IN MEMORIAM: Robert Meers; Chicago Real Estate Developer

Monadnock Building, north half in 1891 by Burnham & Root, and south half in 1893, by Holabird & Roche, 53 W. Jackson Blvd. Photo Credit: Eric Allix Rogers

“Robert Meers, a real estate developer whose historic preservation projects included Chicago’s Monadnock Building and Lake Forest’s Market Square, died June 26, according to a death notice that attributed the cause to a stroke. He was 70.

“Meers grew up on the North Shore and attended a series of private schools, from Lake Forest Country Day to Princeton University, yet threw himself into the politically fraught and economically questionable process that is architectural preservation.

“‘Though he was polished, he could push all the right buttons, get it done, whatever it took,’ says Ward Miller, executive director of Preservation Chicago.

“At 16 stories, the Burnham and Root/Holabird and Roche-designed Monadnock was the world’s largest office building when completed in 1893. But by the time Meers and partner Bill Donnell took on the challenge in the late 1970s, it was headed for foreclosure after losing tenants and suffering numerous remodeling indignities: lobby staircases removed, fluorescent lighting installed, entrances added.

“The back-to-the-original plan guided subsequent top-to-bottom projects, including LaSalle Street’s Rookery, according to Miller. ‘It was a very radical idea at the time. Nobody knew what the general public would think of these full restorations.’

“In the late 1980s Meers accepted another challenge: converting Ogden Slip’s North Pier loft building in Streeterville into retail-office uses and then adding a 50-story apartment building. Though the seven-story commercial project, with tenants like Dick’s Last Resort and Fox & Obel Food Market, lagged expectations, it proved a long-term catalyst for the Cityfront Center master plan and Navy Pier beyond.

“‘Because of the straightening of the S-curve on Lake Shore Drive and the addition of an interchange there, a formerly inaccessible area suddenly became accessible,’ Anthony Licata, a lawyer who worked for Meers’ company, told Crain’s in 1989, when Meers was named to Crain’s inaugural class of 40 under 40s. ‘He saw that when no one else did.’

”’I was particularly interested in some of Chicago`s architecturally significant buildings, which were in very poor condition and really needed to be preserved,’ Meers told the Chicago Tribune in 1985. ‘The more I looked, the more I realized that the run-up in (office) rents had not yet affected old buildings, and that it therefore was probably an opportune time to look into rehabs,’ realizing nevertheless, ‘It was all very dicey.’

“Miller recalls Meers’ attention to detail and pioneering spirit in replicating Van Doren Shaw’s Ragdale Blue paint on window trims and doors, describing the hue as ‘robin’s egg with a little more turquoise.’

“‘It was a risk when those colors didn’t seem right for a historic building. Now, you wouldn’t even think twice about doing that,’ Miller says.” (Strahler, Crain’s Chicago Business, 7/12/21)

Read the full story at Crain’s Chicago Business

Robert Meers, Monadnock Building savior and North Pier developer, dies at 70, He also restored Howard Van Doren Shaw’s Market Square in Lake Forest, Steven R. Strahler, Crain’s Chicago Business, 7/12/21

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