The Loop’s Monroe Building Boasts an Historic Lobby With Iron And Personality To Spare



The Monroe Building

Most modern office structures have functional, and often, boring lobbies. It’s too bad, because the lobby can speak volumes about the history and personality of a building.

The Monroe BuildingA good example is the Monroe Building at 104 South Michigan Avenue. The Pritzker Military Museum & Library is housed on the upper floors, but the lobby is a historical curiosity in its own right.

It’s been lovingly restored to look much like it did 100 years ago. The lobby of the Monroe Building was one of the featured stops during the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s 2014 Open House Chicago.

Some interesting facts about the lobby:

  • Building designers (and former tenants) Holabird & Roche most likely took as inspiration for the wrought iron fanwork trips they took to Italy.
  • As you walk into the vestibule, the color palette consists largely of earth tones. That changes markedly as you cross into the main lobby.
  • The replica brass lights were designed to look just like the originals, each of which weighed 55 pounds.
  • Each piece of tile in the ceiling is made out a piece of clay pottery. It was created by the noted Cincinnati ceramics company Rookwood Pottery.

The Monroe BuildingJ&J ARNACO purchased the Monroe Building in 2006 and began a massive restoration effort. The building needed it badly. ARNACO officials didn’t even realize the exterior of the building is supposed to have a pinkish hue until they steam-cleaned the granite—three times.

The Monroe building had its share of famous tenants over the years. Just a few included Holibird & Roche, who had offices on the top three floors. Frank Lloyd Wright also had an office on the 16th floor, and after he moved out, his protégé Walter Burley Griffin had an office on the same level.

Not all the tenants were noteworthy architects. The publisher P.F. Voland Company (which produced the Raggedy Ann and Andy books) also spent time at the Monroe Building—some of their vintage publications are on display in the vestibule.

Location: 104 South Michigan Avenue, The Loop


Author: Bill Motchan

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

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