State and Elm demolition recalls a notorious one

The recently-demolished site that’s slated for new condominiums at 4 East Elm in the Gold Coast reminded me of the steel skeleton that stood for years at the southeast corner of State and Division. The two-story building currently at the site is occupied by Bank of America.

The audacious Lou Wolf, a convicted arsonist and real estate tax-evader, secured building permits for three 3-story buildings on the site and proceeded to build a single 4-story building before the city took him to court in 1988 seeking its demolition.

The city’s lead prosecutor was quoted in a Tribune article as saying “We’ve never seen one quite like this. We’ve never had one as bold as this.”

Wolf may have been inspired by the (perhaps apocryphal) history of the nearby 1150 N Lake Shore Drive. A high-level employee of the developer told me, years after the building was complete, that the permits for the 24-story building only allowed construction of a 22-story building. The developer attributed the discrepancy to “contractor error.” Two of the penthouse units, the story goes, were sold to political heavyweights at bargain prices and the city didn’t pursue the permit violations.

When the 14-building Bristol Court complex in Park Ridge converted to condominiums it came to light that the permits for the complex, which had been built as a rental, only allowed 13 buildings.

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