George Edbrooke, Adams Express Building, Chicago, 1883. (Online)

With the real estate speculation of the Brookses along Dearborn, and the Boston connection of the Adams Express Company, in addition to its building’s cyclopean granite arch, it’s now appropriate to discuss the influence of Boston architect H.H. Richardson on Chicago’s architecture during 1883.  At the end of the the earlier section on Burnham & Root’s Rialto Building I made the iconoclastic statement that I found little “Romanesque Revival” in Root’s first six downtown buildings (his houses, however, were a different matter).  In fact, if you start with my last post, looking at each building in Sections 7 and then 6, I challenge you to find examples of round arches, let allow many “Romanesque” details.  This might be because Richardson’s oeuvre after Trinity Church and following the end of his partnership with Charles Gambrill consisted of houses, suburban railroad stations, a few churches and government buildings, but no commercial structures. (This might have been the result of the foundation problems that his American Express Building in Chicago had experienced, or the fact that he had a reputation of going over budget.)

H.H. Richardson Top: Ames Free Library, North Easton, MA, 1877; Below: Thomas Crane Library, Quincy, MA, 1880. (Online)

We last reviewed Richardson in Vol. Two, Sec. 5.11 in which I discussed his last two commercial projects, the American Express Building in Chicago of 1873 and the Cheney Building in Hartford of 1875. He didn’t “make it into the big time” in American Architect until May 1883 when it published his North Easton Townhall. Then in June, it published photographs of his North Easton Library and his Thomas Crane Library in Quincy, MA.  George Edbrooke received the commission for the Adams Express Building sometime after June, so would seem that he may have been influenced by these photographs, at least as far as the design of his own huge granite entrance arch.  The pièce de resistance, however, came in the September 1, 1883, issue that contained a complete set of Richardson’s competition drawings for the All Saints Episcopal Cathedral to be erected in Albany.  

H.H. Richardson, All Sanits Episcopal Cathedral, Albany, 1883. Competition drawings. (American Architect, September 1, 1883)

No self-respecting American architect after the publication of the September issue could have claimed to have been ignorant of Richardson. The publication of these drawings had exposed America’s architects to the power of Richardson’s Romanesque. Although he wasn’t chosen the winner of the competition, many of his ideas contained in its design would reappear later that year in his design of the Allegheny County Courthouse (more to come later).

Before the publication of the library photographs, Richardson had completed (1882 commission) a five-story commercial building in Boston for his “patron,” Frederick Lothrop Ames.  Ames had inherited his wealth from his father, Oliver Ames II, who together with his brother, Congressman Oakes Ames, had begun their business with the manufacturing of shovels, eventually becoming embroiled in the nasty Crédit Mobilier scandal of 1872, surrounding the kickback scheme in the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad.  The elder Ames had died at his home in North Easton, MA, leaving his fortune to his son and daughter Helen (some say this made Frederick the richest man in Massachusetts, a major claim indeed!). His will stipulated an amount towards the construction of a private library in North Easton, for which Frederick had hired Richardson to design.  This project launched a series of projects that Richardson would design for Ames, including a number on his private North Easton estate.

H.H. Richardson, Cheney Building, Hartford, CT., 1875. (Online)

In 1882, Ames hired Richardson to design a five-story office building in downtown Boston (although it is often referred to as a wholesale store, only the ground floor was designed as a store).  In design, it was a continuation of Richardson’s ideas for a commercial building that he had left off with in the Cheney Building of 1875.  It had a ground floor for shops with large arched windows, above which he placed four floors of offices. He employed the exact same geometric progression (1:2:4) in the number of arches in each horizontal layer: one arch in the main bay, spilt into two for the two floors above, and then in the fourth floor, these were split again resulting in four arches within each of the main bays.  He also tried to repeat his detail of varying the thickness of the piers in the second range to demark the primary bays from the secondary bays, but the curved front façade and the number of entryways he was required to include complicated this somewhat (you will find the thicker piers in only two locations, after the third arch from each end). As he had varied the number of engaged columns in the supports of the uppermost arcade in the Cheney façade, he did likewise in the Ames Building, except this time he used a rhythm of 6(primary):1(tiertiary):4(secondary).

H.H. Richardson, F.L. Ames Wholesale Store, Boston, 1882. Note how he varies the number of columns in the top arcade with a 6:1:4:1:6 rhythm. (Top: Van Rensselaer, H.H. Richardson; Below: Ochsner, Richardson)

There were two significant differences between the older design and its younger sibling. First, in contrast to the flat cornice of the Cheney Building, Richardson activated the building’s silhouette with his by-now trademark gabled dormers that were intersected by the plane of the wall that resulted in a highly picturesque roofline (what I like to call his ‘crown”).  Second, while he had consciously chosen a picturesque exterior image, he has jettisoned the other Victorian technique of polychrome.  The Ames Building’s exterior consisted of only granite: he had abandoned the polychrome he had employed in his prior work that had been achieved with the use of two stones of different colors – typically a light body with a darker accent stone – in favor of a more unified, monochromatic stone surface.  

H.H. Richardson, F.L. Ames Building. Details. (American Architect, August 23, 1884)

The Ames Building was the last major commission on which he did any design work prior to his trip to Europe in the summer of 1882.  As construction did not start until after his return, this change in color from his past projects may have been inspired during his European travels.  Whether it was or not, there can be no mistaking the fact that Richardson’s designs executed after the summer of 1882 can be viewed as an attempt on his part to bring a more unified image to his work.  It might be said that he was attempting to impart a sense of chaste discipline to his beloved picturesque Romanesque, or as Owen Jones had recommended, “repose,” not unlike that which he saw in Renaissance buildings while visiting Italy, particularly Florence. (He did not, however, also bring back the flat roof of the palazzo!)


Peabody & Sterns, United Bank Building, New York, 1880. (Online)

Richardson’s deliberately picturesque roofline of the Ames Building is all the more evident when compared to a comparable project in Boston at the corner of Bedford Street and Harrison Avenue for one of Boston’s leading department stores, R.H. White. It was designed in the latter part of 1882 by Peabody & Stearns, who were already responsible for the brick box of the United Bank Building in New York designed two years earlier.  Peabody, as he had done in the New York building, once again resorted to the mutistoried arcade to compose the elevation. He detailed the main elevations of the Ames Store as a tripartite composition with a one-story base plus basement with flat-headed windows. These set the spacing for the three-story arcade in the center layer within which he had grouped a pair of windows. In the top layer he used square piers to mark the spacing of the primary bay within which he changed the spacing from two to three windows, establishing a rhythm of 1:2:3.  

Peabody and Stearns, R.H. White Warehouse Store, Boston, 1882. (American Architect, September 15, 1883)

As opposed to the United Bank Building, however, he abandoned the machicolated cornice for a crisp, plane parapet of brick that stayed within the plane of the wall, resulting a strict box of brick.  If a fault could be found, one could point to his use a mullion in the middle of the arches rather than dividing it into thirds à la Richardson. One would have thought that practicing in the same town as Richardson, Peabody would have been more attuned to Richardson’s design of this subtle, but important detail, and maybe he was but still chose to split the arch to achieve a continuous vertical expression in the middle layer. Whether this was the “right” way or not to detail this aspect of the elevation, I think the answer is quite evident in the one-bay elevation over the entrance portico. My eye goes right to that central mullion under the arch, and stays there. This is not repose, this is a mistake, unfortunately, in an otherwise perfect building. (I’ve chosen to overlook the quoins in the corners of the front elevation.)

Peabody & Stearns, R.H. White Store. Details. (American Architect, September 6, 1884)


Burnham & Root, Atcheson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Building, Topeka, Kansas, 1883. (Hoffmann, Root)

We know that Root read American Architect and he was quick to apply the lessons from the White Store to the first building that he designed that was appropriate for him to experiment with.  In late 1883, after the September 15, 1883 publication of the photograph of the Peabody & Stearns’ design, Burnham & Root was commissioned by another Boston-funded railroad, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe to design an office building in Topeka, KS.  Because of the building’s relatively short height of only four floors plus a half-basement, Root’s propensity to break his elevations into horizontal layers was most effective in articulating this red brick box.  Root used the best of both of his prior languages in that he employed the motif of the paired-window grouped under a shallow arch of the Grannis/Calumet to arrange the second and third floors in a two-story layer.  He then alternated these with a single-window, as he had done in the Burlington and Counselman Buildings, to create his game of inversions in the design of the two elevations.  When the elevations of the Santa Fe are compared to the Burlington’s, it appears that Root even achieved an inversion between the two buildings.  The Burlington’s front elevation used a single-double-single window rhythm, while the Santa Fe’s went double-single-double.  The Burlington’s long, Adams Street facade of single windows was bookended at each corner by “pavilions” of three single-windowed arcades.  Root not only reversed this relationship but emphasized the corner pavilion “bookends” of the Santa Fe’s long elevation by recessing the middle of the elevation which now contained the arcade.  In contrast to his earlier projects, in this building one can truly call this part of the elevation an arcade, for it consisted of nine adjacent paired-window groups. 

Burnham and Root, Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad Building, Chicago, 1881. (Hoffmann, Root)

There can be little doubt that Root had been studying the work of Peabody & Stearns, for he also incorporated a copy of the gable portal that marked the entrance in the United Bank Building as the entrance of the Santa Fe Building.   In summary, I think Peabody & Stearns had done a better job with the box-aesthetic, for they carried the walls straight to the building’s parapet, without the projecting cornice of Root’s designs.  Root, on the other hand, showed a greater interest in achieving a statement of the thickness of the wall, in that he eliminated the White warehouse’s ornamental trim around the arches and allowed the arches to read as voids within the plane of the wall. Nonetheless, Root also copied Peabody’s insensitive splitting of the arch in two by detailing paired windows under his arches.  Their differences notwithstanding, both Peabody and Root were at the leading edge of developing the language of the red brick box in the U.S. in 1883.

Peabody & Sterns, United Bank Building, New York, 1880. Entrance. (American Architect, April 23, 1881)


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl. H.H. Richardson:  Complete Architectural Works. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982.

O’Gorman, James F. H.H. Richardson: Architectural Forms for an American Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987.

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s