Wicker Park's North West Tower renovation reveals surprises but Convexity Properties moves development forward


As layers were peeled from the tower area of the historic 1929 North West Tower (NWT) building at Milwaukee and North Avenues, a few surprises challenged the seasoned re-use team at Convexity Properties, the real estate and management arm of DRW, Holdings, LLC.

The good news is that the approximate 90,000 square foot project, to feature the Group Habita boutique hotel in the the NWT, Hollander Fireproof Warehouse (HFW) building and a new structure, is moving forward and the opening is expected in 2016. 

While no one takes on redeveloping vintage buildings without contingency plans for the unexpected, especially large project developers, sometimes despite reasonable contingencies, reality far exceeds expectations. 

Project review


With equipment at the top of the tower, it is possible to see how workmen were able to complete their work

NWT exterior
The NWT cupola, perched high atop the building was one of the "surprises." They believed it consisted of less than 40 pieces of limestone. There turned out to be under 400. 


Note the stone carving (click on photo to enlarge), not easily seen from below.

Despite that and other "surprises," the exterior restoration of the tower is now 90% complete. The refurbished light under the new flag pole will be completed within the next 60 days. Its glow, however, will not fill the night sky until the project is complete. 

In addition, the exterior work on floors 3 through 12 is completed. Being true to the original structure, they are restoring the limestone on the first three levels and are maintaining three different brick colors on both the NWT and HFW buildings. These multi colors for NWT are not on the main front surfaces but elsewhere on the building including the parapet along the top of the building and the north side elevation. 

While cleaning the spandrels that run horizontally below each window, they discovered that, over the years, they were painted green. In fact, a total of three or four different colors of green. However, they were originally painted gray, which is what they have been restored to.  (Compare the photos above with an earlier photo.)


Looking at the north side of the project, HFW (frnt) and NWT with the material hoist furthest north and one mast climber further south. Note brick detail on NWT north wall.

Their accomplishments to date will soon permit the removal of the two mast climbers. One on the Milwaukee Ave. side and the other on the North Ave. side, they made it possible to work on the "nose" of the building. This will leave only the elevator hoist on the exterior of the Milwaukee side to move materials up and down the 12-floor structure. The walkways will also remain until shortly before the building's completion.

NWT interior
There is still demolition work to be done in the NWT interior, which should have no effect on the other properties. 

Though, the plan was for the Sprint store to remain in their NWT ground level space through the construction, Sprint opted to temporarily move across the street until their new space is completed along Milwaukee Ave. 


Looking through a chain link fence, note the restored and cleaned terra cotta on the Hollander

The Hollander Fireproof Warehouse building's first floor terra cotta adornment along Milwaukee Ave. has been cleaned and restored and looks quite remarkable. In fact, at the age of 86, it looks spectacular! 

Like the NWT, HFW held some surprises. In this case it was the foundation. With a pool being added to the roof (above the fifth floor), new structural support had to be added to the building. 


Looking from Milwaukee Ave., parts of the foundation for the new structure is visible.

New structure
To the north of the HFW, the foundation is already in for the new structure. It is expected to be completed by early in the new year (2016). 

Permits, submitted on April 17 for interior and plumbing on the whole project, are still in the works, but Convexity anticipates beginning that work, hopefully in 30 days. 

Costs and employment
At this time there are is no financial numbers available nor employment numbers. When the building is functioning in its "new life," it will be employee hundreds of people at a location that has been sparsely populated for decades. 

Lessons learned and modifications
Interested in moving the project forward when they began, their planning may have exceeded the reasonable timing on various parts of the project, said someone close to the complex. Layer in the "surprises," timing, procedural steps in order and added costs and the project had to be modified. (Original elevation roughly shows the Milwaukee Ave. side, though it shows the new structure as two floors.)

Accommodating the new challenges, the modifications include:

  • The new addition will be one story high, not two, thus there will be no event space, as earlier planned.
  • There is no basement in the new structure, eliminating underground parking for valets. There will be parking spaces on their property behind the new structure.
  • Equipment for the complex will be housed on the HFW's 5th floor as planned, there will be some on top of the new structure.
  • Shared rooms in the hotel cut from 25 to 20.
  • NWT rooms will increase from 68 rooms to 69.

Other amenities that will remain:

  • Restaurant on the first floor of NWT
  • Cocktails and casual food in the second floor lounge
  • A bar/lounge on NWT's roof, with part of it open 12 months
  • A restaurant, bar, lounge, with parts open 12 months, and a summer-only pool will top off the HFW building 

"Investment in this landmark building, integral with Wicker Park' s history, is remarkable in every regard," said Ward Miller, Executive Director, Preservation Chicago. "As the grand terminus of the Wicker Park shopping district from Division to North, it will add to the vibrancy of the Wicker Park and Bucktown communities. 

"The first new hotel in the area, it would be wonderful if it fosters other such projects north on Milwaukee Avenue up to Six-Corners (Irving Park Rd.), re-purposing and re-using other vintage buildings. 

"Considering the exemplary restoration and re-purposing of the Noel State Bank building, I am hopeful that the interior will incorporate beautiful spaces as well."



NOEL BANK you should note it was Fairfield Savings & Loan after

Should note that Fairfield Savings & Loan was there after Noel Bank. I know, I worked there.

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