In a matter of weeks, the Tribune Tower will become just another chapter in the Chicago Tribune’s proud 171 year history, as parent company Tronc uproots Chicagoland’s paper of record from its home of nearly a century.
With the Trib decamps for Prudential Plaza across the river, Los Angelino developer CIM Group can begin work turning the beloved landmark into 163 swishy condominiums for Chicagoans with thicker wallets than the average Joe.
What we know as “Trib Tower” is actually four buildings. The original tower, built in 1929; the printing plant building, which no longer houses a printing plant; the WGN building, added in 1935; and the WGN-TV building, which opened in 1950.
CIM has big plans for all of these spaces, including the disputed “Chicago Tribune” sign currently hanging on the side of the printing plant portion of the pile. Which is as good a place as any to start.
The redevelopment plan for the printing plant building includes double-height windows facing Pioneer Court, making the street level facade more amenable to retail uses.
The 1964 Chicago Tribune sign will remain largely where it is, except that it will be mounted on a scaffolding, giving it a more prominent position. Currently it is mounted on a ticky-tacky screen that conceals satellite dishes and mechanical equipment.
For you trivia buffs out there, this isn’t the first Tribune sign at this location. There was a large “Tribune Square” sign here since at least the early 1920’s, hanging on the old Chicago Tribune building, which was located where the current former printing plant building is. The current Tribune Tower was built on a semi-public space on Michigan Avenue that was called Tribune Square, evocative of the New York Times’ Times Square, and the New York Herald’s Herald Square.
On the other side of the joint, the WGN buildings will get a little more thorough retrofit. The former WGN Radio building, which you may also remember as the former Freedom Museum, will get double-height windows to make it attractive to retailers. From the outside, it will look like a four-story building became a three-story building. But the first two levels were already mostly one floor anyway, if you remember the museum’s circular centerpiece.
The WGN-TV building gets the most dramatic exterior change. It’s getting a four-story addition on top, along with storefronts facing East Illinois Street. Sadly, the addition resembles something from Federal Plaza more than the rest of the Tribune Tower complex, but at least it’s set back from the rest of the building so we don’t have to look at it if we don’t want to.
There are a great many people in Chicago who believe that WGN-TV is still in the Tribune Tower complex. The reality is that channel 9 moved to the North Center neighborhood, across the street from Lane Tech, in the 1960’s in part because the columns in the Michigan Avenue building were too closely spaced for the station to operate modern television studios.
A large space will be carved out between the WGN-TV building and the Tribune printing plant building. This will become an open-air courtyard to allow light and air to circulate into what will then be residential space. You can keep office workers cooped up in a windowless dungeon for eight hours a day, but it’s not a good way to sell a condo. So this private space will get a nice lawn treatment with a meandering path, right above the retail space.
No, no one is going to touch the precious collection of rocks embedded in the building’s lower extremities. What becomes of the one in the lobby remains to be seen. The Trib Tower’s lobby is part of the landmark designation, but a statement from CIM Group only says, “All stones will remain on the street-level façades.” It makes no mention of the stone from the Cave of the Nativity.
How are all of these changes possible when the Tribune Tower is a Chicago landmark? These things can be complicated. It turns out that only a portion of the Tribune Tower is landmarked. Essentially, it’s the original tower above the 12th floor, plus the western half below the 12th floor, minus everything below the 22nd floor on the east side. The rest is fair game.