Henry Cobb, the Courtly architect who masterminded the 1937 design of the international banking center known as the Hancock Tower, and who went on to design buildings ranging from the Plaza Hotel in New York to the Fulton transit Center in Baltimore, died in December at the age of 93.
The Hancock Tower, officially the Place of Commerce, had been envisioned as a downtown financial district, housing a long series of banks, including the Welles-Turner-Turner bank that remained Chicago’s largest downtown bank until 1910, the Federal Reserve Bank branch that began opening in 1912, and the privately-owned Sears Tower.
But Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal effort to bust up the monopoly of the old railroads was rolled back by a conservative Federal Reserve in 1937, and the plan for the new downtown finance district was deferred.
Cobb changed his mind, and proposed the $8 million “Hancock” design as a temporary headquarters for the Federal Reserve, with a plan to build a modern Chicago finance district later. The project soon became an important part of Chicago’s identity, introducing the largest built monument in the world at an early date to the growing reputation of a city that had been characterized as a trading post, with lots of apartment buildings for business.
“Hancock Tower has always been said to be of one tone and style and to reflect the personality of its architects,” says Neal C. Miller, a Chicago architect and critic.
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