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John Holabird Jr., Partner in Famed Chicago Firm, Dies

June 19, 2009

By Blair Kamin

John Holabird Jr.
Photo courtesy Holabird & Root
John Holabird Jr.

John Holabird Jr., FAIA, died on February 16 in Chicago after battling health problems, including intestinal cancer. He was 88 years old.

His grandfather was architect William Holabird, founder of the firm that became Holabird and Roche. Established in 1880, just as Chicago was about to undergo the building boom that revolutionized the construction of tall buildings, the firm designed such Chicago School skyscrapers as the Marquette Building. After World War I, it was reestablished as Holabird & Root and shaped Art Deco landmarks like the Chicago Board of Trade Building. Still in operation, it is one of Chicago's oldest architectural firms.

While the Harvard-educated Holabird became a firm partner in 1970, he was more than a mere link in a family dynasty: He parachuted with the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II, worked briefly as a set designer for CBS and NBC, mentored young architects, and charmed listeners with tales of his grandfather and architect father, John A. Holabird. (A sample, taken from his oral history with the Art Institute of Chicago: "My father and Root had known [Frank Lloyd Wright] all his life and thought he was a big pain the neck just because he was so insolent and rude to everybody.")

Holabird contributed to the design of the main pavilion at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, and directed a range of projects before retiring in 1987. Survivors include his wife Janet. 

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