When I think of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Acropolis, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Notre Dame in Paris, the Grand Canyon, and other famous places come to mind.
There are only a couple dozen World Heritage Sites in the United States, and only one, Cahokia Mounds, in Illinois.
So, I was amazed to read in the Tribune that I live across the street from a potential World Heritage Site. The Ludington Building at 1104 South Wabash has received little more than a fleeting look from me.
The eight-story loft building is part of a group called “Early Chicago Skyscrapers” that federal officials might nominate for the World Heritage List because they were essential to the development of the skyscraper and the modern city.
Built in 1891, the Ludington Building was designed by William LeBaron Jenney, who is known as the father of the skyscraper because he designed the first building supported by a steel frame, the now-demolished Home Insurance Building (1885). A rare surviving loft building by Jenney, the Ludington Building was the first entirely terracotta–clad skyscraper.
The other buildings in the Early Chicago Skyscrapers group — the Auditorium, 430 South Michigan; the Rookery, 209 South LaSalle; the Marquette, 140 South Dearborn; the Monadnock, 53 West Jackson; the former Old Colony Building, 407 South Dearborn; the Fisher Building, 343 South Dearborn; the former Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. store, 1 South State St.; and the former Second Leiter Building, 403 South State — are better known. Tourists walk around with guidebooks to find them. They are buildings I note when giving Chicago Greeter tours.
I’ve never noticed anyone staring at the Ludington, now owned by Columbia College. I couldn’t have known without consulting a source that it was the first skyscraper whose whole cladding was terracotta.
But there’s a lot I could have noticed and admired about it on my own. It is a fine example of the so-called Chicago School of Architecture, or Chicago Commercial, skyscraper — the buildings Chicago architects around the turn-of-the-20th-century erected using the new steel-frame technology. It clearly expresses its structure; you look at it and can envision the underlying steel skeleton. The huge windows testify to how much more glass the steel frame permitted than earlier buildings supported by their walls. The terracotta facade, painted white, is a lovely example of the material Chicago Commercial architects preferred for exteriors. Unlike many of the early skyscrapers, it hasn’t lost its cornice, a detail of the three-part (base, shaft, cornice) construction of Chicago skyscrapers of the era.
In short, the building exemplifies the points I make about the development of the skyscraper every time I give a Chicago Greeter tour downtown. And I’ve been walking by it for four years and ignoring it.
The things I pay attention to, at home and on trips, are mostly those recommended by experts and guidebooks. While it’s appropriate to consult sources who know more than I do, it would be nice to also notice things without being guided to notice.
So, I’m making a resolution to improve my powers of observation. I’m challenging myself to notice one new thing every day. I’ll take time observing it, maybe writing down or sketching details.
The first thing will be the ornamentation on the Ludington Building.
POSTSCRIPT ABOUT THE SHACK
Several weeks ago I wrote a post about reading the book The Shack a decade after everyone else was talking about it. I’ve since learned that I was also late to hear about the movie based on the book. It came out in March, but I wasn’t aware of it when writing the post.
According to the Rotten Tomatoes website, The Shack was liked by 80 percent of audiences but only 20 percent of critics. The critics’ consensus sounds similar to what I felt about the book: The movie’s “undeniably worthy message is ill-served by a script that confuses spiritual uplift with melodramatic clichés and heavy-handed sermonizing.”