Map of the Grand Trunk Railroad’s new track to Chicago, 1879. (Online)

In Sec. 1.15, I introduced the emergence of a new railroad player in Chicago’s real estate community, the Chicago & Western Indiana Railroad.  Commodore Vanderbilt’s son and successor, William H., in an attempt to “corner the market” on meat shipments (and all freight) to the East coast in early 1879, had raised the user fees that his MC charged the Canadian Grand Trunk to use its route into Chicago.  Such a monopoly was simply unacceptable to the GT’s president, Sir Henry Tyler as well as to Boston’s railroad interests, who had built the MC but lost it to the older Vanderbilt’s cagey stock manipulations, but still ran the very profitable CB&Q that needed a corresponding link back to the East.  To compound the gravity of the situation, Vanderbilt had come into direct conflict with the investments of one of the world’s largest financial institutions, the House of Baring in London, who were quietly financing, in league with Boston financial interests, their own transcontinental route from the Pacific and the China trade back to East in the form of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

Tyler had announced that he would build a new route from Detroit into Chicago, and on June 5, 1879, the Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad was formally incorporated, destined to become the Chicago entrance for all of Vanderbilt’s embittered rivals: Tyler’s Grand Trunk Western; the Baring’s and Bostonians’ Santa Fe; and even the New York Central’s perennial enemy, the Erie.  The most logical location for the company’s new station would be to the east of Vanderbilt’s station on Van Buren, and so the Bostonians had influenced the decision to bring the tracks in line with Dearborn.  This was a well-guarded secret, however, in order not to encourage the current owners of the needed property to drastically inflate their selling price so that all of the property could be obtained at relatively lower prices.  And I don’t mean only the property for the station, but all of the property immediately adjacent to the station for this would naturally be the location for new buildings (office, shopping, and hotels) that would sprout up around the station.

Map of the Loop, 1881. (Author’s collection)

The original plan was to locate the C&WI station at Harrison, only two blocks south of the La Salle Street Station.  Obviously, it was to the C&WI’s advantage to be as close to the business district as possible in order to compete with Vanderbilt’s station.  This location would have also been only three blocks away from the relocated post-fire Post Office/Custom House then under construction.  In 1880, however, there was no corner of Harrison and Dearborn, it was “out in the sticks” because Dearborn had been constructed only as far south as Monroe that was the southside of the old Post Office; nothing much existed farther to the south.  The Brookses had already obtained the land at the future corner of Harrison and Dearborn secretly through Shepherd’s wife, Clara G. Brooks, who had made the purchases under the name of “D,” before the railroad had showed its hand by starting construction of its tracks into the business district.

Although the first Grand Trunk train had arrived on the C. & W. I. tracks on February 9, 1880, the tracks had been stopped by the city at Polk Street, four blocks south of the La Salle Street station, under the pretext that the new tracks would only compound the existing traffic congestion. Of course, as Dearborn still remained unopened some seven blocks to the north, there was no “existing traffic” to compound.   Common Council was evidently under the influence of the La Salle Street interests, for they would eventually succeed in preventing the C. & W. I. tracks from crossing Polk Street.  This issue was compounded by the fact that Council would not even approve the extension of Dearborn beyond Jackson, the southern edge of the new Post Office then under construction, until, as we will see, those who had plans for La Salle Street had “all of their ducks in a row” (the city would, of course, eventually construct the five new blocks of Dearborn).  But this was still some two years into the future, and meanwhile, the Brookses continued to optimistically albeit naively, move forward with their plans in hopes of success and profit.


Ammi B. Young, U.S. Post Office and Custom House, Chicago, 1857, center left (photo c. 1867). NW corner of Dearborn and Monroe, looking south down Dearborn. Note that at this time, Dearborn was opened and paved only to Monroe Street. (Gilbert, Chicago)

I stated that one of the more significant effects of the 1871 fire had been the total destruction of the Post Office and Custom House that stood at the northwest corner of Dearborn and Monroe (Vol. II, Sec. 3.6).  We have seen that the Federal Government demanded a larger site than the old one in order to build a much bigger replacement, and I had stated that suspicion was rampart about who had made a killing with the sale to the Feds of the block bounded by Adams, Dearborn, Jackson, and Clark.  The important point here is that the new Federal institution was to be remain on Dearborn.

Therefore, the intersection of Dearborn and Monroe was prime for development since the northwest corner had been vacated with the relocation of the Post Office.  The importance of the vacated corner and its ruins, occupied since the fire by Haverly’s Theater, was underscored in 1881 by the construction of a new building for the First National Bank of Chicago.  The bank’s move from its post-fire building (redesigned by its original architect, Edward Burling) at the southwest corner of Washington and State signaled the opening blow to the preeminence of Washington Street as Chicago’s financial district, and gave further evidence that the city’s business district was being pulled to the south, away from the river and closer to the railroads.

We last mentioned Burling (whose oeuvre ranked third among the city’s architects, following those of Boyington and Van Osdel) in connection with the design of the new Central Music Hall two years earlier (see Sec 1.7).  He had been selected, along with his junior partner, Dankmar Adler, to be awarded the commission, when he was indicted for malpractice, costing him the chance to design the building, that was given to Adler, who then had started his own firm.  Meanwhile, Burling had been found innocent of the charge and had replaced Adler with Francis M. Whitehouse.  The bank continued to have faith in Burling and once again returned to Burling for the design of its new headquarters, that was to be the most expensive private building erected in Chicago since the Palmer House.  

Burling and Whitehouse, First National Bank, Chicago, NW corner of Dearborn and Monroe, 1881. The Montauk Block is to the left. (Chicagology.com)

For the corner lot that had frontages on Dearborn of 192′ and on Monroe of 96,’ and alleys on the other two sides, the architects designed a 100′ high building containing six floors and a basement that was served by three elevators.   The 96’ width allowed Burling to line the site with a single-loaded corridor scheme in the upper five office floors in which the offices were arranged around galleries that overlooked the skylighted atrium.  The basement contained safe deposit vaults while the banking floor, with its entrance on Dearborn, occupied the entire first floor that was completely free of any walls.  As was the case in George Post’s Equitable Building and the then under-construction Produce Exchange, the center of the banking floor was highlighted with a 16′ x 100′ glass and iron skylight.  Burling’s solution to the banking floor also used the detailing Post had used in the Produce Exchange in his use of cantilevers from the interior columns from which the skylight was supported.  

Burling and Whitehouse, First National Bank. Banking floor. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago); Below: The Banking Floor in operation. (Chicagology.com)

One can assume by the advertising names on the windows in the upper floors that these offices, were, at least in the beginning, rental floors.  Obviously for security and noise issues, the bank would not want the banking floor opened to the atrium above, therefore, it had Burling close off the bottom of the upper atrium with the otherwise unneeded skylight over the banking floor. 

Left: Montauk Block; Right: First National Bank (note the skylight).(Rand-McNally, View #5)

In order to gain a maximum of daylight for the offices, Burling employed a masonry pier-and-spandrel system, like that of Jenney’s First Leiter Building and Adler’s recently-completed Borden Block (rather than a wall with holes: compare the bank’s exterior to the walls in the Montauk Block in the upper image). In comparing Burling’s elevation to that by Adler in the Borden Block, Buring’s maturity as a designer is quite evident in the compositional repose he achieved.

Dankmar Adler, Borden Block, Chicago, NW corner of Dearborn and Randolph, 1880. (Chicagology.com)

Burling’s design of the exterior was quite traditional compared to Root’s experiment in the Grannis Block, in that colossal Ionic and Corinthian pilasters were employed to group the floors in an ascending 1:2:3 sequence.  This was the same rhythm that Silliman and Farnsworth had used in the Boreel Building in New York three years earlier.  As Real Estate and Building Journal described, its “style will be Renaissance, without flippery ornament and depending for its effectiveness upon its simplicity.”  Repose…

Stephen Hatch, Boreel Building, New York, 1878. (Online)

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

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