6.15. SHILLITO’S STRUCTURE: PART 2

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 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)

6.16. THE FIRST MAY FESTIVAL IN THE NEW MUSIC HALL: MAY 14, 1878

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:

“CINCINNATI IS THE CENTRAL CITY OF THE NATION… THE MUSIC HALL WILL INCREASE OUR ATTRACTIVENESS… AND JOINED TO THE INCOMPARABLE ADVANTAGE OF OUR LOCATION, AND THE KNOWN DEVELOPMENT OF OUR HOTEL ACCOMMODATIONS, IT WILL COMMAND A VAST VARIETY OF CONVENTIONS-POLITICAL, RELIGIOUS, BENEVOLENT AND SCIENTIFIC… WASHINGTON WILL REMAIN OUR POLITICAL AND NEW YORK OUR COMMERCIAL CAPITAL, BUT CINCINNATI WILL BE THE CITY OF NATIONAL CONVENTIONS AND THE SOCIAL CENTER AND MUSICAL METROPOLIS OF AMERICA.”

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.

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

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