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Chicago's canceled skyscraper projects

Large building projects that never got off the ground.


Modified 1994
Planned for State, Randolph, Dearborn and Washington Streets
The details From 1983 to the early ’90s, Murphy/Jahn Architects prepared several plans for an office and retail complex featuring two towers (one at 47 stories, the other 30 stories) connected by a huge atrium.
On the site now Five-story mall and 17-story office tower designed by Perkins + Will with access to Pedway and CTA trains
What happened Lawsuits from historic preservationists and from property owners attempting to drive up the price by contesting both the valuation and the city’s right to condemn postponed construction. Also, an oversupply of Class A office space, combined with the early-’90s recession, rendered the project economically unfeasible.

Modified Mid-’70s
Planned for Wells Street at the Chicago River from Harrison Street to Roosevelt Road
The details Bertrand Goldberg’s follow-up to Marina City featured three 72-story cylindrical concrete towers connected by sky bridges at Wells and Harrison, with additional 17-story buildings along Roosevelt
On the site now One S-shaped, 15-story residential and commercial building, and a boat dock on Wells; the remainder of the parcel includes undeveloped land and a parking lot
What happened Concerns about residential overcrowding—and, according to the Art Institute’s exhibition companion book Unbuilt Chicago, too much voting power concentrated into one small area—led the Chicago Planning Commission to reject the project as an “unsuitable environment for raising children.”

Canceled 1892
Planned for Midway Plaisance Boulevard between University and Woodlawn Avenues
The details For the Partello Tower Company’s entry into the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Weber developed a building inspired by the Tower of Pisa, a 400-foot (vertical, not leaning) edifice featuring an exterior electric railway that spiraled to the tower’s top to afford passengers a view of the fairgrounds.
On the site now Midway Plaisance Park
What happened Fearing that a mere edifice would be dismissed as a second-rate Eiffel Tower (the previous World’s Fair’s sensation), the committee instead presented the world premiere of Pittsburgh engineer George Ferris’s 264-foot Ferris Wheel.

Canceled 1995
Planned for 201 West Madison Street
The details Developers Lee Miglin and J. Paul Beitler hired Cesar Pelli to design the world’s tallest building, beating the existing titleholder (at the time), the Sears Tower, by 548 feet. Because FAA regulations prohibited structures taller than 2,000 feet—which would interfere with commercial flight paths—the height was capped at 1,999 feet, 11 inches to allow for humidity-induced expansion. The proposal featured a very slender tower that telescoped up into several setbacks leading to a point at the top. The narrowness was achieved through concrete (rather than steel) columns, which also reduced the sway factor.
On the site now Ten-story parking garage
What happened The land loan balloon payment came due but Miglin-Beitler couldn’t obtain construction financing due to the recession, so Mellon Bank foreclosed and was awarded the property.

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