Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The History of the "Father Time" Clock, the Jewelers Building, and the Stratosphere Club in Chicago.

The "Father Time" Clock at 35 East Wacker Drive in Chicago is located at the Jeweler's Building which faces the Chicago River.
If you visit the northeast corner of the building, the clock at first glance looks like the Marshall Field's clocks. That is until you notice the creepy guy who looks like death. He is really supposed to be Father Time.
At night the clock is outlined in dark red lights which makes it look even creepier. The clock was a gift from the Elgin Watch Company. Father Time was their logo. They had an office in the building.
Aside from the fact that it's a beautiful building with a fancy dome on top of it, it has a very cool history. Construction started in 1925 and was completed in 1927.

Since this was originally a jewelers building, it had many different security features. One of them was a really extreme version of a parking garage. Since jewelers would carry their merchandise around with them, they were often in danger of being robbed. So, to make sure no one was attacked on the walk between the car and the office, jeweler's just drove their car straight into the building! For its first 14 years, the building had a car lift that served the first 23 floors and facilitated safe transfers for jewelry merchants. The car elevator would bring you to the floor you worked on and then drop your car off on one of the parking levels. From the security office, a lock-down would commence upon any tenant's trigger of the alarm system. All outside doors would lock and elevators would stop at the next floor, doors remaining closed, and would not move.

The best part of this 40 story building is the dome at the top.
Formerly the Pure Oil Building and North American Life Insurance Building, 35 East Wacker was listed in 1978 as a contributing property to the Michigan–Wacker Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places, and was designated a Chicago Landmark on February 9, 1994.
The Stratosphere Club in the dome was not, nor ever was a speakeasy, and Al Capone never stepped foot in the Stratosphere Club.
When the 40-story Jeweler’s Building was completed in 1927, the dome sat empty for some time. In 1932 it was reported in the Chicago Tribune that a hawk had taken up residence in the dome and was preying on migratory birds in the loop. References seem to indicate that it was used for storage.

The creation of the Stratosphere Club was announced in the Tribune. In January 10, 1937, a Tribune article entitled “City’s Highest Restaurant Being Built.” Owner Paul Streeter, he named the club after a closed club which was in the Rockefeller Center in New York.

The Stratosphere was scheduled to open in March and was the top four floors – a kitchen on the 37th, a regular restaurant on the 38th and 39th, and a cocktail lounge on the 40th. An ornate birdcage elevator took guests to the 40th-floor. The lounge was decorated as a hot air balloon, accentuating the outstanding views of the Chicago River and the Loop. 

The Stratosphere Club opened in March of 1937. Al Capone had already been in Alcatraz since August 22, 1934, and prohibition ended on December 5, 1933.

The club was a big hit, but by 1954, the cupola was converted into a showroom for a commercial artist who kept and used the old circular bar of the Stratosphere Club. Presently, it's the private conference room and showroom for architect Helmut Jahn, with his offices in Suite 300 of the Jewelers Building. Jahn designed that awesome terminal corridor at O'Hare with the moving walkways and ceiling light sculpture.
Movies love this building. It's the Gotham City Courthouse in "Batman Begins," and in one scene Batman sits on one of the turrets. In the movie "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" there's a giant robot battle on top of the building.

NOTE: A Facebook comment from Mr. T. R. about this article:
"I used to give [Chicago] tours on double-decker buses, river & lake tours. We [and I] used to tell the story of Al Capone and the Stratosphere Club [being a speakeasy] and we always believed it to be true. All those people that I lied to through the years."
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. Chicago has so many beautiful, historical buildings. The Jewelers Building is one of them!! Thanks, Neil.

  2. Very cool. My father was a commercial artist and worked at one time in this building. I distinctly remember riding in that elevator as a child. Always looked for that gold dome when we were downtown!

  3. Gosh, I love our city history good and not so good. It is the best. And I miss it in spite of all it's flaws - it's home

  4. Fascinating! Wasn't this building also featured in the opening credits in the "Untouchables" TV series?


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