The Conservation Center's New "East Wing"

The Conservation Center has always been a progressive organization—dedicated not only to preserving art and heirloom collections from the past (and in many cases, the contemporary), but also to embracing the future of a highly specialized conservation business. Now we're looking ahead to the next phase in the company's evolution: The Center is pleased to announce a major expansion within our building, two years after our relocation from River North to the West Town neighborhood in Chicago. 

This annexation provides an additional 3,500 sq. feet of flexible workspace to what is already one of the largest art conservation laboratories in the country. As we move forward, we thought it would be interesting to learn a bit about the history of our building here at 400 North Wolcott—and what we discovered is too remarkable not share with you.  

First, our current address 400 North Wolcott has not always been “400 North Wolcott.” The building survived a few identities since construction was complete during the mid-18th century, including 400 Hart, 1900 Kinzie, and 400 Paulina. However, while various street address changes offer a clue about our neighborhood’s bygone days, it is truly the building’s history itself that is fascinating.

The most interesting of which began in the middle of the 20th century, with the passage of the Gold Reserve Act in 1934 when private ownership of gold became illegal. In those days, 400 North Wolcott, or 1900 Kinzie, as it was 80 years ago, served as a gold depository, a kind of “Midwestern Fort Knox.” The structure was moated on all four sides and finished with blast-proof walls. Additionally, machine gun slots were fitted throughout the exterior to further provide security. As the nation’s war effort expanded just a few years later, the building, at this point still owned by the government, converted into a garment factory where nearly 100,000 uniforms were produced. After the Allied victory, it was sold to private ownership and has since had an eclectic collection of tenants, including a division of Goose Island Brewery, and even at one point serving as the Jerry Springer Show offices.

Today, 400 North Wolcott measures nearly 47,000 sq. feet with The Conservation Center occupying nearly two-thirds of the building. The Center’s CEO, Heather Becker, explains what the expansion means to the company and how the space will be best utilized: “I’m seeing it as a way to offer future growth flexibility for the organization. Because the space is raw, and wide open, we will be designing it around a completely mobile environment”

Heather, who has been spearheading the project for the majority of the year, finally realized her vision this summer. The new space, affectionately dubbed the “East Wing” or “1E,” allows The Center to be transformational based on the kinds of projects that the conservation team will be working on. This also means that our team will be even more capable to spaciously map out projects and further expand on our “client-centric” focus—more specifically, improve our turnaround rate for projects. Heather explains: “For example, if we have a big framing project, we can set up a special station to accommodate…if it’s a mural project, we can roll out the tables and have large footprint and wall space to work. And because it’s an open expansive environment with mobile racks, it will also resolve some of our client storage needs. We can either ramp up or ramp down within different departments—allowing much more flexibility for the company and how we operate with our efficiencies and production.” 

With the assistance from designers at Studio Gang Architects, these mobile racks will be designed and built specifically for The Conservation Center. They will enable conservators and art handlers to simultaneously transport various pieces—both vertically and horizontally. 

In the coming months, we will be updating this immense undertaking via the monthly newsletter and on Instagram. We invite you to check in on our progress!