History

623 South Wabash Avenue was built in 1895 by Solon S. Beman, architect of the industrial town of Pullman, one of the nineteenth century’s largest, most complex, and globally famous planned industrial communities for the Pullman Palace Car Company. The ten-story 623 S. Wabash building was originally built for the Studebaker Brothers Carriage Company of Fort Wayne, Indiana as its Chicago regional office and warehouse facility. It was later owned by the Brunswick Company, makers of wood furnishings and built-in furniture for libraries, universities and a variety of public commercial and governmental facilities. By the late 19th century Brunswick became specialists in designing such entertainment furnishings as bars, billiards tables, and bowling alleys for drinking establishments nationwide. Subsequent owners are unknown. The building was acquired by Columbia in 1983 and now houses classrooms, academic offices, a computerized newsroom, sciences laboratories, art studios, stage and costume design workshops and two public gallery spaces.


Description

The 623 South Wabash Building is a ten story metal frame structure standing in the middle of a block facing Wabash Avenue. It is seven bays wide, having six bays of equal size divided axially by the smaller bay at the center that stands above the entrance. It is currently faced with black granite on its first two floors and above and around its entrance, with red terra cotta that has been painted gray on its third through ninth floors, and with similarly painted brick on its tenth floor and parapet. Its side and rear walls are common brick.

The former Second Studebaker/Brunswick Building is a Chicago Commercial Style building, characterized by the clear expression of its structural frame, by the lack of thick masonry in imitation of load-bearing walls, particularly at its base, and by windows of historically unprecedented size that almost completely fill the openings of the structural bays. Carl Condit celebrated the openness of the façade as a prime example of the aesthetic transformation of design through the use of a metal structural frame: “The Chicago windows and the delicately articulated wall provide the fullest exploitation of steel framing that the Chicago School could show at the time” (Condit, Carl. The Chicago School of Architecture, p. 145.)

The terra cotta cladding on the façade is limited to the vertical piers, and carries Gothic Revival style details. These designs reach their culmination by forming foliate ornaments above and around the ninth floor windows. The spandrels above the third through eighth floors are cast iron and also carry details that are meant to evoke the Gothic style. Unfortunately, the terra cotta and iron Gothic Revival details on the façade are badly damaged in many places. Lost material has been replaced with brick and concrete, and the entire façade has been painted to disguise the loss of the original materials and unify the look of the replacement materials.


Quick Facts

  • Name: Columbia College Wabash Campus
  • Address: 623 South Wabash Avenue
  • Size: 120 feet x 170 feet, 10 stories
  • Architect:
    • Alfred S. Alschuler, 1925-1926
    • Renovation architect: Michael Arenson, 1987
  • Original Name: Studebaker Brothers Building
  • Subsequent Names:
    • Second Studebaker Building
    • Brunswick, Balke, Collender Building
  • Acquired by College: 1983
  • Original Building Type: Office
  • Style: Chicago Commercial, detailed in Gothic Revival Style

Information taken from the 2005 Campus Preservation Plan.