Our Lofts / History
Combining luxury home features in an historic industrial environment
Could the original designers and construction workers of the two buildings that make up 1000 West Washington ever have imagined that the fruit of their labors – back in 1884 and 1902 – would one day be the place that people would call home? Probably not.
Before either building was constructed, the land was originally owned by druggist, Deacon Philo Carpenter (yes, Carpenter Street!), who arrived in Chicago in 1832 and opened a drug store on what is now Lake Street. He paid $200 for the 160 acres bounded by Madison on the south, Kinzie on the north, Halsted on the east and Elizabeth on the west. Where our buildings now stand, Carpenter built a house with green shutters and a white picket fence and lived there with his wife and three daughters.
After the Civil War, the area (which had become home to some of the city’s most wealthy and influential citizens, including the widow of President Lincoln), began to change as the city was transforming itself into a modern industrial and manufacturing center. New buildings were being constructed to meet the demand for bigger and better factories.
The original Randolph building, a three-story timber structure with a basement, was built by the Kennedy Baking Company in 1878. It was located on the northwest corner of Randolph and Carpenter, occupying about one-twelfth of the area of the current Randolph building. After a fire destroyed that building in 1881, the current Randolph building was built in 1884.
In 1890 the American Biscuit Company was founded, taking control of 40 bakeries around the Midwest, including the Kennedy Baking Company and three other large bakeries in the neighborhood. In 1898 it became part of the new National Biscuit Company and grew into the dominate force of mass-produced cookies and crackers, with annual sales of about $40 million just after the turn of the century. The company employed nearly 1,300 men and women at these bakeries in Chicago and in 1902 began construction of a new bakery that was specially designed to produce the company’s popular Uneeda brand biscuits and fig bars. That new state-of-the-art bakery was built opposite the Randolph building and is what we now call the Washington building.
Designed by the influential Chicago architecture firm of Treat & Folz, the Washington building was a prime example of the most current industrial architecture and technology of the time, combining fire resistant materials and design with aesthetic details, highlighted by a six-story tower with a pergola. The original building was constructed with two-story brick baking ovens on the east and west ends of the fourth and fifth floors. In 1915 an addition to the east end of the building expanded the length of the Washington building to the entire block.
After World War II, as the buildings and baking equipment became outdated, newer bakeries with more current industrial technologies and equipment were opened on the south side of Chicago. In 1955 the Randolph and Washington buildings were sold to J. W. Wilcox & Follett Co., a leading wholesaler of textbooks. The two buildings were used to warehouse and package school textbooks, and by the 1970s the company (renamed Follett Corporation) expanded and bought dozens of college and university bookstores across the country. In the early 1990s, as they continued to grow, Follett sold the buildings and moved to the suburbs.
About this time the West Loop was in the beginning stages of transforming itself. Both buildings were bought by developers who joined the growing trend of buying old, outdated and often unoccupied industrial and manufacturing buildings in Chicago and converting them into residential loft homes. The architecture firm of Schroeder, Murchie, Laya Associates was hired to design the homes in both buildings. Their vision helped transform a combined 497,000 square feet into 180 units with 160 different floor plans ranging from 850 to 3,600 square feet.
Construction began in 1995, transforming the raw open industrial space of brick and timbers into individual units. Combining original architectural elements of the buildings with new contemporary home features resulted in dramatic spaces with many one-of-kind details. Many homeowners worked with the builders to customize their home layouts to fit their individual needs and lifestyles.
Residents began moving into the Randolph building in 1996 and the Washington building in 1997. The conversions were completed in 1998, but both buildings continued to change as new owners brought fresh ideas and personal visions to their homes, and the homeowner’s association continued to improve and maintain the buildings’ infrastructures. So what began over 100 years ago, for entirely different needs and purposes, continues to evolve as these once state-of-the-art industrial buildings are now filled with some of the most unique and interesting homes in Chicago.
The Washington building, shown in the 1920s, was featured on postcards of the era as a prime example of industrial architecture and design in America.
The cupola of the Washington building, along with its original terra-cotta masonry, is one of the most notable features that was retained from the original architecture.