The Monadnock Building (It’s a Wonderful Life.)

posted in: Chicago 1
They are looking at the arcade. Photo: Wikipedia
They are looking at the arcade. Photo: Wikipedia

The Monadnock Building on Jackson and Dearborn is my favorite building in Chicago (outside the building where I live, of course.) When it was finished in 1893, it was the world’s largest office building, and some say modern architecture was kicked off when the Monadnock was complete. It was a Burnham and Root building, which says all needs be said for those who know what that means; for those who don’t, this means it is one of the most important buildings in the city, historically, aesthetically. There are three-hundred offices within. A winding staircase. Big windows on all sides. I had a writing job for a company on the fourth floor a few years back. I had a Mary Tyler Moore moment the day I walked into that office. Six feet tall that day.

The best part of the building — the building experience, you could say — for me is the old school arcade of shops on the ground floor. You can enter the Monadnock on Jackson and walk straight through to the other side of the building to the Van Buren side. On a freezing day in winter, you can escape the pain and get south (or north, depending) for a full block, wrapped in the gold warmth of the gas lamps that run on either side of the corridor. The tile is tiny, mosaic. It feels like another time, except you’re listening to Beyonce on your headphones. Potentially.

There are shops on either side of the arcade hall, including a barbershop that is always full, the best florist shop in the city (really), a really good tailor, a milliner (do you call a shop that makes men’s hats a millier? or a hat shop?), an Intelligensia coffee bar (also best in city), a shoe-repair shop where I take all my shoes, a woman’s clothing and accessory boutique, and a diner that serves a great, inexpensive grilled ham and cheese. It’s all oak and glass in there; you can see the activity of the people and shopkeepers inside.

I’m still floating, being back home in Chicago. I walked through the arcade the other day and I felt like grabbing people and saying, “Do you know how wonderful this is? We get to walk here! We get to walk through the Monadnock anytime we want! It’s free! We get to have this! Do you realize how lucky we are?”

Tomorrow, I have errands that include: get flowers, take shoes in, get sandwich, get coffee, look at hats. Lucky me.



  1. […] and the other cobblers at Shoe Hospital at the Monadnock Building in the Loop know me by name, that’s how often I’m in there to get repairs done. […]

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