Living in a large city with lots of enormous buildings, it can seem like those structures have been there forever. Especially when they’re government buildings, with all their monumental unfriendliness.
Such is the case with the Federal Center, three black-as-a-coal-miner’s-tuckus Mies van der Rohe buildings fencing in Alexander Calder’s stark raving red Flamingo sculpture. It seems like it’s all been there forever. But it wasn’t. And what was there before is an absolute jaw dropper.
That’s the old Customs House, Post Office, and Treasury building that used to be at 218 South Dearborn Street — approximately where the current one-story glass-and-steel post office and the e Kluczynski Federal Building are now located.
If it looks like something out of the 1800’s it’s because it was. Henry Ives Cobb designed it, and construction started in 1898 and finished in 1905. It was torn down in 1965.
In between, it was a hive of activity for a growing Chicago, and saw the city change in ways that couldn’t be imagined. It was bombed at least twice. Al Capone’s “tax evasion” trial was held here. And Walt Disney worked in the Post Office for a few months in 1918.