Let's hear it for Columbia College
If the South Loop gave out a key to the city, Columbia should hold the master lock
12/29/2010 10:00 PM
You hear it all the time: Columbia College Chicago owns more real estate in our neck of the woods than anyone else. And without a doubt, they are good builders, developers, landlords, renovators, restorers and savers of landmarks of all kinds.
Not to mention good neighbors.
Nothing could be more pride-producing than the new Studio Gang designed Media Production Center at 16th and State, where students learn to create everything from a sitcom to a video game.
Not only is the building state of the art, artistic, green, an architectural landmark and street-traffic-producing, it also incorporates — in the lobby — a gorgeous and historic arch from an old movie production house on South Wabash. Columbia doesn’t miss a trick!
Columbia College has cleaned up and perked up and lit up buildings from Congress to Cermak, and one is nicer than the next. Remember the “old” Spertus (next to the new Spertus) on South Michigan? It’s not recognizable anymore.
The college not only gutted the building, but also removed the ugly slab of marble fortress in the front, replacing it with a very tall, curved set of street hugging windows, which now house creative and inspirational designs from the fashion design students. It’s art. It’s a show. It’s beautiful. And it’s happening all at once right on Michigan.
Talk about giving back to the community.
If the South Loop gave out a key to the city, Columbia should hold the master lock. What would we do without their academic buildings, their offices and their dorms? They even built a black glassy dorm with an addition that extends next to and over a landmark on Clark Street, south of Harrison — and it totally works. No one else would have the guts to do that. Or the sense to succeed at it.
The school’s historic Ludington Building at 11th and Wabash — that creamy white terra cotta masterpiece — what in the world would we do without the lighting, the activities and the beauty of that?
Columbia makes all real estate better. And I vow to defend them as freeholders in our neighborhood. No matter what they do or how they do it.
But! I think one recent purchase they made may be going too far. And I am worried that they may ruin their perfect record. The college has purchased the Johnson Publishing Company building on the 800 block of South Michigan and as far as I’m concerned, this is one South Loop landmark that has nowhere to go — in the hands of others — but down.
What a late mid-20th century masterpiece it is! And I hear the inside is more of the same. But more importantly, is anything more uplifting than a walk by the big dark windows of their streetscape, with the big colorful personality-clad poster boards of the current issues of Ebony and Jet beaming out?
The building completely encompasses the largest African-American owned publishing company in the world. It totally illustrates the story of a successful, original and happy family-owned African-American business that is still thriving (albeit changing with the journalistic marketplace and the swiveling economy), and that has always been a heartwarming, strong, hopeful and very wholesome icon on the South Michigan Avenue street wall.
I don’t see how Columbia College can give that concept due justice in the future. Will they keep the attention-grabbing magazine posters? Will they keep the lobby dark and enticing? Will they keep the building’s ‘70s chic allure — representative of an era of style and décor that is fading fast and only hinted at in the television show Mad Men?
JPC will rent for another year and a half. So there is time to get used to the idea that there will be change once the company finds another corporate headquarters. But the memory of Johnson Publishing, headed by its late patriarch, who against all odds built a business in rough years, while building his family, serving his community, serving Chicago and the world, will always linger on.
Columbia College, you have 18 months to think of how you can preserve the regal building’s past glory. While your priority may be serving a new generation of students who may not know what that building represents, make it a priority to teach them.
You can do it!