When we grew up in Morton Grove Illinois during the late 1950s and through the 1960s, nothing represented the grandeur and the muscular vitality of the city of Chicago more than the Prudential building. Whether we were motoring along Lake Shore Drive or driving down to the Loop via the Northwest Expressway (as the Kennedy was initially known), we would gaze up and see the broad shouldered limestone edifice standing proudly above all.
|1950's view of the Prudential building, Chicago, from the lakefront.|
|Broadcast News Magazine, Vol. 112,|
The Prudential has a storied history. For two decades, from 1934 onward, through Depression and War, construction in Chicago had ground to a half. The skyline whose towers had popped up like weeds in the 1920's became frozen in time.
With an easement to build a trestle and breakwater a short distance from shore, the Illinois Central Railroad had controlled Chicago's lakefront since the 1850's.
From the bank of the river southward, the IC had created a massive railyard, dominated by a huge sign for Pabst beer that as it met Michigan Avenue to the east was the most ambitious bit of construction on the site.
The Prudential Building would change all of that, When it was announced in 1951, it became the first structure to be built over Illinois Central air rights, and the opening shot in the revival of major new office construction. It included new viaducts along its perimeter, and a completely new street, the one-block Stetson Avenue, named after Edward Stetson, an I.C. board president. According to a post on the Connecting the Windy City blog, the air rights deed was 85 pages long and identified 500 small, individual pieces of property.
At 42 stories and 601 feet, the Prudential would fall just four feet short of overtaking the Board of Trade as Chicago's tallest building. Designed by Naess and Murphy, it broke ground on August 12, 1952. At nearly 22 million cubic feet, it was the fifth larger building in the city. Each of its 2,617 windows were double-glazed, and designed to allow both sides to be washed from the inside.
The Prudential was a compendium of superlatives. At 1,400 feet-per-minute, it's elevators were the world's fastest, and popping ears became standard elevator car conversation for first-time visitors. The Prudential had the biggest floor-to-floor heights. It's air conditioning capacity -- 3,150 tons -- also set a record. Elevator service stopped at the 40th floor, and the world's tallest escalators carried visitors to the 41st floor and its observatory, which actually bested the one at the Board of Trade to become the tallest in Chicago. The panoramic views from Stouffer's Top of the Rock restaurant immediately made it a destination dining location for tourists and locals alike.
But we in Morton Grove did not need to travel 24 miles southeast to view the modern skyscraper. We had our very own Prudential building in the village on the grounds of the Par King Skill Golf course, where it stood out as a first among equals including scale-model replicas of national monuments like Mount Rushmore and the Statue of Liberty, and more whimsical icons such as the Old Lady Who Lived in a Shoe, The Three Bears and Humpty Dumpty.