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Residential conversion proposed for Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Building

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Once home to Ebony and Jet magazines, the Michigan Ave. high-rise has been tapped for 150-unit adaptive reuse


After going before the Commission on Chicago Landmarks earlier this year to be considered for protected landmark status, Michigan Avenue’s Johnson Publishing Building has returned with a new plan that would see the 1971 office tower turn residential. This week, the Commission’s Permit Review Committee discussed an adaptive reuse proposal that would see the 11-story concrete structure across from Grant Park converted to 150 residences.

Once home to Johnson’s famous Ebony and Jet magazines, the brutalist building at 820 S. Michigan Avenue was designed by John Warren Moutoussamy, an architect who studied under Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology. The tower represents the first and only downtown Chicago high-rise to be designed by an African American.

Johnson Publishing eventually sold their building to Columbia College in 2010. While the South Loop school initially had intentions to renovate the structure and began gutting its colorful 1970’s-era office interiors, the college announced its plan to sell the high-rise in June of last year.

Photo courtesy of Lee Bey

The latest adaptive reuse project comes from Rosemont-based developer 3LRE. In addition to converting 820 S. Michigan Avenue to 150 dwelling units, the plan calls for new ground-floor retail, a new light well along the north side of the building, and a single-story rooftop addition and deck.

According to Chicago Architecture Blog, the Permit Review Committee mentioned that rooftop space would be proposed behind the building’s “Ebony/Jet” signage in its formal recommendation. The language seems to suggest that Johnson Publishing’s iconic lettering would remain.

The move would see 820 S. Michigan Avenue join a growing number of older Loop office buildings getting the residential treatment. Other such projects include the adaptive reuse of the Insurance Center Building at 330 S. Wells, the Hartman Building at 30 E. Adams, the Plymouth Building at 417 S. Dearborn, and the Century & Consumers Buildings at 220 S. State Street and 202 S. State.