Chicago Architecture Info

Bank of America Building

135 South LaSalle Street, Chicago

Facts

Formerly
  • 135 South LaSalle
  • LaSalle Bank Building
  • Field Building
Address 135 South LaSalle Street, Chicago, Illinois 60603
Neighborhood The Loop
Built 1931-1934
Architecture firm Graham, Anderson, Probst & White
Type
  • Office
  • Retail
  • Skyscraper
Floors 44
Height 535 feet
Floor space 1,000,000 square feet.

Narrative

Few people will ever get the chance to fully appreciate 135 South LaSalle. Its beauty and details have fallen victim to the kind of financial success that allowed the building to be built in the first place. It is socked in on all sides by neighboring towers which prevent mere pedestrians from getting a good look at the architecture around them.

135 South LaSalle is clearly influenced by Chicago's 1930's-era height regulations. It presents four broad 22-story shoulders to each of its corners, and in between on two sides, there is an indentation which helps let light in to some of the interior offices, resulting in a footprint resembling a capital H. Follow any of these indentations upward, and you will see the building's tower. Because it is recessed on all sides, it appears to be part of another, more distant, building behind 135 South LaSalle. This creates an illusion that the tower is more distant, and therefore taller, than it really is. Adding to this are vertical elements in the building's main shaft which help safely guide the viewer's eye upward.

This building gained national attention in December, 2004 when fire swept through the 29th and 30th floors. From Baltimore to Florida to Los Angeles, people wondered how it was possible that a 44-story building could not have a fire suppression system. Locally, it added more fuel to the controversy over Chicago's fire regulations. Though the city considers itself to have the most advanced fire prevention rules in the world, for the second time in two years they were shown to be insufficient.

The first incident came in October, 2003 when six people died in a fire in the the Cook County Administration Building at 69 West Washington Street. After that blaze, the city council vowed to address gaps in Chicago's fire code. Specifically, the rule which exempts high-rise buildings constructed before 1975 from having fire sprinklers. When the exemption was revealed in the media, there was outrage in the community, and among the family members of those who died.

After a while, things settled down and people started to forget about the deadly fire. Then just 14 months later, this building erupted into flames. A dismayed public once again turned its ire on local politicians who a year earlier had promised to make the city's high-rise buildings safer. 135 South LaSalle was, too, exempt from rules requiring fire sprinklers. However, to the credit of the building owners, it was being retrofitted for sprinklers at the time of the fire.

This time, Mayor Richard M. Daley and the city council moved forward with a proposal to require sprinklers in office buildings, but not in residential buildings. The mayor claimed that requiring residential buildings to have sprinklers would bankrupt their owners. He further attacked labor unions and the construction industry for backing sprinklers in residential high-rises, saying they were only supporting the idea hoping to line their own pockets through extra work, especially when putting sprinklers in older buildings could expose hidden asbestos.

Notes

  • This was the site of the world's first skyscraper, the 1884 Home Insurance Company Building by William LeBaron Jenney. It was ten stories tall with a steel skeleton, stone curtain walls, and an elevator. It was demolished in 1929 to make way for this tower. Interestingly, it wasn't until the building was being torn down that architects and engineers noticed how it was built and declared it the world's first skyscraper.
  • This building was erected by the estate of department store magnate Marshall Field. It was intended to be the largest office building in the Loop.
  • This is considered to be the last true Art Deco skyscraper built in Chicago's Loop district.
  • This was the last major building erected in Chicago before a lull in construction brought on by the Great Depression and the Second World War.
  • At the fifth floor are 17 panels depicting Robert Cavelier de la Salle's exploration of the area. He is believed to have made camp at this location.
  • Considered by some to be Chicago's Empire State Building
  • This building was outfitted with mail chutes in the shape of the building.
  • This building's lobby is criss-crossed by pedestrian bridges.

Timeline

December 6, 2004 Fire broke out on the 29th floor of this skyscraper. It was the second high-rise fire in Chicago's Loop in two years. The fire burned for five hours, and spread to the 30th floor, but no one was hurt. The building was in the process of being fitted with fire sprinklers. At the time of the fire, sprinklers were not required in buildings erected before 1975. *December 20, 2004: For the first time since the December 6 fire, people were finally allowed back into their offices, but only on about a dozen lower floors. The rest remained closed for weeks.
December 20, 2004 For the first time since the December 6 fire, people were finally allowed back into their offices, but only on about a dozen lower floors. The rest remained closed for weeks.