Third home of the Defender between 1960 and 2006, before the newspaper headed north to the South Loop. Originally home to the Illinois Automobile Club, forming part of the historic Motor Row district. Motor Row was designated a Chicago Landmark in 2000, and two years later was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
2400 South Michigan Avenue circa 2014. Photo courtesy of NelsonHill Properties
2400 South Michigan was designed by Phillip Brooks Maher, a notable figure in the Prairie School of architecture. Born in Kenilworth, Illinois in 1894, Maher would go on to study architecture at the University of Michigan's famed architectural school, before joining the practise of his father George Washington Maher, who was himself a major figure in American architecture due to his ability to blend traditional architectural approaches with the Arts & Crafts style. Together, the Maher's helped to design the Gary Gateway Improvement Plan, an ambitious urban redevelopment project designed to transform the landscape of Gary, Indiana. Following George's suicide in 1926, Phillip continued the project alone, redesigning his father's Prairie School plans for the city's governmental building's in favour of a neoclassical approach.
Constructors broke ground on the Illinois Automobile Club at 2400 South Michigan Avenue in 1936. A three-storey building which was an architectural mix of art deco and Spanish mission styles, the building originally served as the headquarters of the Illinois Automobile Association, joining a large number of other automobile outlets as part of the near South Side's Motor Row district which flourished during the first half of the twentieth century. Taking up around 30,000 square feet, including a huge basement which took up two sub-floors and included a swimming pool, the Club was intended as an "urban respite for the owners and executives who worked in the surrounding Motor Row district."
Construction of 2400 South Michigan, 1936. courtesy of Getty Images
In the years following World War II the building became vacant, as car dealers began to follow their predominantly white clientele into the suburbs. Concurrently, the expansion of Chicago's African American community out of the South Side meant that Motor Row became home to an important number of black and ethnic business enterprises such as the Defender and Chess Records whose address at 2120 South Michigan Avenue was immortalised in a Rolling Stones instrumental of the same name.
The building was acquired by the Chicago Defender in the late 1950s, and after months of fundraising its publisher John Sengstacke had acquired enough funds to push ahead with an ambitious redevelopment project. The Defender's staff officially moved into the new building in March 1959, although the newspaper's production and editorial teams remained at the previous address until the basement level swimming pool could be removed to accommodate the Defender's Goss printing presses. Other changes included the removal of a first-floor smoking lounge, which was retrofitted into a proper newsroom. Among many stylistic flourishes was the decision to etch into the lobby floor one of founder Robert Abbott's fondest declarations.
"No greater glory, no greater honor, is the lot of man departing than a feeling possessed deep in his heart that the world is a better place for his having lived."
2400 South Michigan First Floor Plan (as built). Image courtesy of Nelson-Hill
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