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Veseman Building Proposed as official Chicago Landmark

Expanded ArchitectureChicago Plus posting from September 7 , 2005 


Chicago's Veseman Building, an art deco jewelbox at 442-44 North LaSalle, has taken the first step to becoming protected from destruction by receiving preliminary landmark designation at the September 1st meeting of the Commission on Chicago Landmarks.

Although the original building dates back to around 1880, it was thought to have been substantially The Veseman Building at 444 N. LaSalle in Chicagoreconstructed when LaSalle street was widened in the 1920's. The current facade dates only from 1930, and offers, in the words of the Commission document, "terra-cotta glazes in pastel hues . . . in highly sophisticated French-influenced version of the Art Deco style" with "motifs . . . such as chevrons, ziggurats, styled floral spandrel panels, waves, volutes, scallops and fluted piers. . . . The exuberant detail and exotic coloring of the terra cotta makes the building an exceptional example of small-scale Chicago commercial architecture and the Art Deco style." There's no shortage of terra cotta in Chicago, but the polychromatic variety found on the Veseman is a rarity.

This past January, the building was made one of "The Chicago Seven,", Preservation Chicago's annual list of what the group considers the city's seven most threatened historic places, and it's easy to see why. The delicate, three-story structure is just north of the 45-story condo tower 400 North LaSalle, saddled between surface parking lots on either side that must seem to be murmuring, "develop me," to every passing real estate financier.

The building is in the ward of 42nd ward alderman Burton Natarus, who seemed to be taken by a bit off guard by the proposal, asking, “Have we heard from the owners yet?”, when the prospective owner, who is currently Veseman building - detail of floral polychromatic terra cotta ornamentclosing on the building, was actually in the audience, along with his architect, Lonn Frye of Frye Gillan Molinaro Architects, ready to give his endorsement. "I'm interested in landmarking this," said Natarus. “You won't find many buildings like it.” Then it was his turn to put the prospective owners off guard.

“I'd like to rid of the sign,“ said Natarus. Frye scrambled to respond. “There is a caution on the part of my client,” he said, “with the signage on the roof. That was an important part of his investment, and so that would be something that we'd need to discuss.”

Natarus retreated. “I don't know what we're going to do about that sign up above, that hideous sign. You're probably protected because of the permit, so I don't think I'd worry about it. . . . if you have a permit, there's nothing we can do about it. But it does look bad.”

The alderman had still another curve to throw. “I think what you might have to look forward to, if you use your imagination, you might have the owner come in and finding out if they can go up. If you're smart, you landmark the building, right, and then you come, you say that you figure it's strong enough, you might put five floors on it. I mean, you've got that kind of imaginative mind. I'm just saying, that might be an issue down the line that will aggravate you some more. But if you stop and think, even if they go five stories up, they're still saving the terra cotta.”

The commission voted without dissent to approve the preliminary designation, which begins a long process that ends with approval by the City Council .

Also on the agenda were two indisputable Chicago landmarks, that, amazingly enough, have never received official protection. The first, the complex of buildings that make up the Marshall Field store on State Street, was recommended to the City Council for final landmark approval, a move that the building's new owner, Federated Department Stores, appears to continue to support. On the other hand, the new owners of the historic Palmer House received an extension, to December 27th, of the period in which they have to decide whether or not to consent to landmark designation.

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© Copyright 2005 Lynn Becker All rights reserved.