By Erick Johnson, Chicago Crusader
The former headquarters of the bygone Johnson Publishing Company, which became a Chicago landmark while producing Ebony and Jet magazines, was defaced with graffiti.
Vandals spray-painted “RUE5 CMR” on the window of the historic building located at 820 S. Michigan Avenue. A Crusader reporter made the discovery while driving south on Michigan Avenue on Sunday, May 27.
For decades the Ebony/Jet headquarters was the only Black-owned building on Michigan Avenue. In February, 2017, Black leaders urged preservationists to protect the Johnson Publishing Company building as developers sought fresh real estate on which to build new skyscrapers on Michigan Avenue and in the South Loop. The building is now owned by 3L Real Estate, which is converting the structure into apartments.
On Tuesday, May 29, the Crusader notified Brian Berg, a spokesperson for 3L Real Estate, of the damage. He said a surveillance camera at the site captured an individual on camera, but no incident report had been filed. By late Wednesday morning, the graffiti had been removed.
The iconic building has been vacant since Linda Johnson Rice sold the Johnson Publishing Company building to Columbia College in 2010 for $8 million. Columbia College wanted to convert the building into a library, but changed those plans and sold the property last November for $10 million to developer 3L Real Estate. That same month, the 47-year-old building was designated a Chicago landmark after a 10-month process.
The building was completed in 1971 after John H. Johnson established Ebony and Jet as premiere magazines highlighting Black life and culture in America. Johnson borrowed $500 against his mother’s furniture to start his media empire. For decades the magazines sat on millions of coffee tables in Black households across the country.
3L Real Estate plans to spend $20 million to convert the 11-story building into 150 apartments. 3L Real Estate founder Joseph Slezak said the apartment units will be rented between $1,200 to $2,700 a month. He said when the project is completed, the apartment building will have a fitness center, and a laundry room on every floor.
Developers plan to keep the underground parking garage that Johnson Publishing Company founder John H. Johnson built. In an interview with the Crusader, Slezak said the garage holds 20 parking spaces. Slezak also pledged to keep the historic Ebony/Jet sign at the top of the building. He said the project will begin in 2018 and will be completed in 2019.
Following the sale of the building Rice moved the operations of Ebony and Jet several blocks north on Michigan Avenue. Meanwhile, the building stood vacant for six years before Columbia College decided to sell the structure in June 2016. Days before, Johnson Publishing’s Ebony and Jet magazines were sold to a Texas investment firm.