8.3. PLANNING THE MOVE FROM “THE ROOKERY” TO THE NEW COOK COUNTY/CITY HALL

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)

CHAPTER EIGHT: 1884 – THE RISE OF CHICAGO

W.W. Boyington, Chicago Board of Trade. La Salle Street south from Adams Street. The Rookery is in the foreground with the Grand Pacific Hotel in the middle. (IChi-00253, Chicago Historical Society)

The year just ended had witnessed the start of four more ten-story office buildings in Chicago (Adams Express, Pullman, Royal Insurance, and Counselman) that added to an inventory that already boasted the Montauk and Calumet Buildings, and attested to the growing acceptance of the tall office building in Chicago. With the completion of the Board of Trade, the tallest building in the U.S., quickly becoming a reality and scheduled for the May 1st start of the 1885 renting season, the upcoming building season for 1884 promised to be one of banner proportions.  Office buildings in the Board of Trade area (La Salle Street) and along Dearborn Street that would be ready for occupancy on May 1, 1885, would necessarily have to be started in the spring of 1884.  Meanwhile, the professional maturity of architects in the NorthWest was growing, aided by the monthly publication of the region’s first architectural magazine, Inland Architect, that began in February 1883. This was accompanied by their rising impatience with what they perceived to be the snobbery of many Eastern architects.  This would come to a head in November 1884 when the Western Association of Architects declared its independence from the American Institute of Architects.  Of course, this movement would be spearheaded by Root and Burnham (I chose this order simply to make the point that they both played equal parts, in order to dispel the idea that it was Burnham who was the primary personality interested in “matters pertaining to business.”

8.1. BANISHED: THE DEARBORN STATION IS ERECTED AT POLK STREET

Cyrus L.W. Eidlitz, Chicago and Western Indiana Railroad (Dearborn Street) Station, Chicago, 1883. (McGuire, Chicago: Then and Now)

The Commercial National Bank and the Adams Express Buildings notwithstanding, by the time they were under construction, the C & WI Railroad had surrendered to the pressure from the city and abandoned its plan to build its station at Harrison and Dearborn Streets.  With the Vanderbilt station now enjoying even more publicity with the construction of the Board of Trade under way, the C & WI finally decided that three and a half years was long enough to fight city hall and that it was time to lick its wounds, build its station two blocks farther south than it had planned to at Polk Street, and get on with business.  The company hired New York architect Cyrus L.W. Eidlitz to design the new station, with excavation having started in October 1883.  Although there was no way that the station at its distant location could better the overpowering image of the Board of Trade’s 303′ high tower at the end of La Salle Street, the company would at least go down swinging: Eidlitz placed a 195′ high tower (the second tallest structure in the city) on axis with the proposed route for Dearborn that at the end of 1883 stopped at Jackson and was still five long, unpaved blocks away from the station.

8.2. THE FIRST PROPOSAL FOR A LIMITATION ON THE HEIGHT OF BUILDINGS

Burnham & Root, Insurance Exchange Building, Chicago, 1884. (Hoffmann, Root)

Not everybody in Chicago, however, was in favor of the tall office building.  This was especially true of the insurance companies that were still trying to gain some measure of control over the techniques employed in the construction of the ever-increasingly taller structures.  Their concerns continued to center around the lack of fireproof construction in many of these buildings, as well as in the fire department’s inability to keep pace with the upward race into the sky.  On February 16, 1883, Chicago’s Board of Underwriters and city council’s committee on fire had hammered out a proposal to limit the height of buildings to 85,’ unless they were “constructed wholly of fire-proof material, and then to be used only for office purposes.”

Cobb & Frost, Chicago Opera House Block, Chicago, 1884. (Condit, Chicago School of Architecture)

As in the past, the city council showed little inclination toward improving the situation, thus forcing the underwriters to once again take matters into their own hands.  They enacted a new schedule of premiums for unfireproofed structures that, in essence, increased the rates for the taller buildings by a factor of four.  This action at least made owners think twice about the type of construction to use in a new building, but as of yet, there was no consensus on what constituted “fireproof” construction.  In January 1884, Inland Architect joined the battle, asking city council to require all buildings above a certain height be made as fireproof as possible.

William Le Baron Jenney, Home Insurance Building, Chicago, 1884. (J.W. Taylor, IChi-00989; Chicago Historical Society)

At this point, the argument took on greater significance as critics, led by The Tribune, compounded the tall building problem by raising the issue of the larger shadows cast by the new buildings and the potential health threat posed by the corresponding reduction of sunlight along the city’s streets.  February 1884 saw Chicago’s first serious attempt to limit the height of new buildings in a proposed ordinance limiting the height of all new buildings to 100.’  Although Inland Architect pooh-poohed the shadow problem as a concern only for the distant future, Chicago’s capitalists reacted quickly to the potential threat by procuring building permits for the upcoming year’s buildings before such a limitation could be legislated.  

John J. Flanders, Maller’s Building, Chicago, 1884. On the left is the Gaff Building and on the right is the Quincy elevation of the Royal Insurance Building. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

Within the first two weeks of March 1884, permits for seven tall office buildings were approved, with two more secured by the end of April.  The premature exposure of the plans revealed the overwhelming success of the move of the Board of Trade, for six of the nine buildings were slated to be erected in the immediate vicinity of La Salle Street.  

Burnham & Root, Phoenix Building, Chicago, 1884. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

Of these nine, Burnham & Root were commissioned to design five of these, revealing their connections with the developers of La Salle as well as those invested in Dearborn:

Burnham & Root:

1. Rialto-12 stories; behind the Board of Trade

2. John Quincy Adams Building-10 st.; SW Dearborn and Calhoun Place

3. Insurance Exchange-10 st.; SW corner of La Salle and Adams

4. Phoenix Building-10 st.; SW corner of Jackson and Clark

5. Monadnock Block-12 st.; SW Dearborn and Jackson

Cobb & Frost:

6. Chicago Opera House Block-10 st.; SW corner of Clark and Washington

William Le Baron Jenney

7. Home Insurance Building-10 st.; NE corner of La Salle and Adams

J.J. Flanders

8. Maller’s Building-12 st.; SW corner of La Salle and Quincy Place

S.S. Beman

9. Marshall Field Office Building-12 st.; SW corner of La Salle and Monroe

Five of these buildings would be erected and in business by May 1885, flooding the city with new office space.  One would like to calculate to see if the total floor area in all proposed nine buildings would have surpassed the total office space contained in Chicago’s existing buildings?!

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block, Chicago, 1884. Preliminary study of the Jackson Street elevation (12 stories plus basement). It still bears the original name for the building, Quamquisset. Root is slowly come to grips with verticality: here he has incorporated 7-story continuous piers. (Saliga, The Sky’s the Limit)

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

7.16. THE INFLUENCE OF H.H. RICHARDSON: v.1.0

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!)

7.17. PEABODY & STEARNS PERFECT THE BRICK BOX: THE R.H. WHITE STORE

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)

7.18. ROOT’S TAKE ON THE R.H. WHITE STORE: THE SANTA FE BUILDING

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)

FURTHER READING:

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)

7.15. DEVELOPMENTS ALONG DEARBORN: 1883

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)