Four years later, no historical marker for Johnson Publishing Building


On December 17, 2017, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks (CCL) appointed the Johnson Publishing Company to build a Chicago Landmark, closing a multi-month process with overwhelming support from Alderman King and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

The designation protects the iconic building from future demolition, but allows changes to the interior to serve a new purpose. It also forced the building’s new owner, 3L Real Estate, to preserve the appearance of the exterior structure with its iconic Ebony Jet sign atop. The garage door leading to John H. Johnson’s private parking space is also still there, years after it was the only structure in or near the Loop with a driveway accessible from Michigan Avenue.

Inside, the building now houses modern apartments with stunning views of Grant Park. On some floors of the building there are copies of Ebony magazine covers in the hallways; the original framed plan of the building remains on the exterior of a one-story elevator. A convenience store opened in a small space on the ground floor of the building.

Although it is an official Chicago landmark, on a visit in the summer a Cross The reporter noted that the building lacks the usual 12 × 12 bronze plaque that adorns more than 400 Chicago landmarks that include historic neighborhoods.

The Cross emailed Alderman King and 3L Real Estate spokesperson Brian Berg and left a message and phone message to inquire about the plaque. On August 4, Kevin Bargnes, who works in the Planning and Development Department (DPD), responded by email.

Bargnes said the plaque was paid for by the city of Chicago in 2019. Bargnes said due to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, it was not ready to be installed until fall 2020. He said: “The installation is to take place during the warmer months, and the DPD contractor is in talks with the owner to install it later this year.

Since being designated a Historic Landmark in 2017, there have been 20 warm months in Chicago. And while the pandemic has created many delays throughout the city, installing a small historical marker is an outdoor task that poses little more of a risk than working indoors. In fact, during the pandemic, city workers paved roads, cleaned streets, and filled potholes in city neighborhoods. More than two years passed before the pandemic hit the city in March 2020. What delayed the installation of the plaque during this time?

The Cross sent these additional questions to Bargnes, who did not respond on Wednesday September 15 for the print edition.

In August, The New York Times named the Johnson Publishing Company building on its list of the 25 Most Important Works of Postwar Architecture.

It took two years to construct the Johnson Publishing Company building before it was completed in 1971.

Years after using his mother’s furniture to secure a $ 500 loan to build his media empire, John H. Johnson hired famed black architect John Moutoussamy to design the 11-story building, which was costing him to build. era 8 million dollars.

Prior to that, Johnson Publishing Company operated from three locations on the south side, including the historic Supreme Life Insurance Building on 35th and King Drive. To purchase the building for a white funeral home at 1820 S. Michigan Ave., John Johnson made a deal with a white friend with the owner while posing as a black guard who dressed in work clothes. to inspect the building. Johnson bought this building in trust for $ 52,000 so that no one could identify the buyer and spent $ 200,000 to renovate it.

In December 1971, Johnson moved his business to its final northern location at 820 S. Michigan Ave. across from Grant Park. With no black-owned businesses in the region, this was a bold historic achievement. When his building opened, John H. Johnson held a grand opening ceremony that closed part of Michigan Avenue. The mayor at the time, Richard J. Daley, was among the many dignitaries attending the ceremony. Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gwendolyn Brooks wrote and read a special poem for the occasion.

At 820 S. Michigan Ave., Johnson Publishing Company’s success took off as it established itself as the media capital of black America. Subscriptions soared into millions as celebrities and black politicians made numerous visits to the house built by John H. Johnson.

When Reverend Jesse Jackson left North Carolina for Chicago in 1964, it was John H. Johnson who gave him a job on the loading dock and selling Ebony and Jet magazines.

John H. Johnson died in 2005. His wife, Eunice, who started the Fashion Fair cosmetics line, died in 2010. Later that year, the building was sold to Columbia College for $ 8 million. 3L Real Estate bought it for $ 10 million in 2017.

In 2019, Johnson Publishing Company was dissolved after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Today, Ebony and Jet are owned by former NBA star Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman.


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