200 South Michigan stands at the site of the former Pullman Building which was built in 1885 and demolished during the 1950s. The building was named after its backer George Mortimore Pullman, a prominent American inventor and businessman who founded the Pullman Palace Car Company in the years following the Civil War.
Pullman's name would go on to become synonymous with sleeping cars on all major railways, and with the Pullman Porters who worked as handlers and assistants on the trains. Up until the 1960s, the Pullman Porters were comprised entirely of African Americans, and scholars such as Beth Tompkins Bates have credited them with contributing to the development of the black middle class during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The Pullman Building, circa 1900. Image courtesy of New York Public Library
In 1883 Pullman commissioned architect Solon Beman to design a dramatic new skyscraper which would carry his name and house his company's offices. Less than fifteen years after the Great Fire of Chicago, the Pullman Building would become one of the most recognisable additions to the rapidly changing Chicago landscape. While Beman would later become famous for adopting a classical architectural style - most notably at Chicago's World Fair of 1893 - the Pullman Building was Romanesque in influence, taking its cues from buildings such as Chicago's Glessner House designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. Pullman spent over $800,000 constructing the Pullman Building, which upon completion stood ten stories high and measured 169 feet by 120 feet along Adams Street and Michigen Avenue. Its roof was 125 from ground level, while the top of its corner tower stretched to over 160 feet above the streets below.
Joseph Korom has suggested that the Pullman Building was perhaps the first "truly mixed-use skyscraper" to be built in Chicago, with the structure housing 125 office suites and 75 apartments. In this regard, it can be seen as an important precursor to the mixed use skyscrapers which litter the near North Side of Chicago today. As with the vast majority of building's built in the centre of Chicago after the Great Fire, it was advertised as "completely fireproof." An imposing red granite, brick and terra cotta structure, the Pullman Building was also one of the first skyscrapers built in Chicago which faced Lake Michigan - a trend that would become increasingly popular throughout the twentieth century.
The Borg-Warner Building shortly after its completion in 1958. Image courtesy of The Robinson Library
The Pullman Company offices would remain in the Pullman Building until 1948, after which they were relocated to Merchandise Mart. Less than ten years later, the building itself would be razed as part of major postwar redevelopment and urban renewal efforts by city hall, along with many other prominent downtown buildings. The Loop was not the only area affected by postwar urban renewal, with the Chicago Urban League documenting the disproportionate impact of redevelopment projects on the city's black communities on the South and West Side. By the late 1950s, the League estimated that close to ten percent of Chicago's total black population had been directly impacted by renewal projects.
The Pullman Building's replacement was to be the more functional but less aesthetically pleasing Borg-Warner Building, a twenty-two story office and retail space which was completed in 1958 for an estimated cost of $12-14 million. The building took its name from the auto parts company Borg-Warner, who signed on early in construction to occupy the top five floors. As one of the first major new construction projects on the South Loop since before World War II, the building provided a classic rendering of the International Style that offered a contrast to the older, more classical design of much of downtown. Consulting architect William Lascaze had a strong track record in this area, being credited with the first International Style building constructed in the United States (the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society Building, which was completed in 1932). During the decades following its completion the building would change hands multiple times, with its acquisition by BPH Properties in 2000, leading to a multi-million dollar renovation that was recognised with awards from the Chicago Chatper of the Building Owners and Managers Association
During the early twenty-first century the building would come to house to of Chicago's most venerable black publishing institutions. Firstly, 200 South Michigan became the temporary home of the Chicago Defender following the decision to relocate from the newspaper's offices on Motor Row, which had been purchased in the 1950s at around the same time that the Borg-Warner building had been completed. The Chicago Tribune reported that the Defender's executives had been under pressure to vacate 2400 South Michigan, and while the move northwards brought dramatic views across Lake Michigan and a closer proximity to other news organizations, it was not greeted well by many of the Defender's audience. Readers who were used to having direct access to reporters and columnists - you could just walk right into the newspaper's former site on Motor Row - were intimidated by the corporate atmosphere of its new location, and less willing to deal with parking and transportation issues downtown.
The move downtown was traumatic...people didn't see us and they didn't know where we were. They saw the old building boarded up and thought maybe we were out of business
After several years of operation at 200 South Michigan, the Defender brass decided to return the newspaper to its roots on the South Side; a move welcome by President Michael A. House as a return 'to its African-American roots in location and mission'
200 South Michigan Avenue, 2010. Image courtesy of Chicago Architecture
Shortly after the Defender's departure from 200 South Michigan, the building welcomed another black publishing powerhouse in the form of Johnson Publishing Company. Declining advertising and circulation revenues, coupled with internal turmoil following the death of publisher John H. Johnson in 2005, had led to the company becoming strapped for cash. A shrinking workforce had led to much of its iconic building at 820 South Michigan becoming unoccupied, and the decision was made to cash in on a prime-piece of South Loop real estate. In early 2012, BPG Properties announced an agreement with Johnson Publishing on a long-term lease of around 40,000 square feet spread across the top three floors of the Borg-Warner Building. Desiree Rogers, who had joined Johnson Publishing as CEO following her acrimonious departure from a position as White House Social Secretary, declared that "the move accomplishes two important goals...it allows us to leverage the value of our current home, and provides new prime office space that will support us in meeting our future objectives.'
Despite this dramatic downsizing, Crain's Chicago Business speculated that 200 South Michigan would be a good fit for the social aspirations of Rogers and publisher Linda-Johnson Rice, with the building boasting a top-floor patio with views over Millenium Park and the Art Institute of Chicago.
In 2014 the building switched hands when it was purchased for $69 million by Equus Capital Partners Ltd., a private equity real estate fund.