ALL THE NEWS THAT'S FIT TO PRINT...
Here is a great little news report from American Newsreel on the Black press in America. It was originally published in 1953 as part of One Tenth of a Nation, a series of newsreels created during 1953 and 1954 which aimed to celebrate "the achievments of Black Americans in a variety of fields." A number of other newsreels in the series are available to view through the Library of Congress' Digital Collections.
The quality of the footage isn't great, but it nevertheless provides a rare and illuminating video insight into the comings and goings at a number of the nation's most prominent Black publishing enterprises, including the Baltimore Afro-Amaerican, the Los Angeles Sentinel, and Johnson Publishing Company.
Its interesting to see how the narrator of this clip links the respective achievements of many publication to their physical plants and offices. This is perhaps most notable through the descriptions of the Johnson Publishing offices at 1820 South Michigan Avenue, which the company had moved into just a few years earlier.
"Luxurious editorial offices are eloquent testimony to the success of this publishing venture, but the surroundings don't interfere with business..."
More details about the inside of the redeveloped Ebony/Jet building at 820 South Michigan Avenue have started to come out following its transformation into condominiums last year. The videos below offer brief tours of one and two-bedroom condos which are now available in addition to studio apartments.
The interiors of the building are completely unrecognisable from the heydey as the epicenter of the Johnson Publishing empire following the building's opening during the early 1970s. Its also disappointing to hear that the building's history is completely ignored in these video tours.
The website for the remodelled 820 South Michigan site has gone live, promising new apartment living from Spring 2019.
The site features lots of images of the redeveloped interiors of the old Johnson Publishing Company building, but strikingly little information about the historic significance of the site or its previous tenants. I couldn't find any reference to its previous life on either the landing page for "820 South" or on any of the linked pages - something which frankly seems like a deliberate oversight.
Sadly, the few interior shots available on the letting website suggest that very little of the building's iconic furnishings remain. The website currently features a number of rentals; ranging from a 335 square foot Studio apartment at $1,515 p/m, to a 2-bed, 876 square feet letting at $2,495 p/m.
At the moment its unclear what access is available to the building's top-floor balconies - previously accessible through the JPC food-court/canteen and John H. Johnson's executive suite. My guess would be that these spaces will be attached to penthouse apartments. It does appear that the building's refurbishment has included the development of a rooftop deck. Other amenities include an on-site laundry, bike storage and a fitness center.
As part of the ongoing sell-off of JPC's commercial and private assets, Crain's Business Chicago reported last week that Linda Johnson Rice is looking to offload the iconic Palm Springs house bought by her parents John Johnson and Eunice Johnson during the mid-1970s. The connection to "Black Media Architecture" comes through the building's designer, Arthur Elrod.
Elrod was also the man behind the lavish interiors at the Johnson Publishing headquarters at 820 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago, as well as John and Eunice Johnson's apartment on Lake Shore Drive, both of which had been completed a few years before the purchase of their Palm Springs property. Elrod had invited the Johnson's to spend a weekend with him in Palm Springs following the completion of their Lake Shore Drive home, and the publisher and his partner had quickly fallen in love with the area.
The property they eventually purchased is located in the exclusive neighborhood of South Ridge, famed for playing host to celebrities such as Bob Hope and Steve McQueen. The Johnson house had once belonged to Ralph Stolkin, an oil magnate and furniture manufacturer who had retired to Palm Springs after spending much of his career in Chicago. The 5,300-square-foot house includes an interior courtyard with an open-air swimming pool, panoramic views of the San Jacinto and Santa Rose mountain ranges, and a tennis court.
Exciting news out of Chicago last month, with the former Johnson Publishing headquarters at 820 South Michigan Avenue being considered for landmark status. As reported by multiple media outlets, the Chicago Landmarks Commission was in the process of making a decision on whether to grant the building prestigious landmark status - something which would help to secure its immediate and long-term future.
The move was announced by Rahm Emmanuel in a press release from the Mayor's office, which contended that landmarking the building would help to "protect and celebrate [its] iconic, international style design and its decades long affiliation with black business and culture."
This sentiment was reinforced by David Reifman, the city commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, who described 820 South Michigan as a reflection of Chicago's broader commitment to "the concepts of equality and civil rights."
Although a decision on the ruling isn't expected until later in the year, the move has been applauded by prominent commentators such as Lee Bey, who, as detailed on this website, has repeatedly stressed the building's unique history and iconic status within black America.
However, for preservationists it wasn't all good news. The commission’s preliminary recommendation for landmark status is currently limited to the building's exterior and roof, meaning that its fabled interiors remain at risk of being ripped out. This could change depending on the wording of the commission's final recommendation.
A few weeks ago, Columbia College Chicago announced that it had entrusted the sale of 820 South Michigan Avenue to Colliers International. Heading the Colliers team will be a number of senior executives within the company, including Tim Hart, senior vice president, and Tyler Hague, vice president. It sounds as though Colliers are confident of securing a buyer quickly, given the building's diverse potential as a mixed use site, and its attractive location on prime-time South Loop real estate.
YouTube marketing video for 820 South Michigan
The speed of a deal being reached with any prospective buyer is likely to rest with Columbia College, which may be backed into a corner given that it needs funds from the sale of 820 South Michigan to fund construction of its new student centre at a different site. However, the College will be reluctant to dip below market value, particularly given the building's excellent location and redevelopment potential, and the upward swing in the South Loop market over the past few years.
Recently on this blog I posted that Columbia College Chicago was still unsure about what to do with the former headquarters of Johnson Publishing Company at 820 South Michigan Avenue. Since the Johnson team exited the site in 2012, the building has remained practically vacant. Although the college initially laid out ambitious plans to turn the building into a new library and student service centre, these efforts have been scuppered by a number of logistical and economic factors.
It now appears that Columbia is tired of trying to find a way to develop the site, and is instead looking to offload 820 South Michigan to finance development in other areas of the city. Earlier this month in Crains Chicago Business, Alby Gallun reported that the college was in the process of hiring a broker to sell off the building. Director of Columbia's news office Cara Birch explained that due to restrictions on the building's interior (perhaps in part due to its significance as a historical site) and the problems posed by its vertical design, a retrofit no longer made sense.
Columbia had previously announced provisional plans to develop a new four-story, 104,000 square foot student centre on the corner of Wabash Avenue and 8th Street, and the sale of 820 South Michigan will now help to finance this project. Despite sitting on the building for a number of years, the college will probably come out ahead if the building reaches market value. When they purchased the site back in 2010, the real estate market was still in recovery mode, and prices on the South Loop have significantly increased over the past three years. Just a few days ago, Dennis Rodkin reported on a South Loop condo which sold for a record $3.2 million. Given the building's proximity to downtown, and its views over Grant Park and Lake Michigan, it is likely that the site will be developed into high end apartments.
A potential sticking point could turn out to be limitations on development of the site. When Columbia bought 820 South Michigan from Johnson Publishing Company, it made a number of concessions to preserve specific offices, including the top-floor executive suite of publisher John H. Johnson. Birch suggested that the college will look for a buyer that will continue to respect the buildings importance as a heritage site, but also noted that the college's agreement will end following the sale. The Columbia Chronicle reported that the building's historical value will not affect sale price, but this will not be confirmed until the site reaches the market.
The building's future may also be complicated by news that Johnson Publishing itself has been sold, with ownership of the company changing hands for the first time in its 70+ year history. In theory, the company would have had little say in the building's preservation anyway, given that the site had already been sold to Columbia. However, it is clear that the company retained close links with Columbia after the sale, and have continued to exert some element of influence over attempts to preserve its historic character.
More news to follow.
Will the old Johnson Publishing headquarters at 820 South Michigan be getting a make-over?
Columbia College, which now owns the building, recently announced plans for a "Big Walls" event as part of the Manifest urban arts festival. Now entering its 16th year, Manifest showcases some of the best new art and design talent coming out of Columbia. Its an eclectic assortment of gallery exhibitions, live performances, fashion shows, literary readings, and other creative endeavours, with three outdoor stages featuring student bands and DJ sets throughout the day to keep the party going. Chi-town favorites including Twin Peaks and Chance the Rapper have previously graced the Manifest stage, and back in the day Manifest played host to artists such as Lupe Fiasco and Common. For full listings and events happening this year, CLICK HERE.
The "Big Wall" event, set to run between the 1st and 13th May, will lead to the creation of 20 brand new street murals on Columbia buildings and other spaces within the Wabash Arts Corridor. Its not yet been confirmed whether 820 South Michigan is one of the buildings scheduled to undergo a street-art facelift, although Columbia has confirmed they are partnering with Chicago Loop Alliance to create an alleyway site next to the building which will showcase alumni work.
We have already seen how mural artists have transformed black media buildings such as the offices of the New York Amsterdam News in Harlem. Will the Johnson building be next on the list? If 820 South Michigan is to be a mural site, it is hard to envision a mural which doesn't explicitly reference the company's rich history. More news as and when we get it.