Man Bites Dog: Downtown Water Tank To Be Saved

We’ve lamented before about how advances in modern plumbing and fire suppression technology are stripping so many of Chicago’s buildings of their rooftop water tanks.  Many of the remaining tanks we see adorning the roofs of the city’s brick-and-timber buildings are a hundred years old or more.  Repairs are expensive.  Turning them into cell phone transmitter platforms is lucrative.  And so, one by one, the city’s less celebrated skylines lose part of their character and historic charm.

So it was with cocker spaniel ears that we noted a construction permit not for tearing down a rooftop water tank.  But for actually renovating and restoring one of the city’s most visible tanks.


The Salvation Army building and its water tank at 509 North Union Avenue (via Apple Maps)

The Salvation Army building and its water tank at 509 North Union Avenue (via Apple Maps)

The address for this unusual work is 509 North Union Avenue in the Fulton River District.  Known to many a Metra rider as the Salvation Army’s warehouse and thrift store.  The basement is known to many a record enthusiast as a place to score rare, unusual, and slightly damp funk EP’s at rock bottom prices.

Hopefully a part of the renovation, the big red Salvation Army shield at the top will get a fresh coat of paint.  Along with the Greek Islands water tank in Greektown and the one with the red swirly ad agency logo in Streeterville, it’s probably among the most well known of the city’s remaining water tanks.

To give you a visual idea of how many water tanks the city has lost recently, here’s a miniaturized spreadsheet showing every building permit with the phrase “water tank” issued in the last ten years.  The lines highlighted in green are new rooftop water tanks.  Yellow are rooftop water tanks (not little solar water heating tanks) being repaired.  Red are water tanks approved for demolition.  Purple is more than one tank being demolished at a location.

List of rooftop water tank demolitions 2006-March, 2017

List of rooftop water tank demolitions 2006-March, 2017

For those of you who think better in lists, here’s all the rooftop water tanks demolished since 2006:

  • 1327 West Washington Boulevard
  • 6614 South Halsted Street
  • 850 West Adams Street
  • 1601 South Ashland Avenue
  • 415 North State Street
  • 1220 West Van Buren Street
  • 833 West Chicago Avenue
  • 401 North Cicero Avenue (x2)
  • 2222 South Michigan Avenue
  • 5211 North Clark Street
  • 223 West Lake Street
  • 300 North Elizabeth Street
  • 2005 West 43rd Street
  • 2024 South Wabash Avenue
  • 833 West Randolph Street
  • 213 North Morgan Street
  • 112 South Sangamon Street
  • 711 South Plymouth Court
  • 2229 South Michigan Avenue
  • 3801 South Ashland Avenue
  • 600 West Van Buren Street
  • 350 West Kinzie Street
  • 1872 North Clybourn Avenue
  • 1300 West Carroll Avenue
  • 2515 South Walbash Avenue
  • 2210 South Grove Street
  • 809 North Racine Avenue
  • 1500 North Halsted Street
  • 372 West Ontario Street
  • 2443 West 16th Street

Repaired Tanks:

  • 180 North Wabash Avenue
  • 4707 South Marshfield Avenue
  • 300 North Michigan Avenue
  • 1550 South Blue Island Avenue
  • 372 West Ontario Street
  • 509 North Union Avenue

New Water Tank

  • 1126 West 40th Street

Location: 509 North Union Street, Fulton River District

Author: Editor

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

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