Rost Jewelers,  now part of Circle Centre Mall, is one of the city’s most beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture. Although the original building was demolished, the unique façade was saved and moved thanks to what preservationists call a “façadectomy.”


The original building was constructed in 1887 as a three-story brick Italianate structure at 25 N. Illinois Street. Rost Jewelers moved into the south half of the building in 1910 and reclad the front in 1936. The remodeled store incorporated a two-story green polished marble façade with a large octagonal clock, stylized signage, and first-floor display windows. (Historic American Building Survey/W. H. Bass Photo Co., 1936)


Owners Herman and Louis Strashun expanded into the northern half of the building and hired architect Phillip A. Weisenburgh to express the “efficiency and beauty of modern functional design.” Elements of the 1936 design were reused above the recessed center entrance and the façade now extended to the third floor, covering any hint of the original Italianate building. The green marble and clock were surrounded by smooth and carved ashlar limestone and tall glass-block vertical windows. (Historic American Building Survey, 1989 photo by Wilbur A. Montgomery)


Flash forward to the late 1980s when Circle Centre Mall was constructed. Preservationists fought to save the historic buildings, but many times only convinced the mall owners to save the façades. Thus, this building had a “façadectomy” and the building front was moved south to 153 South Illinois Street (the rest of the 1887 building was razed and the parking garage just south of Buca di Beppo sits on the old site). Today, this gorgeous Art Deco façade is the main entrance to Harry & Izzy’s restaurant, named for longtime St. Elmo’s Steak House owners. (Google Street View, 2009)

Many people believe that saving the skin and placing it on a modern structure is not true preservation. Circle City Mall developers learned that this was a good way to placate preservationists in the 1980s and several historic facades were moved and incorporated into the new architecture. I believe that this technique at least saved part of the old structures that would have been lost forever and made the mall’s architecture much more interesting. And at least the mall’s marriages of old and new structures are much more compatible than this “WTH” example in Bucharest, Romania:


Proving that opposites don’t always attract, this photograph from Skyline Online shows an unfortunate façadectomy in Bucharest, Romania. Architecture critic Inga Saffron writes: “Let this be the façadectomy to end all façadectomies.”

Check out the Rost Jewelry building at “What Was There” and make sure to slide the fade bar.

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