Adler had hired Louis H. Sullivan, the twenty-three year old free-lance designer, to design the Music Hall’s organ screen.   Adler had used Sullivan a couple of years earlier to design the interior fresco in his Sinai Synagogue at the corner of Indiana and 21st street.  In my introduction of Sullivan at the top of this chapter, I left off with Sullivan disillusioned with the curriculum at the École des Beaux-Arts during the spring of 1875.  Sullivan’s best friend in Jenney’s office, John Edelmann, had also left the office and had formed a practice with the promise of two commissions.  Both jobs, the interior decoration of the Sinai Synagogue designed by Adler and the entire design of the Moody Tabernacle, a new building for Chicago evangelist Dwight L. Moody at the corner of Chicago and La Salle, were religious buildings that called for interior frescoes.  Edelmann had contacted Sullivan in Paris and asked him to design the frescoes.  These commissions were the inspiration for him to travel to Rome in April to study Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, before he made a beeline to Chicago in May 1875 to work on both projects. 

Dankmar Adler, Sinai Temple, Chicago, 1875. Indiana Avenue and 21st Street. (Online)

The Sinai Synagogue was the first to open and Sullivan’s interior decoration was reviewed by the Tribune as “quite elegant, and is a departure from the ordinary.”  The following month, the Times reviewed both projects, once again complimenting Sullivan’s design as “well worth going to see for its rare beauty and the delightful harmony which characterizes its brilliant and unique ornament.”  The Tribune gave the most detailed description of Sullivan’s design of the interior of Moody’s Tabernacle:

“The severe simplicity, coupled with the absence of perspective, gives an ancient, or perhaps a cabalistic, cast to the whole, yet when the puzzle is solved it astonishes the beholder with the very lack of what at first seems most prominent… When you see it, it is alright, but until you do see it it don’t amount to much.”

“Radiating from the skylight 36 feet in diameter are a series of sprigs, executed in glass and cast-iron, in green, yellow, blue, and white.  Bounding this is an outer circle of rosettes of white glass with blue center.  Outside this circle is a wide band of maroon with gold beads.  If left here the result would be a perfect architectural design.  Then comes the cove, passing at the bottom into an octagonal lintel.  The problem then became the unity of the two features, solved by the introduction of huge plant forms starting from the columns, and throwing out from each two leaves, 16 feet long, crossing each other and extending to the skylight.  This formation leaves a triangular space between the edge of the maroon band and the point of intersection of the two leaves.  The triangles, eight in number, are filled each with an immense flower, 7 feet 6 inches across the top, resting on a gold background.  From the opening of the flower arise four stamen and one pistil. The calyx is blue and the corella white.  The flower springs from a rudimentary spathe of maroon.  The effect of the eight flowered triangles is an octagonal star, losing its corners in the crossing leaves.  The spaces between the large plants, which make the real field of the cove, is deep cobalt blue, and bear minor designs of large leaves, falling opposite, and giving birth to two lateral and one central flower…”

“The gallery front presents the most interesting study of all.  It is the harmonizing of two different plants, each bearing a flower, and each inverting the colors of the other.  The field is dark blue, the stalks are light blue, and the flowers pink and white.  The intermediate design is a pink stalk, and a green and white flower.”

“Unique,” however, cuts both ways, and some in Moody’s congregation did not appreciate Sullivan’s departure into the “new:” “This is the most disgraceful coloring that ever defaced the walls of a church.”  A Daily Inter-Ocean reporter interviewed Edelmann’s partner, Joseph S. Johnston on Sullivan’s “unique style,” to which he replied that Sullivan “did not spare his colors, and they harmonize perfectly.”   (I cannot help but think of the similar controversy that Owen Jones’ initial color palette for the Crystal Palace in 1851 had generated.)  A few days later, Rev. Moody ended the controversy: “It (Sullivan’s decoration) is peculiar but I don’t see anything out of the way in it.  If I had been directing it many would have objected to my style as do to this… This thing of working for and trying to please the public is an ungrateful task.”

Public response to Sullivan’s two frescoes had been on the balance, positive, and although he had found his niche, the design of ornamented interior surfaces, the lack of commissions during the depression had forced Sullivan to go it alone as a freelance artist as the depression had forced Edelmann to close up shop and try his luck elsewhere.  Three lean years had followed until, Adler, who was the architect of the Sinai Synagogue, had chosen to once again engage Sullivan to design at least the organ screen, if not the entire interior of the Central Music Hall, and would, in the immediate future, come to rely upon Sullivan with increasing frequency.


Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

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


Dankmar Adler, Central Music Hall, Chicago, 1879. The auditorium’s entrance is centered on the State Street façade, while immediately to the rear (left) of the business block is the auditorium with its three three-story tall stained glass windows. (Online)

More to the point, however, the 1878 municipal election results provided the necessary incentive for Fairbank to chair his Central Music Hall’s planning group’s first meeting on December 23, 1878. This was then reinforced by the 40,000 strong crowd marking the eighth anniversary of the Paris Commune in the Exposition Center on March 28, 1879. There was little time to waste and construction began in May 1879.  (Field & Leiter’s rebuilt store had opened only weeks earlier on April 28.) In early 1879, however, Burling was indicted for malpractice (but was eventually acquitted) about the same time that the Central Music Hall design commission was ready to be awarded.  The owners had no desire to be associated with the legal problems of Burling, and offered the design to only Adler, who took the commission, dissolved the firm, and hung out his own shingle.

Map of the Loop, 1879. (Author’s collection)

The Central Music Hall has often been cited by historians as one of the country’s earliest mixed-use developments, but this claim is inaccurate as Chicago’s own Grand Pacific Hotel had already incorporated rental offices and stores as early as 1871.  This claim is also duplicitous because it tries to obscure the fact that while Cincinnati had the capital and the public civic-mindedness at this time to build a first-class performance facility, Chicago had no civic philanthropist at this time equal in spirit to Cincinnati’s Reuben Springer, and thus, was forced to include commercial space in the final design of its project in order to generate income to help pay for the building, even though it was less than half the size of Cincinnati’s.   The simple fact was that the mixed-use aspect of the Central Music Hall was a financial necessity, and not a prophetic experiment of what would become commonplace in the near future.

Adler, Central Music Hall. Plan and Section. (Siry, The Auditorium)

To ameliorate the apparent conflict in functions, Adler placed the 1800 seat auditorium to the east of, or in back of a six-story business block that faced State Street and turned the corner at Randolph. The first floor along State Street contained twelve stores flanking the centrally located red and gray granite main entrance to the auditorium.  The five upper floors contained 75 offices, the first sizable addition to the city’s office space inventory in six years, signaling the start of the long-awaited rebound of Chicago’s economy.  Although Adler had incorporated three triple-window groupings in the center of the State Street facade and a three-story arcade in the auditorium’s Randolph Street elevation, the conservative nature of his design and construction of the building’s Lemont limestone elevations is quite apparent when they are compared to the degree of openness achieved by Jenney at the same time in the red brick framework of the Leiter Building (see next post).

Adler pushed the auditorium to the sidewalk on the north, or Randolph face to gain indirect daylight with three three-story tall stained-glass windows.  Over these he located a number of artist’s studios (again for indirect north light) directly over the front of the hall.  As Hannaford had done in Cincinnati, Adler also included a smaller recital hall as well as meeting rooms for a variety of related societies. Although Adler’s engineering ability has also been spotlighted for the structural solution of the long-span wrought-iron trusses, the auditorium’s main bearing walls, in fact, had to be reinforced after the start of construction with iron columns inset into the walls to support the loads of the trusses. This may have been at the recommendation of Peter B. Wight, who had been asked by the owners to inspect Adler’s drawings prior to construction and had recommended a series of modifications.  The influence of Wight may also be read in Adler’s design of the Music Hall’s exterior, which bears a resemblance to Wight’s redesign of Richardson’s American Express Building.

Peter B. Wight, Revised Design of the American Express Building, Chicago, 1873. (The Land Owner, April 1874)

While Windy City boosters proffered the project as a response to Cincinnati’s Music Hall, in reality Adler had to design it as a church that could also accommodate a large audience for musical performances. Adler would turn to Cincinnati’s precedent for his point of departure.  As the acoustics of the Cincinnati Music Hall were considered to be excellent, Adler made no significant departures from its interior arrangement in his design and simply copied its two galleries, upward curving main floor, and the transverse-coved ceiling.  

Adler, Central Music Hall. Interior. Two of the three stained glass windows are visible. (Lowe, Chicago Interiors) Note the similarities with Cincinnati Music Hall below. (Painter, Music Hall)

These features once again resulted in very good acoustics, launching Adler on his career as Chicago’s premiere theater designer. The first church service consecrated the building on January 5, 1880.   The requirement that Adler had to design the interior primarily for Swing’s church services resulted in the exclusion of a stage and provisions for scenery, in favor of a pulpit framed by the church’s large organ, in fact the project’s only noteworthy challenge to Cincinnati.  Although the organ’s final size did not surpass that of Cincinnati’s, the design of the Chicago organ’s beautiful cherrywood screen most certainly did. 

Adler, Central Music Hall. Organ screen is believed to have been designed by Louis Sullivan. (Gregersen, Adler)


Gregersen, Charles E.  Dankmar Adler: His Theaters and Auditoriums. Athens, Ohio University, 1990.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

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


(I am interested in how the local and national political context affected Chicago’s architecture as well as its urban development. As I began to research this, it became quite clear that one must have a basic understanding of the political/economic context to appreciate how Chicago was so impacted. Without this knowledge, one is dumbfounded to understand, for instance, why there were no significant buildings erected in Chicago from mid-1886 to early 1889, with the exception of the Auditorium, that was an attempt to inspire confidence for private capital to return, after the Haymarket Square bombing and resulting trials had stopped all investment in downtown in its tracks. This event was the culmination of the unsuccessful first political battle for the eight-hour work day, which I had introduced in Volume One, and now pick-up from where we left off.) Thomas’ concert series started on Monday, June 18, 1877, and had gone smoothly for the first four weeks of its six weeks run. But on Monday, July 16, a local railroad strike against the Baltimore & Ohio in Martinsburg, W.V., began that quickly snowballed into the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.  The U.S. economy had been in a depression (referred to as the Great Depression until the 1930s) for almost four years, following the 1873 panic brought on by Jay Cooke’s bankruptcy.  Many railroads had been forced to declare bankruptcy, and in order to raise what little money that could be had, their court-appointed receivers had lowered freight rates to gain a competitive edge that had only further reduced their profits.  The severe winter of 1876-77 had only acerbated the economic plight of the railroads, and they saw no alternative but to reduce the wages of their workers by 10% that had been enacted on July 1 (this had come on top of a 20% reduction imposed only the year before).

Harper’s Weekly, “Blockade of Engines at Martinsburg, W.VA,” July 11, 1877. (Online)

These were the conditions among the country’s urban working class as the spark of the July 16 strike in West Virginia set off a two-week nationwide rampage that pitted labor unions and the working poor against the capitalist owners of American business.  By the end of the week, Federal troops had been called into Baltimore, where on Friday, July 20, they killed twelve people in their campaign to restore quiet.  

Harper’s Weekly, “6th Regiment Firing on Protestors, Baltimore,” July 11, 1877. (Online)

But it was in Pittsburgh, the western terminus of the Pennsylvania Railroad, where the scenes from the Paris Commune of only six years earlier were replayed, to the utter horror of Chicago’s elite.  Protests in that city against the railroad began on Thursday, July 19, and continued unabated into Friday, as the city’s local militia refused to confront their own neighbors and families.  The railroad’s management’s only recourse was to press the governor to send in the militia from Philadelphia who had no such inhibitions (for which the company provided special cars), which was the move that pushed what had up to this point been peaceable protests, into a full-fledged insurrection.

The news of the Philadelphian troops arrival late on Saturday afternoon, July 21, only served to further incense the growing crowd of protestors gathered near the company’s Union Depot and yard at 28th Street.   Over 600 troops had arrived with the order to clear the tracks so the company’s freight trains (the strike was only against freight trains, a conscious strategy so as to not antagonize the general public) could start moving again.  With bayonets fixed, the troops charged the crowd blocking the tracks, but there were too many people to be intimated by such a move.  The protestors reacted with a hail of rocks and bricks, which brought the inevitable order to open fire.  Twenty people were killed and almost thirty wounded.  As word of the massacre spread throughout the city, people from all over converged on the Pennsylvania’s railroad yard to avenge the troops’ brutality.  Completely outnumbered, the troops had no alternative but to hole up in a nearby roundhouse, leaving the mob to its own devices.  

Harper’s Weekly, “Burning of the Pennsylvania Railroad and Union Depot, Pittsburgh,” July 22, 1877. (Online)

That evening, July 21, anything connected with the Pennsylvania Railroad, locomotives, freight cars, and buildings was set ablaze by the protestors.  By sunrise on Sunday, July 22, a three-mile long strip of railroad property, including the railroad’s elegant $4 million Union Depot, was ablaze.  

Paris on fire during the Battle of Paris, May 24, 1871. (Online)

Images of the riot’s aftermath seen in Chicago evoked memories not only of the great fire of 1871, but also, more menacingly the burning of Paris by the Communards during their last days in power in Paris.

Ruins of the Pennsylvania Railroad’s Union Depot after the July 21-2 riot, Pittsburgh, 1877. (online)
Ruins of the Hotêl de Ville after being torched by the retreating Communards on May 24, 1871. (online)


Speaking of Chicago, up to then, the city had enjoyed an uneasy quiet with a relative sense of foreboding, waiting to see how the city’s unions would react to the week’s events.  Since the initial confrontation between the city’s advocates of the working class and the Relief and Aid Society during the holiday season of 1873/4, the climate of the city’s labor movement had taken a definite turn to European Socialist doctrine with the arrival of two young men who were destined to lead the attempt to impose Marxist theories on the American economy.  Both Philip Van Patten, a young architectural draftsman from the East, and Albert R. Parsons, an itinerant newspaper reporter from Texas, had moved to Chicago during the latter half of 1873.  Following the conflicts with the Relief and Aid Society, both had gravitated to Chicago’s socialist organization, the Social Democratic party, where they became comrade-in-arms.  Both were representatives of Chicago’s movement at the Unity Congress of Socialists, held in Philadelphia during the Fair, on July 15-19, 1876, as an organizational meeting following the breakup of the National Labor Union some three months earlier in Pittsburgh.  The various Socialist organizations throughout the U. S. that attended had first formally voted to disband the old communist IWA, and then had formed a new party, the Workingmen’s Party of the United States (WPUS).  Chicago was named the headquarters of the party, with Van Patten being named its “Corresponding Secretary.”

On Friday, July 20, 1877, the WPUS had encouraged Chicago’s railroad workers to join the strike, seeing it as an opportunity to champion its cause of the eight-hour workday.  The following day, Saturday, the WPUS held two mass meetings to support the strike, where the WPUS’s national executive committee led by Van Patten, had asked its members to “render all possible moral and substantial assistance to our brethren” then on strike, calling for the nationalization of all railroads and the adoption of the eight-hour work day. Albert Parsons, then a writer for the Chicago Times, who recently had made a name for himself with his public speaking abilities, had been asked to address the second of the two meetings that evening at Sacks Hall, in support of the unions, that coincided with the start of the fires in Pittsburgh.

The following Sunday morning saw all involved parties hanging around the city’s newspapers as reports of the night’s events in Pittsburgh clogged the telegraph wires.  The Tribune reported these harrowing events with its first extra edition since the Civil War had ended, some twelve years ago, calling the mob’s actions a “Civil War.”  Parsons gave another speech that evening in Sacks Hall before leading a huge torchlight march, reported to have included 15,000 supporters, and then met with a group of railroad switchmen, encouraging them to “strike while the anvil is hot,” promising the WPUS would support their action in every possible way.  Monday, July 23, saw both sides making appropriate contingency plans.  Mayor Monroe Heath secretly called the city police and the state’s militia into readiness, while small groups of railroad workers discussed among themselves what steps to take next.  The WPUS flooded the city with leaflets advertising an evening mass meeting at the intersection of Madison and Market (Wacker) with Parsons listed as the headline speaker, who did not disappoint his over 30,000 followers:

“Fellow workers (he alluded to Civil War veterans by referring to those in attendance as the “Grand Army of Starvation”) let us recollect that this Great Republic that has been handed down to us by our forefathers from 1776, that while we have the Republic, we still have hope… We have come together this evening, if it is possible, to find the means by which the great gloom that now hangs over our Republic can be lifted and once more the rays of happiness can be shed on the face of this broad land.”

On Tuesday, July 24, the spark that set off a rolling strike throughout Chicago was struck by a group of Michigan Central switchmen, that quickly accumulated compatriots (unionized and unemployed hangers-on as well) as they went from site to site and business to business to shut down operations throughout the city, with the occasional “Vive la Liberté” and a few bars of “The Marseillaise.”  Meanwhile, while the mayor was calling for citizen patrols and issued a proclamation that closed all of the saloons, the city’s business leaders, with the ready assistance of the police chief, once again took matters into their own hands.  The publisher of the Chicago Times called Parsons into his office, fired him on the spot, and handed him over to a group of detectives who led him to city hall, where he was “joined” by WPUS president Van Patten, and over thirty aldermen and business owners.  The two socialist leaders were threatened with hanging and forced to promise to avoid all political activity in the local strike for the next twenty-four hours: “Parsons, your life is in danger,” warned police chief Michael Hickey.

Troops stationed outside of Post Office, July 1877. (Online)

On Wednesday, July 25, Mayor Heath called for a force of 5,000 armed men, preferably, Civil War veterans, to assist the police in subduing the violence.  Federal Appeals Judge Thomas Drummond swiftly ruled the railroad union’s actions in Chicago to be illegal and demanded that not only Federal Marshalls protect railroad property, but also requested that Federal troops once again be brought into Chicago to quell the unrest.  It just happened that a U.S. Army unit was returning from seeing action in the Dakotas (George Custer’s last stand at the Little Big Horn had occurred only twelve months earlier) and was thus diverted to the Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building to be quartered there for an indefinite period, protecting it and its Bierhalle from any Socialist violence, but the damage to the Festival had already been done.  The planned six-week festival was cancelled in its fourth week.  During the next two days, the strike was brutally squashed by local police, militia and the army, but not before the workers had one last, great stand, “The Battle of Halsted Street.”  

Battle of Halsted Street Viaduct, Chicago, Thursday, July 26,1877. (Online)

On Thursday, July 26, a crowd that varied between 3,000 and 10,000, depending upon the time of day, held police at bay during a battle that lasted the entire day along the four block-long section of South Halsted Street, that stretched from 12thSt. to the 16th St. viaduct.  At the time, this part of Halsted was narrow and lined with two- and three-story houses, ideal for barricading not unlike the medieval streets of Paris.  The neighborhood Bohemian socialists took full advantage of their natural defensive advantage during the urban struggle and had succeeded in fighting the police to a draw.  

All told, Chicago’s casualties during the week of rioting, which surpassed those of any other American city during the two-week Great Railroad Strike of 1877, amounted to nearly thirty killed, approximately 200 wounded, and another 200 arrested, while the police suffered eighteen wounded officers.  One casualty that is seldom mentioned in conjunction the Railroad Strike of 1877 was Theodore Thomas’ personal purse.  His contract required his players to be paid, whether they played or not.    Carpenter and Fairbank attempted to make amends to Thomas for the interruption by having him perform a benefit concert on August 1, the proceeds of which would be given to Thomas, but the damage had been done to Chicago’s campaign to entice him to move to the city.  Thomas would take up residence in Cincinnati in the brand new Music Hall the following year.


E.S. Jennison, Post-Fire Singer Building (Field & Leiter Store), Chicago, NE corner of State and Washington, 1872. Destroyed by fire, Nov. 14, 1877. (Online)

The Railroad Strike of July 1877 had convinced Peck and the Fairbank group that the political situation was only growing more desperate and coming as it did during the height of Cincinnati’s construction of Music Hall, finally convinced them that it was time to get serious about construction of Chicago’s new hall.  In October 1877, Peck, together with Levi Leiter (whose Field, Leiter, and Co. Store was immediately to the south of its proposed site), incorporated a joint stock company for the expressed purpose of building the new “Central Music Hall.”  The local economy, however, was still in the depths of the depression and the plans were put on the backburner.  Their plans were further postponed by the burning of the Field & Leiter store on Nov. 14, 1877.  Field and Leiter used their insider connections to gain a bargain rental of the Expo Center for $750/month to where they moved their operations, opening on Nov. 11, 1877, after the last vestiges of the bierhalle erected for Thomas’ Chicago Summer Nights series had been removed.   Some eyebrows were raised in City Council, however, because this rental rate was less than one-quarter of the current rate structure in downtown.  As it was, the location was far from the retail center, and during the winter months was less than idea. New “temporary” space was secured on the east side of Wabash between Madison and Monroe (not coincidentally only a block south of A.T. Stewart’s new store at the SE corner of Wabash and Washington, that had opened its doors in September 1876, that was proving to be Field’s first true competition), and the company opened its new doors on March 11, 1878.  

The opening of the Wabash store was just in time, as we shall see, because the Socialists’ cause had been so strengthened by the government’s violent repression during the railroad riots that Socialist candidates made big gains in the November elections of 1878.  In Illinois alone, they elected a State Senator, three State Representatives, and four Chicago Aldermen. Encouraged by their electoral success, the new aldermen asked a seemingly innocent question: “Who owned the Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building?”  Of course, its corporation did, but the city still seemed to own the land upon which it had been built.  

The legal subtleties of ownership were sufficiently under-defined to allow these aldermen to demand that the Exposition corporation pay the city an appropriate annual rent for the land.  While the corporation continuously refused to do so, until 1885, its sole control of the building had been compromised to the point where it was forced to allow outside groups to use it for their own purposes.  One such group that immediate rose to the occasion was the city’s Socialists, who staged, on March 22, 1879, their first, in a series of, massive protest rallies, symbolically in the same Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building where Field & Leiter had displayed luxury goods the year before and where Thomas had played to well-dressed crowds only twenty months earlier, to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Paris Commune.  The estimates of the size of the crowd in the building varied between 25,000 and 40,000 Communists and their supporters. While this action allowed Chicago to best the attendance of Cincinnati’s Third May Festival held in its new Music Hall, the Chicago folks who had crammed into the Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building that day had little interest in Italian Opera or German symphonies.  Chicago’s elites responded to this threat as best they could the following year by erecting immediately to the north of the Exposition Building at the foot of Monroe Street an armory for the First Regiment of the Illinois National Guard, that was typical referred as Battery D. 

“Battery D,” Armory for the First Regiment of the Illinois National Guard (top image, bottom left corner), foot of Monroe and Michigan, 1880. (Above: Rand-McNally Views) You only need to mentally replace the image of the Art Institute with the Exposition Center to understand the importance of the Armory’s location. (Below: Online)


Cremin, Dennis H. Grant Park, The Evolution of Chicago’s Front Yard. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University, 2013.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Stowell, David O., (ed.). The Great Strikes of 1877. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2008.

Twyman, Robert W. The History of Marshall Field and Company, 1852-1906. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1954.

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


“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.

While Cincinnati’s Music Hall was under construction, Theodore Thomas had continued to take his orchestra on national tours, including Chicago.  During the post-fire period of 1872-5, the Thomas Orchestra’s tours of Chicago had been organized by George B. Carpenter, a young promoter who was committed to offering residents of post-fire Chicago entertainment and education through a series of concerts and lectures staged in venues on the West and South Divisions of the city that had survived the fire, but had become frustrated with the small size of the available halls. Following Thomas’ first post-fire Chicago visit in 1872, that had come after Maria Nichols had first broached her plan for the Cincinnati May Festival to Thomas, Carpenter began to conceive of an appropriate Chicago response, that Joseph Siry documented in his excellent monograph, The Chicago Auditorium.

Map of Cable Car Lines, c. 1890. Field and Leiter’s Store (Square) is at the northeast corner of State and Washington, the Central Music Hall was to be built just to the north at the southeast corner of State and Randolph (circle), an easy walk from any of the three cable car lines that each ran to one of the city’s three divisions. (Borzo, Chicago Cable Cars)

Early in 1873, he began to concentrate on the southeast corner of State and Randolph as a potential site for his project as it was central to all three of the city’s divisions as all three horse-drawn streetcar lines that linked these sections to the business district intersected at this point.  

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

Carpenter had been an early supporter of the Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building, during which time he had befriended Nathaniel K. Fairbank, who was known as one of Chicago’s “passionate lovers of music.”    Carpenter and Fairbank were members of the Fourth Presbyterian Church on the Near North side, whose pastor, the Rev. David Swing was the one of the city’s leading religious figures, known for his liberal or “progressive” theology.  By the spring of 1874, his liberal sermons had caught the attention of denominational leaders who arraigned Swing on the charge of heresy.  Although he was eventually acquitted, Swing resigned his pulpit in October 1875, to the utter distress of his congregation.  This was no ordinary congregation, however, as it counted among its membership the likes of Carpenter, Fairbank, Joseph Medill, and Wirt Dexter, the leaders of the Chicago Relief and Aid Society, who had also conceived the Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building, and were equally motivated to embark upon their second civic project.  To this august body we need to add the name another member of this activist congregation that we now first encounter, Ferdinand W. Peck.

Peck had been born in Chicago in 1845, the son of Philip F. W. Peck, one of the city’s original real estate speculators, who had amassed his real estate fortune by buying and holding downtown lots, which he had begun before Chicago had even been incorporated.  Ferdinand had taken over control of the management of his father’s extensive real estate holdings following his death only ten days after the 1871 fire, following a long illness.  At the time that he took over these vast holdings he was all of twenty-three years old.  Having gained his wealth through investments, and not in business, Peck appears to have allowed himself to have developed an empathy for the working class that his peers, who were the employers of this class, did not whole-heartedly share. This eventually manifested itself in his commitment to give back to the less fortunate of Chicago.  (In 1890, Peck’s wealth was listed as being tied with that of Potter Palmer as the fourth richest man in Chicago with $10,000,000, following Marshall Field, Philip D. Armour, and George M. Pullman.) Prior to his involvement with the Central Music Hall, he had been a major player in the founding of the Chicago Athenaeum in May 1874 as an institution, inspired by the New York’s Cooper Union, dedicated to the education of all those, male and female, who wanted to better themselves.

Swing’s congregation reacted to his resignation by drafting a document whereby they would succeed from the Presbyterian Church and follow his lead, in a new, non-denominational “Central Church.”  Fifty of his most ardent supporters, including all those named above, signed the document which committed them to moving to a more central location in the business district.  There were two primary reasons for their choice of this location.  First, these people felt that religion needed to reappear in the central heart of the city, which had all but disappeared as a result of the destruction of all the churches (and the corresponding sale of the property by the congregations) in the business district by the 1871 fire, in order to be available to the thousands of young, unchurched men who now lived downtown.  Second, politically, these fifty were some of the city’s leading capitalists, and they wanted to provide the middle class with an alternative to the growing Socialists’ agenda and activities in Chicago.  Swing’s first service with his newly-formed Central Church took place within two months of his resignation in McVicker’s Theater in early December 1875.

Wheelock & Thomas, McVicker’s Theater, 1872-1883. (Siry, Auditorium)

Early in 1876, Carpenter and Fairbank, who had in early 1875, only months before Cincinnati’s planned Second May Festival, engaged the services of architects Burling & Adler to design their project, now formally commissioned them to design the planned project as an auditorium that could function both as a congregational church and as a music hall.  However, while Cincinnati’s economy was independent of East Coast venture capital and, therefore, was pushing ahead with the construction of Music Hall, 1876 marked the low point of the depression and Carpenter and Fairbank had to shelve their plans until the economy began to show signs of a rebound.  Meanwhile, Carpenter was still managing the Thomas Orchestra’s visits to Chicago, trying, albeit seemingly in vain, to compete with Cincinnati for Thomas’s long-term commitment.  Prior to the opening of Cincinnati’s Music Hall, Carpenter had offered Thomas a six-week long contract for a series of concerts during June and July of 1877 that were called “Chicago Summer Nights Concerts.”  

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

The Inter-state Industrial Exposition Building was decorated for this series as a German Bierhalle:

“The [north] end where the concerts were given was made cheerful by lights and potted plants, and many evergreen trees in tubs formed a little grove in the rear, where groups of friends sat at small tables, where the men could smoke or, in the intermissions, enjoy a glass of beer.  There were no fixed or even reserved seats in any part of the building, and people sat where they pleased, or moved the chairs into little groups to suit themselves… At either side of the auditorium were broad arcades, large enough for many thousands of people to promenade in without crowding, and, in order to allow them to continue, without interruption, around the hall, the orchestra stage built some distance out from the end of the building.”

Thomas himself had designed a great wooden sounding-board to be located directly over his orchestra in order to push the sound out and into the huge space of the Expo Building.  After a number of experiments with its size, thickness, and angle of slope, Thomas eventually was quite satisfied with its function.  The first two weeks of the series had been a complete success, but once again, events beyond his control conspired to deny him success in Chicago.  

Theodore Thomas, Design of the Sounding Board Used in the Inter-state Exposition Building for the Chicago Summer Night Concerts, 1877. (Thomas, Thomas)


Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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)



The opening of the new Shillito’s store in Cincinnati occurred in October 1878, at about the same time the U.S. economy had finally begun to improve, so we can now pick-up where we left Chicago after the 1874 fire.  The economic rebound started first in New York, where we left off with the construction of the first skyscrapers: the Equitable, the Western Union, and the New York Tribune Buildings.   I am going to use the Tribune Building as the portal between the period before the fires of Chicago (1871) and Boston (1872) and what changes were made in construction as the result of the combined lessons learned from these holocausts.

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (“Cincinnati, The Queen City,” 1901.)


As I promised at the start of Volume Two (remember Volume One that covers building the Chicago that burned, is located on my Instagram site: “thearchprofessorinchicago”), I “laid the foundation” for your understanding and appreciation for what the Chicago School architects will achieve during the 1880s. As you have just finished reading Volume Two, I will skip the summary that I intend to locate here for those who come later to the blog.  The most immediate impact on what will occur in Chicago in 1879 was caused by the two large buildings completed in Cincinnati in 1878, the Cincinnati Music Hall and the huge John Shillito’s Department Store.

Hannaford and Proctor, Music Hall, Cincinnati, 1877. (Online)


While Chicago’s economy was dull during the Depression years of 1874-9, its architects had to find business wherever they could to keep bread on the table.  The major personalities in Chicago’s architecture community during the early 1880s as of 1879 were:

John M. Van Osdel: age: 68 (1811-1891) We last saw Van Osdel, after having started the post-fire redesign of the second Palmer House, was forced by physical exhaustion to take a tour of the West and then a grand tour of Europe.  Although he returned in May 1875 and renewed his practice, his days as a leading force were over.

W.W. Boyington, La Salle Street Station Trainshed, Chicago, 1867. The wood and iron trusses clearspanned the 160′ wide space, that was 542′ long. (Douglas, Rail City: Chicago USA)

W.W. Boyington: age: 61 (1818-1898) The post-fire rebuilding had launched Boyington into the position of the city’s leading architect, being responsible for the redesigns of most of the city’s hotels and railroad stations. Prior to the 1871 fire, he had designed the longest clearspan roof in the U.S., the La Salle Street Station trainshed, as well as two of the city’s taller structures, the 175’ high steeple of the First Universalist Church and the 154’ iron iconic Water Tower.  

W. W. Boyington, First Universalist Society’s St. Paul’s Church, Northwest corner of Wabash and Van Buren, 1856. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)
W.W. Boyington, Water Tower and Water Works, lakefront at Chicago Avenue, 1865. (Jevne & Almini, Chicago Illustrated)

Prior to the start of the Panic, he had just finished Chicago’s largest building, the Interstate Industrial Exposition Building, He would soon be commissioned to design the city’s tallest building, the 303’ high tower in the new Board of Trade Building. Meanwhile, his practice had stretched across the U.S. that had kept him in business during the Depression.

Peter B. Wight: age: 41 (1838-1925) In the last volume we followed Wight launch his fireproofing company, in response to the second, 1874 fire, into one of the country’s leading manufacturers of clay fireproofing.  He had correspondingly left his architectural practice with Carter Asher and William Drake. 

Peter B. Wight, Porous Terra Cotta Ceiling Tiles for Wooden Construction, Chicago, 1878. Note that he has expanded into New York City. (Inland Architect, February 1885)

John Wellborn Root: age 29 (1850-1891) We last saw Root brought to Chicago by Wight and put in charge of Carter, Drake and Wight’s drafting office.  He would join his co-worker, Daniel Burnham: age 33 (1846-1912) in leaving the firm to begin their own practice, Burnham & Root.  They will eventually overtake Boyington as the city’s leading firm in the 1880s.

William Le Baron Jenney, Portland Block, Chicago, southeast corner of Dearborn and Washington, 1872. (Turak, Jenney)

William Le Baron Jenney: age 47 (1832-1907) After having designed the post-fire Portland Block for Boston’s Brooks brothers and the Lakeside Building, his first and truly only large architectural commissions in downtown, Jenney’s career since the Panic of 1873 had slid back to where it had been before the 1871 fire, doing landscape design, small houses in and around Riverside, the western suburb he had helped to layout, and a few small churches and commercial buildings.  The highlight of this period surely was being offered a teaching position at the University of Michigan (my alma mater) in 1875.  The state legislature had just passed an act funding a school of architecture (there were only three other university programs in the country: MIT (1865), Cornell University (1870), and the University of Illinois (1871).  This position lasted only a year (1876-7) with Jenney taking overnight trains between Chicago and Ann Arbor each week, before the state yanked its funding.  He rightfully enjoys the reputation of being the city’s leading architectural intellect during this period, but his list of built architectural projects in the business district through 1879 pales in comparison to that of Boyington who deserves to be known as the Dean of Chicago architecture during this period.

William Le Baron Jenney, Lakeside Building, Chicago, southwest corner of Adams and Clark, 1873. (Turak, Jenney)

Dankmar Adler: age 35 (1844-1900) Adler had been born in Germany in 1844 and emigrated with his family at the age of ten, settling in Detroit, where his father had been called by a synagogue to be its rabbi.  The young Dankmar had easily gravitated to architecture with the help of a local architect.  His father had moved the family in 1861 to Chicago where he had been called by a local synagogue.  Adler worked for a brief time with German-born architect Augustus Bauer before enlisting in the Union Army.  After the war he returned to Bauer’s office for a brief time before moving on to the office of Ozias S. Kinney, where he stayed until the 1871 fire.  The business generated by the fire was the opportunity of a lifetime for young architects, and Adler had formed a partnership with Edward Burling.

Burling and Adler, Post-fire First Methodist Church Block, southeast corner of Clark and Washington, 1873. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

Louis H. Sullivan: age 23 (1856-1924) We last saw the seventeen-year old Sullivan being let go by Frank Furness in November 1873 because of the recession, and having nowhere else to turn for food and shelter, had travelled to live with his father and mother who had moved to Chicago in 1868.  He eventually found employment with Jenney, where he stayed for seven months before he resigned in July 1874 to travel to Paris to take the entrance exams for the École des Beaux-Arts.  He had passed the tests and spent the fall semester of 1874 trying to become accustomed to the academic methods employed, but eventually became disillusioned as he had done at MIT in 1872.  It appears nothing nor no one could keep the attention of the itinerant prodigy for any length of time. Meanwhile, one of Sullivan’s friends in Jenney’s office, John Edelman had also left Jenney with the promise of two commissions.  Both jobs were religious buildings that called for interior frescoes that Edelmann offered their design to Sullivan.  So inspired, Sullivan had travelled to Rome in April 1875 to study Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling.  He studied it for two days, had an epiphany concerning his future, and immediately returned to Chicago in May 1875 to work on both projects.

There will be other personalities, architectural as well as clients who will commission the buildings, but I will wait to introduce these until the information is relevant to my narrative.


Bluestone, Daniel. Constructing Chicago. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991.

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