Historic Chicago Mod Kitchen May Cook Once Again

Chicago loves architecture history. But it has a bad habit of tearing it down and leaving it strewn around the region. Now a historic kitchen has a chance of being loved once again.

Landmarks Illinois disassembled the kitchen and moved it into storage of safe keeping. Now it’s looking for someone to give the kitchen a new home, in a place where the public can get to know not only its important design, but its important history.

After Johnson Publishing moved out of 820 South Michigan Avenue so the office building could be turned into apartments, Landmarks Illinois saved a piece of the historic publishing empire: The test kitchen.

The test kitchen just before disassembly (Courtesy of Landmarks Illinois)

The 1971 Johnson test kitchen was designed by William Raiser and Arthur Elrod, and though not in the greatest shape when it was purchased for one dollar, it still represents the height of interior design of its era.

If you work for an institution or organization that might be a good steward of something like this, read the press release below. Or just read it anyway to learn more about an important piece of Chicago’s past.

Courtesy of Landmarks Illinois

Landmarks Illinois Seeks Qualified Owner, Steward of Iconic former Johnson Publishing Company Test Kitchen

CHICAGO – Landmarks Illinois, a statewide historic preservation nonprofit, is seeking a new owner for the one-of-a-kind former Johnson Publishing Company Test Kitchen, designed in 1971 by Palm Springs-based interior designers William Raiser and Arthur Elrod. Landmarks Illinois (LI) has issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) from qualified institutions, organizations, corporations or other entities interested in accepting ownership of the former test kitchen and reassembling it for educational display or use.

The iconic test kitchen, featuring bold colors, patterns and appliances, was previously housed on the fourth floor of the Johnson Publishing Company Building at 820 S. Michigan Ave. in Chicago and was where Ebony Editor Charlotte L. Lyons would experiment with new recipes before putting them in the magazine’s monthly feature, “A Date with a Dish.”The former test kitchen strongly reflects the mod interior design styles and bright colors of the 1970s. It also corresponded with Raiser and Elrod’s interiors throughout the former Johnson Publishing Company building, designed by local African American architect John Warren Moutoussamy.

“An ideal future owner of the test kitchen has appreciation for its unique design and wants to honor the history and significance of not only the space but of the Johnson Publishing Company, which became one of the most important African American-owned companies in the nation,” said Bonnie McDonald, President & CEO of Landmarks Illinois. “Institutions with knowledge in design history and historic preservation, as well as those with experience in featuring and celebrating African American culture, are encouraged to apply.”

Landmarks Illinois acquired the test kitchen in April 2018 for $1 and, with the help of professional volunteers among its membership and from the Skyline Council of Landmarks Illinois, documented, carefully disassembled and removed the kitchen from the Johnson Publishing Company Building. Landmarks Illinois took ownership of the test kitchen after a developer purchased the Johnson Publishing Company building with plans to convert it into residential space. Due to the cultural and historic significance of the test kitchen, which was largely intact at the time of its disassembly and removal from the building, Landmarks Illinois wanted to see it preserved and celebrated. 

Landmarks Illinois is now asking for proposals from qualified institutions to acquire, move the test kitchen out of storage and reassemble it in a manner and location that will publicly tell the story of Johnson Publishing Company, which was founded by John H. Johnson in 1942 and is best known for publishing Ebony and Jet magazines. Those submitting a response to the RFP must demonstrate why they are the best steward for the test kitchen and how they will display or use the kitchen to share the story and history of the space in an inspiring way.

Proposals are due Wednesday, May 1, 2019, by 5 p.m. Central time. Proposals can be emailed to Lisa DiChiera, LI Director of Advocacy, at LDiChiera@landmarks.org. Download the full proposal here. Landmarks Illinois aims to transfer ownership of the test kitchen no later than June 30, 2019.

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 chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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