“A cornerstone of Chicago’s once-bustling meatpacking industry has a shot at a new life after sitting empty for almost half a century.
“The Stock Yards Bank building has towered over the corner of Halsted Street and Exchange Avenue since 1925, withstanding a fire that wiped out much of the surrounding yards in 1934 and a drastically shifting workforce since the stockyards closed in 1971.
“Modeled after Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the building housed financial institutions for decades and, later, a handful of businesses for its last years of operation. It was closed in 1973, which led to more deterioration and 8 feet of standing water in the basement for nearly a decade.
“Now, it is poised for revival. Developers and city officials spent part of the past year stabilizing the building and repairing the most severe damage. With the building structurally sound again, local leaders said they hope someone will step up to redevelop it into a modern amenity that can anchor the South Side community as the bank once did.
“‘I think this would be a tremendous catalyst,’ said Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th), whose ward includes the building. ‘I think having a vibrant Stockyard Bank Building will just help solidify that part of the community.’
“The bank, 4120 S. Halsted St., sits east of the Union Stock Yards gate, one of the entrances to the meatpacking industry. At 45,000 square feet, it was built to meet the need of the burgeoning 1920s economy.
“Abraham Epstein designed the building; he later became renowned for his role in designing the stock yards after the 1934 fire, which destroyed structures around the bank. The building has steel framing with concrete floor slabs, and it’s decked out with terracotta and ornate details. The lobby has 19-foot-high ceilings, marble floors and pendant chandeliers.
“The building has its quirks, too. Tucked into a column in the first-floor lobby is a pill box where guards watched over the halls of the financial hub. The spot was used to deter robberies by the rifle-wielding security team.
“Frances Rovituso-Strange, a coordinating architect with the city’s Assets, Information and Services department, said such grandiose details are unheard of in modern construction, which is dominated by buildings of ‘glass and steel.’ ‘This type of architecture is just not feasible anymore,’ she said.
“The two banks that originally called the building home merged, and the institution moved out in 1965. The Union Stock Yards closed midnight July 30, 1971, and the bank building has been closed since 1973.
“The city bought the building in 2000, saving it from demolition. Officials did minor renovations in 2007 and granted it landmark status in 2008.
“‘If we were to tear down buildings like this, that have so much history, our future generations would not have a clue as to what encompassed Chicago and how it developed and how it progressed and what influenced what is going on today,’ Rovituso-Strange said. ‘It has so much history and beauty to it that to demolish something like that would just be a crime, in my opinion.’
“Wight & Company completed the $1.5 million in upgrades over the last few months of 2020. Ornate pieces like the exterior terracotta were removed and stored inside the building. The 8 feet of water in the basement was pumped out, revealing intensive damage — and multiple bank vaults. The crew cleaned and tuckpointed the south facade to show what the building will look like when it’s redone.
“‘We were really impressed when we got on the inside because it’s a really beautiful building. The proportions are wonderful,’ Steffes said. ‘The materials were high quality, and some of those still exists. It’s got wonderful light, and it has a lot of opportunity to it. You don’t have to rebuild it back. You don’t have to mimic it or adjust something in its like. It is physically there, and it’s in good shape. And so with some minimal effort, this thing can be brought back to its glory days and be a true representation of what the community was.’
“Any rehab of the building would need to meet modern code requirements, comply with historical guidelines and get approval from the Chicago Landmarks Commission. Reviving the building could cost $20-25 million, officials said.
“And Thompson still holds out hope his plan could come to fruition. The first floor could be converted into a restaurant, using the square footage for dining and a banquet hall. The alderman suggested a steakhouse, a hat tip to the area’s past. The second story could be a museum honoring to the city’s history as ‘hog butcher for the world,’ as immortalized in Carl Sandburg’s poem.
“‘It’s not just to have the building there, but it’s more to have the building there with a connection to what it meant, and a connection to what the stockyards meant to the city,’ Thompson said.” (Boyle, Block Club Chicago, 8/17/21)