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.
Forum Discussions Talk about this building with other architecture enthusiasts
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Your Thoughts

There are 17 comments.

  As Executive Secretary and Office Manager for Schaffer Bonnavolanta Architects, Inc., I worked on the top floor of the building overlooking the river and the view of the Wrigley Building and Michigan Ave. First, Marty B. Schaffer was the best manager I ever had and second, especially for a history buff like me, this was the most romantic building I ever came close to working in. I even watch the Transformers just to see it again.

Susan Kuttner Schiffman - Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 @ 12:24pm  

  I heartily agree that this classic building deserves a more distinctive brand identity than the present "35 East Wacker." One problem with restoring the original "Jewelers' Building" name is that it invites confusion with the Jewelers Center, AKA the Maller Building, at 5 South Wabash. So,.perhaps,."The Gem?"

Alan Follett - Thursday, November 15th, 2012 @ 12:58pm  

  Great for taking over the city. The columns on the side house the pillars fairly well, but crumble under laser cannon fire. For anyone wanting to lead a Decepticon invasion of Earth, this is a commendable place to start.

Sentinel Prime - Wednesday, January 11th, 2012 @ 1:25pm  

  We are spending New Year's Eve 2011/2012 in Chicago and arranged a reservation at the Wit Hotel. Our room on the 24th floor has the most wonderful view of the top half of the Jeweler's Building. I wish I had binoculars so I could study the exterior detail more closely! What an amazing structure. Sorry - but the "35 E Wacker" name doesn't do it justice.

Linda Street - Saturday, December 31st, 2011 @ 2:20pm  

  This building is filled withs good times, were I started my first job. Church Rickards I believe it was on the 95th floor. The views were breathtaking from the 95th floor. I have many memories there.This building took my breath away than and still it does today. I was only 20 in 1966 and loved the downtown area, Working here made you feel like a movie star.

Rosemary Lukes - Friday, October 21st, 2011 @ 12:52pm  

   I have had a life time love affair with this building since 1943 when I worked for Seagram Distillers as a stock boy. I always found time to tour from the wonderful lobby to the tower where I climbed a rickety ladder to a panel Islid open to look out over the city. I recommed 35 E. Wacker as a place to work,play or to just visit and gawk.Ray Saturday , August 20, 211@1230hrs.

Ray Bopp - Saturday, August 20th, 2011 @ 2:47pm  

  This is beautiful. I can imagine all of the lighting at night...this would be so bright & amazing. I haven't paid much attention to this buildilding but now that i have, this is wonderful. Can't wait to visit Chicago again soon!!

Alyana Rodriguez - Thursday, August 11th, 2011 @ 10:48pm  

  The buidling is beautiful however you lose interest in the birdcage elevator when you work on the 38th floor like I do.... Great and exciting when you first start but it gets old fairly quick. I am a very proud person to work in this building.

Brittany - Friday, June 24th, 2011 @ 1:26pm  

  A Chicago masterpiece. The clock itself is worthy of special attention. Who created that clock and Father Time? How did this emblem of gravitas get past a committee aiming for a delightfully ornamental appeal? Irony in 1926?

William Conger - Sunday, April 10th, 2011 @ 9:07am  

  Setting the record straight;My name is Don Carlson a then partner in the Architectural firm of Martin B. Schaffer & assocIn 1967 we had to expand our office req'ts.and visited the Jewelers Bldg. for additional space. The building agent showed us space thruout the building as i asked a number of times "what's up in the dome" he finally answered and said the space was dirty and not used. We insisted to see the space. on the 35th floor we entered the battered circular bird cage elevator to the 40th floor Marty and my eyes met and we knew this was a gold mine.Entering the 40th floor with all its dirt and grime and Al Capones beaten up bar around the buildings 10 foot smoke stack in the center of the space. The beautiful 20 foot arched window sills were 6' above the floor. The renovation started by raising the floor 36" creating a desk high view of the Chicago skyline with a conversation pit & conference area. We created office walls of texured stucco, added airconditioning on floors 37,38,39 and 40 and basicaly redid all four floors, all for $2.50 a sf.rental. As you can see Helmet Jahn wasn't the first Architect up in the space that we created!

Donald R. Carlson - Sunday, May 16th, 2010 @ 1:22pm  

  A long time ago (1961), I worked in this building for Mercury Records. I loved that there was a "nap room" where I could go and snooze on my lunch hour and a matron would wake me at a pre-determined time! I think it's STILL the most beautiful building in Chicago!

Jacque Skarr - Saturday, September 5th, 2009 @ 6:04pm  

  I worked on the 33rd floor of this building for seven years. It is certainly a beautiful building on the outside, and affords spectacular views of the Chicago River (from the spire of NBC Tower on the East to the Merchandise Mart on the West). Mechanicals in the building are spotty at best, but are slowly improving thanks to the diligence of its Canadian owners. It was a shame, however, to see so much of the marble interior floors carpeted over, and the marble wainscoating torn off the walls and thrown away. But the creation of the spectacular and gilded coffered ceiling in the lobby (purportedly from the original plans which were never realized) was a joy to behold. It was well worth suffering through 18 months of scaffolding in the lobby to see the completed project.

richbh - Tuesday, August 7th, 2007 @ 2:49am  

  If you watch reruns of "The Untouchables" - look closely at the background art for the opening and closing credits. You can see a rendering of this building in the scene.

David - Saturday, May 19th, 2007 @ 1:17pm  

  I had the privledge of working for several owners of this facinating building from summer 1967 to fall 1979. I was the secretary in the office of the building, working with every employee from the building engineer, carpenters, painters, electricians and cleaning staff who so diligently took care of this great property. I was involved with renovations from the lobby to the 40th floor and saw huge transformations during the years I was with the building. Of all the jobs I have had in my many years of working, being involved with this property ranks at the top for being interesting and very rewarding. How I would love a tour from top to bottom today!

Judith Kerr - Sunday, December 31st, 2006 @ 8:12pm  

  This building is very dramatic! I love the way it is lit up at night.

kirby Cruz - Thursday, December 7th, 2006 @ 8:27pm  

  I am probably a bit biased in my opinion as I have spent the last 4 years renovating this great city property. Everyone should see the restored lobby and the elevators that match the historic "Bird Cage" elevator that serves the top 4 floors. The Chicago market place is starting to see that this property is in a class with those few other restored landmark properties in the City.

Rudy Banducci - Wednesday, October 18th, 2006 @ 8:53pm  

  The building is home to the architecture firm Murphy/Jahn, which also occupies the interior of the cupola. (Or at least it did about ten years ago when I got to go up there.)You take a regular elevator to an upper floor, then you walk down a short hallway to an old-fashioned cage-door elevator. That takes you up to the cupola. I was told at the time that during prohibition there was a speakeasy in the cupola.The center of the cupola is occupied by a stout column. At the time I visited, a fair amount of the room was taken up by a scale model of downtown Chicago.It was a wonderful space, with excellent views through the tall windows. I wish I could live in there.

Jon Hendry - Saturday, October 14th, 2006 @ 10:48pm  

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