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Sale Of Tribune Tower Mirrors The Decline Of Old-School Newspapers

September 5, 2016

America’s old-school newspapers may be struggling while Millennials click their way to smart-phone news, but the historic buildings they occupy also are becoming endangered species.

 

Chicagoans now are witnessing the fall of Tribune Tower, 435 N Michigan Ave., an iconic, Gothic 36-story tower built in 1925.

 

CIM Group, a Los Angeles-based developer, and Chicago-based Golub & Co. have agreed to pay $205 million in cash at closing and another $35 million at a later date, if certain unspecified conditions are met by Tribune Media.

 

This magnificent 700,000-square-foot landmark building, which overlooks the gateway to Michigan Avenue’s “Magnificent Mile,” is designed with gargoyles and flying buttresses.

 

It is festooned with artifacts of historic properties from around the globe—including stones taken from Westminster Abbey in London, the Colosseum in Rome and the Great Wall of China. The tower’s lobby walls are cared with famous quotations extolling the freedom of the press.

 

But now, the landmark tower, designed by New York architects Raymond Hood and John Mead Howells, is likely to be rehabbed as a swank hotel, a luxury condominium or apartment building, or maybe just mundane high-rent offices for Windy City corporations.

 

The real future profit in the deal likely will be development of a new retail shops north of Tribune Tower, and residential development on the surface parking lot east of the tower.

 

“Monetizing the significant assets of Tribune Media’s real estate portfolio is a strategic priority for the company,” Peter Liguori, CEO of Tribune Media, said coolly, with little mention of the historic significance of the sale.

 

This writer started in the Windy City’s newspaper business in 1968 as a financial and real estate writer at the old Chicago Daily News with offices in the squat 7-story Daily News/Sun-Times building at 401 N. Wabash Ave., on the north bank of the river.

 

Earlier, the Daily News was based at 400 W. Madison St., a 26-story Art Deco landmark designed by famed architects Holabird & Root, which still stands on the west bank of the Chicago River as the Riverside Plaza office complex.

 

Built in 1958, the gray, drab Daily News/Sun-Times building looked more like a battleship than a newspaper building. Old timers said that Marshall Field IV, the thrifty owner of both papers, originally planned the property as a 16-story high-rise. However, a recession came along in the late 1950s, and Field chopped the building in half.

 

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, working at the afternoon Daily News was quite an experience for a young reporter fresh out of J-School. There were no computers and word processors. Every man in the news room wore a white dress shirt, tie and suit, while women reporters wore dresses, not pants suits.

 

The Daily News newsroom and various news bureaus in Washington, D.C., and in the foreign service were filled with nationally-known columnists led by Pulitzer-Prize winner Mike Royko, editorial cartoonist John Fischetti, and foreign correspondent Keyes Beech.

 

 

Other and fine award-winning writers and editor were: M.W. Newman, Peter Lisagor, William J. Eaton, Robert Gruenberg, Raymond R. Coffey, Lois Willie, Jay McMullen, Al Jedlicka, Charles Nicodemus, Larry Green, Robert L. Rose, Arthur J. Snider, Richard Christiansen and Sandy Pesmen to name a few.

 

Every piece of news copy was written on a Royal or Underwood typewriter and reporters used multi-sheet carbon books to pound out the stories of the day. Reporters on deadline would swill gallons of the worst 10-cent vending machine coffee in the world.

 

At the peak of the afternoon news cycle, with up to 100 manual typewriters pounding, the news room took on the sound of a jute mill.

 

When a deadline reporter finished a “take,” a page of news copy that roughly contained 200 words, he or she would yell out: “Boy!” A copy boy or girl would rush over to snatch the freshly minted words and hand them to the city desk where an editor gave the story a quick read, looking for holes, then passed it on to the “slot-man” on the copy desk.

 

The paper put out seven editions each day, culminating with the “Red Streak” final markets edition.

 

Veteran copy editors, some wearing green eye-shades to protect themselves from bright fluorescent lights, sat around the perimeter of the U-shaped copy desk. Smoking cigarettes or cigars was permitted in this high-pressure newsroom. Spittoons sat on the floor near the desk.

 

The slot man doled out the stories to the rim editors, who edited the copy with fat No. 1 pencils. Cub reporters marveled at how the printers could read the words on the heavily marked up page.

 

When each page of the copy was edited, the slot man inserted the sheet of copy on a belt that carried it down to the composing room where linotype operators were waiting to turn the words into “hot type.”

 

After the deadline around 3 p.m., reporters would work the telephones seeking a fresh an angle for a second-day, or “turnaround” on their stories. Around this time, the presses in the basement of the building starting whirring and the entire building shook.

 

At 4 p.m. the “mid-watch” reported arrived for work, followed by the “night-side” crew at about 11 p.m. Often, bottles of Jack Daniels whiskey, pulled from desk drawers, added a spike to the night-side coffee break.

 

Unfortunately, all of this newsroom magic, a throw-back to Ben Hecht play, “Front Page,” and the lore of newspaper history, disappeared on March 4, 1978 when the Chicago Daily News folded, a victim of TV news and circulation and advertising slippage.

 

The Chicago Sun-Times continues publishing today, with offices at 350 N. Orleans in River North. Unfortunately, the Daily News/Sun-Times Building was razed make way for the Trump International Hotel & Tower. So, yet another journalism museum was turned to dust.

 

For more housing news, visit Don DeBat is co-author of “Escaping Condo Jail,” the ultimate survival guide for condominium living. Visit www.escapingcondojail.com.

 

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“The book is Escaping Condo Jail by Sara Benson and Don DeBat. I would say that anybody thinking about buying a condo, or even anybody serving on a condo board, or anybody who has any connection to a condo, this is must reading—all 600 and something pages. Thanks a lot for a great book!”

 

Steve Sanders, “Your Money Matters” WGN TV, December 22, 2014

By Don DeBat

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