Slowly but surely, one of Chicago’s slightly offbeat landmarks is being covered up. The Homage to the Chicago School of Architecture, an epic multi-faced mural by Richard Haas, is disappearing behind a new tower development in Chicago’s Old Town.
The mural adorns a 1929 apartment building, formerly named the LaSalle Towers Hotel. The building was remodeled in the 1980s by Weese Seegers Hickey Weese, who advocated for the mural. The buildings north, south, and western faces were left nearly blank when it was originally built. Some speculate that it was expected that other tall buildings would quickly rise up around it, leaving no need to give the faces an aesthetic finish. It has taken 70 years but that prediction is finally coming true at the cost of an unexpected icon.
The mural is dedicated to the Chicago School of architecture and depicts many of the signatures of late 19th century Chicago. Each face employs a trompe-l’œil technique often used by Haas. The east face of the building depicts rows of Burnham style bay windows and Chicago-style bases and cornices. The north face shows a faux reflection of Adolph Loos’s submission to the Tribune tower competition, a Doric column shaped tower. The south face recreates Louis Sullivan’s golden arch from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition Transportation Building and the circular window form Sullivan’s Grinnell, Iowa, Merchants’ National Bank. The busts of Louis Sullivan, Danial Burnham, John Wellborn Root, and Frank Lloyd Wright are painted near the base, below the arch.
The new residential tower rising around the mural, The Sinclair, was designed by Chicago-based Solomon Cordwell Buenz. The 420-foot-tall Sinclair will be 35 stories with 390 units. Thirty-nine of the units will be reserved for affordable housing. The base will include 55,000 square feet retail space. This includes a grocery store (which once stood on the site), with a green roof.
Though it was only a matter of time before the surface lots surrounding the Haas mural would be built up, the drive down LaSalle Blvd. won’t be the same without the defining art piece. The north face of the building will remain uncovered, leaving Loos’s tower visible to southbound traffic.
A construction site cam shows the new tower rising and the mural disappearing behind.