8.26. THE BROOKSES ADMIT DEFEAT AND “BUY” CITY HALL

Map of the Loop, 1885. (Author’s collection)

The loss of the Grannis Block by the Brookses may have been a blessing in disguise, for it freed up the capital they had invested in it at a very opportune time.  The new City Hall had finally been completed and occupied in November 1884. In an attempt to raise money to cover the cost overruns of its new building, the city planned to lease the site of the old “Rookery” to a developer who would promise to erect a fireproof building with a value of not less than $800,000.  There were three offers, of which the one chosen, that of Henry. S. Everhart’s was suspiciously the lowest.  While the other two had offered to start paying rent and taxes immediately, Everhart had asked to be exempt from rent and taxes from March 1885 to May 1886, a reduction to the city of $30,000 in rent and $6,000 in taxes.  Nevertheless, Everhart’s offer was chosen the week before the Grannis fire by a majority of City Council (who surely had been promised considerably less than the $36,000 for their vote).  Mayor Harrison wisely responded to the public outcry over the scandal by vetoing the council vote, coincidentally following the Grannis fire, and recommended that further bids be sought.  Three months of quiet negotiating resulted in an announcement on May 12, 1885, that the site would be leased to a group of investors led by Edward C. Waller for 99 years at an annual rent of $35,000.  In return, the group promised to erect the city’s largest office building, estimated to cost $1 million (for which it was reported that sketches for a 10-story structure had already been made) and would begin paying rent as of May 1, 1886. Waller, born in Maysville, Kentucky, had moved with his family prior to the Civil War to Chicago where his father had settled on the West Side, in the heart of Chicago’s affluent colony of former Kentuckians centered around the intersection of Ashland (the name of the home of Kentucky’s favorite son, Henry Clay) and Jackson.  The Waller children became close friends with the family across the street who had moved here from Louisville.  The father of the friends’ family was Carter Harrison who, long before he was elected mayor, had become like an uncle to the young Waller and his siblings.  A new insider deal had simply supplanted the earlier boodle scheme.

Intersection of La Salle and Adams, looking south. The Rookery (left) and the Insurance Exchange (right) as the portal to the Board of Trade district. The entrance of the Home Insurance Building with its famous columns is in the left front. The Maller’s Building with its corner turret of stacked vaults is in back of the Insurance Exchange. (Merwood-Salisbury, Chicago 1890)

Twelve days before the signing of the “Rookery” deal, the new Board of Trade, as well as the Insurance Exchange and the Home Insurance Building, had opened their doors for business on May 1.  The proposed largest office building in the city, to be built on the site of the old “Rookery” destined to also be named the “Rookery,” would not only cement the reputation of La Salle Street directly in front of the new Board of Trade as the city’s premiere financial district, but also reinforce the new Adams Street corridor, that began to read as a “who’s who in Chicago architecture” (from east to west: Interstate Exposition Building, Pullman Building, Post Office/Custom House, Rookery, Home Insurance Building, Insurance Exchange, the Burlington Building, and Union Station). 

Intersection of La Salle and Adams, looking north. At the left is the Insurance Exchange; opposite is the Rookery, with the Home Insurance on the other side of Adams. The Home is taller because of the two-story addition. (Merwood-Salisbury, Chicago 1890)

As the new building would sit only one block north of the Board of Trade, across La Salle Street from the Insurance Exchange and immediately south of the Home Insurance Building, it would make the intersection of La Salle and Adams one of Chicago’s most architecturally significant locations.  Among the stockholders of the company, the Central Safety Deposit Company, represented by Waller were the names of Peter C. Brooks, Owen F. Aldis, Norman B. Ream, William E. Hale, and Waller’s long-time friend, Daniel H. Burnham.  Evidently, Brooks and Aldis had seized the opportunity to gain a prime site in the heart of the emerging La Salle Street financial district that was also in the Adams Street corridor, by once again acquiring vacated public property (as they had done with the Montauk Block on the old Customs House site) to build another large office building designed by Burnham & Root.  If Aldis and Brooks couldn’t beat City Hall in their effort to develop Dearborn, they, at least, now had the “clout” to buy City Hall…

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

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