Thompson, Jahn differ on future of the Stock Yards Bank building
February 2, 2018

Photo courtesy Jahn Architects
Jahn Architects would turn the Stock Yards National Bank building into a repository for renewable energy.

By Patrick Butler

A local alderman and a well known architect have differing ideas for the future of the long vacant Stock Yards National Bank building at 4146 S. Halsted St.

Ald. Patrick D. Thompson (11th Ward) wants to see the 92-year-old “Independence Hall” style building converted into a restaurant, museum, and memorial to firefighters killed in 1910 and 1935 Union Stock Yards fires.

Architect Helmut Jahn’s firm Jahn Architects has come up with an alternate plan. The firm wants to turn the site into a bank of an entirely different sort—one that would store renewable energy for local businesses.

Thompson also envisions an exhibit in the building to pay tribute to the nearby International Amphitheater, which closed in 1999.

Thompson wants history to remember the Amphitheater, which hosted legends such as the Beatles and Elvis Presley along with circuses, livestock shows, sporting events, religious revivals, and several presidential conventions including the 1968 fiasco that nominated Democrat Hubert Humphrey as pro- and anti-Vietnam War delegates scuffled with each other—and the media—on the convention floor.

“There’s a lot of companies looking for a place for parties, business luncheons, and other events,” said Thompson, noting that, under his plan, the City would continue owning the Stock Yards Bank building and lease space for the restaurant. The project would create a foundation to rent or buy the second floor and run the fire memorial museum.

Using TIF money

Officials plan to pay for the 25,000-square-foot former bank building’s renovation out of the $8.3 million left in the Stock Yards Annex TIF plus contributions from private contributors and foundations, Thompson said.

He noted he already has found a local business owner with a collection of Stock Yards memorabilia accumulated over the years that the museum could house.

Meanwhile, Jahn Architects wants to turn the building into a renewable energy plant.

“The Energy Bank establishes a local depository for energy,” giving communities an opportunity to use “stores of energy” to develop their neighborhood, Jahn Architects said in a statement.

An energy bank would operated just as community banks do in leveraging financial assets to help local clients, according to the architectural firm. “By providing a depository for energy, the bank responds directly to the requirements of the community, providing energy security to the manufacturing, commercial, and residential districts and incentivizing local power generation,” the architects noted.

Lower bills, renewable energy

The energy bank also helps communities “leverage the energy potential of their buildings, target specific uses or users for reduced energy bills, incentivize the generation of renewable energy, and educate the public about the consequences of our demanding energy use pattern over time,” according to the statement.

Besides shaping the future of energy usage, the bank would “establish a new train of thought on sustainability for future generations, making a new history,” the firm added.

The energy bank concept originated at the Low Carbon Energy Centre in London, whose creators hope to heat 15,000 residences and 3.5 million square feet of commercial feet by 2030. The centre features boilers and a heat distribution network.

Jahn Architects developed their proposal as part of the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Between States program, which sought ideas to revitalize physical assets “between states” of use in Chicago’s 50 wards.

Plans for the 50 wards are on display through Thursday, March 1, at the Chicago Architecture Foundation Atrium Gallery at 224 S. Michigan Ave.

Stock Yards Bank opened in 1925 as the Chicago Live Stock Bank, at a time when meatpacking was Chicago’s biggest industry. The Chicago Live Stock Bank soon became the most important bank in “Packingtown,” as the neighborhood was
then called.

The building weathered a 1935 fire that burned only the bank’s wooden furniture. The next morning, the bank opened for business as usual.

“There’s a rich history here,” Thompson said. “It’s a history we need to remember and celebrate.”

‘Nothing’s come to fruition’

Mike McMullen, manager of the City’s Special Services Area (SSA) #13 run by the Back of the Yards Neighborhood Council, said, “That site’s been vacant for many years, and after a lot of talk, nothing’s come to fruition so far.”

McMullen would like to see “something on the history of the Stock Yards. It’s one of the most storied places, not just here in Chicago, but the nation. All the communities that surrounded the Stock Yards were born from that industry.”

The Canaryville-born community organizer especially likes Thompson’s idea of creating a replica of a typical Stock Yards worker’s apartment.

“It would give people a chance to go back and see what life was really like,” McMullen said. “It wasn’t all peaches and cream. It was a brutal time. Terrible working conditions for people living in poverty trying to start their American dream.

“It’s still true today—just a different demographic,” McMullen added. “Today they just happen to be Hispanics as opposed to Poles, Lithuanians, and other Eastern Europeans.”

Packingtown produced its share of notable people, McMullen added, saying that Mayor Richard J. Daley worked in the yards when he was just starting out. “And look what he accomplished with his life,” McMullen said.

After the Stock Yards National Bank closed in 1971, the building briefly became a furniture warehouse and officials later considered it for demolition. It escaped the wrecking ball when the City bought the property in 2000 for $200,000.