The Printers Row Historic District on the south end of downtown Chicago has spectacular industrial and commercial architecture from the city's bygone era of, you guessed it, printing. Today it is more of a neighborhood than a bookbindery, and the area keeps a connection with its past identity through a literary festival every year and a rare book shop in downtown Chicago. While other areas of downtown are flashy with postmodern buildings, this little area retains its historic character.
Technically the Printers Row Historic District, also calling "Printing Row," is between Congress and Polk (north to south) and Plymouth Court to the Chicago River (east to west). The printing industry needed to be right next to major means of transportation, and here they had both the river and the trains. Also printing uses lots of water (and emits lots of waste), so the river was a necessity for that, too.
Dearborn Station, which once carted much freight transportation, was almost torn down but saved to become a sort of mall with offices inside. When I look at its grand brick clock tower, I can almost imagine I'm in Italy, as it is modeled after a medieval-style bell tower. It has ornate red terra-cotta work that you see so much of in this area. It is the oldest train station in Chicago, built in 1885 in a Romanesque style.
The Franklin Building, just north of the former station on Dearborn, was designed by architect George Nimmons. He brought the Prairie Style to factories and warehouses with horizontal emphasis in form and details. From street level people marvel at the colored tiles that paint a picture of the origins of the printing industry. On the top floor a sloped roofline creates an enormous skylight, once perfect for the binding of books by hand.
The Transportation Building, a block north at 600 S. Dearborn, has interesting dimensions - while it's a full 20 bay windows wide, it's only four deep. Everybody got great natural light in here initially! Vertical bands of a brickwork pattern make its facade distinct. Its renovation was key in connecting the newly residential district with the rest of downtown during revitalization of the 1970s. The area had especially gone downhill with the widening of Congress and the movement of the industry out of downtown.
Today, Printers Row retains its connection with its printing past through its annual literary festival, Printers Row Lit Fest, holding strong in this downtown neighborhood.