John M. Van Osdel, Post-Fire Temporary City Hall, the “Rookery,” 1872-1885. Southeast corner of La Salle and Adams. Built around the Waterworks Water Tank that had survived the 1871 Fire, the tank acted as storage for over 8,000 books that were sent by Queen Victoria and Great Britain in the aftermath of the fire. (Andreas, Chicago)

Of course, all these decisions were still being hammered out in the post-fire “temporary” (going into its twelfth year) City Hall built around the surviving water tank at the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams.  We left the negotiations for a replacement city hall between Cook County and the City in Volume Two with the August 27, 1875, ground-breaking ceremony for the County’s portion of the complex on the east side of the block facing Clark Street. This had been designed by the local firm of Egan & Armstrong.  While the two governments had held a competition for the post-fire combined building that had been initially won by Otto Matz (see Vol. One) in April 1873, John Armstrong was also an alderman, and slowly, but surely, the process of “finding the right architects” in Cook County that took over two years had resulted in, surprise, Egan & Armstrong (whose competition entry hadn’t even made it into in the top three) being awarded the commission for both portions of the complex in 1876, the City reserving the right to have its Superintendent of Buildings, L. D. Cleveland in control of the interior and construction of their half, on the western side facing La Salle.  

James J. Egan, Post-Fire City Hall and Cook County Courthouse, 1878-85. (Online)

While the City could afford to wait because it had “The Rookery,” the County had pushed ahead with their portion and was finished in 1882.  Meanwhile, the City finally broke ground two years later on September 3, 1877, and was being more responsible in the construction of its portion.  The differences between, what at first look to be identical twins, was significant.  In foundations, the County’s building incorporated shallow wood piles while the City’s was placed on a raft of concrete: neither would be sufficient, as we have already seen in Buffington’s Board of Trade. The County’s half was faced in Bedford Sandstone while the City’s was faced in the more expensive Maine Granite.  The porous sandstone would fall prey to the city’s harsh winters that froze the moisture inside the stone, causing cracks to emerge, while the insufficient foundations resulted in both buildings settling and cracking (more in Volume 4).  The cost of each portion, curiously were inverted to the quality as noted: the County’s cost $2.5 million, while the City’s came in at only $1.5 million: a true testament to the “professionalism” of Cook County’s “pols.” The City would finally begin to move into its portion on January 3,1885, eventually abandoning “The Rookery” in the summer of 1885.  Therefore, the clock was ticking for any developer in the Board of Trade area if they wanted to take advantage of City Hall still being in the south.

James J. Egan, Cook County/City Hall, 1875-84. (Rand McNally View #19)

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

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