Federal Building U.S. Railroad Retirement Board (USRRB), Chicago, IL
The United States Railroad Retirement Board Building (USRRB) is a twelve-story brick and limestone structure. Constructed in 1923, the building covers the entire site bounded by Wabash Avenue, and Rush, Pearson and Chestnut Streets on the north side of downtown Chicago.
The east elevation, and slender north and south elevations, are the principal facades. The west elevation, also fully exposed, is also a principal facade, but houses the back of the house loading dock and service areas. The building is clad in red brick with deep recessed windows at the eleventh and twelfth floors, and a limestone clad ground floor and granite base. The building is simply detailed and exhibits few strong stylistic elements.
Of note is the difference between the building and the original drawings. The twelfth floor of the building as constructed is clad in the same red brick as the remainder of the facade. However, the original drawings call for a highly detailed limestone clad top
floor and cornice for the building. The drawings also call for a more intricately detailed stone base and second floor detailing, unlike the more simplistic detailing which actually exists.
All elevations are detailed similarly. The first floor is clad in limestone, with large storefronts and granite bases on the columns. The second through twelfth floors are monolithic brick, with regularly spaced rectangular punched window openings with limestone sills. The parapet is a slight, simple corbelling of the brick with a simply shaped limestone cap.
Typically, the plan of the building is composed of a large, marble finished central elevator lobby located between opposed banks of elevators. Around all four sides of this core area is the office, or tenant areas, which are directly accessed from the lobby through five cased openings. Exit stairs are located at the north and south ends of the west bank of elevators. The plan is irregular in shape, configured to the non-orthogonal geometry of Wabash Avenue and Rush Streets, which form the west and east sides of the site, respectively.
The typical elevator lobbies remain much as they were originally constructed and are finished with 10 inch by 20 inch marble tile floors, marble wainscot, plaster walls and ceilings. New fluorescent lighting and large heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) equipment and ductwork have been surface added in prior renovations. Some of the ductwork and equipment reduces the ceiling height to approximately eight feet at the tenant access areas.
The ground floor lobby is accessed through primary entrances on the east (Rush Street) and south (Pearson Street). Predominantly finished in marble, this irregular "L" shaped space serves the first floor tenant areas and the building's elevators. A marble-finished corridor connects the lobby to the loading dock, which is located between the west elevator bank and the west edge of the building's first floor. A large cafeteria occupies nearly the entire northern portion of the ground floor. When this space was added in the 1960s, an original building entrance and extension of the main first floor lobby was removed. Non-original exterior doors remain at the approximate location of this entrance, but function only as an emergency exit from the cafeteria.
The United States Railroad Retirement Board Building (USRRB) was constructed as the America Fore Office Building in 1923 by the Continental Insurance Company. In 1942, the building became the property of the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board, and now houses one of the few federal governmental agencies headquartered outside of Washington D.C.
Stylistically, the building is understated and is not a significant example of any one architectural style. Its massiveness, enhanced by its monolithic masonry walls and irregular shape, are the building's strongest features.