It’s been a rough couple of years for the late architect and Chicago native, Bertrand Goldberg.
First, and most prominently, his Prentice Women’s Hospital at 333 East Superior Street in Streeterville was ruthlessly demolished to make way for yet another blue glass tower-on-a-podium.
Then his Walton Gardens office building at 935 North Rush Street in the Gold Coast was divided and renovated so intensely that it’s hardly recognizable.
Now a block away, another one of his commissions is about to meet a wrecking ball.
That project is 65 East Oak Street, the four-story building that until last year housed several high-end retail stores.
Goldberg didn’t design the building. He was born the same year it went up — 1913. But in the early 1950’s it was his firm that transformed it from an apartment house into a retail collection so exquisite, magazines of the time dubbed it Chicago’s “most unusual” building.
His transformation recognized that 65 East Oak began its life as the home for the late-teen and 20-something offspring of some of the city’s wealthiest people. By the time he was tasked with its renovation, those people had grown into some of the local power players, and so the design reflected European sensibilities, both outside (columns, fake balconies, and pediments) and inside (widely acclaimed murals).
Late last week, the Chicago Plan Commission approved a plan to replace 65 East Oak with a very modern glass-and-steel construction that will retain its retail function, but also add a restaurant component. We showed a shopgirl working for one of the brands that recently occupied the current building what the new building would look like, and she responded, “Cool!” apparently not sharing our concern for the neighborhood’s continuing architectural modernization.
The new design of 65 East Oak is actually very reminiscent of the transformation of the Esquire Theater into a retail and dining complex a few years ago. In a way, the two buildings may complement each other since they’re across the street from one another. People eating al fresco at one will be able to wave at people at the other, since both feature outdoor terraces as part of their restaurants.