Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Chicago's Century of Architectural Progress

Exactly ninety years ago, from December 1930 through February 1931, the Chicago Tribune ran a four-part series entitled “Chicago’s Century of Architectural Progress.” The timing was appropriate, as the year of 1930 had marked the unofficial centennial of Chicago, commemorating James Thompson’s first plat map of the future town and city on August 4, 1830. (Note: The map, shown below, laid out fifty-eight blocks around the juncture of the three branches of the Chicago River in an area bounded by State, Madison, Des Plaines, and Kinzie streets.)

Each of the four installments included a full page of pictures in the Tribune’s rotogravure section. The Committee on Public Information of the Chicago Chapter, American Institute of Architects, chaired by architect and urban planner Eugene H. Klaber (1883-1971), partnered with the Tribune on the project to make the selection of buildings and provide the narrative.

The four installments and supervising architect for each were as follows:

December 7, 1930
Chicago prior to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871
Earl H. Reed, Jr. (1884-1968) 

December 14, 1930
The Fire to the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893
Arthur Woltersdorf (1870-1948) 

January 25, 1931
The Exposition through the end of World War I in 1918
Harry Howe Bentley (1883-1968) 

February 8, 1931
Contemporary architecture
Thomas E. Tallmadge (1876-1940) 

The first installment included an article explaining the series, quoting Eugene Klaber:

“In the years since the great war, there has been a growing appreciation of architecture in Chicago. The man in the street, who previously hardly knew the names of the important buildings in the city, is today familiar with its principal architectural developments that are taking place. 

“He watches the loop as it grows; and the development of Grant park, of Wacker drive, of Michigan boulevard and the near north side engage his sympathetic attention. This change in attitude of the public toward architecture was greatly stimulated, if not actually fostered, by the competition for the Tribune tower. The worldwide response to this intriguing project, and the variety and excellence of the designs presented, caused endless comment. 

“What is less well known, is that the architecture of contemporary Chicago is but a link in a chain that stretches over more than a century. It is no sporadic manifestation. From the earliest days to the present day, it forms a continuous history. Various influences have affected the flow of architectural development from time to time, but it is nevertheless one continuous story. During that period, the architects of Chicago have manifested a constant and progressive spirit in the design of their buildings. Skeleton steel construction had its origin here, and the resultant architecture, as well as the original thinking of such men as Louis H. Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, have created a wave of influence that has spread throughout the world.”

Chicago Architecture 1871-1893

This article will look at the second installment of the series which includes a total of thirteen sites constructed between 1871 and 1893. Despite the enormous building activity that took place in the years immediately following the Fire, it is interesting to note that none of the sites actually predate 1880. Sadly, only four sites survive today – the Town of Pullman, Monadnock Building, Auditorium Building, and Glessner House.

The sites in the second installment were selected by Arthur F. Woltersdorf, a life-long Chicagoan born in 1870, one year before the Fire. He attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and received training in the office of Burnham and Root before forming the partnership of Hill and Woltersdorf in 1894. Elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects, he wrote extensively on the theory and practice of architecture and served as editor of Living Architecture: A Discussion of Present Day Problems published in 1930. He died in 1948.

The sites are shown below with their original narrative; additional notes are included in parentheses following each entry: 


“An industrial town planned in 1880 by S. S. Beman, architect. It was the forerunner by more than a decade of industrial town plans in America, incorporating recreational, sanitary, and aesthetic features for the life of this community. The buildings of red brick and gray stone reflected Victorian Gothic architecture of the time. (Drawing by Irving K. Pond.)”

(NOTE: Pullman was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970, a Chicago Landmark in 1972 [expanded 1993], and a National Monument in 2015. The style of architecture is generally referred to as Queen Anne, with influences of Richardsonian Romanesque.)


“Erected in the later 1880’s, it stood until 1930, living evidence of H. H. Richardson’s skill in handling simple masses with charm and great power. Historians of American architecture will not forget it.”

(NOTE: The building, known as the Marshall Field Wholesale Store, covered the block bounded by Wells, Quincy, Franklin, and Adams. Richardson considered it one of his most important contributions to American architecture and was saddened when he realized he would not live to see it completed. It was completed in 1887, razed in 1930 and replaced by a parking lot, when the wholesale division moved to the Merchandise Mart.) 


“The Art Institute, later the Chicago Club, by John Wellborn Root (Burnham and Root, architects), displayed Romanesque forms and proportions in a modern and masterly manner. The influence of Richardson is clearly evident. The disappearance of this structure was Chicago’s loss.” 

(NOTE: The building was completed in 1885 and was located at 404 S. Michigan Avenue [southwest corner of Van Buren]. Ownership of the building changed hands when the Art Institute moved into its present building in 1893. The interior of the building collapsed in 1928 during renovation. The old structure was razed and replaced by the current Chicago Club, with Granger & Bollenbacher serving as architects).

(The next three buildings were treated together) 


“The Monadnock block, north section, dates from 1892. The power expressed in the simple soaring walls is the swan song of wall bearing floor construction for high buildings. Burnham and Root were the architects.” 

(NOTE: At sixteen stories, the north half of the Monadnock building, 53 W. Jackson, was the tallest wall-bearing building in Chicago. Holabird & Roche designed the south half in 1893, which incorporated a more traditional steel skeleton frame. The Monadnock was designated a Chicago landmark in 1973).


“In the Home Insurance Building is the germ of the steel skeleton building, originating in 1884. Up to the second floor the walls are solid masonry. Above this, the floor systems are carried on cast iron columns in self-supporting masonry piers; the spandrel walls are supported by rolled iron beams, such as comprise the floor systems. The two top stories were added in 1890. W. L. B. Jenney was the architect.”

(NOTE: Located at the northeast corner of LaSalle and Adams, this was one of the most important buildings ever constructed in the United States. Although there has been considerable debate as to whether this can be considered the first true “skyscraper,” an analysis undertaken at the time of its demolition in 1931, to make way for the Field Building, confirmed that it was “the first high building to utilize as the basic principle of this design the method known as skeleton construction.”)


“In the Masonic temple, now the Capitol building, the skeleton building, with the date of 1891, appears in its full development. All walls are carried from floor to floor on the metal frame. Burnham and Root were the architects.”

(NOTE: The Masonic Temple, which stood at the northeast corner of State and Randolph, was the tallest building in the world. It remained the tallest building in Chicago until the 1920s when Chicago’s building regulations were amended to allow for taller buildings. The construction of the State Street subway resulted in its demolition 1939, as expensive alterations to the foundation would have been required. The Joffrey Tower now stands on the site).


“The J. J. Glessner house, last remaining example in Chicago of the work of Architect H. H. Richardson. Rugged exterior stone walls enclose stately rooms and a patio. It is destined to become the home of the Chicago chapter, American Institute of Architects.” 

(NOTE: The Glessners deeded the house to the Chicago Chapter (CCAIA) in December 1924, retaining a life-tenancy. After their deaths in the 1930s, the CCAIA did not feel it had the resources to renovate and maintain the building and returned it to the Glessner heirs. In the late 1970s, the CCAIA did rent the former children’s bedrooms on the second floor as its headquarters. Glessner house was designated a Chicago landmark in 1970 and a National Historic Landmark in 1976). 


“Richard M. Hunt, designer of the Administration building of the 1893 World’s fair, was architect. Its design is inspired by chateaux of the Loire of the time of Francis I. Its stonework is exquisite.” 

(NOTE: The William Borden house stood at 1020 N. Lake Shore Drive [northeast corner of Bellevue Place]. Completed in 1884, it was one of the earliest houses on the Drive. After William’s death in 1906, it passed to his son John, a noted Arctic explorer, and was occupied by his wife, the former Ellen Waller, after their divorce. Their daughter, also named Ellen (and the ex-wife of Governor Adlai Stevenson II), operated the 1020 Art Center out of the house in the 1950s. It was demolished in 1962 to make way for The Carlyle apartments. Click here for images of the demolition taken by Richard Nickel).


“The McClurg house is the work of Francis M. Whitehouse, architect, with Arthur Heun as the designer. Reminiscent of the Louis XII wing of Chateau Blois, its charming proportions and color still hold the passerby in Lake Shore Drive.” 

(NOTE: The house stood at 1444 N. Lake Shore Drive and was completed in 1892 for bookseller Alexander C. McClurg. [In June 1891, Frances Glessner noted in her journal, “Genl. And Mrs. McClurg called in the afternoon to see something about our house – to see if they could get any suggestions about their own building. We took them all over the house.”] It was later home to George M. Reynolds, chairman of Continental Illinois National Bank and Trust. In 1935, it was leased to the Republic of Poland as a consulate, which closed in 1941 after Poland was invaded by Germany. It was converted into apartments at that time and was razed in 1955 for construction of the current apartment building designed by Philip B. Maher known as 1440 Lake Shore Drive.)


“On a visit to Chicago, President Taft pronounced this the best example of American residence architecture in the city. It is untrammeled by historic formalism, distinctively an American home. Pond and Pond, were the architects.” 

(NOTE: Built for Lydia Coonley, widow of the founder of the Chicago Malleable Iron Company, and later the wife of eminent geologist Henry Ward. The house stood at 1150 N. Lake Shore Drive [southwest corner of Division]. Pond and Pond received the commission in late 1888, and the house was completed in 1891. (Coonley’s son, Avery, later commissioned Frank Lloyd Wright to design his home in Riverside, Illinois.) She sold the house to Frank Logan in 1911. It remained in the Logan family until it was razed in 1955 for construction of the current high rise, known as 1150 N. Lake Shore Drive.

An amusing incident took place in January 1889, as recorded in Frances Glessner’s journal: “Sunday, Mrs. Coonley came over with a party of ten to ‘see the house.’ She brought her six children and four very ordinary young men – two of them architects, who said they knew the house by heart, had been all through it time without number – and were making Mrs. Coonley’s house as near like ours as they knew how. The whole call was most disagreeable.”)


“Adler & Sullivan were architects. This was an early Sullivan blossom in ornament and color after tryouts in loft and office buildings. The medal of the Societe central des Arts Decoratifs, awarded to Mr. Sullivan after the Columbian exposition, was the only French testimonial elicited for architecture.” 

(NOTE: The hotel’s 10th floor dining room now functions as the Murray-Green Library for Roosevelt University. The Auditorium Building, completed in 1889 and located at the northwest corner of Michigan and Ida B. Wells Drive, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1975, and a Chicago landmark in 1976).


“A new note in street architecture, introducing the tower dominant. An early application of ‘progressive recessions from base to pinnacle.’ Adler and Sullivan were the architects.” 

(NOTE: The Schiller, later known as the Garrick Theatre, was completed in 1892 at 64 W. Randolph Street. Designated an “honorary landmark” by the City of Chicago and considered one of Sullivan’s masterpieces, the significant effort to save the building turned to a salvage operation prior to demolition in 1961. The building and its preservation battle will be the focus of an upcoming exhibition at Wrightwood 659.)


“American’s most gorgeous flower of architectural romanticism. Aglow with color, it stood apart from the classic formalism of the Court of Honor. The term Sullivanesque, after Louis H. Sullivan, creator of this doorway, applies to the style of the Banquet Hall, Schiller building, and doorway.”

 (NOTE: Sullivan’s displeasure with the Classical architecture of the Fair, in particular the Court of Honor, is well documented, including his famous comment, “The damage wrought by the World’s Fair will last for half a century from its date, if not longer. It has penetrated deep into the constitution of the American mind.” An exhibition featuring a plaster cast of the “Golden Door” and photographs of several of Sullivan’s taller buildings toured France, Russia, and Finland after the Fair. When built, the Barack Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park will occupy portions of the sites of various Fair buildings, including the Transportation Building).

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