Chicago Neverbuilt — Episode 8: City Hall Tower Solved

Chicago City Halls - Chicago, Illinois - October, 2014 - 009a

Our Chicago Neverbuilt series continues to celebrate the work of great architects that, for one reason or another, failed to make the transition from imagination to reality.

Several weeks ago, we showed you a picture of Chicago’s city hall with a great big office tower on top of it. Of course, City Hall has no such tower and the picture we came across while digging through some archives lacked any explanation for the tower. Now we have an answer to the mystery.

It turns out the tower was a proposal from Holabird and Roche, the firm behind the current city hall.

One of the reasons behind Chicago going through so many city halls, aside from general misfortune, is the fact that the city and Cook County expanded rapidly and repeatedly ran out of office and courtroom space. The current city hall was completed 1911, but by the 1920s was already experiencing growing pains. It was Holabird and Roche to the rescue with this 1926 proposal to add a central office tower to city hall.

Sound preposterous? Not entirely. Back then, many Chicago buildings were designed so they could be expanded upward when the time came. 168 North Michigan was one. So was the New York Life building at 39 South LaSalle. Although the Blue Cross Blue Shield Tower at 300 East Randolph Street is the most recent example, it’s far from the only one.

Sadly, City Hall wasn’t designed with that kind of foresight. So H&R planned to sink caissons in the central courtyard of the building and have the new tower exist as a free-standing 35-story building surrounded by the 12-story city and county building.

Here are the details of the proposed City Hall Tower:

  • Stories: 35
  • Cost: $13,000,000
  • Size: 400,000 square feet

But some in city council were against the idea. Not because of its expense but because they thought it was too small. They thought the city would be right back in the same space crunch in 15 years and wanted an even bigger tower.

Rather than risk obsolescence again, it was decided to build yet another City/County building. So what happened to that building? That will be the topic of a future episode of Chicago Neverbuilt.

For more on the history of Chicago’s city halls, read Wendy Bright’s article A History of Chicago’s City Hall and Cook County Building.

Author: Editor

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

Share This Post On