Landmarks to Consider Johnson Publishing Building Residential Conversion

At its regular monthly meeting tomorrow, a committee of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks will consider a request to allow the conversion of the former Johnson Publishing Building (820 South Michigan Avenue) from offices to residential use.

Johnson Publishing Building

820 South Michigan Avenue, formerly the Johnson Publishing Building (File photo)

The 11-story brutalist building designed by John W. Moutoussamy was the headquarters of the Johnson empire for decades — a media conglomerate best known for decades for its Ebony and Jet magazines.

Johnson sold the building to Columbia College in 2010.  At the time, the plan was to turn it into a library, but the institution changed its mind several years later.

Now 3LRE, a real estate developer in northwest suburban Rosemont, wants to add another floor to the building, plus a roof deck, while converting the office space below into 150 residences.  There will also be ground-floor retail space, a must for Michigan Avenue frontage across the street from Grant park.

To lighten up the building’s interiors, a new light well will be built on the back (western) side of the structure.  The new homes will also feature windows that open, allowing fresh Lake Michigan air inside.

It appears that the iconic Ebony/Jet sign may be allowed to remain on top of the building.  In its recommendation to approve the conversion, the Permit Review Committee wrote, “The 1-story rooftop addition proposed behind the existing rooftop sign wall is approved as proposed.”  Hopefully Michigan Avenue will get to keep this heritage.  In recent years the boulevard has been de-signed, losing the huge neon Torco sign, the Santa Fe sign, the Borg Warner sign, and probably others we’ve forgotten about.

Johnson Publishing Building

Location: 820 South Michigan Avenue, South Loop

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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