The Plymouth Rocks

March 4, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

Have you noticed the Plymouth Building?

The sliver of a skyscraper, 417 S. Dearborn, hides out between Holabird & Root's‚ historic Old Colony Building to the north and William LeBaron Jenney's Manhattan Building to the south; a waterboy caught between a pair of linebackers.

But the 11-story Plymouth Building holds it own between the two architectural giants. So much so, the city's Commission on Chicago Landmarks was set to consider preliminary landmark status for 110-year-old building today as part of a redevelopment project to convert the vacant structure into a student housing. But the proposed designation was taken off the agenda by the developer Conlon & Co at the last minute.‚  (We've got a call into the developer to find out why.)

Built in 1899, the Plymouth has one of the most unusual histories of any downtown skyscraper. It was originally a commercial loft building, designed by Simeon Eisendrath, an architect who worked for Louis Sullivan before striking out on his own.‚  The building's middle seven stories pretty much sum up Eisendrath's original design. But in 1945, the building became home of LaSalle Extension University, a pioneer in distance learning. The new owners put on the Gothic crown and ground level because, well, nothing says 'college' like Gothic architecture.


(photo by Lee Bey)

But LaSalle remained in the building until 1978 and left the rear of the building‚  on Plymouth Court virtually untouched, resulting in the preservation of some very Sullivanesque cast-iron details. Completed the same year as Sullivan's Carson Pirie Scott building, profiled here yesterday, the ornament is an early example--if not the earliest--of the Sullivanesque detailing on a building not done by Sullivan himself, according to a staff report to the landmarks commission.


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)


(photo by Lee Bey)

Read more about the developer's plans for the building here in Crain's.