News / 6.24.15

Throwback Thursday – Michael Reese Research Foundation

This Gropius-influenced modernist facility was used for blood serum research and application

Today, the Epstein Throwback Thursday series continues with a trip back to February 1955 for the opening of Chicago’s Michael Reese Research Foundation Sidney O. Levinson Blood Bank and Serum Center. This facility, which was located at was then the corner of 31st Street and Lake Park Avenue, provided service and research facilities for the Foundation in their mission to sustain much needed supplies of blood types for emergency use. For those of you not familiar with the history of blood serum, this Foundation was at the forefront of the ultraviolet irradiation of serum which, in a nutshell, eradicates agents within serum allowing for the sterilized end product to be used to help fight disease and create vaccinations.

This particular modernist facility was the result of exponential growth in the Foundation’s blood serum research and application during the 20s, 30’s and 40s. During those decades the Foundation’s blood serum work was done in a variety of smaller, less efficient facilities located throughout the Michael Reese Hospital Campus. It became very clear to the Foundation that much more robust and modern facility was required in order to accomplish the Foundation’s altruistic goals. Epstein was thus hired to develop plans, based on a Michael Reese master plan by Walter Gropius, the first director of the world famous Bauhaus, and then design and engineer this critical medical research facility. A building that would be named after Sidney O. Levinson, the first executive director of the Foundation, who was renowned or his work in convalescent serums, the development of plasma in the treatment of shock and pioneered the aforementioned UV irradiation of blood serum.

Sadly, this building is no longer with us. As Chicagoans know the Michael Reese Hospital closed in 2008 and demolition of this architecturally significant campus began in ‘09 and continued through ‘12. As of today, only one building remains, a Prairie-style administration building designed by Schmidt, Garden & Martin. But thanks to a weird glitch in Google Earth you can still see our building if you go to the street view on Lake Park Avenue just north of 31st Street (if you view along 31st you’ll just see the demolished site). It really is a shame that these Gropius influenced Michael Reese buildings met such a sad fate, but we hope that highlighting the beauty of this particular building helps in future efforts to preserve architecturally significant structures in Chicago.