Teamwork And TLC: The Keys To A Successful Historic Renovation
Much has changed around 226 West Jackson Blvd. since the stately masonry-clad office building in Chicago’s Loop was built in 1904. Its original tenant, the Chicago and North Western Railway, is long gone, and the building’s neighbors today include Willis Tower, which for a time was the world’s tallest building.
Yet the 15-story building’s exterior looks virtually unchanged from when it was constructed more than a century ago. That is no accident.
Two years ago, architectural and structural engineering firm Klein & Hoffman was hired by the building's developer, Phoenix Development Partners, to restore the historic building’s exterior to its original glory for two new Hilton properties in the 248K SF location. Klein & Hoffman worked with a team of experts who combined a range of talents with an attention to detail.
“If someone who is walking by comments, ‘Oh, that's a pretty building,’ and they never realized that we worked on it and repaired the exterior, then that's when we know we've done a good job,” said Allison Toonen-Talamo, an associate with Klein & Hoffman, which completed the work in 2021.
Toonen-Talamo said that her firm’s goal for 226 West Jackson — as with any of the company’s historic building restorations — was to restore it as closely as possible to its original appearance. That required many hours of studying the building’s original plans followed by painstaking work to repair or replace its terra cotta, cast iron, granite and other historic elements.
Because the property was getting a city of Chicago Class L property tax incentive for locally designated landmarks and was in a historic district, she said, the team had to be very mindful of the repairs it was performing and the materials it selected for the facade repairs.
“We didn't want to further alter the building's facades and we wanted our repairs to be pretty much invisible,” Toonen-Talamo said.
Such work doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Klein & Hoffman worked closely with teammates including contractor Leopardo Cos., whose project manager on the job, Baris Gocmen, said the team had several advantages on its side. One was the early involvement of stakeholders to share their expertise during the pre-construction phase. Then, to keep track of all of the moving parts of this complex job, the team followed a tracking spreadsheet created by Toonen-Talamo and her colleagues with the city.
“That was our bible and it made our life way easier than I thought it would be,” Gocmen said.
Also making life easier, Toonen-Talamo added, was the support of the city of Chicago, which is determined to avoid the indiscriminate demolition of historic buildings it and other cities experienced in the 20th century.
Lawrence Shure, an architectural historian who worked on the project in his former role as a historic preservation planner for Chicago, called 226 West Jackson “exactly the kind of project that the city really encourages.” He said the owners sought local landmark designation after they determined the restoration work penciled.
“And then they employed people with expertise in the field who understood what was or was not possible with that property,” Shure said.
Some building owners might be reluctant to take on historic renovations because of misperceptions about their costs or technical difficulties, said Lisa DiChiera, director of advocacy for Landmarks Illinois. However, she added, such projects can be a win-win for everyone with the right people involved from the start.
"Owners are often nervous that owning a Chicago-designated landmark building will cost them more money when the extra step of project review with the city’s historic preservation division staff is required,” said DiChiera, who has worked with Klein & Hoffman on several historic preservation projects. “But I find that city of Chicago staff is always trying to work with the owner cooperatively to find the best design, materials and cost compromise.”
Toonen-Talamo noted that she’s seen a dramatic change in how people regard historic properties even in the 15 years since she came to Chicago to earn her bachelor's and master’s degrees from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
“The conversations and the dynamics of preservation have changed significantly,” she said. “I feel like a lot of people are becoming more aware of our city’s buildings and trying to appreciate what's there, especially if it has historic, cultural or social significance.”
The challenge, she added, is to educate building owners about how to address historic buildings and to take advantage of the various incentives and talent pools available to help them. The participation and expertise of players such as those on the 226 West Jackson project are key to the success of these types of renovations, she said.
“When it comes to historic properties, the care and love needs to be coming from all facets of our profession,” Toonen-Talamo said. “It requires input from a great team of people who wear different hats, everyone from the general contractor to the architect or consulting engineer.”
One indication of owners’ growing embrace of historic preservation can be seen in his company’s workload, Leopardo’s Gocmen said. In recent years, he noted, most of his projects have involved historic buildings, adding that he expects the trend to continue as more owners embrace restoration.
Meanwhile, 226 West Jackson reopened last year as the dual-branded Canopy by Hilton Chicago Central Loop and Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Central Loop. The city is hoping the building will serve as a beacon to business and leisure travelers returning to Chicago after the pandemic.
To Toonen-Talamo, the building is “an example of the care and love a historic property restoration requires and how to achieve it.”
This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Klein & Hoffman. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.
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