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Bob Thall, photographer, 1986
Courtesy, Commission on Chicago Landmarks

Philip Livingston, photographer, 2004
Courtesy, Columbia College Chicago


1104 Center

1100 – 1108 S. Wabash Ave. / 31 -51 East 11th Street

120 feet x 166 feet, 8 stories

William LeBaron Jenney
W.B. Mundie, 1891-1892
Renovation architect: A.S. Coffen, 1920

Original Name:
The Ludington Building

Present Name:
Ludington Building, 1104 Wabash Campus

Acquired by College: 1999

Original Building Type: Office

Chicago Commercial


Ludington Building, 1104 Wabash Campus
1104 S. Wabash Ave.
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Inland Architect and New Record, August 1892, vol. XX


1104 S. Wabash Avenue, built in 1891, is a City of Chicago Landmark (1996) and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (1980). Built by William LeBaron Jenney, acknowledged as the inventor of the skyscraper for his fire-proofed metal skeleton-frame designs, the Ludington building represents his continuing experimentation as the first entirely terra cotta-clad skyscraper. The Ludington is also a rare survivor, one of only two extant loft buildings in Chicago built by Jenney.

This eight-story, steel-frame building, boasting one of the finest examples of a terra-cotta clad façade, was commissioned by Mary Ludington Barnes for the American Book Company, which was owned by her husband, Charles Barnes. At the time, Chicago was a national center for the publishing industry, as demonstrated by this building and many others, particularly those on “Printing House Row,” and including the former Lakeside Press Building owned by Columbia College. The American Book Company built the building to house its offices, printing presses, packaging and shipping operations. Its frame was built to withstand the weight and vibrations of the presses, which were originally located on the 4th through 6th floors, and to accommodate the anticipated 8 story addition that was never built. Its status as a manufacturing facility determined its form as a loft building, with a practical and efficient interior that had few elegant original elements. Its location, between the Grand Central terminal at Harrison and Wells Streets and the Illinois Central station at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road, made it ideal for the distribution of the company’s products.

The Ludington Building was owned by descendents of its original owners until 1960, although it was occupied by many different tenants, including the Pepsodent toothpaste company in the 1910s and ‘20s. In 1960 it was sold to Warshawsky and Company, an autoparts firm, for use as a storage facility. Columbia College Chicago purchased the building from Warshawsky in 1999. The Ludington currently houses the school’s Center for Book and Paper Arts, a portion of the Film and Video Department, the Glass Curtain Gallery and the Conaway Multicultural Center.

Design Philosophy

William LeBaron Jenney based his approach to architecture on engineering principles by identifying and solving design problems through technology. The problems to be solved were enormous; there was a need for buildings with many stories of space, yet historic masonry loadbearing structures of great height required thick walls, particularly at their base. This was not satisfactory, in part due to the expense of the materials, and due to the fact that, for building owners, the ground floor retail space represented the most valuable rent per square foot. If a significant percentage of this valuable space were lost to the thickness of the walls, the building would not be nearly as profitable, and the purpose for erecting it would be lost. An additional problem was height; the more stairs a tenant had to climb, the less could be charged in rent. And, especially in Chicago during the years after the Great Fire, the problem of fireproofing a tall building needed to be solved.

Jenney’s solution was to create a metal structural skeleton, and to hang the entire building from it. The metal frame would carry all of the weight of the building, isolating it and carrying it to the foundation at every vertical support. This relieved the walls of any load-bearing function, effectively turning them into screens which kept the weather out, and allowing them to be open in an unprecedented way. Because the frame allowed for thinner, more open walls, the problems presented by thick masonry walls were solved, and buildings became more profitable for their owners and their retail tenants. The problem of fireproofing was solved by cladding the structural supports in terra cotta, and the floors could be made of the same material to help keep any fire from spreading quickly from floor to floor. Lastly, the problem of height was solved by elevators, which went through a dramatic period of technical advance during the 1880s, particularly with the introduction of electric elevators in 1887. With the exertion of stair-climbing eliminated, not only were tall buildings practical, but the potential rate of income from higher floors was greatly increased.

In emphasizing the importance of the skeletal frame, by this time he considered the problem of the building’s fireproofing in a new way, as a skin that would provide a protective envelope but only to cover the structural elements that functionally required it. Dismissing brick as too heavy and traditional hand-made terra cotta as too costly, Jenney advocated “terra cotta made rapidly by machine at low price, its surface dull glazed, impervious to moisture, hard baked, uniform in quality and color, using hand work for the few carved pieces.” (Jenney, William LeBaron, “The Age of Steel and Clay,” Inland Architect, August, 1890.) The conclusion he reached in the article is not only a guide to the future of design, it is also a description of the Ludington Building: “With cheap steel of a very superior quality and a light, dull-glazed terra cotta and a strong light fireproofing, we are ready to build as never before – light, strong, and at a reasonable price within reach of every one who can afford to build at all; and we have entered upon a new age, an age of steel and clay.” (Jenney, William LeBaron, “The Age of Steel and Clay,” Inland Architect, August, 1890.)

His advocacy of mass-produced terra cotta, and his exclusive use of it on the façade and throughout the Ludington Building, led Jenney and other architects into a new era. Within a decade entirely terra cotta clad structures would become the norm, as demonstrated by such important landmarks as the Reliance Building of 1894-95 and the Railway Exchange Building of 1903-04, both by Daniel H. Burnham & Company, and the Carson, Pirie, Scott & Company Store by Louis Sullivan, built from 1899 to1905. In addition, it led to the growth of the terra cotta industry, making Chicago the largest producer of architectural terra cotta in the world during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

“The Ludington Building expresses Jenney’s philosophy more strongly than even the First Leiter and the Leiter Store. In a certain sense, Jenney had come full circle because the Ludington realized in steel the initial statement made by the First Leiter in iron and wood.” (Turak, Theodore. William LeBaron Jenney, A Pioneer of Modern Architecture, p. 295.)

As the pre-eminent work by one of history’s most important, innovative architects, the Ludington Building can be considered essential to our understanding of the development of the skyscraper, of Chicago’s role in architecture, and of the birth of modern architecture.


The Ludington Building is an eight-story, steel frame structure. One reason for its national significance is its status as the first entirely terra cotta-clad skyscraper in history. Its principal facades, facing Wabash Avenue and 11th Street, are faced with unglazed red terra cotta that was, at some point in its early history, painted white. Its side walls are common brick, although the terra cotta facing wraps around the corner at the alley. Rare for buildings of its period, the Ludington retains its original terra cotta cornice. The other two elevations are faced with common brick.

The Ludington is a Chicago Commercial Style building, characterized by the clear expression of its structural frame, by the lack of thick masonry in imitation of load-bearing walls, particularly at its base, and by windows of historically unprecedented size.

The terra cotta cladding on the façade carries classical revival details that have been called Lombard Renaissance in style:

“Jenney decorated the frame with classical motifs that foreshadowed the Classical Revival initiated by the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. The Ludington exhibits a Neo Grec adaptation of the Lombard Renaissance. This style can be seen in the flat decoration of the pilasters and the clustering of candelabra and other ornament around the doorway. The choice of the Lombard Renaissance was appropriate. Terra cotta and brick were the natural materials of northern Italy, and the weightlessness of the style suits the light skin of the Ludington.” (Turak, Theodore. William LeBaron Jenney, A Pioneer of Modern Architecture, p. 299.)

The Ludington Building is among the most significant buildings in Chicago, and is a milestone in the history of the skyscraper.

Campus Preservation Plan

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