An overlooked gem shines at Clark and Van Buren

October 3, 2011

You know how it is in a big city: you can pass a building a hundred times and never quite notice it.

Then on that 101st time...

Such was the case a couple of days ago when a tardy Purple Line train gave me enough time to gaze off the "L" platform and notice--really notice--for the first time a building that's been on the corner of Clark and Van Buren for 114 years. It's the Bock Building, 400 S. Clark. It is a beautiful piece of Victorian architecture in which the frills of the day were kept to a minimum, and with a ribbon of second story windows--so simple, so pure--it is as if the building wanted to give gaslight era observers a glimpse of the low, dark, glassy and minimalist modernism that would be found in the century to come.

Built in 1897, the building is, of course, showing its age. But look at that cornice and the detailing. From street level, the "L" obscures many of the details. From the "L" platform, though, all is revealed, including the interesting dialog between the structure and its fussier neighbor to the west on Van Buren.

And if you look closely, you can see the famed Y-shaped Municipal Device of Chicago which routinely graces older buildings. The shape symbolizes the two branches of the Chicago River forming the Main Branch.

The glassy second floor wraps around the Clark side of the building. And the first floor, although altered, is reasonably open. There was more to see,  but--darn--the "L" finally arrived.