Historical Temple Goes Retail

When built in 1912, the Moorish-style Medinah Temple was a meeting place for the Shrine of North America. After a 21st century, multi-million dollar restoration and renovation, the historic building at 600 N. Wabash Ave., in Chicago’s River North area, looks much the same as the City’s natives remember. It blends the original Arabian – influenced exterior architecture, complete with replicated copper-clad onion domes, with the modern shopping conveniences of a Bloomingdale’s Home Store.

The Bloomingdale’s Home Store features four stories of home apparel, kitchen appliances and furniture merchandise. The store design called for demolishing the building’s interior, and inserting a soaring new multi-story atrium, surrounded by open display space, capped by the building’s distinctive interior coffered plaster dome restored within the network of ornate ceiling beams and coves. Because of its historic designation, the ceiling posed unusual challenges in the design and installation process. Thorburn Associates developed an effective, although unorthodox solution that allowed background music and paging capabilities without penetrations into the historic ceiling. The design located loudspeakers on top of tall retail sales racks and pointed the loudspeakers up to the historical plaster ceiling. By reflecting sound off the ceiling the patrons are washed in a very uniform sound field. The results were better than expected.

The project has garnered many awards, including the Chicago Landmark Award for excellence, American Institute of Architects Chicago honors, Best of 2003 by Preservation Online and the 2004 Superior Award in Design & Imaging Grand Prize sponsored by the International Council of Shopping Centers and Retail Traffic magazine.

That’s impressive for a building that was slated for demolition and listed as “a most endangered landmark” by the World Monuments Fund.