What’s that building? 165 N. May
The four-story building was designed to evoke seaside dining places around the Mediterranean.By Dennis Rodkin
WBEZ listener Kathleen Cantillon was looking for parking on Randolph in the West Loop when she again noticed what she called “a very odd building.”
The four-story building at 165 N. May has a lot of details, including ribbons of river stone running up the cinder block front, balconies with fan-shaped sunbursts in the metal railings and four sculptures of horses standing on rock pillars.
“It really doesn’t hang together for me,” Cantillon said. “It’s so bizarre.”
Christos Livieratos told WBEZ’s Reset that he designed 165 N. May, which isn’t complete yet, to evoke seaside dining places around the Mediterranean. The multiple balconies — three on each of the upper floors — could suggest apartments or condos to a Chicagoan, Livieratos said he wants them to be outdoor dining areas for the restaurant or restaurants he lines up for the building.
“It’s a European style,” Livieratos said. “You have all these outdoor spaces where the restaurant can serve [diners].”
It’s a pleasure to have dinner outside in the Mediterranean, but in this climate we have snow. Liveratos expects, with space heaters and other accommodations, the balconies could be used for outdoor dining for much of the year.
As for the metal sunbursts, the rocky textures and the visual renderings of the sun are part of “the feeling of being in the Mediterranean,” Livieratos said.
And the horses on top are a reference to Randolph Street’s historical role as a wholesale produce market, where in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, horse-drawn wagons would have been a common sight.
Livieratos wouldn’t say who the architect is, but said the inspiration for the look is “many places in Mediterranea where I have been.”
The site was purchased in 2013, according to the Cook County Clerk, and construction started in about 2017, Liveratos said. The site, about 7,100 square feet, includes both the building and a ground-level parking area immediately north.
Livieratos said he had a restaurant client in mind for the building, but those plans were derailed by the pandemic. He said he hopes to finish the building this year, and wants to land either a single restaurant tenant or multiple tenants that would divide up the space. The upper floors can go residential if that’s where there is demand.
Livieratos said he intentionally made the building “look different from all those buildings that all look the same,” in particular the large, blocky highrise office, apartment and condo buildings that have been transforming the West Loop and Fulton Market over the past decade.
Like or leave it, the building’s design fits in among some of the bolder and more outrageous designs along Randolph Street.
Among them are another Livieratos building, at 1113 W. Randolph. Built in 2013, it’s three stories with a rooftop deck. That building, around the corner on May Street, has upper-floor balconies, a mix of materials including a copper awning, multiple kinds of stone and the carved ends of wood beams projecting off the top. Originally home to a restaurant called Market and later Packinghouse, it’s mostly vacant and looking for tenants, Livieratos said.
Then there’s Alhambra Palace at 1240 W. Randolph, a 24,000-square-foot restaurant built in 2007 with fake palm trees rendered in copper running up the side of the cinder block exterior and tent-like caps over the windows and doors, also in copper.
What many of 165 N. May’s neighbors have in common is their exuberantly ornamental exteriors, which van be a visual relief from the bigness and boxiness that is quickly coming to characterize the West Loop.
Dennis Rodkin is the residential real estate reporter for Crain’s Chicago Business and Reset’s “What’s That Building?” contributor. Follow him @Dennis_Rodkin.
Vashon Jordan Jr. is the freelance photojournalist for Reset’s “What’s That Building?” Follow him @vashon_photo.