Cool Building Wednesday: Ebony-Jet Building

April 21, 2010


Ebony/Jet Building. The former YWCA building on the lef
was demolished earlier this year (photo by Lee Bey)

When the 11-story Johnson Publishing Co., headquarters building was dedicated 38 years ago, it was a big thing. A very big thing.

A thousand people showed up, packing the wide sidewalk and street outside the building at 820 S. Michigan to celebrate Ebony and Jet magazine publisher John H. Johnson's triumph. In addition to dignitaries such as Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Rev. Jesse Jackson (resplendent in Afro and Dashiki) , the list of attendees and visitors to the building in its opening weeks reads like of who's who of who was hip and happening in 1972. Gwendolyn Brooks. Lena Horne. Amiri Baraka. Shirley Chisholm. Henry Fonda (Henry was happenin'). Ruby Dee. Dick Gregory. George Johnson of Johnson Products. John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

In fact, go--right now--to the June 1, 1972 edition of Jet magazine and look at the photos from the dedication. Then come back.

The $8‚ million building was designed by black Chicago architect John W. Moutoussamy, of Dubin Dubin Black & Moutoussamy. You can see Moutoussamy--the dapper, wavy-haired gentleman shaking Dick Gregory's hand--in the aforementioned Jet magazine article. Nearly 40 years later, the building still looks good thanks to Moutoussamy's clean, timeless grid-like design. The tower was originally clad in walnut travertine marble (replaced by granite, a few years ago, however)‚  and its recessed windows were originally made of heat-absorbing glass.

"I feel we have given the building interest without permitting it to be faddish," Moutoussamy told Ebony in a September 1972 photospread of the then-new building. The feature also boasts some‚  mindblowing color photos of the interiors designed by William Raiser/Arthur Elrod of Palm Springs, CA. Johnson's pride in the building is understandable: It was the first major downtown Chicago building designed and built by black people since, well, Jean Baptiste Point DuSable's trading post two centuries earlier.


(photo by Lee Bey)

Moutoussamy has a nice collection of modernist buildings around town, including Regents Park at 50th and Lake Shore Drive; the Quadrangle House condo building at 6700 S. South Shore Drive and the Theodore K. Lawless Gardens housing development at 35th and Rhodes, which was honored by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 1970.‚  He also designed the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority headquarters at 57th and Stony Island.

He was the father-in-law of the late tennis great Arthur Ashe. The architect's daughter, Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, is a celebrated photographer.‚  Moutoussamy died in 1995 at the age of 73.

In other news: The statewide preservation group Landmarks Illinois announced its "Ten Most Endangered" list yesterday. The cloverleaf-shaped Bertrand Goldberg-designed Prentice Women's Hospital made the list, as did the Uptown Theater again. So did the row houses of North Pullman. Read more here.