History and Architecture

TribuneTowerBy its 75th annivrsary in 1922, Tribune was enjoying greater influence in the Midwest and found it had outgrown its 17-story home on the corner of Dearborn and Madison streets. The company announced an international architectural competition for what was to be, in the words of the Chicago Tribune’s legendary publisher Col. Robert R. McCormick, “the most beautiful office building in the world.”

Tribune offered $100,000 in prize money – $50,000 for first place, $20,000 for second and $10,000 for third. In addition, 10 architects of national reputation were invited to compete and offered $2,000 each for their designs, in addition to possible prize money. In all, 263 designs were received from the United States and 22 other countries. Entries were presented anonymously, so the jurors would have no information about the architects until after making their decisions.

Some designs took their cues from Greek temples, Egyptian obelisks and even pyramids. Others anticipated the steel-and-glass boxes of modern architecture. The winning design was of a soaring Gothic skyscraper with the unanimous vote awarded to New York City architects John Mead Howells and Raymond M. Hood.

The Tribune Tower contest was of great interest and importance to the architectural community. A traveling exhibition of original drawings from the competition began in 1923 and visited 27 cities.

Crowning Achievement

The winning architects visually linked the blocky lower portion of the tower with the architectural pyrotechnics of the top. They did this with flying buttresses, which carried the structural piers of the lower part of the tower right up to its ornamental crown. To heighten the drama, they provided the floodlighting of the top at night. The tower’s gothic design deemphasizes horizontal lines and accentuates the virtual, creating the illusion that the building soars well above its 36 stories.

Tons of Steel

The towers frame is made of steel, fireproofed with concrete. The outer walls are Indiana limestone and variegated shades of gray. Construction called 49316 tons of steel and 13160 tons of stone. The cost was $8.5 million.

Tribune Tower’s design is said to have been influenced by the famous Tour de Beurre of the Rouen Cathedral in France in the Tower of Malines in Belgium. Both buildings are Gothic towers attached to cathedrals. However, neither has the functionality of the Tribune Tower, which is a practical office building.

Tons of Stone

Selecting a Site

In determining the location for Tribune’s headquarters, Colonel McCormick had specific requirements. It would have to be close to the center of the city; accessible by real; and, if possible, on the Chicago River to be near the ships bringing newsprint from Tribune’s paper mills and Canada.

The site selected conformed to all of the requirements, except for not being directly adjacent to the Chicago River. However, its distinct advantages me to practically ideal. It faced Michigan Avenue, one of the most important streets in Chicago. It was near the center of the city, offered rail access, and most importantly, was on a double-decked street. The lower level of Michigan Avenue provided excellent facilities for distributing newspapers.

A Chicago Landmark

The present site was purchased in 1919, and a six story plant was erected in 1920. Construction of the Tribune Tower began in May 1923 it was completed in 1925. It was Harold by the monthly tabloid, Real Estate News, which described the towers grandeur and a 16 -page supplement:

Thirty-six stories of dignified an impressive stone, glass and metal will look down upon Chicago’s throngs in the new Tribune Tower. It will be by far the highest tenanted structure in Western America. Its unusual character and beauty will make it a national landmark from coast to coast. Moreover, and equipment, appointments, material and workmanship, this building is conceded to represent the highest attainable modern standard of excellence.

Tribune Tower continues to be one of the most recognizable buildings to Gratia Congo skyline. Its influence can be seen in the Palmolive building, the board of trade in the carbide and carbon building, all build within a few years of the tower. The stylized buttresses of the neighboring NBC building, completed in 1989, mimic those of the tower.