James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. Structural details. (American Architect, October 13, 1877)

Shillito’s desire for openness and unobstructed views in each floor, as manifested earlier in McLaughlin’s 1857 building, required McLaughlin to support all six floors on a framework of iron columns and beams without the aid of any interior bearing walls. The drawing of the iron structure above indicates that for fireproofing the column and the bottom flanges of the beams were encased in plaster. The floor structure employed heavy timber joists with wood decking.  In fact, Shillito’s desire for openness and unobstructed views in each floor was also manifested in the design of the shelving and display cases which were kept to a maximum height of four feet, six inches.  

McLaughlin, Shillito’s. Bay elevation. (Author’s collection)

The exterior consisted of solid brick piers that supported iron lintels for each of the masonry spandrels. (In 1983, while I was researching a paper on the Home Insurance Building, I suspected that McLaughlin had placed vertical iron sections along the interior face of each pier to support the iron floor beams. I was fortunate to actually find McLaughlin’s original 100+ year-old drawings in the maintenance department in the building’s basement (no less!!) that showed no iron, only a masonry pilaster formed along the centerline of the interior face of each pier upon which sat the iron beam.)  

McLaughlin, Shillito’s Store. Close-up of exterior piers: note the pilaster constructed (circle highlight)on the interior face of each pier. I had hoped to find that these were iron sections, but the original drawings confirmed they were masonry.

McLaughlin had reduced the masonry exterior wall into a framework of brick piers and spandrels.  When combined with the interior iron skeleton framing, he had taken the structure of a post-fire multistoried building to its minimum.  All that was left to achieve a complete iron framed structure was to replace the masonry piers with the iron columns of the interior frame. A task easier said than done in the aftermath of the Chicago and Boston fires.

In the March 1880 issue of American Art Review, Peter B. Wight published as article, “On the Present Condition of Architectural Art in the Western States,” in which he had to admit that “Cincinnati has always been the best-built city in the West, and can now show more business structures of good construction and appropriate exterior design than either [Chicago or St. Louis].”   The building that Wight had identified as the best example of the principles he espoused and, therefore, can be correspondingly considered to be the first “Chicago School” building was:    

“Shillito’s store in Cincinnati is the most important store building of the kind that has been erected… The style has been used in Chicago in many business buildings of moderate size and cost… A store [the First Leiter Building] now erecting on the [northwest] corner of Fifth Avenue [Wells] and Monroe Street is a good example.

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (Cincinnati, Queen City)


The Shillito’s store was not the only building in Cincinnati that drew the envy of its younger neighbor to the North, for only four months earlier in 1878, prior to the opening of the country’s largest department store, the city had just completed construction on its new Music Hall, the country’s largest music auditorium.  All was completed and ready on Tuesday, May 14, 1878, when Maestro Thomas strolled onto the new stage and “struck up the band,” opening the May Festival and the new facility with scenes from Christoph Gluck’s “Alceste.” The new facilities were unparalleled in the country, leading the Cincinnati Commercial to justifiably predict that for the immediate future:


Following the finale of Cincinnati’s Third May Festival, Maria Nichols and her husband pulled off another coup: they incorporated what would become the famous Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music and offered its directorship to Thomas, who accepted the post on August 2, 1878, resigned as the Conductor of the New York Philharmonic and moved to Cincinnati.  

“From the Metropolis to Porkopolis,” Puck, October 9, 1878. When Thomas moved to Cincinnati in 1878, New York was not shy in expressing its chagrin over losing America’s premiere conductor. (Hurley, Cincinnati)

Meanwhile, construction had commenced on the two flanking exhibition pavilions, one for art and one for industry which were completed in time to renew Cincinnati’s premiere Industrial Exposition in the Fall of 1879.  The facility lived up to its promise the following year when the 1880 Democratic National Convention met in it and nominated Winfield S. Hancock on June 24, to oppose Republican James A. Garfield, who had been nominated in Chicago’s rather dated Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building only two weeks earlier. 

In 1880, Chicago had much to do to catch up, and fortunately, Cincinnati provided examples, as it had also done prior to the war, for Chicago to emulate.  It would take seven more years before construction finally began on the Auditorium… By that time, even Aristide Boucicault had finally completed the Bon Marché to the scale that John Shillito had erected in his store in 1878.

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McLaughlin was also well-traveled, having made frequent trips to New York to keep in contact with a former partner, and a trip to Great Britain in 1873 in order to study the latest zoological garden designs as he had been commissioned by the newly-chartered Cincinnati Zoo that year to begin the design of their campus.  He was also an active member of the A.I.A. that allowed him to keep current with his peers (including Adolf Cluss, see above) and the profession’s latest developments by traveling to its annual conventions.

James W. McLaughlin, Cincinnati Public Library, Cincinnati, 1868. Reading Atrium and book stacks. (Online)

He was well-versed in cast iron construction, as evidenced by his earlier designs of the first Shillito’s store and of the Cincinnati Public Library.   McLaughlin was commissioned in 1868 to design a new home for the Library.  The Library had purchased a bankrupt Opera House under construction one block north of Fountain Square on Vine Street.  He was told to keep the completed shell and to shoehorn into it reading and book storage spaces.  

McLaughlin, Cincinnati Public Library. (Online)

He paralleled Labrouste’s latest design employing iron for the Bibliothèque Nationale that had just been completed earlier that year. He lined the edges of the site with five stories of open-latticed ironwork bookshelves and walkways.  

McLaughlin, Cincinnati Public Library, Stacks. (Online); Below: Henri Labrouste, Bibliothèque Nationale, 1862. (Online)

The central reading space was lit from above with a stained-glass skylight.  The building had opened to great acclaim in 1874.

The interior of the new Shillito’s Store continued McLaughlin’s search for light and space that he had pursued in the Library.  The size of the site’s footprint required daylight to be provided from the center, for it was too far away from the perimeter windows to supply sufficient daylight.  To repeat, this atrium was taller than the one in Field & Leiter’s Store in Chicago.

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (American Architect, October 13, 1877)

The impressive vastness of each floor’s 35,000 square feet was reinforced by the 120 feet tall central atrium that extended through every floor and was capped by a 58 feet diameter iron and glass domed octagonal skylight, that was, obviously, larger than the atrium in Field & Leiter’s store.  (Bon Marché had completed its first phase that contained a similar space only the year before, but its atrium was only half as high at four stories.)

In 1998, the building was restored, in which the process revealed the color palette used in the stencils that surrounded the domed skylight: green and rose panels with gold images surrounded with floral patterns, that were separated by blue- and gold-striped bands.

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McLaughlin responded by treating the brick exterior as a no frills, tripartite palazzo scheme without any vestige of a roof. Shillito, of course, wanted a building larger than Marshall Field’s post-fire five-story Singer Building (that was destroyed by fire only a month after the first image of McLaughlin’s design had been published). Located on the entire block (270′ x 170′) bounded by Race, Seventh, and Elm Streets, it had three street fronts that contained twenty-three repetitive bays of six-story high masonry skeleton framing that added up to 567 feet of an elevation that was remarkable for the degree of openness he achieved between the Philadelphia red pressed brick piers that were infilled with triple windows and recessed spandrels.  The two-story base containing the ground floor and mezzanine of the retail operations was articulated from the wholesale operations located above by a thin continuous horizontal band of stone.  The top or sixth floor was detailed as an attic capped with a galvanized iron cornice.  The middle three floors (that did not decrease in height, à la Schinkel, but remained constant for obvious reasons, including the fact that the building had five elevators “that have made obsolete the task of stair climbing”)  were unified into one layer by McLaughlin’s use of colossal, unbroken three-story tall pilasters and corresponding recessed spandrels.  (In essence, McLaughlin had simply extended Schinkel’s one-story base in the Bauakademie to two-stories, and then topped its three-story pilasters with the attic story.)

McLaughlin, Shillito’s. Bay elevation. Note the projecting bosses in the stone sillcourse located at either side of each pilaster, evoking the volutes of an Ionic capital. (Author’s collection)

The middle layer was separated from the attic by an even thinner horizontal stone band than the one at the Third Floor that divided the retail from the wholesale.  The result of the relative thinness of these two horizontals in conjunction with the continuous visual bulk of the unbroken masonry piers imparted a distinctly vertical and open feeling to the 113 feet high facades. (The photo of the building gives a more vertical read than does the rendering, and I think it is due to the small rectangular bosses McLaughlin detailed in the sillcourse between the base and the mid-section that are located at either side of each pilaster.  At least for my eyes, these tend to visually continue the vertical force of the pilasters through the sillcourse.) 

McLaughlin, Shillito’s. Bay elevation. (Left) This is the surviving alley elevation. Note that the ornamental patterns in the spandrels in the streetfronts (Right) were not carried over into the alley elevation, most likely as a cost savings. It appears that McLaughlin used the pattern in Post’s NY Hospital’s vertical panels.

The radical nature of McLaughlin’s elevations was noted by the Cincinnati correspondent for the American Architect who labeled the design as “very monotonous.  Each bay is just like its next neighbor, and the whole may be likened to a street parade of well-drilled [Prussian] soldiers, so uniform, straight, and severe are the windows and piers.”  The Shillito’s Building (along with the Depression) helped to bring back into fashion the flat-roofed Italianate palazzo that had preceded the now-dated French Second Empire, only this time it would be clothed not in stone or cast iron, but in brick, not unlike the look that had been achieved in Philadelphia during the 1850s.  

George Post, Western Union Building, New York, 1872. (Landau, Post)

McLaughlin’s detailing of the elevations revealed his intimate knowledge of contemporary developments in New York.  The piers of the first two floors incorporated red brick laid in black mortar with alternating thin bands of light stone, an effect quite like that which George Post had used in the middle floors of the Western Union Building.  Meanwhile, the grid-like detailing of the intersection of the recessed spandrels with the mullions was similar to the way Richard Morris Hunt had solved the problem in the Delaware and Hudson Building.

Richard Morris Hunt, Delaware and Hudson Canal Company (Coal and Iron Exchange) Building, New York, 1873. Original design. (Landau and Condit, New York)

The triple windows of the Shillito’s Building also owe their origin to Hunt, for just prior to McLaughlin’s use of this technique, American Architect had published in its March 17, 1877, issue a rendering of the New York Hospital designed by Post in 1874. Post had employed the triple window and square transom motif in the lower three floors, although the center “opening” of the grouping was actually a recessed opaque panel in the second and third floors.  McLaughlin’s detailing of the transom mullion is an exact copy of Post’s. I also believe he used Post’s ornamental pattern in the vertical panels between the windows in the Shillito’s spandrels (see above).

George B. Post, New York Hospital, New York, 1874. (American Architect, March 17, 1877)

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Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Bauakademie, Berlin, 1831. (Online)

I am most interested in the possible influence that Schinkel’s Bauakademie may have had on McLaughlin’s design.  One of McLaughlin’s sources could have been historian James Fergusson’s History of the Modern Styles of Architecture published in 1862, that historian Barry Bergdoll has shown to have singled out Schinkel’s design for: “The ornamentation depends wholly on the construction… nothing can be more truthful or appropriate.”  Another possible source would have been Chicago architect Frederick Baumann’s translation of Prussian architect Friedrich Adler’s Schinkelfest speech that was published in the November 1869 issue of the American Building and Journal of Art.  Lastly, as an active member in the A.I.A. during the 1870s, McLaughlin surely would have had a relationship with Adolf Cluss from Washington, D.C., who could have easily mentioned Schinkel’s work to McLaughlin.

Adolf Cluss, Franklin School, Washington, D.C., 1867. (Online)

Cluss had been born in Germany and was raised by his master builder father to be a carpenter. Following the failure of the 1848 revolutions, had emigrated to the US in 1848, where he eventually took up residence in Washington, D.C., where he had found employment as a draftsman in the Naval Yard, and then under Supervising Architect Ammi B. Young in the Department of Treasury.  By 1862, he was the leading, professional architect in the Capital, and began a very successful practice, responsible for many of the city’s public buildings, including four on the National Mall.  He is best known as the “Red architect,” both for his initial socialist views, which quickly moderated with economic success, and also for his propensity to clothe his buildings in red brick, chiefly as an economic decision.  Cluss could easily have known of the Bauakademie, if for no other reason than one of his gymnasium classmates, Wilhelm Doderer, had gone on to study architecture there.

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Project for a Department Store along the Unter den Linden, Berlin, 1827. (Online)

Although Schinkel had begun his career as an advocate of the Greek Revival to protest the Roman designs of his country’s French occupiers during the Napoléonic wars, he was moving to a less historic-based, more “modern” design idiom towards the end of his career..  In 1828, German architect Heinrich Hübsch published a book, In what style should we build?, that stated a new style could be developed solely from a building’s function: “a strictly objective skeleton for the new style.”  Schinkel seemed to have echoed this sentiment in stating that a requirement of art was that it needed to be new or innovative: “Each work of art, of whatever kind, must always contain a new element, and be a living addition to the world of art.”  This was best represented in his non-historic design of the Bauakademie, that actually predates all examples of early British “progressive” theory and design, (even that of Jones’ 1835 talk on his work on the Alhambra at the AA) with the sole exception of John Claudius Loudon’s 1817 vision of a new iron and glass style of architecture.  

Eduard Gärtner, View of the Bauakademie, 1868. (Online)

Schinkel still followed the European Classical tradition of employing the metaphor of the design of a column (being three-part or tripartite, comprised of a base, a shaft, and a capital) in the design of a building’s elevation, articulating the Bauakademie’s red brick elevations into a tripartite composition of a one-story base, a three-story shaft or midsection that was expressed as one layer by the use of three-story, unbroken colossal pilasters (that still evoked a Greek colonnade), and a relatively thin (but in my opinion completely appropriate) top comprised of machicolated cornice and an iron balustrade set within masonry extensions of the pilasters.  The building’s spartan exterior eschewed any historical ornament, however, as Schinkel preferred to let the building’s straightforward construction of four repetitive floors comprised of a grid of eight by eight repetitive structural/spatial bays encased in red brick generate the building’s overall “matter-of-fact” appearance.  Nonetheless, the artist within produced a sequence in the floor heights that decreased in each story until the cornice.  Schinkel consciously reinforced this attempt at forced perspective (this also, in pre-elevator days, conveniently reduced the number of stairs needed to the upper floors) by detailing rectangular panels in the face of the pilasters that deceased in height as did the floor heights.  It would be the building’s honest, matter-of-fact, or “functional” aesthetic that would appeal later to a number of architects in Chicago who faced a similar problem in the design of the larger commercial buildings of the post-Civil War period.

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Alexandre Leplanche and Armand Moisant, Bon Marché, Paris, 1869. (Online)

To complete the Paris analogy, Cincinnati needed an equivalent to Paris’ Bon Marché.  In September 1869, a quiet ceremony on the rue de Sèvres in Paris’ Left Bank had marked the laying of the cornerstone for a new type of building; the first department store to appear in Paris is usually said to have been the Bon Marché, started in 1869.  The company’s owner, fifty-nine year-old Aristide Boucicault, had hired architect Alexandre Leplanche to design and engineer/contractor Armand Moisant (unfortunately, Moisant usually is not credited with this project because Gustave Eiffel is mistakenly given the credit for the building, when he actually was responsible for engineering only the last addition of the store) to fabricate and erect the first French department store, from the ground up.  Prior to this building, all drygoods stores in Paris had used existing buildings that had been assembled in a piecemeal fashion.  Boucicault had definite ideas about how to best showcase his merchandise for his customers, more than likely inspired by the 1867 World Exhibition palace.

Boileau and Moisant/Eiffel, Bon Marché. Birdseye view showing the skylighted courts and connecting arcades. (Online)

I describe the design of the new store as having filled the entire block surrounded by the rues de Sèvres, Velpeau, de Babylone, and du Buc, with a series of three-story atria that were linked with a continuous, multistoried version of the typical Parisian passage (arcade) in such a way that a customer felt she was in a glass-enclosed version of the grand staircase of the Paris Opera (which was also still under construction at this time).  

Boileau and Moisant/Eiffel, Bon Marché. The Grand Stair. (Online)

While Boucicault had laid the cornerstone for the first phase on September 9, 1869, with the intervention of the Prussian War and then the Commune, the first phase was not completed until 1873.  Meanwhile, the entire store was not completed until 1887 because it had to be built in phases (for which Louis-Charles Boileau was the architect) to allow the store to continue operations in the existing building during construction, in addition to making it economically affordable to build such a gigantic structure.


John Kellum and John B. Cornell, A.T. Stewart’s Cast Iron Department Store, New York, 1859. (Online)

So while the “first” French department store began construction in 1869, I have already explained that A.T. Stewart in New York had in 1862 moved into his new six-storied cast iron-fronted department store at Broadway and Fourth Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets. Stewart’s new store was designed around a central atrium (as would be the later Parisian stores) that was open through all of the floors and contained double staircases.  The atrium was topped by a glass skylighted dome, and together with the cast iron skeleton structure, created a vast, open interior “open plan” that was filled with daylight and continuous organ music.  As Stewart had completed his building at least seven years before the Bon Marché began construction on its first building, that didn’t open until 1873 and whose atriums were only half the height of Stewart’s, I am still puzzled why historians give Paris the credit for inventing the department store?

John Kellum and John B. Cornell, Sectional Perspective at the Atrium, A.T. Stewart’s Cast Iron Department Store. (Homberger, Historical Atlas of New York)

Stewart had opened his first drygoods store in 1823.  Cincinnati’s “The Pioneer Merchant,” John Shillito had formed his first partnership with William McLaughlin seven years later in 1830.  Although McLaughlin had moved on to other endeavors the following year, Shillito grew his operations into the largest drygoods (retail and wholesale) west of the Alleghenies, including those stores in the small town of Chicago (note that Shillito began business three years before Chicago was founded).  In 1857, he commissioned McLaughlin’s son, architect James McLaughlin (1834-1923) to design a new store on W. Fourth Street, whose interior had no equal in the Chicago’s stores of John V. Farwell or Potter Palmer. (I must comment on the tall, slender columns in the image below. These had to have been cast iron, revealing the young McLaughlin’s interest in and ability with the new material, that he will use again in the Public Library and a later store for Shillito-see upcoming post.)

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1857. (Online)

Following the end of the war and with Cincinnati’s continued economic rebound during the current depression with the recovery of its Southern markets, Shillito’s wholesale and retail business had continued to grow as the Midwest’s largest department store operation (Field & Leiter’s reputation notwithstanding: yes, Chicago had the opening West, but Cincinnati had the well-established South).  Field & Leiter had emerged after the war as a serious competitor, residing in Potter Palmer’s new “Marble Palace” that may have been larger than Shillito’s store, but this was destroyed by the 1871 fire. It took Field & Leiter two years to rebuild and open their new store in October 1873, in the larger five-story Singer Building (166′ on State and 150′ on Washington: 125,000 sq. ft.) that incorporated a 38′ x 68′ central atrium.

E. S. Jennison, post-fire Singer Building (Field & Leiter store), Chicago, NE corner of State and Washington, 1872. (Online)

Shillito, obviously inspired by his competitors (Stewart’s cast iron-fronted store in New York, Field & Leiter’s new store in Chicago, and John Wanamaker’s new Grand Depot in Philadelphia), had once again asked McLaughlin to design what would be the country’s largest department store when it opened in 1878.  With six floors and two basements, the building contained over 270,000 square feet (easily surpassing Field & Leiter’s post-fire Singer Building), thus making Shillito’s store the largest under one roof in the country when it opened on September 1, 1878.  (Only the A.T. Stewart’s operation in New York, Stewart himself had died in 1876, could boast of having more square footage, but this was contained within two buildings.)

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (Cincinnati, Queen City)

Shillito’s motto was “Truth Always-Facts Only” and his philosophy was to avoid extravagance because it only added to the price of his goods.  McLaughlin responded correspondingly with an affordable functional design of an exquisitely-detailed red brick box, that could have been as easily inspired by either Prussian architect Karl Schinkel’s Bauakademie designed in 1831, Philadelphia’s red brick boxes of the 1850s that he would have seen during a visit to the World’s Fair the preceding year, or the latest designs by George Post in New York. 

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Bauakademie, Berlin, 1831. (Online)
George B. Post, New York Hospital, New York, 1874. (American Architect, March 17, 1877)

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Continuing with the “Paris of America” analogy, Cincinnati also erected a two-story Parisian arcade in 1877.  While Music Hall was under construction, two more of the city’s civic benefactors, brothers Thomas J. and John J. Emery, sons of Cincinnati millionaire Thomas J. Emery, Sr., were erecting the Emery Hotel on the entire block along the southside of Fifth Street that ran from Vine to Race Street, directly across from Fountain Square. 

Emery Hotel and Arcade, Cincinnati, 1877. (Online)

Within the hotel ran a two-storied, glass-covered arcade, the first such building erected in the U.S for almost 50 years.  The first such arcade erected in the U.S., the Westminster Arcade, had been erected in Providence, RI, in 1828.  (Another antebellum arcade was reported to have been built in Rochester, NY, but I can find no other evidence to support this claim.)  Actually, as I reviewed in Volume One, Chicago had planned to make this claim with its “City of Paris” arcade, that was adjacent to the new Bigelow House, and opened onto Adams Street.  Unfortunately, the 1871 fire had destroyed both structures.

John K. Winchell, The Bigelow House and Stein’s “City of Paris” Arcade (at the far right), the southwest corner of Dearborn and Adams, 1870. (The Land Owner, July 1870)

The Emery Arcade was a two story, 40’ high glass-roofed passage that offered a sheltered passage through the entire block from Fountain Square to Race Street.  It was attached to the Hotel and contained shops and restaurants, with gaslights hanging from the ridge beam providing a pleasant urban space through all hours of the night. (In 1929 the hotel and arcade were demolished and replaced with the Carew Tower. The arcade’s space was retained in the design of a new arcade that still survives.)

Emery Arcade, Interior passage, 1877-1929. (Online)

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Hannaford & Proctor, Music Hall, Cincinnati, 1877. The wings flanking the central auditorium were completed in 1879. (Online)

The Second Cincinnati May Festival had been held in May 1875 to standing ovations, with one small glitch:

“At the second concert Mendelssohn’s Elijah was given and during the performance an impressive and characteristic incident happened.  There had been a long drought and the country was suffering very much for rain.  All day the longed-for clouds had been gathering and just as Thomas gave the signal for the famous chorus, “Thanks be to God,” the rain descended in torrents.  Nothing inspired Thomas so quickly as a display of the forces of nature, and, entering instantly into sympathy with the storm, and the feeling of public thankfulness for the coming of the rain, he gathered all his forces – chorus, orchestra, and organ – in one sublime outburst, harmonizing with and rising above the tumult of the elements without, as they sang that great song of thanksgiving: “Thanks be to God, He laveth the thirsty land!   The waters gather together, they rush along, they are lifting their voices!  The stormy billows are high, their fury is mighty, but the Lord is above them and he is ALMIGHTY!”  So tremendous and overpowering was the effect, that to this day, the old members of the chorus of that memorable evening – now thirty-six years in the past – cannot speak of it without tears in their eyes.”

Program for the Second Cincinnati May Festival, May 1875. (Online)

While Thomas had been inspired by the storm, the ferocious noise on the Saengerfest-Halle’s tin roof made by the rain was most embarrassing to the civic pride of Cincinnati’s leading philanthropist, Rueben Springer.  Most likely inspired by the Paris Opera House that had opened only five months earlier, and/or Richard Wagner’s Festspielhaus then under construction in Bayreuth, he responded by mounting a campaign to replace the temporary hall with a world-class facility for music, expositions, and conventions.  Springer offered to donate $175,000 toward the cost of the project, providing that Cincinnati’s citizens would donate an equal amount.  Eventually Springer would pour over $235,000 of his own money to cover the building’s final cost of $500,000.  (It is tempting to compare Springer’s actions with those of Chicagoan Uranus B. Crosby, some ten years earlier.  While they both intended to upgrade their city’s cultural facilities, Crosby had tried to do it all by himself, and had failed.  One wonders if Springer had learned from Crosby’s pioneering attempt and made sure to broaden his campaign into a citywide effort.  Nonetheless, Crosby’s ultimate investment of over $600,000 is simply staggering in comparison to what Springer contributed, yet even Springer’s amount would still dwarf the amount pledged by any of his Chicago contemporaries over the next decade.  The lack of any Chicagoan willing to “step up” in a manner similar to Springer would simply prevent Chicago from keeping pace with Cincinnati in the culture battle over the next decade.)

Ware & Van Brunt, Proposed Design for Cincinnati Music Hall, 1876. (American Architect, 1876)

Early in 1876, four local architectural firms submitted designs for the project, but It was soon realized that no one in the city had any expertise in acoustics, so the Boston firm of Ware and Van Brunt, the designers of Boston’s Music Hall, was solicited for a design.  In additions to their drawings, Ware and Van Brunt shared a list of seven principles of acoustics in the June 17, 1876, issue of American Architect that gives a snapshot of where the profession was at the time with regards to the design of sound:

“In the scheme here presented, it has been attempted to embody the various precautions that science has suggested, or experience approved, in regard to the acoustic properties of buildings, in the belief that, though it is not at present practicable to make sure that a building shall be exceptionally good in this respect, it is possible to make sure that it shall not be bad.”

Ware & Van Brunt, Proposed Design for Cincinnati Music Hall. Auditorium. (American Architect, 1876)

Local architects Samuel Hannaford and Henry Proctor were commissioned in the Spring of 1876 to design an auditorium with a capacity of 6500, including the orchestra and the May Festival Chorus.  Hannaford, the better known of the two partners, had been born in Devonshire, England from where his family immigrated to Cincinnati when he was nine.  He graduated from Cincinnati’s Farmer’s College where he studied architecture and in 1857 began his own firm. 

(Cincinnati had at least two of America’s early programs that taught architecture.  Hannaford had graduated from the Farmer’s College, founded in 1846 and located in the suburb of College Hill.  The city’s other program was in the Ohio Mechanics Institute, founded in 1828, and is known to have been teaching architecture prior to the start of the Civil War.  Its most famous graduate from this era was Leroy Buffington who graduated in 1869.  We will run into him in 1887 in Minneapolis where he designed the first 28-story skyscraper.  My larger point in this side note is that while MIT is usually credited as having founded the first college program in architecture in 1865, by William Ware no less, architecture was already being taught in Cincinnati before the Civil War.  This topic needs more research.)

Hannaford & Proctor, Music Hall, Cincinnati, 1877. (Cincinnati, The Queen City)

Hannaford revised his plans in accordance with the acoustic ideas contained in the Eastern designs, was given the commission in the spring of 1876 and was asked to have the project completed in time for the 1878 May Festival.  The biennial festival had been pushed back one year because construction had to wait until the 1876 Republican National Convention, meeting in Saengerfest-Halle, had nominated Ohio’s favorite son, Rutherford B. Hayes on June 16, 1876. He would defeat Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, Chicago’s William Ogden’s dear friend and longtime lawyer who was nominated in St. Louis, in the highly controversial election that was not resolved until March 2, 1877, only two days before the Inauguration was to take place. (As a side note, Ogden died five months later in his home in Highbridge, Bronx.) 

Ware & Van Brunt, Memorial Hall, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, 1870-7. The two of Hunt’s atelier students produced this quintessential High Victorian design that inspired Hannaford’s entrance elevation and his use of polychromy, including the roof tiles. (Online)

Hannaford and Proctor were inspired by more than just Ware and Van Brunt’s acoustics, apparently, when I juxtapose their design of their recently-completed Harvard’s Memorial Hall (1870-7) with Hannaford’s entrance façade.  If one looks closely, Hannaford even copied, for all practical purposes, the geometric mullions of its central rose window.

Music Hall, Rose Window. (Author’s collection)

And so, in the depth of the great depression of the 1870s, while the rest of the country struggled to make ends meet, Cincinnati, the “Paris of America,” had plowed ahead with its plan to become the nation’s Cultural and Convention Center.  The city’s economy had remained relatively strong, compared to the rest of the country due to the fact that Cincinnati had been founded in 1788.  This was too early to be financed with any significant East Coast venture capital, and therefore, had evolved its financial and industrial base independent of any reliance on New York or Boston. (This may be best evidenced in the fact that during both the Depressions of 1873-9 and 1929-WW2, not one Cincinnati bank closed.)

Hannaford & Proctor, Music Hall. The Auditorium. They have used from Ware & Van Brunt’s design the clerestory windows, the coved ceiling with structural grid for acoustics, and the balcony. One of the few differences from the Boston design is that they have pushed the private boxes under the balcony. Note the new organ, also the largest in the country at the time, including Boston’s famous organ (the Cincinnati organ had 763 more pipes than Boston’s). (Painter, Music Hall)

Construction commenced in October 1876 on Hannaford’s final design that incorporated an auditorium with a capacity of 5,228, the largest in the country.  The house could seat 4428, while the stage was large enough to accommodate the Festival’s chorus of 700 and Thomas’ orchestra of 100.  The most dramatic departure in the design of the interior was the almost complete elimination of all private boxes.  Because the house also had to function as a multipurpose hall, Hannaford eliminated the tiers of private boxes found in European Opera Houses In favor of public  first and second balconies. 

Charles Garnier, Paris Opera House, 1861-75. (Online)

The only private boxes were quietly slipped under the first balcony located at either side.

Hannaford & Proctor, Music Hall. The Auditorium. Banquet in honor of the completion of the Cincinnati & Southern Railroad, 1880. Note a floor has been installed to allow the hall to perform as a banquet floor. This also gives a better view of the organ. (Online)

A Recital Hall for chamber groups was also provided, located on the third floor, directly over the main entrance vestibule. Hannaford’s exterior revealed the influence of the latest thinking in European Opera Houses, in that it incorporated a monumental gabled flyspace, similar to that of the Paris Opera House that had opened only a year and a half earlier and Richard Wagner’s Bayreuth Festspielhaus, that had just opened to the public some two months earlier on August 13 with a performance of Das Rheingold.

(upper) Charles Garnier, Paris Opera House, 1861-75; (lower) Richard Wagner with Otto Bruckwald and Carl Runkwitz (from an original design by Gottfried Semper), Festspielhaus, Bayreuth, 1871-6. (Author’s collection)

The exterior design is obviously high Victorian Gothic, with a red brick body with superbly detailed ornamental patterns, that easily could have been inspired by Furness’ work in Philadelphia. (Online)


Miller, Zane L., and George F. Roth. Cincinnati’s Music Hall. Virginia Beach: Jordan, 1978.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


Fountain Square, Cincinnati, 1871-1970. (Online)

Two days before the 1871 Chicago fire, Cincinnati had dedicated its new downtown esplanade and fountain, fondly referred to as Fountain Square.  Cincinnati magnate Henry Probasco had wanted to memorialize the life of Tyler Davidson, his business partner and brother-in-law with an appropriate monument.  He had traveled to Munich and commissioned the casting of a 43’ high bronze statue/fountain, to be named “The Genius of Water,” a metaphor for the importance of the Ohio River in the city’s history.  While it was being fabricated, Probasco returned to Cincinnati and convinced the city government to replace a deteriorating butchers’ market in the middle of 5th Street with a landscaped esplanade located between the two one-way stretches of the street as a fitting park for the expected fountain.  Probasco’s munificence established a pattern of urban beautification, not unlike what Paris had experienced during the Second Empire, for Cincinnati’s private civic benefactors who would turn the city into what would be called “the Paris of America” during the 1870s and into the 1880s. As the center of Paris had been rebuilt and updated during the 1850s and 1860s, Cincinnati would undergo a similar urban transfiguration during the 1870s.  Paralleling Parisian precedents, Cincinnati would build its versions of new urban pedestrian walkways, a new opera house, an urban arcade, and a department store larger than the Bon Marché, then still under construction. (This appellation would also be applied to Chicago, albeit in a pejorative manner: Chicago’s fire had occurred only five months after Paris had been set ablaze by the Communards during the final days of the brief Paris Commune.  Also, following the fire, Chicago would witness urban social unrest during the coming decades similar to that of Paris’.

Ferdinand and Fritz von Miller, Tyler Davidson Fountain, “The Genius of Water,” Cincinnati, 1871. (Online)


While Cincinnati was off and running with its campaign to be the Western capital of culture and conventions, Chicago had spent the last eighteen months cleaning up after the fire and rebuilding its business district, minus, unfortunately, Crosby’s Opera House.  Chicago had lost its premiere cultural venue, one that would not be replaced during the next seventeen years.  The announcement of Cincinnati’s upcoming May Festival and of its securing the talent of Theodore Thomas had to strike a nerve among Chicago’s elite, as well as its own German population.  The gauntlet had been thrown down and Chicago was quick to try to pick it up.  In March 1873, only two months before Thomas’s opening night for Cincinnati’s May Festival, a group of Chicago’s cultural elite formed a private stock company with the expressed intent of erecting a facility that could give Cincinnati a run for its money. Even its name, the Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building had been crafted to send a message to Cincinnati. The chairman of the corporation was Nathaniel S. Bouton, owner of the Union Foundry Works, who, obviously also saw a readily available market for his product.   Many of the members of the stock company were also members of the Chicago Relief and Aid Society, including: Wirt W. Dexter, Nathaniel K. Fairbank, and Joseph Medill, then the Mayor as well as the owner of the Chicago Tribune.  

The Expanse of Land created in Lake (Grant) Park by the debris from the Fire. (Online)

Using the guise of holding a celebration of the spectacular post-Fire rebuilding of the city, the organizers tried to convince Council to allow them to build and maintain the “temporary” facility free of charge on public land for one year on the east side of Michigan Avenue (where its replacement, the Art Institute now sits).  Convincing Council to permit a building on Lake Park after the fire, something that was completely taboo prior to October 8, 1871, (all we need to do is to remember the brouhaha over the State legislature trying to sell Lake Park to the IC), apparently had been made easier both by the depth of the economic tragedy of the fire, and also by the simple fact that the proximity of the lagoon so close to the destroyed portion of the business district had kept the cost of the post-fire demolition within reason because the fire’s debris did not need to be transported to the city limits but simply dumped as fill in the remaining portion of the lagoon up to the Illinois Central tracks.  There were now more than 40 acres of new parkland along the lakefront, so surely a portion of this could now be set aside for the civic functions that this private group was proposing, similar to what Cincinnati had recently done, could it not?

W.W. Boyington, Interstate Industrial Exposition Center, Chicago, 1873. (Online)

It took the threat posed by the successful May Festival in Cincinnati, however, to finally convince Common Council three weeks later to approve their request on May 28, 1873.  So in the face of the thirty-five year-history of rejecting all attempts to erect a building in Lake Park, the project’s organizers had pulled off a major political coup in getting Common Council to approve the construction of the Exposition Building on the east side of Michigan Avenue.  While the building designed by W.W. Boyington was over two city blocks long, with a floor area of some 244,000 sq. ft., Cincinnati’s Exposition facilities were still larger by almost another 100,000 sq. ft.    Its grand opening, as part of the city’s celebration of its stunning reconstruction, was somewhat less exhilarating than what its promoters had originally envisioned, however, as the Financial Panic of 1873 that initiated the “Great Depression” of the 1870s, had struck only the week before.

Boyington, Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building, Interior. (Online)

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


Following the complete success of the June 1870 festival, Cincinnati’s First Lady, Maria Longworth Nichols embarked on a campaign to stage a May Festival of orchestral and choral music. Nichols represented the combined best of Cincinnati and New York City, in that she was the granddaughter of the city’s richest man, millionaire real estate magnate Joseph Longworth, and had married the art critic for the New York Evening Post, George Ward Nichols, whom her father had initially brought to Cincinnati to catalog his vast art collection.  She had modeled her plans for a May Festival after the famous Triennial Music Festivals in Birmingham, England, and more than likely was inspired by Boston’s famous Handel and Hayden Society triennial festivals initiated to celebrate its Golden Jubilee in 1865.  It was decided after the success of the Jubilee to repeat the festival in May 1868, and it was once again scheduled for May 1871. In the meanwhile, Boston had also celebrated the end of the Civil War with its recent National Peace Jubilee of June 1-19, 1869, housed in the temporary Temple of Peace, the largest building in the country, erected on Copley Square that held 50,000 and had featured over 11,000 performers. Nichols needed a big name to put her festival on the national map and determined to offer New York’s maestro Theodore Thomas, America’s leading orchestra conductor, the position as the Festival’s Music Director.  

Pavilion for the 1869 Boston National Peace Jubilee, June 15, 1869.


German-born Thomas, who had founded his own personal orchestra in New York City in 1862 (that competed with the New York Philharmonic Society that had been founded in 1842). In order to keep his orchestra together during the “off-season” to maintain their performing consistency as well as for their economic survival for he had yet to cultivate a demand for his music on a year-round basis in any city, including New York, he had decided to take his orchestra on tour that winter (1869-70) around the “great musical highway” of cities starting with Boston and traveling west to Chicago, and then return to New York for his summer concerts via the southern line of cities starting with St. Louis and Cincinnati. 

Prior to Thomas’ first performance in Chicago in 1869, Moravian-born Hans Balatka had led the Chicago’s Philharmonic Society’s orchestral series since their inception in 1860, but the opening of Crosby’s Opera House in 1865 and its ability to present a complete performance had changed the fickle tastes of Chicago’s illuminati to favor opera over orchestral music.  The last Philharmonic Society concert had been given on April 3, 1868, to a sparse audience in Metropolitan Hall.  

Jason Gurley, Metropolitan Hall, northwest corner of Randolph and La Salle, 1855. Printer’s Row is in the right foreground. (Gilbert, Chicago)

A year and a half later in the fall of 1869, Thomas had brought his orchestra to Chicago, but had failed to reignite local interest in orchestral music, “when a few hundred listeners coldly heard his matchless band.”  During its second annual tour of 1871-2, the Thomas Orchestra was booked for an unprecedented two-week series in Chicago set to open on the evening of Monday, October 9, 1871, in Crosby’s Opera House for which Uranus Crosby had sunk another large amount of his personal fortune in updating his auditorium.  All was ready by Saturday, October 7, and at dusk on Sunday evening, October 8, the house gas lights were lit for the first time since the theater had been under renovation to see how the new house would look on opening night.

W.W. Boyington, Crosby’s Opera House, Chicago, 1865. (Jevni & Almini)

Unfortunately for both Crosby and Thomas, as Thomas’ train approached Chicago early on October 9, 1871, word reached him that the city was engulfed in flames.  The fire was the final nail in Crosby’s finances, as he had sunk every penny he had into the remodeling, hoping against hope without any apparent insurance, that Thomas’ series would finally push his cultural endeavor into the black.  Thus ended the final act in the seven-year tragedy of Uranus Crosby and his Opera House.  The fire also proved to be a significant financial setback for Thomas as well, as his contract allowed the promoter to avoid paying him due to an act of God, leaving Thomas with no option but to pay his orchestra out of his own pocket for the two-week “practice session” held in Joliet, waiting for their next appearance scheduled for St. Louis.  Thomas had suffered a major financial setback with the cancellation of his two-week run in Crosby’s remodeled Opera House.


It was on Thomas’ return trip to New York, following the two-week waylay in Joliet, that brought him to Cincinnati when Nichols offered him the post of Musical Director for her planned May Festival that must have seemed a godsend that he eagerly accepted.  Nichols’ precedent, Boston’s Handel and Hayden Society, had only recently completed its Third Triennial Festival in May 5-9, 1871, and with the end of the Franco-Prussian War some three weeks later on May 28, Boston was planning to hold in 1872 an even larger World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival than its 1869 National Peace Jubilation. 

William G. Preston, “Temple of Peace” (Boston Coliseum) for the 1872 World’s Peace Jubilee and International Musical Festival, Boston, 1872. (Online)

Boston had built a huge “Temple of Peace,” designed by local architect William G. Preston, in the Back Bay area, in Copley Square, the exact site slated to eventually receive the Museum of Fine Arts, that dwarfed any previous American building, even Cincinnati’s Saengerfest-Halle.  It was 550’ long and 350’ wide and could hold 60,000 spectators and 22,000 musicians that participated in the two-week long festival that ran from Bunker Hill Day (June 17) to the Fourth of July. 

Preston, “Temple of Peace” (Boston Coliseum), Interior. (Online)

This was a hard act for Nichols and Thomas to compete with, but ten months later On May 6, 1873, Maestro Theodore Thomas stood in front of his 108-piece orchestra and a chorus of 800 singers in Cincinnati’s Saengerfest-Halle and gave the downbeat for Handel’s Dettingen Te Deum that opened the first Cincinnati May Festival.  The Festival was a smashing success, leading the Cincinnati Commercial to ask: “There has been glory in it, and, unexpectedly, money also. (Why not construct a grand hall as a site for the festival?)  With such a Hall, Cincinnati, the center of the Nation as to population would be not only the music and art capital, but the City of National Conventions, political and religious.”  The seeds for an even grander facility had been sown that would guarantee that at least for the next sixteen years, the Queen City would be exactly that.

“The first Cincinnati Festival followed a few days after that of New York was over [a financial flop for Thomas], and marked the beginning of one of the most important labors of Thomas’s life – important not only to himself, but to the musical history of America.  The [Cincinnati May] festivals were intended, from the start, to be of the highest standard.  The matter of expense never entered into the calculation of the Board of Directors to any appreciable extent in planning their details, as the whole idea was to give a series of performances which should conform to the standards of similar festivals in Europe.  In the end the Cincinnati Musical Festival standards far surpassed those of Europe, and they became the most perfect concerts of their class in the world.”


Cropsey, Eugene H. Crosby’s Opera House: Symbol of Chicago’s Cultural Awakening. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1999.

Thomas, Rose Fay. Memoirs of Theodore Thomas. New York: Moffat, Yard, and Co., 1911.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)


While Philadelphia had provided the young Root and Sullivan with inspiration, it was Chicago’s old rival, Cincinnati that would erect actual buildings in competition with Chicago, that Chicago, once the Depression began to let up, would first copy, and then, in order to remain “the biggest,” have to surpass (examples included the use of Venetian gondolas in the 1893 Fair that Cincinnati had first used in its 1888 Centennial Fair).  Cincinnati was like Philadelphia in a number of ways.  It had been the largest city in the West, until the “Windy City” finally boasted in 1868 that its population had surpassed that of the former “Porkopolis.”  (However, westward expansion had continued during the war and St. Louis’ population had actually surpassed that of Cincinnati before Chicago’s had, so that even by 1870, St. Louis’ population was 310,860 while Chicago was still second in the West with 298,977.  Chicago would not become the largest city in the West until a few more years after the 1871 fire.)  Cincinnati had also always been the nation’s pork-packing capital, nicknamed “Porkopolis,” until the war had also altered the markets in favor of Chicago.  


With the end of the war, however, Cincinnati began to regain its southern markets, first by completing the John Roebling-designed suspension bridge across the Ohio River in 1866.  Roebling was originally commissioned in 1846 but political haggling between Ohio and Kentucky had stalled its construction until 1856. With a main span of 1057’ it was the longest suspension bridge in the world when completed, a record it held until its Roebling-designed younger sibling in Brooklyn was completed in 1883.

John Roebling, Suspension Bridge over the Ohio River, Cincinnati, 1856-1866. (Online)

Then in 1869, the city of Cincinnati had decided to build its own railroad straight south into the heart of the South at Chattanooga, TN on the Tennessee River, in order to improve transportation to these markets.  While it wasn’t completed until the High Bridge over the Kentucky River was completed in 1877, the railroad had increased its business each year as it made it way ever southward. 

C. Shaler Smith, Cincinnati Southern Railraod “High Bridge” over the Kentucky River, 1875-7. Roebling had been hired to design a suspension bridge in 1854 (note the completed stone towers at each end) but the panic of 1857 stopped the project, until the post-war railroad renewed the project. When it was completed, it was the first modern cantilever bridge in the U.S., the longest cantilevered bridge in the world, and the world’s highest railroad bridge (275’ only 6’ shorter than New York’s 281’steeple of Trinity Church). At the time of its completion, Gustave Eiffel was erecting the Maria Pia Bridge in Portugal. Its iron piers are only 200’ tall. (Online)


When we left post-war Cincinnati in Volume One, the city had just decided to mount a conscious effort to become the region’s cultural capital, building the largest convention facilities in the country, the Saegerfest-Halle and its associated exhibition buildings. Prior to the Civil War, Cincinnati’s Ohio Mechanics Institute had held 18 annual Arts and Manufacturing Expositions dating back to 1838, that made it the oldest and longest running exhibition west of the Alleghenies.  There was little interest in the Queen City in reviving this tradition following the end of the war, until the loss of the 1868 convention to Chicago’s Crosby’s Opera House had resulted in a campaign to stage a “Grand Industrial Exposition of Arts and Manufacturers… representative of the Central and Western States” in the fall of 1870.  The effort was coordinated by Alfred T. Goshorn, one of the city’s leaders who had resigned in April of that year as the President of the Cincinnati Base Ball Club, having successfully guided this amateur group to evolve into the country’s first professional baseball team, the Cincinnati Red Stockings. (We saw in the previous chapter that Goshorn would be appointed as the General Director of the 1876 World’s Fair.)

Cincinnati’s Industrial Expostion grounds, 1873. With over 338,000 square feet under roof, it was the largest facility of its kind in the U.S. at this time. (Hurley, Queen City)

Paralleling Cincinnati’s business community’s side of the dual equation of Art-and-Industry had been the city’s cultural community, driven by the city’s dominant German population and its commitment to the musical traditions of the mother country.  Chicago also had a large immigrant German community, and the two groups were often engaged in a “friendly” competition that reflected the larger civic battle being fought between these two Western cities during this period.  Cincinnati was home to the national headquarters of the international German singing society Nord-Amerikanisches Saengerbund that was planning to host its annual convention in the spring of 1870 in Cincinnati.  The local Germans had acquired from the city a vacant site across from Washington Park but had little money for the festival, while the Exposition directors had the funds but no site, so the two groups agreed to combine their respective resources to build the Saengerfest-Halle that was ready in time for the Festival’s opening day of June 15, 1870.  

Saengerfest-Halle, Cincinnati, 1870. Erected for the 1870 Saengerfest Convention, it was a wooden auditorium with a metal roof, having dimensions of 110’ wide and 250’ long. (Hurley, Queen City)

The building’s dimensions were 110’ by 250’ that allowed it to seat an audience of 10,000, in addition to 2000 musicians at its front.

Saengerfest-Halle, Cincinnati. Interior. Its capacity was 12,000. (Online)

Three more buildings (a Power Hall, a Fine Arts and Music Hall, and a Mechanics Hall) were completed during the summer in time for the October 5, 1870, opening of the “Grand Exposition,” giving Cincinnati the largest (838,000 sq. ft.) and finest exhibition and convention facility in the country.

Cincinnati Industrial Exposition Buildings. 1870. With the addition of a Power Hall, a Fine Arts Hall, and a Mechanics Hall, the center had a combined convention area of 838,000 sq. ft., the largest such complex in the country. (Online)


Miller, Zane L., and George F. Roth. Cincinnati’s Music Hall. Virginia Beach, Va.: Jordan, 1978.

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)