The Birth of West River North and the Legacy of Montgomery Ward


I recently had some successful business with units in the Montgomery Building at 500 W. Superior, former HQ of Montgomery Ward’s, which is part of the former Wards complex.  Being back there brought me back to the early 90’s and some early successes in my real estate career.

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The Wards complex first arose in 1907 along the Chicago River.  Just think how far it has come since then, all the way to 2011 where the complex is a National Historic Landmark and serves as the home of Internet success story Groupon and the red hot restaurant Japonais along with hundreds of upscale condominiums with breathtaking sunset views.

Few people in the history of Chicago can match A. Montgomery Ward’s vision and ambition, but I am proud to have been a member of a visionary group that saw the potential for the Western end of Chicago’s famous River North district. 


Back in the early 90’s the properties between 500 to 800 block of N. Orleans Street on the East and the Chicago River on the West were either empty lots or old loft buildings or parking lots for Montgomery Wards.  I was lucky to be one of the first brokers to join in with such forward looking developers as Centrum Properties, LR Development, Silver Moon, and The Enterprise Companies to bring the Townhomes, Urban Mansions, and award winning high rises that fill those lots today.

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The developments were not at all sure-thing winners, but as time has passed addresses such as Tuxedo Park, The City Club, and the majestic mansions of Kingsbury Estates are well known, desirable locations for high style Chicago living.  A modernistic touch was added with the building of high rises such as Erie on the Park and Kingsbury on the Park, while some lofts were preserved and beautifully upgraded such as at 420 West Ontario.

I have a portfolio of letters from grateful clients thanking me for bringing them to the area and a job well done!


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Now let’s march forward to 2011, where I still owe my gratitude to Mr. A. Montgomery Ward!  I look out from my home office at One Museum Park, 1211 S. Prairie to the stunning Grant Park and Lake Michigan vistas and I think of him.  WHY?  Because after some research I learned that Mr. Ward was the chief defender of keeping Chicago’s Lakefront free from development.




He was basically the sole person in town who fought lake side building, single-handedly keeping Chicago’s Lakefront free from buildings over the vitally important twenty year period from 1890 to 1910.  Without him winning no less than FOUR different Supreme Court cases to protect the Lakefront I would not be seeing the Lake from my window but instead would have been looking at a wall of lakefront buildings marring the view!


It’s nice to look back on occasion, but facing forward and getting ready for the future is a must in today’s challenging economy. 


Coldwell Banker recently had an all-day seminar on the buying habits of Generation Y.  Get ready everyone, because by 2017, just six short years from now, they will take over the majority of all real estate purchases in the country!  The key speaker was Jason Ryan Dorsey, author of “My Reality Check Bounced”, a steps-to-success guidebook for Generation Y, which also gives a broader view and outlines the differences between the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y.  I’m learning more every day, and I now own the book to prove it!


Let’s all wish for warm weather for our Cubs and Sox!

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