farewell Freedom Center

This item has been corrected. Madigan.

There it goes, Freedom Center, about the last visible symbol of a great newspaper that still had great ambitions in 1981 when the giant printing plant opened. There was a contest to name the place, just for Tribune editorial department employees. I didn’t even try because I was never part of anyone’s “family” but my own and even though I appreciated having one of the best reporting jobs in the United States, I wasn’t going corporate for anyone. Lots of my friends did, and they did great work, not only for Tribune Company, but for those of us who worked for them. My memory about who won the contest is foggy, but someone on the fourth floor got a little block of solid gold for coming up with the name.

Freedom Center was remarkable. The biggest building most of us had ever been in, it had gigantic rooms full of newsprint on huge rolls. The humidity and temps in those storage areas were carefully controlled. A big roll of newsprint could become useless if it got too much moisture in it. The building was so vast it had its own climate. There are stories about it snowing indoors in the summer. I don’t know if they were true but they were just too good to check out. Big Goss Metroliner presses, state of the art, would print The Tribune, U.S.A. Today and the New York Times without missing a beat. Everything was so highly automated the paper rolls would move on little railroad cars to the presses. The only big thing you noticed when the presses left the basement of Tribune Tower and were replaced at Freedom Center was that the building no longer rattled when they started to run. That, I have to tell you, was some feeling. Especially if you were working on a big story. They could slow the presses down and replate as you were writing. You could feel them rumbling on your butt right through five stories of building and a padded seat. Wonderful.

Now it’s time to get maudlin and lament the passing of such a great institution. People would say that Craig’s List and technology led to the end of the paper we all knew for so many years. I would argue that is not the case. Money did it. The Tribune Tower, perhaps America’s most important journalism symbol, was repurposed as a big condominium building by the people who bought the Tribune Company after Sam Zell and his pirates wrecked the place. The fact that Freedom Center is going to be the heart of a gambling complex (Tribune will still hold some kind of strange option on that actual printing plant, but we can’t tell what that is) presents such a surreal image I can’t even conjure it.

Of course they sold it. Their concern for the history of the place is reflected in the fact that where I used to sit as national editor, then Perspective Editor then senior correspondent is now the lap pool for the condo livers who paid top dollar to move into the “repurposed” Tribune Tower.

I used to love to get on the Evanston Express early in the morning and take that long ride on the red line after Howard to get to the paper to work. That train would rock and roll and you could look out the windows and think things were never going to change, that all those two flats were firmly planted and filled up with little Catholic kids going off to the local parish school.

For the most part, that is all gone now.

There are still a lot of us around, the old reporters who retired after having great, long runs at The Chicago Tribune. Hell, Ron Grossman, a great story teller in his late 80s who has a deep passion for Chicago, its history, its stories, its still there, whacking away at stuff that ends up on the web or maybe in the paper sometimes. It takes more than a building to make a newspaper. Grossman remains greater than any of the physical ghosts of The Tribune that seem to float around him in a dream world.

6 thoughts on “farewell Freedom Center

  1. A quick reminiscent of the last day Tribune staff had been at the Tower. I had been gone from the paper for a couple of years, but was in the neighborhood and stopped by the Tower to say goodbye to whoever was left. I was crossing Michigan Avenue walking towards the building when I spotted Ron Grossman leaving the building, carrying a box of his possessions. He saw me, held his hand up and sort of shook his head – seemed too emotional to say anything, and continued to walk away.


  2. I worked in Freedom Center in the 1990s in Marketing and Customer Service. Every day I was so proud to work for such a newspaper. Walking thru the plant would mark your blood pump in rhythm with the presses. What a wonderful time to be in newspaper publishing!


  3. Great reminiscence of two buildings that I always admired and this town’s loss of any newspaper of note. Just reminds what do you wrap last evening’s table scraps! You are a first rate storyteller Charlie.


  4. The closing of the Freedom Center has a somber feeling for many, including me. Growing up in Chicago everyone knew someone that worked in printing. Many family members worked in printing to support their families including me. As a child in the 60’s or then during my working career, I was fortunate to see printing up close at the Tribune Towers, the Sun-Times, and even commercial printing at W F Hall and Donnelley. Just like Cuneo and I S Berlin and others they are now all gone. The names on the top of the buildings were different, but really all of us at the bottom were family or at least friends. I now know what it feels like to see the world pass by. What it was like for the buggy whip manufacture to see automobiles progress, or that telegraph operator see the development of the telephone. Now all seemingly just a memory of so many that enjoyed providing a product that brought knowledge and news to so many.. Who knew that the smudge of ink on your hand or forehead would get into your blood as it did? I keep thinking of the paper hat that the pressmen made for the visiting children at the tower. Great memories and stories that I hope don’t get lost when the Freedom Center site is demolished for a new Casino. The building was important yet it was the people from the writers to the drivers that delivered those products that really count and will be missed daily in all our lives.


  5. Worked the strike at Freedom Center, in the plate room. We were bussed there from the Tower, as we drove into the lot through the picket lines about 7 windows were shattered.


  6. Casey Bukro came up with the name, “Freedom Center.” Editorial types working the late shift to check “first offs” for gross errors left haiku poems for each other to enjoy. It was started by a one-year who didn’t get hired. The tradition continued long after she was gone.


Comments are closed.