Chicago’s first condo tower
Just last year, I dubbed the Tower Building in Little Rock, Arkansas as “the tallest and most modern Mesker front ever constructed.” Neither claim is no longer true. Thanks to a rather obscure online search, I recently came across a reference to a building at 339 West Barry Avenue in Chicago, Illinois, whose curtain wall was supplied by Mesker Brothers. The manufacture of the windows was somewhat defective and resulted in water leakage through the window wall frames, which required repair and ended in a legal dispute between Mesker and the subcontractor who performed the installation (Mesker Brothers Iron Company, Appellant, v. Des Lauriers Column Mould Company, Appellee. Appellate Court of Illinois, First District. 17 October 1972. Casetext. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Dec. 2016). The 26-story residential tower in the East Lake View neighborhood was completed in 1965 and survives along with what appears to be the original (and repaired) window wall system. The building, designed by Chicago architects Robert B. Fridstein (1919–2010) and Marvin Fitch (b. 1916) of Fridstein, Fitch & Partners, is an exercise in Modernist minimalism, providing floor to ceiling views in all four directions, thanks to Mesker’s window walls. Its developer, and Mesker’s client, was F&S (Father and Son) Construction Company, began by Sam and Jack Hoffman (1923–2008), namesake of suburban community Hoffman Estates where he built over 5,000 homes.
According to the condo association’s website, 339 West Barry was Chicago’s first condominium tower, with early condominiums being restricted to low-rise townhouses in the city’s far north side in the early 1960s, after the passage of the Illinois Condominium Property Act in 1963. While the building struggled to secure enough condo owners early on—first unit owners moved in during Labor Day weekend in 1964 and it wasn’t until the summer of 1966 that enough units had been sold to achieve the percentage needed to transfer control of the building to the homeowners association—there are currently no units available for lease or sale. With its spectacular architecture, location and views, it is no surprise.
I am thrilled to have come across this information and to locate a Mesker front in Chicago, of all places. The purported title of the first condominium tower in the city is of no small significance either, as the property type has become ubiquitous in the city, particularly along the lakefront. Leave it to a Mesker product to find its way onto an important building.