editor’s note: This is the first in a series of “What’s That Building?” stories this summer that will focus on Chicago’s most iconic buildings.
In the early 1920s, New York tourists could marvel at the largest Electrical signal in the world showing the names of Wrigley Spearmint, Doublemint and Juicyfruit gum.
Here in Chicago, Wrigley announced its presence with a beautiful cream-white tower whose crown was modeled after a 16th-century tower. cathedral bell tower in Spain.
Both were icons of William Wrigley Jr.’s far-reaching bubblegum (and baseball) empire, but only one of them has lasted a century. In New York, Wrigley dismantled his 250 foot long sign in 1942 to save electricity during World War II.
In Chicago, the wrigley buildingAt 398 feet tall, it still stands on the north bank of the Chicago River, gleaming white and bathed in electric light at night.
The building has a timeless beauty and is a feature of architecture boat tours and tourists’ social media posts.
Designed by Charles Beersman at the illustrious Chicago architecture firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the Wrigley Building is in two parts: the south tower was completed in 1921 and the north in 1924.
Wrigley was the first to build a tower in the early years after a bridge connecting Michigan Avenue to Pine Street in 1918 opened what we now know as North Michigan Avenue for 20th-century redevelopment.
The Wrigley Building was soon joined by two other architectural fantasies across the street: the gothic Tribune Tower in 1923 and the Medina Athletic Club – now the Intercontinental Hotel – in 1929. That group of three fantasy skyscrapers is a great place to see how architects tried to use historical references in tall buildings before sleek, stripped-down modernism took over.
Originally, the two towers of the Wrigley Building were separated by North Water Street, which is why a skybridge connects them on the 14th floor. In 1957, plans were announced to cover the street with a pedestrian esplanade. This was to give both the Wrigley Building restaurant and the National Boulevard Bank more public entrances from Michigan Avenue.
The esplanade from Michigan Avenue to Rush Street included a sidewalk-level enclosed walkway between the two towers, which was later opened to be more of a gateway to the esplanade. There is now a pedestrian-only space that continues to the monumental pedestrian arcade on the river side of the Trump International Hotel & Plaza.
That change was part of a $91 million rehabilitation in 2013, carried out by the owners who bought the building from Wrigley in 2011 for $33 million. In 2018 they sold for $255 million to Joe Mansueto, the billionaire owner of the financial research and investment firm Morningstar and the Chicago Fire football club.
Through the century and changes in ownership, all that gleaming white terracotta has remained (some of it replaced in the recent rehab). keep the building sparkling it has not been easy —especially in the early years of the building, when Chicago was a much dirtier, sootier city and Wrigley’s nearest neighbors were soap and cheese factories.
Soot was so heavy in Chicago in those days that the Wrigley Building was incomplete when the terracotta was sooty. In March 1921, about a year after construction began, the Chicago Tribune published a photo showing the difference between the crisp white of a part that had been washed and the dull gray of the tower that had not yet been washed.
“Mr. Wrigley, to make it look like a new building, you have to spend a lot of money to wash it down,” the man said. Grandstand he wrote, thanks to the soot that “spreads a gray curtain between the city and the blue spring sky.”
Dennis Rodkin is the residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” taxpayer. FOLLOW HIM @Dennis_Rodkin.
K’Von Jackson is the freelance photojournalist for “What’s That Building?” of Reset. FOLLOW HIM @true_chicago.