Bakery + Town House = Museum

1970s Accessibility Building Ontario Street

Laurence O. Booth explains the challenges of turning a town house into galleries.

At the very beginning, it was just that one-story building with a little blue sign, a vertical sign, and some sort of floating staircase that went up to a little hole, and it was just a white facade. And what I do remember is when they bought the town—they bought a four-story townhouse immediately to the west. And Lew Manilow was the president of the museum at the time. And I’m not sure, there was a series of interviews—there might have been; I don’t remember. But somehow I got the job to put together a one-story bakery, the old bakery with a basement, with this four-story townhouse, and make it into a museum. So, that’s what I remember about the old building is: What do you do? How do you do this?

And the building there is still there. And actually, that wall that you see underneath the floating sculptural second story is the original wall of the bakery. So, it was a job that—also the museum didn’t have a lot of money, so it had to be done very carefully. We had to make sure we didn’t run over the budget. And so we integrated the two buildings in a way that is still there, with a four-story component to the west, and then connected the two forums with the aluminum facade that included that ramp, which was just the beginning of accessibility. So that was cutting edge. Nobody had ever done that, and we did it, not because we wanted to do a ramp, but because we had to do to get people up there, and we couldn’t afford an elevator.

The museum at 237 E Ontario St. Photo © MCA Chicago.

The museum at 237 E Ontario St. Photo © MCA Chicago.

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