Chicago’s iconic Tribune tower, which was built in the 1920s to house the Chicago Tribune, is being sold to a Los Angeles-based real estate group.
Employees of the Tribune Media company are expected to move out by the middle of next year.
Architecture critic Lee Bey spoke with us about the Tower’s architectural impact and indulged in a little speculation of what the building’s next life might look like.
On the tower’s popularity in the 1920s
It was a big thing when it was constructed. There was a famous design competition that led to the design that’s there now. Architects from all over the world submitted designs, so when it was finally erected it was a really big thing.
On the building’s architectural influence (or its lack of)
It comes late in the neoclassical movement so it doesn’t really influence architecture after that. You don’t see gothic towers popping up in the city after that.
But it marked the beginning of Michigan Ave. When you’re going from south to north it heralds your arrival on Michigan Ave, and gives you the sense that there’s something happening down the way.
On how its design reflected the role of the Tribune then and now
This was a paper that saw itself as a national, global newspaper. It was a paper of gravity, a paper of record, and the architecture reflects that.
Now, it’s part of what’s happening to many newspapers around the country. They were placed at the height of newspaperdom in these prime spots downtown and now as the medium downsizes and these properties become more valuable than, perhaps, the entities that are inside of them, you see this migration out. It’s kind of the end of an era for newspaper entities as mainstays of urban centers.
On what’s next for the designated landmark
My hunch is that at minimum Tribune Tower becomes a hotel. It’s a tall building, relatively thin, relatively narrow compared to more modern buildings, so the idea of it being a hotel works out. There’s a lot of windows and small floorplates which is kind of what you want in a hotel, particularly a boutique hotel.
But I think the thing to watch out for is that it’s on a larger footprint. The building sits on more ground than it needs so there are buildable areas around the structure that can be redeveloped. You could have the Tribune Tower still there, obviously it’s a landmark, with these new buildings around it particularly to the east. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.