MacArthur Restores Cornice To Historic Marquette Building
April 9, 2003 | Press Release

MacArthur completed a year-long cornice restoration project on the 108-year-old Marquette Building today, with the installation of the final piece of the building's cornice. A massive, ornamental molding that encircles the top perimeter of the building, the cornice is a crucial component of the building's original design. 

Located at the corner or Adams and Dearborn (140 South Dearborn) in Chicago's downtown Loop, the Marquette Building is owned by the MacArthur Foundation and is also the Foundation's headquarters. Named a National Historic Landmark in 1976, the Marquette Building was designed by Holabird & Roche and built by the George A. Fuller Company in 1894 using steel frame construction. It is an example of the famous Chicago-style architecture, which features large windows that are set within a grid of piers and spandrels. The design of this type of early skyscraper included large columns at the base, large windows in between, and a large cornice at the top. 

The original terra cotta cornice was eight feet in height and extended six and a half feet over the sidewalk. Although it was an important part of the building's design scheme, it was removed in the 1950s for safety reasons. 

"As the owner of this wonderful building, we feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that its exterior and key elements of the public space in its interior remain as its architects intended," said Jonathan F. Fanton, President of the Foundation. "People come from all over the world to see Chicago's architecture and to learn about the many architectural styles that can be found here. The Marquette Building is an important part of that story." 

"The Marquette building is one of Chicago's classic skyscrapers - an architectural treasure for the city."

The architect for this work is a Chicago firm, McClier, noted for its expertise in historic preservation. The contractor, Pepper Construction, is also Chicago-based. 

"The Marquette building is one of Chicago's classic skyscrapers - an architectural treasure for the city," said McClier's Gunny Harboe, the head architect for the project. "The historic building was incomplete without its cornice. In reconstructing it, the building's original visual integrity has been restored."

The new cornice matches the original exactly in ornament, detail and color. It is made of glass fiber reinforced concrete, a close visual match to the original terra cotta. The use of such an alternative material to replace a missing architectural element is well established.

The Marquette Building is one of a number of historic Loop buildings that have undergone restoration. Others include the Rookery on the corner of LaSalle and Adams streets, and the Reliance Building, now the Hotel Burnham, at the intersection of Washington and State streets. One block south of the Marquette Building is the Monadnock Building, another of Chicago's classic skyscrapers.

The new cornice was re-created based on photos and drawings of the building's original cornice. It is comprised of 50 separate pieces, each about eight feet high and five feet thick, with an average weight of 3,000 pounds. The panels have built-in steel skeletons for support that connect to a steel structure on the building. Each panel is hoisted into place by cables and then secured.   

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