If you follow the high-stakes game of Gold Coast Musical Chairs that plays out in the real estate pages of Crain’s Chicago Business, then you’ve probably heard that Urban Outfitters is moving out of its longtime home at 935 North Rush Street, and ultra-lux boutiques Versace and Dior are moving in. But what you may not have heard is that the building may get a whole new look.
Marketing materials offered by Cushman and Wakefield show the building as a large glass-enclosed jeweled box, illuminated from within in changing colors. It’s an enormous shift from the building’s current look, which is all about exposed steel beams, and recessed faux-shattered windows.
Over the last couple of decades, high-end retailers like Dior, Tod’s, Prada, and others have embraced cutting edge architecture as an extension of their brand and marketing message. Some days it’s hard to tell if one is reading Women’s Wear Daily or Architectural Digest. The big fashion houses have been furiously trying to outdo each other with shiny shops brimming with stunning, but tasteful, touches in ever-more-daring configurations from Omotesando to the Champs Élysées to Fifth Avenue. Even good ol’ Chicago got a taste of it with Callison Barteluce Architects’ Burberry flagship store (633 North Michigan Avenue) which opened in 2012; though that had to be toned down so as not to over-excite delicate Midwestern sensibilities.
However, as many people are not aware, the building that Urban Outfitters is in is architecturally important. One person who is aware of it, however, is Lynn Becker, who published an article on his blog about the building, which was originally known as Walton Gardens.
When the building opened in 1956, it was the height of modern architecture, and stood out in the stodgy and still mostly residential Gold Coast neighborhood. Downstairs were several retail shops, and upstairs were the offices of Universal Recording. Back then, the music industry had not yet fully moved west and record labels like Universal, Mercury, and others trumpeted their Chicago heritage.
Walton Gardens has another distinction: It was designed by Bertrand Goldberg. You’ll remember that just last year his ghost suffered the indignity of watching his Prentice Womens’ Hospital being torn down bit-by-bit a few blocks away. Though his Marina City (300 North State Street) is something of a sacred cow in Chicago, it appears that it’s open season on everything else he did.
The reason this is important is that it’s a chance for a pair of big name stores that are not afraid of shelling out big money for daring architecture to locate on the same block of downtown Chicago. Whether this can be accomplished without a complete demolition remains to be seen. The Cushman and Wakefield literature shows that the owner of the building is open to a very extensive renovation. And these are two brands that enjoy putting their stamp on things. Dare we hope for something amazing on the corner of Rush and Walton?