WEST LOOP — As the walls of the century-old building at Washington and Carpenter are demolished this week, the West Loop site begins a new history as the future headquarters to one of the nation's most influential companies.
But for thousands of media professionals who launched their careers in Chicago, and millions of television viewers, the blocklong site will always be remembered as Harpo Studios — the place where Oprah Winfrey became a household name.
The massive building at 1058 W. Washington Blvd. was a lot of things over the years — first a cold storage warehouse, then a temporary morgue, armory and roller skating rink.
But for the 25 years it was Harpo Studios, and the building housed so many memories.
There were Tom Cruise couch jumps and Oprah's massive 'Favorite Things' holiday giveaways, but little things happened at the studio, too.
"So many incredible things happened here — little things and 'aha' moments and changing lives all happened in that building," said Scott Miller, a former employee who spent five years at Harpo.
Miller, who now executive produces a morning show at Chicago's 97.1 FM the Drive, was hired in 2006 as one of eight radio professionals that would launch Winfrey's Sirius XM radio station from the West Loop studio.
As demolition began at the site this week, Miller couldn't help but stop by the campus, taking a trip down memory lane. He took with him three bricks, a piece of Harpo's history in Chicago. The mementos will be displayed in his home office next to the Harpo Studios audience chair he bought at auction earlier this year.
Radio producer Scott Miller, who worked on the Harpo Studios campus for five years, collects bricks from the West Loop site this week. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
As a child growing up the southwest suburbs, Miller's grandmother would watch "The Oprah Winfrey Show" every single day, he said. The opportunity to work for the talk show host turned media mogul decades later was "a complete honor," he said.
What was it like to have Winfrey as a boss?
"She was the best boss I've ever had with my life," Miller said. "She wanted us to work as hard as we could to make the best product possible and she gave us the tools to do that."
Watching Harpo Studios be torn down was like visiting "the house that you grew up in," Miller said. For Miller, it was the place met then-Senator Barack Obama, and later covered his presidential inauguration live for Oprah Radio.
Winfrey herself shared a similar sentiment on Twitter:
"You made your best friends there... so many little memories," said Miller, who lives in Ravenswood. "To have access to all of these wonderful moments, I'm forever grateful."
Winfrey's Harpo Studios helped put the once-gritty West Loop "on the map," too, Ald. Walter Burnett Jr. (27th) said.
Now the neighborhood is "a safe and cool area, and she was an early pioneer. We're grateful to her," he said.
Demolition at the Harpo site began this week. [Scott Miller]
Demolition of the Harpo campus will make way for a new building that thousands of McDonald's corporate employees will call home come 2018.
McDonald's plans to rent 80 percent of the available office space in the new $250 million building. The company has signed a 15-year lease.
McDonald's officials will move about 2,000 employees into the new Chicago headquarters, according to Burnett.
As the Harpo campus is torn down, Sterling Bay plans to honor Oprah Winfrey's legacy in some way in the new development. Sterling Bay Principal Andy Gloor said his mother and brother both have worked for Harpo Studios.
"We are definitely going to do something to remember who was there," the developer said.
Harpo Studios opened the West Loop campus in 1988.
In March 2015, Harpo announced that Winfrey would not renew the lease on the lot, meaning the longtime home of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" and many other TV shows would leave the site.
Harpo's move from Chicago to a new state-of-the-art studio in West Hollywood came after the OWN Network moved to a new location on The Lot in California.
Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios in the West Loop closed for good in December.
Harpo Studios signs were removed from the building in January.
Oprah's — and Harpo's — move from Chicago began when Winfrey filmed her last episodes of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in 2011. The set subsequently housed "The Rosie Show," hosted by Rosie O'Donnell, for less than a year.
In March 2014, Winfrey announced she had sold Harpo Studios to West Loop-based developer Sterling Bay for $32 million.
Demolition began at the Harpo Studios site this week. [DNAinfo/Stephanie Lulay]
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