The Vault: Printer’s Row – From Area of Ill Repute to Chicago’s Hottest Neighborhood

Today’s vibrant Printer’s Row in the South Loop is barely recognizable from its previous incarnations — first as an area of ill repute, and later as the eponymous epicenter of the city’s booming printing industry.

A focal point of tourists pouring into the city via Dearborn Station, the neighborhood became the city’s so-called red-light district until Chicago’s vice commission began a decade-long effort through 1910 to purge criminal activity.

Later, Printer’s Row became home to many of Chicago’s printing houses in the early 20th century, thanks both to its convenient location near the Dearborn train station where all the paper arrived, and its proximity to the Loop business district.

By the 1960s, many printers had moved to the suburbs. While others thought the abandoned buildings should be demolished, Baird & Warner, along with a group of architects, lawyers, and builders know as the Printing House Row Associates, had the foresight to see the potential to develop loft apartments similar to those that had become popular in New York City.

In the 1970s, Dearborn Park became the first new community in the South Loop, adjacent to the then abandoned Printer’s Row. This development, which was marketed and sold by Baird & Warner, led the way for others, such as Printing House Row.

Baird & Warner handled financing, leasing and management for Printing House Row — a mixed-use project to convert seven buildings to loft apartments and retail that was completed in the early 1980s. This pioneering project spurred further residential development.  

The largest of the Printing House Row properties — known as the Transportation Building (600 S. Dearborn St.) — today includes Baird & Warner’s South Loop office. As a tribute to the historical significance of the neighborhood, the office walls are adorned with photographs documenting Printer’s Row during its metamorphosis.