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Demolition of the former Harpo Studios building closes a chapter of Chicago history

The rapidly-disappearing structure has storied past extending well beyond Oprah Winfrey Show

With demolition permit in hand, crews have wasted very little time razing Oprah Winfrey’s former Harpo Studios television campus to clear way for the nearly 2,000 employees slated to occupy McDonald’s new downtown corporate headquarters. As of yesterday, little remains of the building’s main soundstage save its rear wall. Though this West Loop location is best associated with Oprah’s long-running daytime talk show, this former cold storage facility has worn various hats over its 100-plus year history.

In 1915 the building served as a temporary morgue following the Eastland disaster in which 844 souls perished in the Chicago River when the 265-foot S.S. Eastland ferry infamously capsized. This ghoulish fact led to Harpo’s inclusion on numerous Chicago ghost tours. The structure also saw service as an armory and roller skating rink before it eventually became the home of Oprah Winfrey’s broadcast empire.

In 2014 the facility was sold to local developer Sterling Bay for $32 million. While leaked renderings hinted at plans to redevelop the block last summer, this June’s announcement of McDonald’s plan to relocate its suburban headquarters to the West Loop site jump-started the entire process. Known by its address of 110 N. Carpenter, the 600,000-square Gensler-designed project blitzed the city approval and permitting process in a handful of weeks rather than the customary months.

While 110 N. Carpenter will be an entirely new construction, Sterling Bay did hint at a concerted effort to recognize the site’s most famous tenant. "We all know Oprah. We are definitely going to do something so people will remember who was there," said Managing Principal Andy Gloor at the project’s public unveiling, reports CNN Money. "We kept a lot of stuff from inside the studio and plan on using that in the building."