Holiday shoppers on Michigan Avenue this month can get a unique gift: Viewing parts of the Wrigley Building that haven't been visible to the public since the "fraternal twin" towers were completed in 1921 and 1924.
The ongoing renovations, which have peeled away some of the towers' terra-cotta skin to reveal good old Chicago bricks and glimpses through windows of the building's bones, will remove the ground-level glass-and-steel walkway between the two buildings, fix some bad facade work with the hopes of rejuvenating the plaza space, and remodel much of the office space.
Whether the Wrigley Building was the catalyst or just an important piece of the puzzle, its completion in the early 1920s came during a remarkable period of change for the city, when business — mostly confined to the iron chains of the Loop — jumped north of the river. In a short period, too, the public space around the Michigan Avenue Bridge, completed in 1920, coalesced into arguably the heart of the city. The London Guarantee Building brought its graceful curve in 1921 to the southwest corner. Before the decade was out, this square would be further defined by the art deco statement at 333 N. Michigan Ave. and the Gothic landmark of the Tribune Tower.
William Wrigley Jr.'s decision to put his offices on the north side of the river was a bold move — and he wasted no time. He bought the irregularly shaped parcel for the south tower for about $215,000 in 1919, broke ground in March 1920 and declared it 95 percent rented in February 1921, two months before it opened. It was the first major office building north of the river in that area, and demand clearly was strong.
It didn't take long for the rest of Chicago to fall in love with the Wrigley Building. Even before the south tower was completed, "Mme. X" extolled its virtues Jan. 30, 1921, on the Tribune's society pages: "Well may the famous leaning tower of Pisa and the two less famous, less leaning towers of Bologna totter and tremble. Their supremacy, in the tower line is menaced, if not destroyed, by the Wrigley tower of Chicago. ... It is magnificent, imposing, unforgettable."
No small part of the building's impact was the decision to light the gleaming white tower at night. It looks like the city was built just to provide the Wrigley Building with a backdrop. Seen from the south, it appears to sit astride Michigan Avenue; Situated on the Chicago River, it offers plenty of room to gawk. For years, it was a jewel gleaming unobstructed from as far south as the Field Museum.
Three times, though, those floodlights went dark for extended periods. The first was during World War II for security reasons.
Then from December 1970 to February 1971, the moon had to suffice while the lights were replaced and moved as the double-decker Wacker Drive was extended east of Michigan Avenue. The third and final time was for about 10 months during the energy crisis in 1973-74. (Fittingly, the Wrigley Building participated in a nationwide minute of darkness in October 1931 to mark the passing of Thomas Edison.)
Designed by architects Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the Wrigley Building isn't just eye candy, of course, but a bustling office building. William Wrigley Jr. Co. moved into the 14th-16th floors. Other early tenants included the Elmer E. Perkins Coal Co., Railway Materials Co. and the Minneapolis Heat Regulator Co. In 1924, Calvin Coolidge's campaign for presidency and the National Republican Committee were run out of second-floor offices.
In 1936, the Wrigley Building Restaurant opened and became a legendary lunch and dinner spot for Chicago advertising's Mad Men. It closed in 1989. From 1926 to 1947, Wrigley was home to the Arts Club of Chicago, and from 1929 to 1956, WBBM-AM broadcast from the building. A big tenant beginning in the 1950s was the National Boulevard Bank of Chicago, which even had a drive-up window on East North Water Street.
In July 1965, the Wrigley Building was damaged by a large bomb set on North Water. The blast destroyed a parked car and shattered scores of windows in the towers. The attack was part of a mysterious series of bombings that targeted a number of downtown structures that month. Nobody was ever arrested.
More recently, Wrigley was center stage after the death of Diana, princess of Wales. Thousands came to pay respects in 1997 at the British Consulate offices there.
It's worth noting that William Wrigley Jr.'s decision to construct an office building was just one of a number of big moves he made at the time. The same year he negotiated to buy the Wrigley Building land, he also bought Catalina Island off the coast of California (the Cubs would practice there). He also announced he was doubling the size of his chewing gum plant at Ashland Avenue and 35th Street. And the same year the second tower was completed, Wrigley bought a certain ballfield at Clark and Addison — for $295,000.Copyright © 2015, CT Now