McDonald’s new Loop HQ builds on historic film site

What was once a sprawling 88,000-sq. ft. building, with a storied film history at 1058 W. Washington, will become McDonald’s massive 608,000-sq. ft. Chicago headquarters, when the new construction is completed by spring 2018 at an estimated cost of $250 million.

The Chicago Plan Commission unanimously approved the developers’ request to increase the site’s density. The City Council’s stamp of approval is required to finalize the deal, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

Owned by realty developer Sterling Bay, the two-building complex will stand nine stories tall, bigger than the original plans that called for a structure more than 300,000-sq. ft. on 3.5 acres.

McDonald’s, with some 2,000 corporate employees, announced its move to the Loop after a 40 year tenancy in its Oak Brook headquarters. The chain reportedly had investigated several downtown office possibilities before settling on what was famously known as the Harpo Studios campus. The studio of 47 years will be demolished for the new glass structure.

Harpo StudiosMcDonald’s new downtown address will be a short cab ride over from whichever global holding company — either Leo Burnett/Publicis or DDB/Omnicom –- will end up being the sole, all-encompassing agency for the giant chain that spends nearly an estimated $1 billion to drive customers into its 36,000 stores in 119 countries.

A corporate announcement anointing of the new agency is expected shortly.

The building’s lengthy history as a continuous film production center dates back to 1958 when ambitious producer Fred A. Niles converted the 1940s roller skating rink and former armory into a thriving full-service, Hollywood-like complete three-stage studio that he ran for 34 years.

After Niles’ death in 1983, a former congressman and his union leader-partner owned the studio by default and operated it, unsuccessfully, until Oprah Winfrey and partners came along. They purchased it for $474 million in 1988 and invested another $5.25 million for rehabbing and state-of-the-art equipment to create Harpo Studios.

Oprah and her key people departed Chicago for Los Angeles in 2011 to start her own cable network OWN. The last of Harpo’s 200 employees dispersed last December.

Built in 1915 as a cold storage warehouse, the building was historically noted for having been used as a temporary morgue after the Eastland boat disaster. Over the years of Harpo ownership, ghostly sightings of Eastland victims were frequently reported.