Pui Tak Building (formerly On Leong Building)

The Pui Tak Building at 2216 S Wentworth Ave. was built in 1926-27.  Architects: Michaelson and Rognstad.  It was designated a Chicago Landmark (the only one in Chinatown thus far) in 1993.  The official Landmarks web site says that “the Oriental-style design was derived from the architecture of the Kwangtung [= Guangdong] district of China” but this is not true.  The design is more Orientalizing than Oriental, representing a Westerner’s reinterpretation of Chinese architectural forms.  That Westerner, presumably either Michaelson or Rognstad, was highly creative.  However, as these images show, he did not include many purely Chinese structural concepts or decorations.

This was the second South Side headquarters of the powerful On Leong Merchants Association.  In 1992 it was seized by the Federal Government, during a questionable but widely publicized prosecution for gambling.  The Government later sold the building to the Chinese Christian Union Church, which made extensive alterations to the interior but left the exterior untouched.  Comparison with early photographs shows not only that the.exterior is unchanged but that it is in remarkably good condition.

On Leong postcard

Postcard: the On Leong/ Pui Tak Building has long been an architectural symbol of Chinatown.

On Leong Tower

Tiled partial roofs with Chinese brackets and open third-floor balconies were typical of pre-World War II architecture in several American Chinatowns.

OnLeong Ornament dragonsOn Leong Ornament diamonds

OnLeong Ornament floral

The decorative tiles on the walls of the building are American, not Chinese, made by the Teco Pottery Company in Crystal Lake, Illinois.  Teco vases and flower pots had similar glazes and are now considered to be highly collectible.  Note that none of the motifs are truly Chinese — they were designed by a creative European-American who had seen very little real Chinese art or architecture

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