Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spirit of Progress


Spirit of Progress, 1929
Unknown artist
Montgomery Ward Building
619 West Chicago Avenue

New Jersey native Montgomery Ward started his company in Chicago in the 1870s as a mail order business that allowed customers to purchase items through a catalog.
Located on Michigan Avenue and Madison Street, the Montgomery Ward Tower was proclaimed "the tallest in Chicago" at 394 feet and, in 1889, it was the highest point in America except for the top of Philadelphia's City Hall. That structure was topped with a statue of city founder William Penn. Affixed to the top of the Montgomery Ward Building was an eighteen-foot-tall weathervane by Scottish-born artist J. Massey Rhind entitled The Spirit of Progress, which became the symbol of the company and appeared on storefronts and catalogs.
The piece was based on an earlier sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens depicting the goddess Diana in flowing robe with a torch in her right hand and a caduceus in her left hand. That sculpture topped the Agriculture Building at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and Montgomery Ward executive William Thorne decided to acquire it. However, the statue was destroyed by fire before he could purchase it.
Success forced the move of the company in 1908 to a larger space two miles away. The Michigan Avenue building was sold and The Spirit of Progress weathervane was dismantled, demolished and reportedly sold for scrap.
In 1929, a four-story tower was added to the new headquarters on the northeast corner of the building 619 West Chicago Avenue. A new figure in flowing, knee-length gown with the a torch in her right hand and a caduceus in her left hand was placed on top. The sculptor may have been Swiss artist Joseph Conradi, who had done work on a number of buildings in the city. Later reports include captions for photographs taken in 1929 by the foundry, American Bronze Company, and they list the artist as George Mulligan, son of sculptor Charles James Mulligan (1866–1916). The elder Mulligan studied at the Chicago Art Institute with Lorado Taft and his local works include Lincoln, The Railsplitter, the Independence Square Fountain and the William McKinley Monument.
Montgomery Ward went out of business in 2000. The building is now residential condominiums.



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