History

The building was constructed in 1929 at the end of a post World War I building boom and just as the nation was headed into The Great Depression following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Designed in the Art Deco architectural style by Zimmerman Saxe and Zimmerman Architects, the building was originally constructed as a film exchange facility for Warner Brothers Pictures. Warner Brothers used the building for their Chicago corporate offices and to house highly combustible motion picture films as they were distributed to Chicago area theaters. For this reason, the building structure is constructed entirely of cast-in-place concrete to provide maximum resistance to fire. Fire-proof concrete construction was a relatively new innovation in Chicago at that time born out of concerns generated by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
In those days, Chicago (along with New York) was a motion picture film center during the silent film era and before the motion picture industry had even heard of Hollywood. For years, Chicago film studios Essanay, Selig, and Vitagraph produced films here in Chicago until the years just before the dawn of “talkies” in 1928. After the exodus of the film studios to California, Chicago continued to be an important city in the motion picture film industry. The film industry was well represented in the South Loop along the Wabash Avenue corridor during this period and thereafter. In 1921, the Vitagraph Building was constructed at 839-843 South Wabash Avenue. Four years later, Warner Brothers acquired Vitagraph and renamed the company Vitaphone and soon after the Vitaphone name was phased out as well. The following year, Warner Brothers Pictures commissioned Zimmerman Saxe and Zimmerman to begin design of the studio’s Chicago home on South Wabash Avenue.
The South Loop (South Wabash Avenue in particular) was once an attractive area for the motion picture industry largely due to the proximity of nearby railroad transportation. Many motion picture film studios are known to have had offices and film exchanges in the South Wabash Avenue corridor. The following addresses have been confirmed however is, by all probability, an incomplete list:
– Goldwyn Pictures – 800 South Wabash Avenue
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Chicago Film Exchange – 802 South Wabash Avenue
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Pathe Film Exchange – 1025 South Wabash Avenue
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Vitagraph, Inc. – 839 to 843 South Wabash Avenue
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Film Exchange (studio unknown) – 1300 South Wabash Avenue
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Paramount Pictures – 1300 South Michigan Avenue
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Universal Studios – 1301 South Wabash Avenue
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Warner Brothers Pictures – 1307 South Wabash Avenue
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Essanay Films – 1325 South Wabash Avenue
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Famous Player-Lasky Corporation – 1327 South Wabash Avenue

Zimmerman Saxe and Zimmerman Architects designed the Warner Brothers Film Exchange Building (now Film Exchange Lofts), from their office at 212 East Superior Street in Chicago. The firm was founded in 1898 by William Carbys Zimmerman who was joined in partnership by Albert Moore Saxe, and Ralph W. Zimmerman (William Carbys’ son).
William Carbys Zimmerman is a notable architect in Chicago history. He was born in 1856 in Thiensville, Wisconsin. William Carbys Zimmerman received his formal architectural education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, graduating in 1880. After leaving MIT, he received practical training at Burnham & Reed Architects in Chicago from 1880 to 1883. Zimmerman then worked at the S.V. Shipman office until 1884. Beginning in 1884, William Carbys Zimmerman entered into partnership with John J. Flanders to form Flanders and Zimmerman Architects. Together the partnership designed many buildings that are today considered to be historically significant or landmark buildings. In 1889, William Carbys Zimmerman was named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. Flanders and Zimmerman were honored by their selection to design the International Dress & Costume Company Building at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition. After dissolving Flanders and Zimmerman in 1898, Zimmerman went on to design many historically significant buildings and landmark buildings as a sole practitioner, in partnership with his son as Zimmerman and Zimmerman, and as Zimmerman, Saxe, and Zimmerman. William Carbys Zimmerman died in 1932.