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Edgebrook, Edison Park, Sauganash

Architect Who Helped Restore Navy Pier Wanted To ‘Make Places That Are Good For Families And Everybody To Enjoy’

Jerome Butler Jr. died Dec. 2. Butler served multiple roles in city government and left his touch all over the city, from Navy Pier to fire and police stations.

Jerome Butler Jr. in the Navy Pier Hall of Fame on he left. Butler is the second from the left in an undated picture from the right.
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EDGEBROOK — Jerome “Jerry” Butler Jr. is best known for his award-winning restoration of Navy Pier’s East End buildings. But the prolific Chicago architect made his mark throughout the city, designing numerous fire stations, police stations, city buildings and landmarks during his long career. 

What motivated Butler the most was not awards or recognition, said his daughter, Carolyn Butler.

It was “his passion for Chicago and to change it for the better,” Carolyn Butler said. He wanted to, “make places that are good for families and everybody to enjoy, like Navy Pier,” she said. 

Jerome Butler, who also served multiple roles in city government, died in his Edgebrook home Dec. 2. He was 93.

Jerome Butler felt a deep affection for the city of Chicago, just like he loved, and was loved by, the many people in his life — everyone from his family to the kids in the neighborhood to the janitors who worked at Navy Pier, his daughter said.

“People just loved him. He understood human behavior. All the kids in the neighborhood loved him,” Carolyn Butler said. “Wherever he worked, the janitors would come up to him and just talk to him like he was one of the guys.”

Credit: Provided
Butler is seated in the middle in the undated photo.

Butler was a lifelong Chicagoan — he grew up in Edgewater and graduated from the University of Illinois’ Navy Pier campus in 1952.

His father, Jerome Butler Sr., was an engineer for the city who worked on the bridges and bridge houses along the Chicago river, and he influenced Butler Jr.’s decision to pursue architecture, Carolyn Butler said. 

After graduation, Jerome Butler Jr. joined architecture firm Naess & Murphy, where he worked on the building now known as One Prudential Plaza, Carolyn Butler said. He began working in city government in 1960; in 1967, Mayor Richard J. Daley appointed him city architect, according to the Tribune.

It was during Jerome Butler’s time as city architect that he completed one of the crowning achievements of his career: Navy Pier. 

By the early 1970s, the parts of Navy Pier that weren’t related to its function as a port facility had fallen into disrepair, author Douglas Bukowski wrote in his book, “Navy Pier: A Chicago Landmark.”

But Jerome Butler brought new life to the pier. Beginning in 1974, he led the restoration of several landmarks on Navy Pier, including what’s now known as the Aon Grand Ballroom, a promenade on the north side of the pier and a solar energy project to heat up the east end of the pier, according to Bukowski’s book.

Jerome Butler’s work at Navy Pier in 1979 earned him a spot in the American Institute of Architects College of Fellows, an honor bestowed to only 3 percent of the organization’s members who have made significant contributions to the profession, according to the the group.

Jerome Butler also helped design State Street Mall, a pedestrian-friendly stretch of the street to draw shoppers to the city’s major retailers, which was completed in 1979 according to Robert P. Ledermann, author of “State Street: One Brick at a Time.” Mayor Richard M. Daley closed the mall in 1993 and reopened it as a thoroughfare for cars like the street is today, according to the Tribune.

In 1979, Jerome Butler was named the head of the city’s Department of Public Works under Mayor Jane Byrne, according to the Tribune. In 1985, under former Mayor Harold Washington, he served briefly as commissioner of the Chicago Department of Aviation. 

Jerome Butler later worked as the deputy general manager at Navy Pier in the 1990s, helping oversee its $200 million renovation in 1995 into the popular tourist attraction many know today, according to the Tribune.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Navy Pier on April 29, 2021.

Jerome Butler was incredibly passionate about his work and “never missed a day,” Carolyn Butler said.

“He was there every day from 8 to 5. Sometimes he’d get home late because of openings and projects and teaching young architects,” she said.  

Roula Alakiotou was one of the architects who worked under Jerome Butler, from 1976 to 1979, in her first job after graduate school. She remembers him as a no-frills, good man who advocated for diversity in the field. Alakiotou said she become good friends with him and his wife even after she left her city role.

Jerome Butler also helped Alakiotou launch her studio, Roula Architects, by introducing her to larger commercial firms and helping her secure city contracts.

“I loved the man. He was a simple, straightforward guy, and I miss him terribly,” Alakiotou said. “He had a long life, but he made a big difference to architects in the city.”

Credit: Provided
Butler’s watercolor paintings.

Outside of work, Jerome Butler enjoyed outdoor hobbies like handball, sailing, golfing and swimming. After he retired, he took up watercolor paintings and photography, both of which he excelled at, his daughter said. 

Jerome Butler was married to the late Marianne Butler for 65 years. He is survived by his three children, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A frequent pastime for the Butler family was to visit Downtown and see Navy Pier.

“He was a great father. He was always in good spirits,” Carolyn Butler said. “People loved him; even the people at Navy Pier who were the lowest on the totem pole loved my father. He showed no prejudice or a bad word about anybody, everybody. All my friends, they all loved my dad.”

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