Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently announced Chicago’s former Johnson Publishing Co. building will be considered for landmark status.
The move will help protect and celebrate the 11-story building’s iconic, International Style design and its decades-long affiliation with black business and culture.
“As we celebrate Black History Month, it is the perfect time to honor this building that stands tall as a decades-long epicenter of black history and culture,” Mayor Emanuel said. “This designation will cement this building’s status as a landmark that is not just part of the legacy of the city of Chicago, but the history of our nation.”
The 110,000-square-foot building at 820 S. Michigan Ave was designed by black architect John Warren Moutoussamy, who after serving in World War II, enrolled at the Illinois Institute of Technology to study architecture under Mies van der Rohe. He later became the first African American to become partner in a large architectural firm, Dubin, Dubin, Black & Moutoussamy.
When design began on the building in 1969, Johnson told Moutoussamy that he “did not want one of those ‘shirt front’ glass and steel buildings.” Instead, Johnson wanted a unique, modern building that he said would convey his company’s “openness to truth, openness to light, openness to all the currents swirling in all the black communities of this land.”
John H. Johnson who, over the next six decades, grew the organization into the largest black-owned business in the nation, used his company to celebrate achievement and success by black Americans, which were largely ignored or stereotyped by the mainstream media throughout the 20th century. Tapping into a huge demand for accurate and positive coverage of black life, his Ebony and Jet magazines became staples in black households across the country.
“The design is a fitting reflection of the incredible business that it served to support, as well as Chicago’s role advancing the concepts of equality and civil rights,” said David L. Reifman, commissioner of the Department of Planning and Development, which provides staff services to the Landmark Commission.
The building is currently owned by Columbia College Chicago. Johnson Publishing’s current office is at 200 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago.