The Plymouth Building: Printers Row’s Newest Landmark

Chicago’s Printers Row neighborhood is a walk-though gallery of great architecture.  Even the ugly buildings have pretty details.  And the pretty buildings have historic pasts.  Recently one of those pretty buildings, The Plymouth Building at 417 South Dearborn Street, was recommended for city landmark status.

The Plymouth Building

The Plymouth Building

The building is being converted into student housing by LG Development, so this seems like as good a time as any to give it our traditional firehose treatment:

  • Built: 1899
  • Architect: Simeon B. Eisendrath
  • Floors: 11
  • Cost: $75,000
  • The original plan for the building was for it to be 14 stories tall, but it was scaled back
  • The building was originally ten stories tall, but an additional floor was built in the early part of the 20th century
  • The Plymouth Building was the last skyscraper built in Printers Row
  • In 1945 W. Scott Armstrong added the gothic terra-cotta ornamentation for LaSalle Extension University
  • The building’s ornamental cast iron panels look like the work of Louis Sullivan, but they’re not.  In fact, the Plymouth Building replaced an Adler and Sullivan building that burned down in 1898. 6 North Michigan is the only other Chicago building with faux Sullivan iron panels.

Here are some of the reasons why the building is so important to Chicago, according to the Chicago Department of Planning and Development:

  • The Plymouth Building, through its historic associations with the LaSalle Extension University (LSEU), exemplifies the significance of distance learning organizations to the economic and educational history of Chicago and the nation. LSEU was a nationally- recognized distance learning institution that operated in Chicago for roughly ninety years. Founded in 1908 in Chicago by educators Jesse Grant Chapline and William Bethke, LSEU was one of the largest and most successful distance learning institutions in the country. It owned and occupied the Building from 1945 to 1978, a period of great growth and influence for the school.
  • The Plymouth Building is an unusual example of a tall office building whose architectural design and detailing reflects both its original purpose as a commercial loft building in Chicago’s premiere printing district, housing a variety of commercial tenants, and its later reuse as an institutional building housing the LaSalle Extension University (LSEU), a large and historically-significant educational organization. The Building’s mix of nineteenth- century steel-frame construction and cast-metal Sullivanesque ornament with later mid- twentieth-century terra-cotta Collegiate Gothic ornament expresses the building’s atypical history and evolution, unusual and significant in the context of Chicago history.
  • The Building is a small-scale example of the tall office building, a building type of significance to Chicago architectural and economic history. With its internal steel-frame skeleton and exterior masonry facades, the Building exemplifies the revolution in high-rise building design and construction that occurred in Chicago in the last two decades of the nineteenth century.
  • The Building’s terra-cotta window decoration and Plymouth-facing cast-iron storefronts are among the earliest, if not the earliest, examples of Sullivanesque-style ornament created by an architect other than Louis Sullivan himself. They epitomize the emergence of the Sullivanesque style as an architectural style, independent of Sullivan’s use, of importance in the history of Chicago architecture during a period when a number of the city’s architects sought to develop new, non-historic architectural styles.
  • The Building’s Collegiate Gothic terra-cotta ornament, added in 1945, is an unusual mid- twentieth-century use of the architectural style and reflects the style’s continued cultural associations in Chicago and the nation with universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning.
  • The Building possesses fine detailing and craftsmanship in a variety of historic building materials, including brick, cast-iron, and terra-cotta. In particular, the Building’s original Sullivaneque-style cast-iron storefronts were produced by the renowned Winslow Brothers Iron Works, which produced other important architectural ornamental treatments (both interior and exterior) for Chicago Landmarks such as the Auditorium Building (1886-1890), the Monadnock Building (1889-1891, south half 1891-1893), the Marquette Building (1895), the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building (1898-1899, 1902-1904), and the Gage Building at 18 South Michigan Avenue (1899-1900). The Building’s later Collegiate Gothic-style terra-cotta was produced by Chicago’s Northwestern Terra Cotta Company, one of the United States’ major terra-cotta companies and the producers of terra-cotta cladding and ornament for such significant Chicago buildings as the Auditorium Building, the Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building, the Marquette Building, the Chicago Theater, the Civic Opera House, and Wrigley Field.
  • Retaining its historic integrity of location and setting, the Plymouth Building is located on a building parcel extending through from Dearborn Street on the west to Plymouth Court on the east. It shares common walls with the Old Colony Building to the north and the Manhattan Building to the south. (Both the Old Colony and Manhattan are individually-designated Chicago Landmarks.)
  • The Plymouth Building’s overall design and materials reflect the building’s evolution of uses and its varied and significant history as first, a commercial loft building housing a variety of tenants, and later, as the headquarters for the LaSalle Extension University (LSEU), which was a distance-learning institution with a national enrollment. The building’s original 1899 design by Simeon Eisendrath combined handsome brick, terra cotta, and decorative metal in a manner that exemplified better-quality commercial loft buildings of the period. This 1899 design remains visible on the Dearborn elevation from the third through the ninth floors with original brick walls, double-hung windows and Sullivanesque-style terra-cotta window ornament. In addition, the building’s Plymouth elevation retains original cast-iron, Sullivanesque-style, two- story storefronts from 1899, as well as upper-floor brick and terra-cotta treatments similar to the Dearborn elevation.

 

Location: 417 South Dearborn Street, Printers Row

Editor

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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