The Stockyard Bank Building Stabilizing a Landmark of Chicago History

History & Context

Completed in 1925, this grandly-scaled Colonial Revival-style building at 4146 South Halsted Street originally housed two banks that served the industries and employees of the nearby Union Stock Yards and Central Manufacturing District. With its Palladian windows and central clock tower, the design is closely modeled on Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Interest in Colonial architecture grew in the 1920s due to Philadelphia's Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition of 1926 and the restoration and reconstruction of Colonial Williamsburg in the 1920s.

The building was designed by Abraham Epstein, a Chicago architect and engineer who is perhaps best-known for his designs for the reconstruction of the Union Stock Yards after a fire in 1934. It was designated a Chicago Landmark on October 8, 2008.

Assessment & Upgrades

For this project, Wight & Company partnered with the City of Chicago's Department of Assets, Information and Services (AIS) to carry out a number of necessary improvements:

  1. Shoring up public safety (exterior) in terms of falling or deteriorating elements
  2. Ensuring the building is watertight (roof and basement specifically)
  3. Making the interior safe and secure
  4. Creating a space that's usable and functional (MEP systems)

The First Floor

The First Floor of the Stockyard Bank Building served as the public banking hall and featured ornate, classical detailing. Abraham Epstein’s background as both an architect and an engineer is evident in the design of this grand space. Structural members with clear spans across the 70’ building width allow for an open, column-free banking hall space. The First Floor features generous ceiling heights of approximately 19’ clear. Decorative plaster ornament and cornice moldings beautify the coffered ceiling surface. Fluted pilasters and capitals as well as marble wainscoting bring ornamental grandeur to the wall surfaces. Large windows lining all four elevations provide an abundance of natural light. Egress from the ground level was originally directed through the main entrances on the East and South facades.

The First Floor required substantial investment and rehabilitation work to bring the interior space to an occupiable standard and meet the requirements for Chicago Landmarks. At the onset of the assessment, none of the mechanical, electrical, or plumbing systems were operational. The original marble furnishings and fixtures have been lost, but much of the plaster wall and cornice details remain and shall be rehabilitated.

The original First Floor Plan indicates placement of the President's Office as well as workspaces for other bank officials and the bank tellers.

The Interior Lobby, pictured in 1924, featured marble flooring and fixtures, plaster ornamentation, and pendant chandeliers located at the center of each ceiling bay.

A view of the lobby in early 2020 shows the remnants of the building's final tenant, The Color Inn. While large sections of lath and plaster had deteriorated beyond repair or were completely missing - resulting in exposure of the exterior brick masonry to the interior of the building - much of the marble wainscoting, plaster fluting, and capitals located on the wall and columns were in good condition and could be rehabilitated in the future.

The Second Floor

A centrally located public stair and elevator provide vertical circulation from the First Floor to the Second Floor, which originally housed open workspace, loan departments, and the Directors Room. The design of the Second Floor is more reserved in ornament and scale than that of the First Floor. The central lobby features fluted pilasters and ornate crown molding and a clear ceiling height of approximately 13’ to 15’. The Director’s Room featured wood paneling with ornate plaster ceiling. Open work areas to the east and west of the central stair originally had low rise partitions separating the departments of the bank. Large windows line all four facades, providing a potential abundance of natural light to fill the space. Egress from the Second Level was originally available from fire escapes on the west and north facades in addition to the central stair. The fire escape on the north side no longer exists, leaving the west side fire escape and the central stair as the only paths of egress at the onset of this assessment.

The current condition of the Second Floor is similar to that of the First Floor. Substantial rehabilitation will be required to bring this space to occupiable standards and code compliance. All MEP systems and the elevator were not operational. Severe water damage is visible along the north wall. At the time of this assessment, water collected in a large puddle on the floor near the central stairs. The likely source of this water is the deterioration of the sloped asphalt shingle roof that has allowed rainwater to infiltrate the building.

The second floor was home to the real estate, trust, bond, and cattle loan departments. A second lobby and additional space was accessible to the public.

Something about this lobby.

The Basement

The Basement occupies the full footprint of the building and primarily functioned as the vault for the bank. The plan was originally divided into three sectors for the three separate vault types. Each sector had its own dedicated egress and access from one sector to another was blocked by partitions. The central stair and elevator provided access to the safety deposit vault located in the center of the Basement. The safety deposit vault is secured with a large, circular- shaped steel vault door. A stair in the southeast corner of the Ground Level provides access to the book vault and work area occupying the eastern third of the Basement. The second book vault, occupying the western third of the Basement, is accessed by a stair in the northwest corner of the Ground Level.

At the onset of this assessment, the entire Basement was flooded with approximately 8 feet of standing water. Water was pumped out to allow the team to assess the current state of the Basement. The water caused severe damage and destruction to all finishes and nonstructural partitions. Water removal, mitigation, and abatement work completed in 2020 is described in the Phase I: 2020 Critical Stabilization Work section of this assessment.

The basement housed a number of vaults and large work rooms for staff. By the time Wight & Company began work on the project, 8' of standing water filled the space.

The original safety deposit vault, located in the center of the basement, circa 1924.

The safety deposit vault in early 2020. The standing water caused severe damage and destruction to all finishes and nonstructural partitions. Water removal, mitigation, and abatement work were completed in late 2020.

The basement was drained twice during project work. Several inches of water still stood after the first draining, which revealed remnants of the employee bathrooms along with mechanical and electrical fixtures.

Clock Tower

The building’s iconic clock tower has a classical tripartite organization. Rising from the roof, the base is clad with brick and features engaged masonry columns and gabled entablature on each elevation. The terracotta-clad middle section sits above the base and features a glass clock on all four elevations. The uppermost portion of the clock tower is terminated with a classical cupula clad with terracotta and copper spire that reaches a height of over 160 feet.

The clock tower currently has a substantial amount of protective plywood covering vulnerable or deteriorating elements, including windows, cupola, and cornices. Netting has been installed to prevent masonry from falling onto the sidewalk. Vulnerable or deteriorating terracotta elements, such as cornices and urns, have been removed and stored inside the First Floor for pedestrian protection and preservation of the terracotta.

The clock tower houses a series of non-occupiable levels that are utilized for maintenance. Industrial stairs connect the lower levels of the clock tower and the cupola level is accessed with a built-in ladder. At the onset of this assessment, access to the clock level was limited due to damaged stair treads. Prior to this assessment, the team was able to observe that the clock mechanism and bells are in place within the clock tower

A drawing of the original clock tower, which would have been visible to many of the 40,000 workers employed in the stock yards by the early 1920s.

Scaffolding and a 150’ lift were required to repair and restore the clock tower facade in 2020.

Improvement work included installation of a passive ventilation system, the addition of new access stairs, and new sheet metal enclosures on the roof. Sadly, the clocks no longer function.

Although the clock hands were removed over 60 years ago, a mechanical arm that would have rotated the hands still reaches out from the center to the face of one clock.

A Hidden Space

A spiral staircase at the center of the building lead down from the second floor to the "balcony," a private space used by bank security guards as a vantage point to watch over the entire first floor’s banking hall and teller stations.

A view from inside the balcony, which was discreetly tucked away near the first floor vestibule. The pink section to the right of the circular stair is actually an opening in the panels where guards could fire their weapons in case of a robbery or other threat to bank employees.

The highlighted section shows the exterior view of the opening in the balcony. The photos of the balcony shown here are some of the only ones ever published.

As part of restricting access to dangerous areas throughout the building, the spiral staircase leading down to the balcony was boarded over in late 2020, ensuring that in the event of an emergency, no one would become trapped if they mistakenly tried using it as an exit to the first floor.

Thank you to project partners CCJM (MEP) and AltusWorks (Historic Preservation), and to Epstein and Dominic Pacyga, Ph.D. for historical images and information.