Demolition Begins: Uptown Landmark, Lawrence House for Flats Chicago is Underway


Demolition has begun on the Chicago historic landmark, Lawrence House. Take a tour through the new project with us.

Lawrence House has been a cornerstone of Uptown life since it was constructed in 1928. The art deco courtyard tower was once the height of then-modern convenience and luxury with its basement swimming pool, and rooftop theater. The building is being gutted (demolition is underway) and brought entirely up to date – merging modern amenities and preservation of historic elements. In fact, our application for historic tax credits to repair the significant elements is currently under review by the National Parks Service. Our design includes refurbishing and reopening the long defunct basement pool, updating retail spaces on the ground floor and re-configuring some units. Many will remain small, providing the same concept of small but functional individual units.


1020 Lawrence was originally an apartment hotel – many private living spaces with minimal kitchens and small but brightly lit studio living spaces.  The tiny hatches for room service are still located next to each unit door.  Later it was re-imagined as a “Retirement Hotel” as the placard next to the front entry still shows.

lawrence house black and wh

Over time the historic Lawrence House building suffered from poor maintenance and fell into extreme disrepair.  Its fate has hung in the balance for several years of foreclosure, while it continued to deteriorate and violate multiple building safety codes.  What remains are beautiful but dilapidated remnants we hope to preserve.  These are some of the finds we photographed on our most recent visit.

cool details

One of the most beautiful areas of the building is the basement pool area with its complex curved ceiling and antique tile.  We’re thrilled to be reopening this after so many years of disuse and disrepair.

pool area


There is a strong pathos to an empty space in the process of demolition.  If you’ve been wondering what’s going on behind the scaffolding of Lawrence House’s closed doors … here’s a glimpse.  You won’t need a face mask to enjoy these images but as we made our site visit, Chris, Matt and I all needed to protect ourselves from the swirling surface-of-the-moon style dust generaged by atomizing so many square feet of old plaster interior walls and moving the debris out of the building by shoveling it down interior air shafts.

construction dust at Lawrence House

Here are Chris and Matt checking a few measurements that we can take more accurately now that some areas of structure have been exposed.

chris and matt

Construction (and especially the first step of demolition) always gives some fascinating views of the inner workings of a building.  In this case it reveals some seriously out-dated equipment.  This is not the sort of antique quality we want to preserve in an older building.

The original heating ductwork may still be functional but a view down the plumbing shaft shows evidence of years of leaks and drips.  A glance into the old-fashioned fuse box suggest wiring that far below modern standards.  All of this will be resolved by Flats’ investment of updated construction.

aging equipment

A few more details of de-construction.


WATCH THIS SPOT … for further updates on our 1020 Lawrence project for Flats Chicago.  Let us know what you think of the project in the comments!


  • Jeffrey Littleton

    Bottle fuses…nice.

    Here is an old ad I have from a construction materials trade publication in the 20’s featuring the Lawrence House Hotel. I bought it on eBay a few years back.

    The varnish was so strong you could strike a match on it!

    I have the original kitty-corner from LH in my studio….packed away.

  • Robert Rohdenburg

    I noticed that the writer of this public relations piece:
    1) Avoids calling the Lawrence House an Single-Room Occupancy Hotel (SRO)
    2) Avoids the mention of the Lawrence House being the target of affordable housing advocates for preservation as affordable housing.
    3) Dose not mention the hundreds of rent-paying low-income senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans or working poor displaced by FLATS gut-rehab or mention where, in the Uptown area, that they could be placed or FLATS responsibility in their displacement.
    4) The previous building owner’s responsibility in fixing all those building code violations which made conditions unpleasant and unsafe for the rent-paying tenants. The piece mentions only that “it” (the building) had deteriorated and violated building codes, as if the previous landlord had no responsibility in this or that his decisions and inaction had nothing whatsoever to do with the poor condition of the building.
    5) Avoided the mention of the new owner by name: Jay Michael, the once golden boy of Chicago real estate , once profiled on a tv reality show, whose way of doing business, along with his co-conspirator, Jamie Purcell of BJB Properties, was changed dramatically with the passage of the Chicago For All SRO preservation ordinance. The Chicago For All ordinance was passed by an overwhelming majority of City Council including the gut-rehabber’s favorite aldermen: Cappleman and Tunney. The ordinance was also supported by Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a man who was considered a close friend of developers and financiers of developers.

    • Dakota Plant

      You have put my thoughts into words in a much better way than I could. Thank you.

    • Robert, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. While this post appears on our blog and we are the architects, we are only trying to share how the construction process works, for people interested in such things. (We do have some opinion pieces elsewhere on the blog related to general zoning and housing matters, if you want to check them out). I can’t speak precisely to your points 2-5, as those our out of our purview as the architect. As to item, 1, SRO’s are a very specific zoning term for which a building needs to meet a certain set of criterion. In the eyes of the Zoning Department, which reviews our plans, this building is not an SRO.

  • Dancing about architecture

    I lived here right about when the communist activists were brainwashing residents that the squalor, the imminent danger of being victimized by thugs, and worse were our right and privilege. Silly marches, corny meetings with granola crunch college students dressed as “Mr. moneybags”, riding on a bus with a paper bag lunch complete with Caprisun and a soggy peanut butter sandwich.
    They teamed up with Ezra staff, and a lot of these people were borderline developmentally challenged and did not know they were basically encouraging petit bugeois communism and a lifetime of miserable poverty.
    I’m free now.
    Thought police trolls like discohair and the controller/accountant from Naperville who haunt every local site that hasn’t banned them should be shunned and muted, they hav no credibility nor right to follow people around boards and attack them with ad hominem attacks and other time honored techniques.
    Just say no to Jeffy and Brian.

  • We love your comments, opinions and thoughts along with a good debate, but please keep the discourse civil and mature. Do not call other commenters names. (Fine to call me a name, if you so choose). Unfortunately some of the comments on this post had to be deleted. I can assure everyone, you’re not missing anything.

    Thanks a bunch,

    Your Moderator

    • Jeffrey Littleton

      Thanks for not deleting my old advert. It is a pretty interesting pitch to sell varnish.

      “The Lawrence Hotel management may not recommend striking a match on their wall…but if you did…it wouldn’t scratch!” Along with an illustration that depicts scratches on a wall….classic.

      • Fun historic artifacts: Fun!, Name calling and off topic rants: Not Fun.

  • Robert Rohdenburg

    Although not zoned as an SRO, it was part of the same concentrated planned and financed targeting by FLATS Chicago and BJB Properties of the lower-rent buildings, mostly zoned SROs, which where once homes to hundreds of low-income senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans, and working poor as zoned SRO’s. The possible illegal price collusion between these two competitors , still yet to be investigated by those responsible for do so, put upward pressure on rents not only of the rehabbed SRO’s but als regular market-rate renters, mostly on the northside of Chicago, FLATS/Cedar Street and BJB Properties own many thousands of market-rate apartments. Suring the nearly four years of FLATS/BJB gut-rehabbing, at least some of the 2,100 low-income people displaced by mainly FLATS and BJB could have been housed, on subsidy, at least for awhile in the regular market rate apartments owned by FLATS/Cedar Street and BJB during the normally occurring vacancies, They could have mitigated the damage to the community that they caused, but chose not to. They also benefitted from the upward pressure on the rents that they could charge by the deliberate mass elimination of a lowest-rent buildings in a particular geographic area during the same time period, using the same empty the entire building/gut-0rehab the building techniques, marketing them as mini- or starter apartments. whose rents and additional tenant screening make them unaffordable not only to the building’s former tenants, but possible future tenants who are senior citizens, people with disabilities, veterans, and working poor (all these types of people are growing in population and need homes that they can afford too) . Displacing people as part of a deliberate business plan is morally wrong. The FLATS and BJB gut-rehab plans: led to increasing segregation in Chicago, increasing rents in Chicago, FLATS and BJB hey still expecting government help or property tax breaks. FLATS & BJB then charge rents that increases faster than inflation or wages, which reduces disposable income thus reducing tenants spending on local businesses which hurts the local economy and helps wealthy property owners like Jay Michael and Jamie Purcell, among others. FLATS and BJB Still want the few percent off their property taxes break given to buildings classified SRO’s and want more tax breaks with the revised ARO. just for being good corporate citizens. During the Chicago For All discussions with the city, SRO owners wanted free water and garbage pick-up from the city, services that the city years ago decided not to give even to non-profit agencies.
    At what point does good corporate citizenship start and excessive corporate greed end? Although I appreciate the update on the Lawrence House rehab, let us not forget the low-income displaced victims of it who will never benefit from the amenities and new features you and others are building for wealthier people who can pay the much higher rents when the building reopens in a year or so. When a potential renter Google’s FLATS, BJB, or an address of a former lower-rent building gut-rehabbed, I want those potential renters to know the damage that they contribute to when they pay their rent to FLATS and BJB and like-minded landlords. If they don’t care, then that is on their conscience. Two low-income tenants, that we know of DIED shortly after the mass eviction process of BJB. Since FLATS followed BJB’s lead and techniques their may be more deaths caused by the FLATS evictions. Those architects, contractors, sub-contractors, financiers, etc. who are part of the gut-rehab process MUST share some of the responsibility about the damage that they are causing or will cause both to the displaced former tenants and the community or city that they do business in. After all you :will share in the money spent on the gut-rehabs, so you must also share the blame in the harm that the gut- rehab process causes. Are you part of the solution to the affordable housing crisis in Chicago or are you part of the problem? Choose more wisely what projects you do, how you make your money, and which firms you associate with. Their bad reputations will stain yours

    • Thanks again, Robert. I think we agree on a lot of points. To be brief, as much as I am a supporter of affordable housing, I don’t think we can lay all the responsibility on private land owners and developers. As a problem that affects Chicago at-large which involves land use policy, the City is responsible for setting affordable housing guidelines for all of us to follow. Chicago is one of the only cities I’ve worked in that does not have an inclusionary housing ordinance. Meaning developers get the choice to include affordable units in their projects or pay an ‘in-lieu of’ fee that is supposed to be allocated for future City-backed affordable housing. Maybe this isn’t the best way to do it. But its something. Could TIF play a role in this…? Perhaps. And sometimes it does when TIF funded projects include affordable family/senior units, like Wilson Yard.

      I was at a fascinating lecture last week about the history of affordable housing in Chicago highlighting the successes and failures (mostly failures) and the role of architectural design and urban planning in those projects. Aside from seeing the downward trend of City-owned affordable units (Lawrence House was not city owned) being replaced by a voucher based units, it appeared to me that we don’t know the best way to make all of this work yet. But you only need to look at the recently demolished high rise projects to know that.

    • From my casual analysis of TIF projects, which I mapped in detail on Chicago Cityscape using data from the city, a large amount of TIF funds go to residential projects that include affordable housing units. A lot of the money goes to pay for affordable housing for seniors, people with disabilities, and other groups that may need more assistance to find and pay for housing.

  • pending

    Thanks so much for this inside look– it’s an incredible project you guys are taking on.

  • Robert Rohdenburg

    There are thousands of vacant lots and vacant buildings on Chicago’s official lists and sale of a city-owned vacant property, using TIF money, or up-zoning are all triggers of the current and revised Affordable Requirements Ordinance (ARO). The new ordinance, which was approved by the joint Housing/Zoning committee last month but whose vote in city council won’t happen until after the election, and after developers have a chance to donate money to aldermanic election campaigns. The terms of the new ARO. where it doesn’t start to go into effect until after six months after the vote, currently expected at the 3/18 City Council meeting, and then the current in-lieu-of fees would still be in effect for tow more years, means the status quo will be pretty much in effect for the next 2 1/2 years, The same status quo that caused the need for the ARO revision in the first place.
    Some developers at the joint Housing/Zoning hearing last month wanted the new ARO to be like such ordinances in New York or LAW, Failing to mention that those states have rent control and Illinois does not and can not have rent control without a change in law. Some developers also said they wanted the city council to take more time or to have a stepped up increase in the in-lieu of fees, like the minimum wage increase. They failed to mention that the cost of living adjustment process in the current ARO was never enforced or implemented and that the current $100,000/unit in lieu-of fee became increasingly ineffective over time, in part due to inflation alone. If for half the city, the revised ARO in-lie of fee is cut in half, in those communities which are lower-income areas, Why would developers want any delay at all? It is because they have no intention of developing housing in those areas, they will pay the new in-lieu of fees, as before, and the economics will not change much for them.
    Developers must also be good corporate citizens if they expect and are entitled to the same rights and privileges of real human beings. Hurting or displacing low income Chicagoans should never be part of or required step in anyone’s business plan, and certainly should not be rewarded or encouraged by our elected officials or be the policy of governmental agencies.

  • Oggington Fartworthy

    I wish it had stayed nice all along, I hadn’t been in Chicago pre 2008 and never saw the transformation into an Sro. I wonder if there’ll be an open house.

  • Alison Willette

    I am interested in what environmentally low impact design improvements Moss plans on implementing into the new design plan.

    • Thanks for the question. Alison. In my view, any building that is maintained in its current form and reused is the first step towards low-impact design. The energy and landfill space required to demolish completely adequate infrastructure is a sad statement on the economics of construction and development.

      Specifically though, the very old and energy inefficient windows are being replaced which will reduce heat loss/gain, insulation is being added to exterior walls, and plumbing fixtures are being replaced with modern-day, water efficient fixtures. But the most impactful element is the new VRF (Variable Refrigerant Flow) space conditioning system, which will save a tremendous amount of energy, and is quite innovative for a rental building such as this. The system uses refrigerant as the cooling/heating medium through the use of an air-cooled condenser. The system will use so much less energy, in fact, that the project qualifies for energy reduction credits from the local utility.

  • Molly McFarland

    Thanks for the great pictures. I have been so fascinated by this building, was very impressed with the renovation, and have decided to live there myself! I would love to see more pictures of the project/process.

  • Are all the people who once lived here homeless, now under the viaducts of Lake Shore Dr.?