35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago

Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
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Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz/Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz. Licensed to Artefaqs Corporation
Photo of 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago, Illinois
Photograph © Wayne Lorentz. Licensed to Artefaqs Corporation

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35 East Wacker Drive
Formerly:North American Life Building
Formerly:Pure Oil Building
Formerly:Jewelers Building

35 East Wacker Drive, Chicago, Illinois, The Loop 60601
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It’s not very often that we gush uncontrollably about a building, but 35 East Wacker is one of the best buildings in the city of Chicago. Originally known as the Jewelers Building, it was created for the city’s diamond merchants and had an unusual security procedure – to reduce the chances that its tenants would be mugged walking between their cars and their offices, the building featured a central auto elevator that could lift cars as high as the 22nd floor. People would drive into this elevator and it would take them to the floor where their office was. Jewelers loaded down with precious stones and metals wouldn’t have to be exposed to a potentially hostile exterior environment. Though innovative, it was an arrangement that didn’t last very long. By the Second World War the auto elevators were abandoned and decked over to make more office space. Naturally, these kind of freight elevators required more mechanical space than regular passenger elevators, and the entire 24th floor was given over to that task, and as a maintenance shop for crafting replacement pieces for the building’s ornate terra cotta exterior and interior needs. This wasn’t reclaimed for office space until the very late 20th century.

More interesting is what is under the building's huge dome. This was originally a restaurant called the Stratosphere Lounge. It is said that during Prohibition it was run by Al Capone as a speakeasy. Today, the space is a showroom for famous architect Helmut Jahn.

35 East Wacker is a skyscraper out of time. Though born in the midst of the Art Deco movement, its form and decorative flourishes are clearly influenced by Roman, Greek, and Gothic architecture. Through its dome, its spires, its copulas, arched windows, and more it manages to combine differing styles to create an intricate visual delight. The terra cotta cladding was executed by Joachim Giaver and Fredrick Dinkelberg.

Now, if only this building had a name worthy of its form. "35 East Wacker" is so clinical; so generic; so bland. This jewel of a building deserves better, even if it means reverting to its original name. That name may have vanished from the paperwork years ago, but echoes of it live on, as the letters "JB" etched repeatedly in the building’s façade.

Quick Facts
Timeline
  • 1990: The 24th floor of this building was converted from a mechanical space into 20,000 square feet of office space by ISD. The floors were raised so that people could see over the building's parapets, and conference rooms were built inside the bases of the four massive water tanks at the corners of the building. The tanks, made of cast iron and decorated with terra cotta, are not used anymore, but are too heavy to remove.
Did You Know?
  • The four turrets at the corners of the building at the first setback weren't created merely decoration. They were part of the original fire surpression system. Each holds a cast iron tank that would have been used in case of a fire. They have been decommissioned, and the space at the base of each is now used as conference rooms.
Look For
  • The scary clock. Attached to this building at one corner along its Wacker Drive façade is an ornate clock. It is outlined in blood red light bulbs, and topped with a scary statue of Father Time carrying a menacing scythe.
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