The Architecture of Printing

The rapid growth of RR Donnelley's business required erection of a new building at Plymouth Court and Polk Street, south of the Loop in an area that would soon be called Printing House Row (known today as Printer's Row). The architect of the new plant was Howard Van Doren Shaw, who had attended Yale with T. E. Donnelley. When the first phase was completed in May 1897, it was immediately touted by the press as the largest and most modern plant in one of the most important printing districts in the country.

Inside were a composing room, electrotype foundry, press rooms with twenty-two cylinder presses, eight high-speed rotary perfecting presses, twenty job presses, one rotary offset press, folding machines, gathering machines, and patent binders, with annual capacity of 2.5 million books and 75 million booklets. A second phase of the building was completed in 1901, nearly doubling the manufacturing space.

Business expanded so quickly that within a decade, the Plymouth Court building was cramped. RR Donnelley executives planned a new plant on Calumet Avenue, between 21st and 22nd Streets. Again, Shaw was asked to design the building, an eight-story Gothic structure with a tower that was completed in several phases over the next seventeen years.

Once completed in 1929, the Calumet Plant was the largest building in the United States devoted to printing. It contained over 1.1 million square feet of floor space. The daily capacity of the case bindery was 25,000 books; the mail-order bindery could deliver several hundred thousand catalogues and telephone books.

The building's exterior featured terracotta shields with fanciful designs evoking English heraldry and the marks of history's great printers. The initials of T. E. and Reuben H. Donnelley and of Howard Van Doren Shaw were carved on either side of the portal of the 22nd Street entrance.

Lakeside Press building at Plymouth Court

[ca. 1920s].
R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company Archive.

Calumet Avenue building construction
1923.

R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company Archive.

Construction photographs document dramatic changes to the near South Side neighborhood.

"Facts about the Lakeside Press: Its Organization and Equipment."

Brochure, 1929.
R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company Archive.