JOHNSON PUBLISHING COMPANY
5619 South State Street
"From June to November, I worked downstairs in the Insurance Company in the dap and climbed the stairs at night to work on the magazine. One day in the Summer of 1942 a man came and painted letters on the frosty glass door - the Negro Digest Publishing Company - and every letter was music to my soul"
"I asked if I could come by and see it. He said "Of course. What's the name of your company?" I said, "Negro Digest Publishing Company." Silence. A long silence. Then Hursen said he had a previous commitment and couldn't show the building to me the nor later. There was a problem, in fact, and the building was no longer for sale."
Despite the prestige created by his purchase of 1820 South Michigan Avenue, Johnson retained a desire to develop a bespoke corporate offices from the ground up - a building that would stand as the ultimate symbol to his company's achievements. This goal would receive added impetus at the end of the 1950s, after Johnson received news of plans for a new expressway which would cut through Eighteenth Street.
Johnson tasked his partner Eunice with finding a new site for the company, and she uncovered a vacant lot ten blocks north at 820 South Michigan Avenue. The site was a prime location - on the edge of Chicago's downtown Loop, with fantastic views across Grant Park and Lake Michigan. Its immediate neighbors included the Essex Inn at 800 South Michigan Avenue (left), a modernist icon which was completed in 1961.
One of the many stumbling blocks faced by Johnson was his insistence that a Black architect would have a major hand in the building's development. The publisher settled on John W. Moutoussamy, a well respected designer who had earned his degree from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1948 and who, by his death in 1995, had established a reputation as one of the nation's most talented Black architects.
Moutoussamy left his imprint on a number of Chicago landmarks, including the Theodore K. Lawless Housing Development. In social circles, Moutoussamy also gained recognition as the father-in-law of African American tennis superstar Arthur Ashe. A suave, sophisticated figure, Moutoussamy was just the kind of designer Johnson wanted to realize his dream of a modern, high functioning corporate headquarters.