Think of it as a 52-story storefront | Bleader

Think of it as a 52-story storefront

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Did Mom and Pop build this?
  • Did Mom and Pop build this?
If the trains arrived too quickly at the State and Grand subway station to give me time to wander around the platform examining things, or if the new Area Cultural Map the Chicago Department of Transportation has hung on the platform walls of the remodeled station weren’t so darned attractive, I wouldn’t be writing this.

But the trains don’t and the map is. The station is so much bigger and brighter and cleaner than it used to be that it’s replaced foreboding with excitement in the hearts of visitors stepping out into Chicago there. And the map adds to that excitement—it’s a handsome guide to the neighborhood’s architectural wonders that explains where to find them and why they’re worth going out of your way to see.

But having studied the map, I’m not completely sold on its factuality. One of the featured sites on the Area Cultural Map is the IBM Building, two blocks away from the station. The map tells us it was under construction from 1969 to 1972 (which means, interestingly enough, that it was built in less time than the Chicago Department of Transportation took to rebuild the subway stop). And it goes on to say that that “this 52-story Miesian skyscraper, with its brawny steel structure, sleek glass curtain wall, and gracious plaza was constructed to house the Chicago offices of the International Business Machines Corporation as it was entering a time of tremendous technological innovation. From 1972-2006 IBM grew from a small manufacturer of tabulating machinery into a worldwide company in computer technology.”

Wayfarers who examine the Area Cultural Map will puzzle over this history and wonder where they got the idea that IBM was always pretty big. IBM’s own website tells us that in 1972 IBM had over 260,000 employees, revenues of over $9.5 billion, and profits of over $1.25 billion. In 1972 the company opened new headquarters buildings in West Germany and Mexico. The year before, it opened new manufacturing plants in Canada, Brazil, and Japan.

IBM was already big enough, in fact, that in 1969, the year construction of the IBM Building began, one of the final acts of the Johnson administration was to file an antitrust suit against IBM seeking to break up the company. In 1972, the year construction ended, President Nixon’s Justice Department asked the federal courts to turn IBM into “several discrete, separate, independent and competitively balanced entities.” The legal battle continued under presidents Ford and Carter before the Reagan administration dropped the suit in 1982.

But maybe Mies van der Rohe's glistening design concealed the family quarters behind the store. And maybe the Justice Department wanted to see one of the new entities run by Pop, another by Mom, and the third by Junior.

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