A tip of the fedora to St. Joseph Hospital's postwar cool

December 17, 2012

We know what a tough time midcentury modern hospitals have had as of late, what with the old Michael Reese campus on the South Side plowed under for who-knows-what and the former Prentice Women's Hospital being famously endangered.
 
St. Joseph Hospital however, seems to be doing quite fine. Completed in 1963, the Y-shaped, 12-story building at 2900 N. Lake Shore Drive, and its trademark blue exterior walls with diamond-shaped windows, is a fine — and functioning — piece of postwar architecture. As the AIA Guide to Chicago put it: "Architects would like to think the 1960s looked like Mies' Federal Center, but this is what the era really looked like."
 
The AIA Guide probably didn't mean that as a compliment, but I'll take it as one. Hospitals can be efficient, but bland, look-alike buildings. But not St. Joseph.
 
The hospital was designed by Belli & Belli, an architecture firm whose work includes St. Patrick High School, 5900 W. Belmont and the quite hip former Cuneo Memorial Hospital at Clarendon and Montrose from 1957.
 
An aside: Cuneo's time might be short as redevelopment is planned for the site. Here are photos I took of it it and its Logan's Run-era newer wing about two years ago:
 

Back to St. Joseph. Visually, the hospital's front elevation greets visitors like a pair of open arms. What could have been an otherwise ordinary limestone frontage is given a bit of life by way of a exuberant three-story band of glass — with that cool wavy roof — and the unusual vertical glass core at the center.

The hospital's design was honored by the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects shortly after its completion. The building is relatively unchanged over the years. Here is an archival photo from Belli & Belli's website.
A return trip is in order, however, to capture the hospital's best midcentury modern feature: The  Dan Ryan Memorial Chapel on the 11th floor. I haven't seen it in years, but the A Chicago Sojourn blog has pretty good photos here.