190 North State Street celebrates 100 years

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The building located at 190 North State Street, home to the ABC7 Eyewitness News station and studio, celebrated 100 years on Thursday. Reporter Janet Davies looked back on the building's history.

The corner of State and Lake has quite a history. In 1830, the first town plat called it Block 36. Three years later, Chicago's first Catholic church, St. Mary's, was built there - still a parish on South Michigan Avenue.

"Our parish still includes the site of its original location, our parish boundaries go that far, so that includes all of the Loop," said Rev. Paul Heusing of Old St. Mary's.

In 1836, the church moved. It was replaced by a wooden hotel called The European, which was destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire. A commercial building was built on the site.

Eventually, Balaban and Katz Theatre Corporation, movie palace builders, bought the property for their headquarters and hired two architect brothers, C.W. and George Rapp. The Rapp brothers would go on to build the B&K palaces, like the Chicago Theatre across the street. Charles Ward Rapp's book on the brothers explains why the building is constructed two ways. He said it is because of World War 1.

"All the steel dried up, you couldn't get materials to build. That put everything on hold. But then they employed for the top stories in the State/Lake reinforced concrete...blocks with rebar to support them. And that was a new deal, it was very unusual to be used for something like that," said Rapp, a great grandnephew.
In 1918, 190 North State opened. Two years after, a 2,800-seat vaudeville house debuted, constructed and owned by the Orpheum Circuit, accessed through the building. It morphed into a movie house, later bought by Balaban and Katz.

In 1995, Davies took the retired Elmer Balaban on a tour with his famous son, Bob.

"This is the building where my dad had his office for 45 years, and when I was 4 years old I used to have my hair cut on a pony downstairs in a barbershop," said Bob Balaban, an actor, director and producer.

EMBED More News Videos

The building located at 190 North State Street, home to the ABC7 Eyewitness News station and studio, celebrated 100 years on Thursday.

The building also became home to many Chicago furriers. In 1939, Balaban & Katz saw the future and built an experimental television station, W9XBK - Chicago's first television station.

One of the original engineers to build the station remembered that what was on screen wasn't exactly exciting.

"We were with test signals constantly because the audience was building around Chicago and had to have something to tune into...we had a test pattern running all day," said Reinald Werrenrath, co-creator of W9XBK.

During World War 2, part of the building became a naval radar training station. Men were at war and women ran the station.

That station became Balaban and Katz Broadcasting. Years later, they absorbed another station, WENR-TV. Channel 7 worked out of the top three floors of the 12-story building.

One retired cameraman revealed a little secret. "There is a 13, but that is only storage, we used to sneak up there for our naps," said Don Farnham, a cameraman.

In 1968, WBKB became WLS-TV. By 1985, the furriers were gone and the State Lake Theatre turned into offices and studios. One for the new Oprah Winfrey Show and another for "Ebert and Roper." Later, shows like 190N moves in and today, Windy City Live. The news studios have moved down from floor 12 to 3 and in 2006, to a state of the art street side studio.

This building has been home to memorable television. And unlike other Chicago stations, a time traveler from 100 years ago would recognize the Loop's southwest corner of State and Lake.
Copyright © 2019 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.