Yeah, Why Don’t You Meet Me For Lunch At The Cat-Piloted Flying Saucer 

Groupon spacecat

I don’t know about you, but the office I work in doesn’t have a tiki bar. Or an enchanted forest. Or a giant cat in a flying saucer.

Well, you might have those amenities in your workplace… if you work for Groupon.

Groupon WallYou could probably call it whimsical, fun, funky, or maybe a little weird. Either way, this isn’t a silk-stocking law firm or a staid old bank. And the Groupon folks are probably just fine with their anti-corporate, maze-office dynamics.

Perhaps that’s why Groupon was so popular during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Open House Chicago. The C.A.F. had to turn visitors away toward the end of the first day. I got in just before the shutdown, and it was not like most offices.

Our energetic tour guide Danielle (a Groupon account manager) gave us a pop quiz.

Groupon Danielle

Groupon Danielle

“Does anybody know what this building was originally built to house?” she asked.

Nobody ventured a guess, so I called out “Montgomery Ward.”

“Boom!” screamed Danielle. I got a bit of satisfaction out of my knowledge that this was once a thriving catalog house. That’s all I got, though. No prize or Groupon merch.

Actually, Groupon has offices on four floors of the massive one million-square-foot, eight-story building. And there are remnants of the mail-order giant, including vintage gears and dials from the mechanical plant by the elevators in the lobby. As you cruise through the Groupon offices, it’s also easy to recognize the old concrete pillars that still act as the key load-bearing sections of the structure.

Groupon Lobby - Old Montgomery Ward Mechanical PlantOtherwise, let’s just say architect Richard E. Schmidt, who designed the building in 1908, probably didn’t envision a tiki bar, enchanted forest with a menacing (stuffed) gorilla, and swings.

“We want everyone to be social,” Danielle explained. “That’s why it’s open and you don’t see any offices.  It’s a very open, space, very creative. We want to make sure you’re creatively going through the day. Who’s offices have swing-sets‽ Am I right‽”

She also offered commentary on other Groupon amenities, like the lunchroom, where every Monday, Chef Pedro is the master of his domain and turns the place into a taqueria.

“I can tell you the chicken tortilla soup is legit!” Danielle told us.

As for the cat in the spaceship, well, I’ll let Danielle provide the history.

“Our first CEO, Andrew Mason, wanted to have a very open environment,” she said. “He was in a meeting one day and saw a spaceship landing in the Chicago River. He was also an expert diver, so he dove into the river, opened the hatch of the spaceship, and rescued a cat who was inside.”

Location: 600 West Chicago Avenue, River North

 

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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