One of the few remaining 1870s commercial loft buildings on Chicago’s Near West Side — the Holden Block — will be saved and brought back to its historic splendor thanks to its recent designation as a local Chicago landmark. The four-story Italianate loft building went up in 1872, just after the Great Chicago Fire, as a speculative venture by Charles C.P. Holden, a real estate developer and president of the Chicago City Council. Holden’s pre-city hall career prepared him well — he had spent almost 20 years selling surplus Illinois Central Railroad land for development before entering Chicago politics. In those chaotic hours as the Chicago fire left the city’s downtown and north side in ruins, Holden and others took possession of the nearby First Congregational Church to establish a Relief Headquarters. They deputized police, set up food service, organized water brigades, and opened schools as temporary shelters. His lengthy post-fire report was published in A. T. Andreas’ History of Chicago in 1884.
Although West Madison Street was a rising neighborhood when the Holden Block was built at 1027 West Madison, as early as the 1910s it had become the main “hobohemian” district in Chicago. As the nation’s rail hub, Chicago had become the “Hobo Capital of America,” a gathering place for migrant workers riding freight trains to and from large cities looking for transient work. With further decline into the 1960s, the street gained notoriety as the city’s “Skid Row.” Despite the massive demolition that followed throughout the 1970s and 1980s, this gem of a building survived, although a bit worn.
Future prognosis for the Holden Block is excellent, as Schafer Condon and Carter — Chicago’s top, independent, mid-size advertising agency — restores the historic façade and inserts a modern interior for its main offices. The handsome Buena Vista stone and ornately styled window surrounds (eight different patterns for just 24 window openings) will shine once again. With new storefronts and a recreated cornice, the C.C. P. Holden nameplate atop the center bay can once again proudly proclaim the genesis of this beautiful survivor. Our firm, Granacki Historic Consultants, who prepared the landmark nomination, is also proud to have played a part in its renaissance. Check out future posts here to follow the building’s transformation.