George H. Edbrooke, Adams Express Building, Chicago, 1883. To the left is the Commercial National Bank. (Online)

While construction on the Board of Trade was renewed following the winter of 1882-3, the developers of Dearborn Street were still hoping to get City Council to allow construction of the C&WI station at Harrison and Dearborn.  The Brookses, meanwhile, had continued investing in property along Dearborn, slowly, but inexorably to the south to meet the station.  They were consolidating their ownership around Monroe, centered around the new First National Bank. The preceding July (1882) they had purchased the southeast corner of Dearborn and Monroe (diagonally opposite the bank and the Montauk), and then in early 1883 they had leased the lot immediately to the south. 

Map of the Loop, 1883. (Author’s collection)

The Brookses leased the corner site to In February 1883 to a consortium of investors, the Commercial Safety Deposit Company, who held a competition for their new building in February 1883.  In March it was announced that the winner was Jaffray & Scott who had produced a rather traditional design, sporting a picturesque roofline not unlike Beman’s Pullman Building.  Notable, however, was their Néo-Grec technique of crisply carving the window openings into the brick, seemingly influenced by the way Root had detailed the Grannis and Calumet facades.

Jaffray & Scott, Commercial National Bank, Chicago, SE corner of Dearborn and Monroe, 1883. (Chicagology.com)

Later that year, the Brookses also leased the lot on Dearborn immediately to the south of the bank to the Adams Express Company, headquartered in Boston.  The company had been founded by Alvin Adams, a Boston merchant ruined by the 1837 Panic, who had then started up a delivery company between Boston and Worcester. In 1840 he formed the Adams Express Company and named George W. Cass it’s president.  Hopefully from Volume One, you will remember Cass as the person William Ogden had chosen to run his Pittsburgh, Fort Wayne & Chicago Railroad in 1855 (and its Adams Street station).  Ogden also saw to it that Cass was named to the board of the Northern Pacific in 1867, becoming its president in 1872, until the railroad declared bankruptcy in 1875. 

Edbrooke, Adams Express Building. Dearborn elevation, with later two-story addition. (Chicagology.com)
W.W. Boyington, Royal Insurance Building. Left: Jackson elevation; Right: Quincy elevation. (Author’s collection)

The company commissioned local architect George H. Edbrooke to design a nine-story office building for the site.  Edbrooke deserves, as I hope you will agree after reviewing the next two buildings, to be held in higher regard then he currently enjoys.  You can understand his design for the building’s elevation as taking the best of Boyington’s two pier-and-lintel elevations of the Royal Insurance Building and pulling these apart at the center to create an unheard of opening the size of six windows, made possible by the building’s most memorable feature, its famous cyclopean granite arched entryway that spanned some 35′ within the building’s rusticated base.  He had achieved a notable amount of openness for a Chicago building, in which there was more glass than there was masonry in façade!  (A later addition of two floors made this even more remarkable.)  This was structurally possible, as it was in the Royal Insurance Building, because of the masonry party walls at either side. As was still typical, the floors were constructed with wood joists, in this case they were “fireproofed” with James John’s patented system of covering the entire ceiling before the partitions were installed, with a 1 1/2″ thick coat of plaster cement.

Edbrooke, Adams Express Building. View of south wall. (Chicagology.com)

Again, mimicking Boyington, he placed a transitional layer above the base and then duplicated Boyington’s unbroken, five-story continuous piers from the Jackson Street elevation, albeit he sheathed these in the Quincy Street’s brick masonry.  In this part of the elevation, however, he achieved a statement of plane or “flatness” that in some ways was even more successful than Root’s elevation of the Calumet Building, in the way in which he detailed the columns of windows as if they had been carved into the plane of the brick wall, quite similar, but in a more extensive manner that Jaffray & Scott had done in the adjacent building.

Edbrooke, Hiram Sibley Warehouse, Chicago, corner of the river’s north bank and Clark Street, 1883. Clark Street elevation. (Historic American Buildings Survey)

At about the same time Edbrooke was also commissioned to design a new warehouse for the Hiram Sibley (telegraph magnate and the first president of Western Union) on the lot along the north bank of the main branch that stretched almost the entire block from Clark to Dearborn. With a footprint measuring 240’ along the river and 189’ along Clark Street, its nine stories easily made it the largest building erected in 1883 (surpassing both the Board of Trade and the Pullman Building).  While the Pullman Building had started the year with a strong horizontal accent, the Sibley Warehouse ended the year with a prophecy of the vertical skyscraper on the immediate horizon.  Along Clark Street, Edbrooke located three floors of storefronts rendered in triple windows with stained glass transoms.  The floors above were used to house a seed company’s offices.  This space that fronted onto Clark Street was 80′ deep, which left the remaining 160′ depth along the river for the warehouse.  Edbrooke shortened the floor-to-floor height of this section, which allowed him to cram nine stories into the eastern two-thirds of the building.

George H. Edbrooke, Hiram Sibley Warehouse. River elevation. Note the continuous seven-story piers in the righthand portion of the elevation. (Historic American Buildings Survey)

The diverse program, with its different floor levels being forced into the building’s cubic form, resulted in a variety of elevation designs that were not well-integrated.  It was the design of the river front, especially the nine-story western portion of it, however, that was noteworthy, for here Edbrooke allowed the brick piers to extend unbroken for seven floors from the base story to the roof, where they were joined into a corbelled arcade.  He avoided the use of any continuous horizontal lines except at the base and the parapet, which resulted in a tripartite elevation of base, shaft, and capital.  Within this arcaded language he then introduced a rhythm in the window widths of 1:2:4.  Soon to be a model for taller buildings, the significance of Edbrooke’s elongated arcade was appreciated by the Inland Architect even before it was completed:

“the magnitude [of the river front] can be imagined by perhaps comparing the height of the Montauk Block for the elevation, and three times its front for the river front.  The design of the river front is somewhat plainer in style than the Clark Street front, but it has a granduer and solid repose about it that is not surpassed by any in this city.  The long, broad pilasters starting from the basement-story and terminating in arches at the top, seem to increase the apparent height.  The architect has taken advantage of this and made the principal lines in the design perpendicular, (my emphasis) which is highly satisfactory and far more effective than to have used horizontal string-courses to diminish the height.”

Edbrooke, Hiram Sibley Warehouse. Corner of Clark and the river. (Historic American Buildings Survey)
Edbrooke, Hiram Sibley Warehouse. Detail of the corner at Clark and the river. Note the column capital bears a remarkable similarity to those designed by Beman in the Pullman Building (inset). (Historic American Buildings Survey)

Its design was not the only unique feature of the river elevation, for in order to support the weight of such a pile of masonry so close to the river, Edbrooke used oak piles under the wall as its foundation.  Wood piles had been used earlier in Chicago in the construction of some of the city’s larger grain elevators, but this was apparently the first time an architect had tried to use them for a commercial building.  Besides the extreme softness of the soil that was near the river and the weight of nine stories of masonry, Edbrooke wisely chose this precaution because the building, as a warehouse, was designed to carry 500 pounds per square foot (over 10 times the design load of a comparable office building at the time).  Along the length of the wall, he specified three lines of 30′ long oak piles that were spaced at three-foot intervals.  While this costly foundation was limited only to the river wall, the weight of the building and its contents was such that the pad footings for the rest of the building were reported to nearly cover the entire site.

Edbrooke, Hiram Sibley Warehouse. Corner of N. Water and Clark Streets. (Historic American Buildings Survey)

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

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