Historic Bush Temple of Music May Not Be Restored After All


800 North Clark - Adopted by Smithfield Properties in order to increase the height of the new building at Chicago and LaSalle.  Courtesy of the Artefaqs stock photo library.

800 North Clark. Courtesy of the Artefaqs stock photo library.

We’re not lawyers.  Nor are we architects, engineers, or even particularly gifted at knitting.   So sometimes things don’t make sense when we look at them from an outsider’s point of view.  But still, our spidey senses are telling us that one plus one does not equal 11.   In those cases, we just lay out the facts and hope that some smart person can come along later and clear things up for us.

Case in point: The Bush Temple of Music.

There was much applause and fanfare last summer when it was announced that the historic building at 800 North Clark Street was going to be renovated.  The structure is a visual favorite and an important slice of Chicago’s history, but it is in sad shape.  The white knight in this play was Smithfield Properties.  It is building a new residential skyscraper next door and inked a much ballyhooed deal with the city to renovate the Bush Temple in exchange for a little more height.  The Landmarks Commission was on board, the alderman was on board, an architecture firm was even selected to work on the renovation.  It was all rainbows and unicorns on the corner of Clark and Chicago.  Until this past Thursday.

Drawing of Chicago+LaSalle courtesy of Berkelhamer Architects

Drawing of Chicago+LaSalle courtesy of Berkelhamer Architects

That’s when the Chicago Plan Commission approved Planned Development number 1219.  But it wasn’t the version submitted to the city back in June that had everyone cheering.  It was a revised plan that no longer has the Adopt-a-Landmark provision in it.  The phrase “Bush Temple” is nowhere to be found.  But the phrase “administrative relief” is, right in the section where the Adopt-a-Landmark text used to be.

In Chicago, the permitted height of a building can be expressed in “F.A.R”— Floor Area Ratio.  In order for Smithfield to get the height it wanted for the building, that FAR had to be increased from 7.0 to 10.15.  This was accomplished in the original P.D. through several mechanisms; one of the being the Adopt-a-Landmark program.  By contributing $1,334,465.40 to the renovation of the Bush Temple, the developer got an extra 1.4 FAR.

In the version of the Planned Development that the Plan Commission actually approved, the 1.4 FAR is gone.  Instead, the amount of cash Smithfield will pay to the city’s Affordable Housing program increased from $714,892.20 to $1,665,269.60.  But that still only gets the developer an F.A.R. of 9.75.  Yet the building’s height remains 353 feet from one version of the document to the next.

Drawing of Chicago+LaSalle courtesy of Berkelhamer Architects

Drawing of Chicago+LaSalle courtesy of Berkelhamer Architects

So, we’re left with two questions:

  1. How is it possible that a project with a 10.15 F.A.R. can retain its height when the F.A.R. is reduced to 9.75 with no apparent change in building footprint.
  2. What becomes of the Bush Temple of Music?

Word on the street was that the Bush Temple’s condition was far worse than originally thought, and that the $1.3 million wasn’t really going to so much renovate the structure as just put a new roof on it so it didn’t get any worse.  Could it be that the developer saw that this was a money pit and decided not to stick his foot in it?

We tried to contact Smithfield, both through the official contact listed on the city documents and through an alternative contact.  As of this writing, we haven’t heard back.  We’ll update this article if we do.

And if you have some insight into the F.A.R. discrepancy, please educate us in the comments section below.

 Until then, here are the details of the project the Plan Commission signed off on:

  • Developer: Smithfield Chicago LaSalle LLC
  • Design Architect: Berkelhamer Architects
  • Architect of record: Antunovich Associates
  • Height: 353 feet
  • Length: 202 feet
  • Width: 137 feet
  • Stories: 35
  • Residences: 295
  • Lot size: 27,709 square feet
  • Retail floor space: 4,200 square feet
  • Parking 108 spaces (3 handicapped, total reduced from 115)
  • Bicycle parking: 58
  • Loading docks: 1
  • Green roof: 11,679 square feet

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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