8.18. THE MALLER BUILDING: THE FIRST TWELVE-STORY SKYSCRAPER

John J. Flanders, Maller Building, Chicago, 1884. On the left is the Gaff Building and on the right is the Quincy elevation of the Royal Insurance Building. For perspective, note the pre-skyscraper buildings at the far right. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

The next building for which a building permit had been granted in March 1884, once again to avoid the pending height limit, was to J. B. Maller for Chicago’s first 12-story office building that would top-off at 175.’  The site chosen was the last buildable front on La Salle Street in the block immediately north of the Board of Trade.  This was at the southwest corner of La Salle and Quincy, a tiny plot with a 38′ frontage along La Salle and a 60′ exposure on Quincy, across the street from the Insurance Exchange.  The corner was bookended by the Royal Insurance Building on the west and the Gaff Building to the south.  

The west side of La Salle Street. From the Board of Trade: Counselman Building, Burnham & Root; Gaff Building, Stephen V. Shipman; Maller Building; Insurance Exchange, Burnham & Root. (Chicagology.com)

Such tight conditions provided quite a challenge to John J. Flanders, the architect chosen by Maller to design the building.  Most likely utilizing a party wall contract, Flanders used the two existing party walls for support.  Along the two street fronts he placed large masonry piers to support the floor girders of the interior iron frame.  He chose to emphasize the corner pier not only by increasing its size to accommodate each floor’s safety vaults, but also by giving it a rounded profile.  In order to gain as much rentable floor area as possible, Flanders not only pushed the glazing out as far as possible to be flush with the exterior face of the masonry piers, but also cantilevered a bay window that extended continuously for eight stories in floors 2-9 on each street front.  These were supported by an iron framework connected to the masonry piers and clad with terra cotta.

Flanders arranged the elevation into four layers in with a decreasing rhythm of 4:3:2:3 that increased the building’s sense of height through its play with perspective.  I think the four-story base was very ingenious in how he had interlocked the stone base with the brick/terra cotta body by carrying the terra cotta spandrels into the base, a much more integrated solution than the typical solution of simply placing the brick body on a stone base, that also reinforced the vertical nature of the elevation. He then capped the tower with a three-story arcade plus projected cornice that created, for all practical purposes, an eleven-story arcade. He had taken Labrouste’s Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève and extruded its elevation to the requisite 175.’

Herni Labrouste, Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, Paris, 1838-51. Arcade digitally extruded for effect. (Author’s Collection)

The influence of Boyington’s Royal Insurance Building is evident in the triple windows from the Jackson elevation (with the exception that Flanders did not use the “Chicago window” spacing) and the layered articulation and arcaded top of the adjacent Quincy elevation.  

W.W. Boyington, Royal Insurance Building, Chicago, 1883. Jackson Street elevation. (Gilbert, Chicago )

Meanwhile, the bay window may have been a first for a Chicago office building, but the device, that had been used in hotels for some years, most notably being the Palace Hotel in San Francisco had already been used in Chicago by Burnham & Root in the Brunswick Hotel, located across Adams Street from the Pullman Building. 

Flanders’ use of flush-glazed triple windows and continuous bay windows elicited the attention of the Inland Architect that described them as a “unique feature and a thorough novelty” that would “excite much curiosity and comment because of its peculiar style.”  Truly, Flanders had begun to integrate in the Maller Building some of the iconic details that were emerging in the design of Chicago’s tall office buildings.

Flanders, Maller Building. Compare the flush windows with those on the left that are stepped in and how this detailing makes the wall look more like a surface than a mass of brick.

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

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