side (and Chicago architectural history in general really) requires a look at the architect who designed these great 1920s structures, the Danish-American architect Jens J. Jensen (1891-1969) who built primarily in Chicago during an astounding fifty-year long career.  Jensen’s work has been a big interest of mine since I studied him for my historic preservation master’s thesis on Chicago’s 1920s commercial recreation centers (his 1925 Pioneer Arcade was one of the city’s grandest).

26 N. Pulaski, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1929. Photo by author

Jens J. Jensen (“Jens J.” is easier to spit out without stumbling over consonants) wasn’t the only Danish-born Jens Jensen working in Chicago during the first decades of the twentieth century.  He is still often confused with the great landscape architect Jens Jensen though Jens J. was of no relation and was in fact thirty years younger.  Even the definitive AIA Guide to Chicago incorrectly attributes the Hotel Guyon to the elder Jensen (a hotel tower for a jazz impresario would certainly have been some departure for an elder landscape architect used to designing parks and conservatories).  In addition there were a handful of Jens Jensens practicing architecture in Chicago during the 1910s and 1920s, but his conspicuous designs and high level clients have pushed Jens J. Jensen’s very singular reputation to the fore.

The Pioneer Arcade, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1925. Photo by author

Jensen  was born in Herning, Denmark in 1891 and immigrated as a child with his parents to the United States around the turn-of-the-century, settling in Chicago.  Jensen attended Chicago’s Lewis Institute (one of the predecessors of the Illinois Institute of Technology), apprenticed in the architecture firm of Francis M. Barton, and received his Illinois State architectural license in 1915.   By the age of thirty, Jensen had established his office at 1103 W. Lawrence Avenue in Chicago (the John Eberson-designed Aragon Ballroom was later built across the street) and soon gained the reputation of an architect with technical acumen and stylistic versatility, able to work in any size, type, or style.

300 W. Adams, the Chicago Landmark designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1928.

Jensen’s capacity for creativity fit his times.  The amount of construction in Chicago during the 1920s was at a level unprecedented since the Great Fire of 1871 and builders and investors of this boom decade built big and built extravagantly in almost every conceivable historically-inspired style.  The varied demands and tastes of Jensen’s 1920s clients can be seen in his work of the decade, including small storefronts, multi-level apartment buildings, and large-scale commercial, hospitality and entertainment developments:

  • Mediterranean style apts at Ainslie and Christiana completed before 1930. Photo by author

    A Tudor Revival style apartment building at 2342 N. Kedzie Blvd, completed in 1927.

  • A Mediterranean style apartment building at W. Ainslie and N. Christiana, completed sometime before 1930 (image at right).
  • The Classical Revival Astra Hotel at 5324 N. Winthrop, completed sometime before 1927 (image below).
  • The Spanish Colonial Revival Pioneer Arcade, built for bowling and billiards entrepreneur Gust Regas, completed in 1925 (image above).
  • The Hotel Guyon at Washington and Pulaski, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed in 1928. Another photo taken before the windows were removed. Photo by author

    The Hotel Guyon, completed in 1928 and built for J. Louis Guyon to continue his dominance of Chicago’s West Side entertainment district at Madison and Crawford Aves.  Jensen’s stately Venetian, Moorish, and Spanish Colonial Revival style hotel accommodated pleasure-seekers visiting the Paradise Ballroom, Guyon’s other holding  just across the street completed in the early 1920s.  Also nearby was Balaban and Katz’ legendary Paradise Theater (also completed in 1928).  The hotel once hosted events in its ballrooms and was even the headquarters of a Guyon’s own music radio station. With the Paradise Ballroom and Theater now both gone, the Hotel Guyon is all that remains of the once vibrant West Side “bright lights” district.  Its windows have been removed and the building is now completely open to the elements. It’s going to take some real public outcry to get this building on the city’s radar again.

  • The Romanesque Revival St. Edmund Church, today St. Anselm Church at 6101-6115 S. Michigan Ave.
  • The twelve-story Neo-Gothic terra-cotta-clad skyscraper at 300 W. Adams, completed in 1928 and today a designated Chicago Landmark (image above).
  • Even a Prairie style-meets-Deco building on W. Erie in North Loop, attributed to Jens J. Jensen by the Chicago Historic Buildings Survey.

1412 W. Devon, a 1920s mixed-use development designed by Jens J. Jensen. Photo by author

In the mid-1920s, Jens J. Jensen formed a powerful creative partnership with Greek-American developer George W. Prassas, acting as architect for several of Prassas’ block-size multi-use developments on Chicago’s North and West sides.  Jensen’s designs typically included sidewalk level commercial storefronts and one to two stories of apartment residences above, all wrapped in elegant Classical Revival style facades of gleaming glazed terra cotta.  George W. Prassas would later expand on his commercial development success of the 1920s and become a pioneer builder of Chicago’s first large-scale suburban shopping malls.  Several of Jens J. Jensen’s 1920s Prassas commissions survive, including examples at the northeast corner of W. Argyle and N. Kenmore, the southwest corner of N. Pulaski and W. School, and the northeast corner of N. Harlem and E. Grand.

Uptown's Astra Hotel, designed by Jens J. Jensen and completed before 1927. Photo by author

Jens J. Jensen was one of Chicago’s more successful young solo architects of the 1920s, completing a  scale of work that’s pretty hard to conceive of today.  Jensen was also among the scores of architects put out in the cold by the events of Black Tuesday, October 29, 1929.  The Wall Street crash and the decade-long economic disaster that followed it all but obliterated the building market in Chicago and sent many of the 1920s development spendthrifts into forced hibernation.   For many young architects across America, this meant the disappearance of reliable work and, for some, the end of their architectural careers.  (Sound familiar to anyone in today’s financial crisis?)

Jens J. Jensen, however, survived the 1930s and managed to reinvent his office by bringing in new clientle.  He helped to invent the burgeoning retail experience of  supermarket shopping and in the process developed a new personal style that appealed to mid-century America’s fast-changing tastes in architecture and design.

More on Jensen’s second half in my next post.


AIA Guide to Chicago (Alice Sinkevitch,ed., 2004)

Chicago History Museum Collection

Chicago Tribune

Cook County Tract Room

Hotel Guyon, National Register nomination

Historic American Building Survey

Jarrett Jensen, Jensen & Jensen Architects