“Every floor is different, and every floor has surprises.”      

John H. Johnson, former CEO Johnson Publishing Company

This project documents the core essence of the Johnson Publishing Company, the most influential African American–owned corporation of its day, focusing on the company’s historic building in its semi-skeletal state—before the last vestiges of the original workspace vanished. These lively interiors fostered the creativity of a staff working in a variety of media, including the iconic Ebony and Jet magazines. Even with that staff now long gone, the Johnson Building still embodied the spirit of this company, which occupied this space essentially unaltered from 1972 to 2012. It remained a genuine cultural time capsule of African American enterprise: a specific stylistic vocabulary that had survived the passage of the decades. The Johnson Building, stripped of its furnishings, presented a unique opportunity: to document the resonant interiors of its long-time occupant—interiors that simultaneously represented the spirit of this landmark company and the sense of its loss, of a seminal moment in African American history and the history of this nation.  

The exterior of 820 South Michigan Avenue was granted landmark status and the building was subsequently sold to developers in late 2017. It is now undergoing a complete interior renovation to convert the tower into 150 residential rental units and retail space. Johnson Publishing Company’s remarkable interiors no longer exist.


Barbara Karant