Leaning over a rooftop railing of the Chicago Sun-Times building, retired newspaper reporter Justin Fishbein gazed sadly at the majestic downtown skyline that surrounded the gunmetal-gray building.
Some people will cheer when real estate developer Donald Trump knocks it down this fall and begins building a luxury 90-story skyscraper in its place.
Fishbein, however, will mourn.
"I can't believe it'll be gone," said Fishbein, 77, who spent more than a decade at the Chicago Daily News, the defunct afternoon paper that once shared the building with the Sun-Times. "We made history here. We won Pulitzer Prizes. We reported on everything from presidential assassinations to the civil rights movement. This was home."
On a recent Saturday afternoon, Fishbein and dozens of his brethren gathered at the Sun-Times building to say goodbye to their past.
Once a year, for the past 26 years, staffers and their families have gathered in Chicago to reminisce.
In a city where architecture is considered a fine art, these retired journalists are among the few holdouts who see nobility inside the Sun-Times's weatherworn bones.
The building, home to the newspapers since 1958, is routinely dismissed as an eyesore. Even Fishbein admits it is an ugly barge that squats at the Chicago River's edge.
For years, it had been rumored that it might be torn down.
"It's one of the only remaining prime pieces of waterfront real estate left in the city," said Michael Zaransky, chairman of the commercial real estate division of the Chicago Association of Realtors. "It's a pit. It's a short, old, smelly building, and it's got to go."
About three years ago, Trump and his partner Hollinger International Inc., which owns the Sun-Times, said they would replace the building with a sleek tower.
Architects and critics praise Trump's design, a slender column of glass expected to be filled with half-million-dollar condominiums and $8-million-plus penthouses. About 70 percent of the residences have been pre-sold, said Robert Shearer, a sales executive with Trump International Hotel & Tower.
Construction is expected to be completed by 2007. When it is done, it will be the city's fourth-tallest building.
And the newsrooms? Gone -- in their place will be a parking structure.
"See, now that's just wrong," said Karen Petitte, 62, a retired Daily News reporter. "Doesn't anyone care?"
The consensus -- among critics, architects and even city officials -- is that people are more interested in the aesthetic of downtown than in the preservation of this slice of journalistic history.
With the Daily News long since departed -- the paper shut down in 1978 -- there is less focus on saving a rundown building that houses only the tabloid Sun-Times. And many of the journalists who still report from 401 N. Wabash Ave. say they long for updated surroundings.
The paper plans to move its staff to new offices less than a mile away, to the former Apparel Center at 350 N. Orleans St. The move is set for Sept. 30.
"The day we are gone, and they rip out the stained carpet and smash those dreary hallways, is going to be a happy day," said Dan Miller, a former Daily News employee who is now business editor of the Sun-Times. "This building is nothing like it used to be."
The seven-story structure was designed to allow workers to easily haul newsprint off boats in the river, and slip it through a pounding line of presses.
Sure, the building was not as graceful as its neighbors, the icons of Wrigley and IBM, with their grand structures of glass and stone.
"It was in-your-face, instead of pretty," said Marj Abrams, 79, who ran a public relations firm and worked closely with the newspaper staffs. "It was the place people pointed to and said, 'That's where the Chicago newspapers are made.' "
After local tycoon Marshall Field IV bought the Daily News in 1959, he combined both editorial staffs on the fourth floor of the Sun-Times building. Only a glass wall and a small office separated the two.
The staff members were a Who's Who of local media, including columnists Irv Kupcinet, Mike Royko and Ann Landers.
"If you had a scoop, you couldn't run into the newsroom and tell your editor," said retired Daily News reporter Joe Cappo, 68. "If you did, then the reporters at the Sun-Times would see it and start making calls. You had to be sneaky."
Marge McElheny, 62, recalled racing to write stories one paragraph at a time.
"If the editors were really rushed, they'd come over and rip the paper out of your typewriter and start editing right there," she said. "Then, it'd be stuffed into a conveyor belt and be gone."
Often, journalists came -- and stayed. Friendships were formed, as were families. Columnist Robert J. Herguth met his wife in the newsroom of the Daily News. Now, their son Robert C. Herguth is a reporter at the Sun-Times.
Through the years, the Daily News's prestige remained high, with the paper winning numerous Pulitzers Prizes -- but circulation dwindled. When the Daily News's owners shut the paper, some of the staff members stayed in Chicago and joined the Sun-Times, while others left for other media outlets.
But staff members and their families have stayed in touch through e-mail and a regular newsletter.
At the recent gathering, after tales had been hashed out and laughed over, there was one tip the reporters could not ignore: The Trump sales office was just down the hall, and a model unit was open.
Sleek wood covered the floors, and flat-panel TV screens hung on the walls. German brushed-steel fixtures were in the bathroom, along with a frosted glass shower door that cost thousands of dollars.
McElheny gently brushed her fingers against the glass and asked a salesperson how much such a condo would cost. When told one-bedroom models started at $722,000 -- for less than 1,000 square feet -- McElheny gingerly put her hands in her pockets.
"I guess we'll find some other place to have next year's reunion," she said.