shedding light on long lost artifacts rescued from columbus memorial and its neighbor, the venetian building

the bldg. 51 museum recently acquired architectural artifacts (including an original early 20th century watercolor rendering that hung in the lobby) from the historically important columbus memorial building (boyington, 1893) and its neighbor, the venetian building (holabird & roche, 1892), which happened to share a boiler system with "the columbus" as it was originally known. the two buildings built within a year of each other, were demolished together by harvey wrecking in 1959. since the time of demolition, the only known architectural artifact saved from the wrecking ball was the much-publicized full-figured cast bronze statue of christopher columbus.



the collection of newly discovered artifacts offer invaluable insight into the customized ornament applied to interior fixtures adorning the building's interior. several original early electric double-arm wall sconces with largely intact copper-plated finish, lobby marble wainscoting sections, and an assortment of builders' hardware not only escaped demolition, but also managed to avoid tasteless modifications during a time when the two buildings were considered old and outdated. 

original copper-plated wall sconce with copper-plated finish over brass.

note the letter "c" for columbus found on the protruding arm supporting the bent tubular arms that contained turn-key bergmann sockets and acid-etched glass shades.

detail of the letter "c" along with crown above and faceted finial below with beaded border.

the backplate features a centrally located crenelated castle tower flanked by rearing lions.

detail of rearing lion and surrounding beaded border.


the richly ornate double arm electric wall sconces are comprised of brass and bronze components, with bent tubular arms accentuated with beaded and faceted spear-shaped finials. the protruding base supporting the arms features a similar downward pointing finial, with a crown on the very top and a centrally located fanciful embossed letter "c." the oversized backplate contains a well-designed depiction of the christopher columbus coat of arms, with rearing lions and a crenelated castle. the original copper-plated finish remains largely intact on nearly all of the interior building wall sconce saved. the exact fabricator is not known.

original bergmann turn-key socket and shade fitter with threaded set screws.


the building's door hardware, consisting of backplates, a single mortise lock, doorknobs and a hinge were designed and fabricated by the yale & towne mfg. company, specifically for the building's interior office and passage doors. the unusually shaped and oversized backplates feature a repeating fleur-de-lis motif with floral embellishment along the edges. the banded rim doorknobs with uniquely shaped shanks contain lightly embossed rearing lions. the nicely aged surface patina on each and every hardware component was left untouched.

for additional information on the original sockets used on the sconces click link below:

the mystery surrounding this group of hardware - included in the lot of columbus building artifacts - has been put to rest when a matching doorknob backplate containing the letter "v" tied the hardware to holabird and roche's venetian building, which also shared a boiler with its neighbor - the columbus.

"specialty" or custom-designed office doorknob and matching backplate fabricated by the yale & towne company, stamford, ct.

the single door hinge with a loose pin and multiple well-maintained knuckles, contains two heavily ornamented leaves with a multitude of screw holes for mounting purposes. the floral motifs surrounding the screw holes are similar to those found on the backplates. the distinctive finials bearing a strong resemblance to a monarch's crown, are tapered and beaded. the plated treatment and/or design was patented by yale & towne long before the building was constructed.

the non-extant columbus memorial building was a 15-story steel frame downtown chicago skyscraper designed at a time to capitalize on the columbian exposition or chicago worlds fair of 1893. the building turned out to be the very last commission for william w. boyington, who was a highly regarded chicago architect at the time. boyington earned a solid reputation for designing several buildings prior to the great chicago fire of 1871, which included the chicago water tower and pumping station (extant). however, most of his buildings constructed prior to 1871 were destroyed in the fire.

fragment from the marble wainscot used in the building's lobby. the backside retains an original setting steel anchor.

the ornamented terra cotta and stone building featured large glass mosaics of the landing of columbus between the main entrance on state street. a nine-foot cast bronze statue was mounted upright in an alcove directly above the building' entrance. the 240 foot tower contained an opalescent glass globe that was lit by incandescent lighting. continents on the globe were marked in color, with a large cut jewel used to pinpoint chicago's location.


regrettably, a more thorough or descriptive analysis of the interior (perhaps the building as a whole), remains in a seemingly inescapable holding pattern for the time-being. if and when time permits, i hope to locate any and all interior images of the building, along with information pertaining to additional decorative ornament used throughout the lobby and office spaces, which i believe were primarily used as physician offices much like the reliance building across the street. the few artifacts presented here offer a starting point, but it remains unclear whether anything equally or much more substantial dodged the wrecking ball or scrap yard. as previously mentioned, the exterior moses ezekiel-designed statue of columbus located in alcove above the building's entrance was rescued shortly before demolition and relocated to little italy's arrigo park (formerly known as vernon park) in 1966, seven years after the building was wrecked. 

additional columbus building interior marble wainscoting fragment rescued during demolition in 1959. courtesy of the bldg. 51 museum archive.

a closer look at the surface characteristics of marble fragment. courtesy of the bldg. 51 museum archive.

the acquisition of the columbus/venetian building ornament would not have been possible if it weren't for my good friends ray and peg bringing this to my attention. the very least i could do was ask them to share their story for inclusion in this blog entry. 


Eric, a brief history on the Columbus Memorial Building artifacts-

All my memories of the Columbus Memorial Building are from my grandfather (Frank). You see, I was just 5 years old when the building was taken down in 1959.

I learned about the building by exploring his basement as I got older. His basement was a treasure trove of building parts; for me it was like a candy shop because I had never seen anything like it before. My imagination would run wild when I found brass steam gauges, ornately embossed valves, lighting fixtures, and old metal containers packed with parts of every size, shape and color. I also remember him telling me that most of the metal was there to sell as scrap - when the price was right. He let me play with everything only after telling me what the purpose of each device was. I guess at a young age I was being prepped to be an engineer or at least to have an understanding of how things work. Funny how things worked out.

However, there was one part of the basement that had different looking items. I had stumbled upon highly decorated wall sconces, doorknobs, backpllates, hinges, a watercolor rendering of the building, marble wainscoting, etc. When I asked my grandfather about this grouping, I can still remember his smile and the twinkle in his eyes. He was so happy that I had an interest in them as he told me about a magnificent building downtown named the Columbus-Venetian. He also said that these items were special and not to be scrapped; they had to be saved.

ray's grandfather frank.

He was the chief engineer of the Columbus Memorial and possibly the Venetian as well. After reading Eric’s blog post it appears that the two buildings may have been connected and this would explain why he always referred to the building as the Columbus-Venetian. He would tell me tales about taking care of the doctors and young professionals inside the building. This would explain why he had access to everything in the building prior to its demise.

He passed in the early 70’s and his teaching lessons stayed with me as we cleaned out his basement. I can still remember him saying - the wall sconces came from the building lobby, marble wainscoting came from the lobby as well as the jewelry store off State Street, door knobs and back plates came from the elevator lobbies and the watercolor rendering once hung in the main lobby. Looking back, he was really ahead of his time by saving all these items.

These architectural artifacts have traveled an interesting path-first being salvaged by my grandfather, to my mother caring for them, to them being handed down to me, and finally being passed on to Eric. So finally, almost 60 years later we are so pleased that they are now out in the open and can be viewed and appreciated by many via the Urban Remains web site along with Building 51. This new life is grander than being entombed in a container in my basement.

Thanks grandpa for giving me an appreciation of the past and how important it is to protect it. Thanks Eric for your dedicated work.

Ray and Peg Komorowski


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