Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
Jewelers Building Staff Tour

December 17th, 2010

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Many Chicagoans know the story about notorious mobster boss Al Capone running a 'speakeasy' in the domed space atop the Jewelers Building during the Prohibition in the 1920's and early 30's. It's one of those spaces in the Windy City that everyone would love to visit but, since the days of Capone illegally serving beer to the public are long gone, few actually have the opportunity. Having friends in high places, the CTBUH was able to visit the dome, or cupola, as part of its Christmas staff tour of this Chicago landmark. The building was enthusiastically presented to us on Friday, December 17 by the current user of the dome, the world renowned architectural firm of Murphy/Jahn, and building manager DUS Management, Inc.

35 East Wacker, better known as the Jewelers Building on Chicago's Wacker Drive.

The 159.41 meter (523.00 feet) building was built in 1927 at the corner of Wacker Drive and Wabash Avenue, an area which is also known as 'Jewelers Row'. At the time of its construction, the 40-story tower was the tallest building outside of New York City. The building, which is currently named after its address, 35 East Wacker Drive, was designed by the architectural firms of Giaver & Dinkelberg and Thielbar & Fugard. Although the building was designed in the hay days of the Art Deco movement, its form and decorations are clearly influenced by Roman, Greek, and Gothic architecture. 

Our hosts of the tour, from left to right, Jason Brooks and Dan Cubric (both Murphy/Jahn architects) and Maurice Auriemma (DUS Management).

Car Elevators
Maurice Auriemma, building manager from DUS Management, showed us the most interesting places of the building. At the time of construction, the building was developed to cater to the city’s diamond merchants, hence its original name: the Jewelers Building. To prevent tenants from being robbed in between the parking space and their office, the building featured a car elevator which was able to lift driver, valuables and the car up as high as the first setback level on the 22nd floor.

In the 1940's, the car elevators were abandoned and shaft space was decked over to create more space. As these large freight elevators required more mechanical space than regular passenger elevators, the entire 24th floor was dedicated to elevator equipment, along with a workshop for crafting replacement pieces for the building’s ornate terra cotta exterior and interior needs. The latter can now be found on the 23rd floor, along with much of the building’s other installations. It wasn’t until a recent renovation that this space was actually used as office space. Because the ceiling height of this floor was larger than anywhere else, it is the only level in the building which has a raised office floor. Because of the recent renovations, the building is now again being considered as Grade A office space.

Lobby Enjoying the elevator ride Turret

The turrets at the four corners of the first setback weren't created for decoration only, but were also part of the original fire suppression system. Each turret held a cast iron tank that was to be used in case of a fire. As they have been removed, the space at the base of each turret is now used as conference rooms, allowing for heavenly views.

The building was also staged in the 2005 movie "Batman Begins", with Batman perched on one of the turrets rising at the corner of the dome's base. The building will also play a pivotal role in the anticipated Transformers 3 movie. During the summer of 2010, film crews were shooting action scenes on Wacker Drive, which include scattered pieces of recreated turrets from the building.

Looking up the turret from corner conference room space Terra cotta replacement elements

Jason Brooks and Dan Cubric from Murphy/Jahn architects showed us around the office of the firm, located on the third floor of the building. When entering the office, it becomes instantly clear you have entered the realm of an architectural practice. Along the corridors, many scale models, photos and drawings are on display showing the many projects designed throughout the decades that the company has been active.

Helmut Jahn joined C. F. Murphy Associates in 1967. In 1981, Jahn was promoted to partner and the firm was renamed Murphy/Jahn. When Charles Murphy passed away in 1985, Jahn became the leading architect and the company has been based at the Jewelers Building ever since. Some of the famous tall buildings designed by Helmut Jahn are the Messe Tower in Frankfurt, the Post Tower in Bonn and Two Liberty Place in Philadelphia. The list of Murphy/Jahn’s current tall building projects includes the Doha Convention Center and Tower (551 meter / 1,808 feet) and Leatop Plaza in Guangzhou (303 meter / 994 feet).

Scale models of Murphy/Jahn tall building projects Mr Jahn's desk and chair

The tour was concluded by a visit to the Cupola on the 40th floor. To get there, one must take a classic, cylindrical elevator which only serves the upper floors of the tower. The cupola is used as a reception and presentation room for the office of Helmut/Jahn. As the architects designed the interior of the space themselves, many design elements can be recognized from the office floor. As expected, the space offers sweeping views of its surroundings, such as the Chicago River, the Loop and the Lake Shore area, dramatically enhanced by the setting of the sun and a clear blue sky.

Inside the cupola

Views on the Chicago River and Michigan Avenue Views on the Loop and Wabash Avenue

The CTBUH staff would like to thank Jason Brooks and Dan Cubric of Murphy/Jahn and Maurice Auriemma of DUS Management for their time and knowledge shared as they showed us around this Chicago classic. It was a great experience!

CTBUH staff, from left to right, Antony Wood, Marshall Gerometta, Melissa Brodmarkle-Emerson, Patti Thurmond, Nathaniel Hollister, Jan Klerks, Steve Henry, Seth Ellsworth and Crystal Yeojin Jeon