In the spring of 1885, as construction on the new Board of Trade was drawing to a close and the night of the great banquet grew ever closer, union iron molders at the McCormick reaper plant went out on strike, protesting a cut in their wages.  McCormick hired non-union strikebreakers and armed Pinkerton agents to protect them.  The give and take between the “pinks’ and the strikers escalated to the point that on the morning of April 28, the day of the banquet, the strikers attacked a trolley of strikebreakers on their way to the factory, and then assaulted a group of Pinkertons, burned their wagon, and seized a case of rifles.  Coincidentally, the IWPA had scheduled a mass protest of the new Board of Trade for that same evening, not knowing in advance that the McCormick strike was going to erupt into a full-fledged riot on the same day. Albert Parsons addressed the gathered IWPA crowd in Market Square, stirring up their emotions for the march by calling the Board of Trade a “Board of Thieves” and a “robber’s roost.”  The police report of the incident quoted Parson’s as having said the new building should be blown up.  The band struck up “La Marseillaise,” the anthem of the IWPA, the marchers linked arms, and followed the lead red flags east on Lake Street and then south down La Salle Street.  Fortunately for all of the parties involved, cooler heads than those at the McCormick plant prevailed.  The march was stopped and turned away before it reached Jackson Street by a force of 200 policemen who had ringed the building that was led by Capt. William Ward, who persuaded the leaders of the protesters to end the march.  Parsons redirected the parade to Spies’ sympathetic Arbeiter-Zeitung building, where the event ended with a number of speeches decrying the unemployment among the city’s workers.  Not all such protests in the future would be so peacefully resolved…

Program for the Opening Night Festivities, Chicago Board of Trade, April 28/29, 1885. (Chicagology)

Thus, the new Board of Trade building was dedicated on the evening of April 28, 1885, two days before the traditional May 1 start of the new lease year.  Victoriously, the chairman of the Building Committee John Bensley, handed the keys of the new building to E. Nelson Blake, the president of the Board.  After four and a half years of internal haggling and impatient waiting, Chicago had its new Board of Trade:

“Western architecture has been brought before the people of the old as well as the new world during the past month through the completion of the new Chicago Board of Trade… it is an example of enduring strength and solid masonry such as the West has never before beheld.  The success of its architect is nowhere more remarkable than in the fact that there is no solid rock to build upon, but that each foot of Chicago soil in the locality of this building covers a veritable quagmire, and he who builds wisely must weigh each column and pier, knowing that an unequal balance will wreck his structure, especially if built as massively as this.

The evening ended with the victorious aroma of after-dinner cigars wafting throughout Boyington’s new Exchange Hall…  However, the tower would not be complete until December 31, 1885, when  the 20 electric arc lamps of Elmer Sperry’s 40,000 candlepower corona, that extended the tower’s final height to 322’ were finally turned on to mark the New Year (Sec. 7.4.).

Meanwhile, the IWPA’s timebomb of the deadline of May 1, 1886, for the eight-hour workday continued to tick…

Elmer A. Sperry, Board of Trade, 1885. Sperry’s Corona at Night. (Chicago Graphic News)


Green, James. Death in the Haymarket. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

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


(This is my 150th post: 400 pages of text and 1000 images. Thank you all for following!)

Adler & Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall, Chicago Expo Building, 1885. (Gregersen, Adler)

The dawn of the New Year, 1885, however, found anticipation mounting among Chicago’s businessmen for the celebration of the opening of the new Board of Trade, scheduled for May 1.  A huge, gala banquet was being planned for the evening of Monday, April 28, for which dignitaries from across the nation were being invited.  In conjunction with the planned completion of the nation’s tallest building, the 303’ tall tower of the Board of Trade as well as all of the new skyscrapers being built in the immediate area around the Board of Trade, one could think of the banquet as Chicago’s national “coming out party.”  Ferdinand Peck, socialist Albert Parson’s opposite number, used the upcoming banquet to concoct a most ingenious response to the growing presence of the socialists in the city’s streets.  Following the January 1884 Chicago debut of the Metropolitan Opera in Haverly’s Theater, where Abbey had charged an arm and a leg for tickets that essentially precluded all but the wealthiest of Chicago’s citizens, that had the effect of throwing gasoline onto the Socialist cause, Peck had once again stepped up in April 1884 to counter the Socialist threat.  He proposed and set to organizing Chicago’s first Grand Opera Festival for April 6-18, 1885, similar to those that Cincinnati had been successfully staging for the past three years.  

Peck’s timing for the Festival not only positioned it as a prelude to the celebration of the completion of the new Board of Trade, but more diabolically, would prevent the Socialists from using the Exposition Building for their annual “monster” commemoration of the Paris Commune in March, because construction of the Festival’s temporary auditorium would necessarily already be under way.  The opera festival, therefore, was planned as an all-out frontal attack against Chicago’s Communists by Chicago’s leading capitalists who made up the festival’s Board of Directors (Peck, N.K. Fairbank, George Pullman, Potter Palmer, Marshall Field’s brother Henry, Joseph Medill of the Tribune, and William Penn Nixon of the Inter Ocean.)  Nine of the eleven festival directors were also members of recently rechartered Union League Club that was now dedicated to defending their country from the evils of Socialism, for which Jenney had been commissioned to design its new local building.  On March 18, 1885, only three weeks before Opening Night, Chicago’s socialists and anarchists commemorated the 14th anniversary of the Paris Commune not with a single, united demonstration of 30-40,000 people in the Exposition Building, as had often occurred the previously, but with a much less threatening dispersed series of speeches and plays held in their own theaters on the North and West Sides, “bent on celebrating in a befitting manner that great event of March 18, 1871.”  Following the festival, Peck would then succeed in sealing off the Exposition Building from any further Socialist gatherings by simply agreeing to pay the city the $1000 annual rent that Council had demanded back in 1879.

That Peck’s model for the Opera festival was Cincinnati’s was evident in his choice of the festival’s impresario, James H. Mapleson, who had managed the previous Cincinnati festivals.  Peck had traveled to New York in May 1884 to contract Mapleson to manage the Chicago Festival.  His timing couldn’t have been better, as Mapleson was not only caught in the middle of the battle being waged between his Academy of Music’s troupe and Abbey’s new Metropolitan Opera, but his receipts from his recent Chicago run had also been reduced by Abbey’s preemptive appearance in January the week before Mapleson’s engagement was scheduled.  There was also a subtle political tone to Peck’s choice of Mapleson.  Mapleson’s Covent Garden company still concentrated on the great Italian operas, while Abbey had hired one of Richard Wagner’s associates to bring the new German operas to America.  German was the language of the majority of Chicago’s Socialists.  Besides, Peck knew that Mapleson still held the contract of the world’s star performer, Adelina Patti.

Adler & Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall, Chicago Expo Building, 1885. (Chicagology)

Once Mapleson had agreed to manage the festival, Peck again hired Adler & Sullivan to design the temporary hall to be built inside the Exposition Building.  But as Peck was now determined to make this festival a complete success, he hoped to avoid the pitfalls that had diminished the overall success of the earlier Music Festivals of 1882 and 1884.  The festival’s promotional brochure stated its goal was: “to provide Grand Italian Opera for the people at popular prices, within the reach of all, and, at the same time, to raise the performances to a higher level of excellence.”  Peck assigned Adler an unheard of budget of $60,000 for the temporary installation in the North End of the Expo Building that allowed Adler to design a completely enclosed auditorium and stage within its vast interior that would seat 6200 and had a standing capacity of 8,000.  The highlight of the large auditorium was the huge 120’ by 80’ fan-shaped sounding board that Adler placed over the stage that projected out over the audience.   

Sullivan ornamented the triangular segments of the board with his proto-Art Nouveau curves and repetitive geometries that were “richly ornamented by color decoration and plastic forms.”  Sullivan’s curvilinear ornament of this period has often been characterized as “proto-Art Nouveau,” but why this work, designed some seven years before the generally-agreed upon start of Art Nouveau architecture in 1892 by Victor Horta with his Tassel House in Brussels, isn’t qualified to be Art Nouveau leaves me scratching my head. I have juxtaposed a chair by British architect Arthur Mackmurdo in 1883 next to Sullivan’s design that same year for the glass panel in the entry door for his office to allow you to compare similarities. I also included a couple of column capitals designed by S.S. Beman, also that same year, to bolster my thesis of Chicago’s architects were developing a new style of ornament. You can decide for yourself if Sullivan’s work is “proto-” or Art Nouveau… Either way, there can be no argument whether or not it is modern.

Louis Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall. Ceiling stencil of Art Nouveau design. Sullivan designed this Art Nouveau design seven years before the usually agreed-upon start date of the European Art Nouveau in 1892. (Gregersen, Adler)

To also reinforce the projection of the sound, Adler splayed a series of ten two-tiered box seats from the edge of the stage, that were also meant to showcase Chicago’s elite to those of the middle class who would be seated in the house.  At least for these two weeks, Chicago could try to be “one big happy family” as they were all together in the same room.  The festival was a complete success, and after the final note on the closing night, April 18, Peck was brought to the stage by a thundering standing ovation for a final word of appreciation.  He ended by saying that the festival ”had shown what Chicago would and could do, and he hoped that people would look upon this as a stepping stone to a great permanent hall where similar enterprises would have a home.  The continuation of this annual festival, with magnificent music, at prices within reach of all, would have a tendency to diminish crime and Socialism in our city by educating the masses to higher things.”  The supporters of the Socialists on Council would have the last word, however, for once the Festival was over, city building inspectors declared Adler & Sullivan’s installation a fire hazard and demanded that it be immediately demolished.


Gregersen, Charles E.  Dankmar Adler: His Theaters and Auditoriums. Athens, Ohio University, 1990.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Van Zanten, David.  Sullivan’s City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan. New York: Norton, 2000.

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


Jacob Wrey Mould, All Soul’s Church, New York, 1855. (Online)

In addition to the direct importation of Jones’ book to the U.S., his ideas were personally brought to the U.S. by Jacob Wrey Mould, the British architect who had immigrated to New York in 1852. (Vol. Two, Sec. 2.24.)   Prior to his move, Mould had worked for Jones for a number of years, spanning the period between his assisting Jones in taking measurements of the Alhambra, to the design of exhibits in the Crystal Palace and in the initial preparation of the plates for The Grammar of Ornament.  In 1855, Mould had given New York’s architects an example of Jones’ ideas in his design of All Souls Church in 1855.  I have already discussed how Root and Sullivan were introduced to Jones’ ideas: Root, who might have seen firsthand Jones’ buildings during his time in England (unsubstantiated because we don’t know where he traveled then), most definitely would have seen Mould’s All Souls Church in New York during his time in New York (1866-1871).  One also must point out the potential of Root’s mentor, Peter B. Wight, who had identified Mould’s church as having ignited his own interest in architecture (Vol. Two, Sec. 2.7.) having encouraged Root to study Jones’ work.  Sullivan, meanwhile, most likely was introduced to Jones via his Philadelphia mentor, Frank Furness (Vol. Two, Sec. 7.5-8.).  Root and Sullivan absorbed Jones’ lessons and would take his search to the next level.  Root would pursue Jones’ use of color, while Sullivan would also exploit color, he would exceed Jones’ ability to produce new ornamental systems, but I don’t think neither were able to combine these two variables into a formal and spatial synthesis as successfully as had Jones, which just might be the best testament to his own unique abilities.  


Following Mapleson’s triumphant Chicago debut with Adelina Patti in McVicker’s Theater in January 1883, McVicker had asked Adler & Sullivan to redesign his theater in anticipation of her return in 1884.  Undoubtedly, he was influenced by their earlier successful reworking of both the Grand Opera House and Hooley’s Theater, and especially with the notoriety gained by the reviews by Chicago’s local press on Sullivan’s unusual ornament and contrasting color schemes.  But the redesign of McVicker’s got off to a slow start, and then the battle raging in New York between Mapleson’s Academy of Music’s Opera company and the new Metropolitan Opera Company managed by Abbey spilled over into Chicago.

Following its premiere season in New York and nearby Philadelphia, Abbey brought the new Met company to Chicago for its debut in the larger Haverly’s Theater (where Mapleson had introduced Italian opera to Chicago in 1879) on January 21, 1884, only a week before Mapleson was scheduled to return with the Covent Garden troupe at McVicker’s Theater.  While Mapleson’s operas had the reputation of being expensive, Abbey took advantage of having scheduled his newly-formed, and somewhat unknown Metropolitan company’s debut to be staged BEFORE Mapleson’s series by charging even higher prices, thus once again ensuring that only Chicago’s upper crust would be in the audience.  While this may have lined Abbey’s pockets, it was completely antithetical to the social education/sophistication agenda that Chicago’s elites had planned for the city’s middle-class.


Louis H. Sullivan, Adler & Sullivan’s Office Door (sandblasted) Glass, 1883. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

The exclusion of so many of Chicago’s middle-class residents from Abbey’s opera series undoubtedly encouraged Nathaniel Fairbank to repeat the 1882 Music Festival, for which he once again had to settle for the Exposition Building for the dates April 6 -18, 1884, as no appropriate venue had yet been erected in Chicago. (Once again, the advanced construction time for the festival would have prevented the city’s Socialists from marking the thirteenth anniversary of the Paris Commune with another monster rally.)  He instructed and so funded Adler & Sullivan (the firm had changed its name in May 1883 indicating the rise of Sullivan to full partner) to design not only a bigger but also a better solution than had been used back in 1882.  This was made possible by the fact that for some reason, Chicago had bagged both the Republican and the Democratic 1884 presidential conventions that were scheduled correspondingly for the first week of June and July.  This was the first time in the history of the republic that one city was to be the site for both conventions.  Cincinnati may have had the biggest convention facilities, but you still had to have the “clout” within a political party to pull off a convention, and Chicago had pulled off a minor miracle that year.  It didn’t hurt Chicago’s chances, however, that it was now Cincinnati’s turn to experience the wrath of class conflict on its streets, for an unjust jury trial had set off street riots that culminated on Saturday, March 29, 1884, in the complete destruction of the U.S. Courthouse in which the controversial trial had taken place, reminiscent of the burning of Pittsburgh’s Union Depot in 1877.  Once again, comparisons to the Communards’ destruction of Paris’ Hôtel de Ville filled the frontpages of the nation’s newspapers.

The Militia push back Rioters from the burning Cincinnati Courthouse, March 29, 1884. (Online)

Adler & Sullivan were given the north end of the Expo Building this time, for which Adler reduced the volume of the hall by designing the interior performance space within the hall as a room 150 wide and 400 feet long.  He designed a stage with an amphitheater behind it for the chorus, that was covered with an immense 120 x 150 feet sounding board.  At the rear of the hall he placed a second sounding board to reflect the sound back to the audience, that actually resulted in these seats having the best acoustics.  He was told to increase its seating capacity to 9,130, over that of the 6,500 seats of the 1882 Festival in order to allow more of the middle-class to attend.  This altruistic goal once again defeated the quality of the performances simply because the space was still too big, as its acoustics caused the “loss of those delicate shadings that make music so deeply representative of the various emotions that belong to the tone art.  If a listener had followed the training of the chorus in their rehersals in the small halls, and observed the shading that Mr. Tomlins was so careful in having done, and then marked the performance of those pieces at the concerts, he could not but have noticed that much of the intended effect was lost.”

Above: 1884 Republican National Convention, Exposition Center, June 1884; Below: Layout of Exposition Center for 1884 Democratic Convention, July 1884. (Online)

Such was the state of grand opera in Chicago in the spring of 1884, when Charles Henrotin and William Kerfoot were granted a building permit for the ten-story Chicago Opera House Block and its 2300 seat auditorium that opened in August 1885.  They also may have been encouraged by a report from City Council’s Committee on Public Buildings that had been released the previous December that had labeled Haverly’s Theater, then the city’s largest music venue, as a major firetrap (suspiciously only weeks before the scheduled premiere appearance of Abbey’s new Metropolitan Opera Company). Following the close of Abbey’s series, the theater’s owners commissioned Adler & Sullivan to also rework their theater in response to the damning report by the city’s Building Department.   

Cobb and Frost, Chicago Opera House, 1884. (Siry, Auditorium)

Therefore, while 1884 had been a banner year for many of Chicago’s architects with the design of the nine new skyscrapers then under construction, Adler & Sullivan had not been involved with the design of a skyscraper (their first commission to design a skyscraper was still over six years in the future, the tower of the 1887 Auditorium notwithstanding), but they had achieved a reputation in Chicago as being THE leading designer of theaters, especially with regards to Adler’s acoustics and Sullivan’s interior ornamentation.  In the spring of 1884, the redesign of McVicker’s Theater had been pushed to the back burner again in order to complete the design of the Exposition Center in time for its opening on April 6.


Following the end of the 1884 Music Festival, the Exposition Center was refitted for the Republican convention held on June 3-6, 1884, from which emerged James G. Blaine, the former Senator from Maine, as their candidate. The following month the Democrats convened July 8-11 to nominate the reform-minded Governor of New York, Grover Cleveland, who won the election on November 4 by the narrowest of margins, having won New York’s electoral votes by only 1,047 votes.  Cleveland was the first Democrat to be elected President since 1856.

As the country’s economy had slipped back into recession during 1883 (that had bottomed out with a financial panic on May 14, 1884, when the Marine National and the brokerage firm Grant and Ward in New York went bankrupt), the country’s labor unions found a renewed meaning as they headed down their path in the search for better working conditions.  The class conflict between Chicago’s capitalists and the city’s Socialist-inspired labor leaders had grown increasingly more heated.   The IWPA had managed to slip in between the two conventions a protest march on June 29 comprised of some 3000 protestors, bands, floats, and signs, such as “Workers of the World Unite.”  Following the Democrats’ convention, however, the most important event, though little appreciated at the time, was that the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had also held its national convention in Chicago in October where it had set the date of May 1, 1886, as the deadline for the eight-hour workday to be the standard across the country.  The fuse on the timebomb of class warfare had been lit…  Six weeks later, and perhaps somewhat emboldened by Cleveland’s election only three weeks earlier, Chicago’s IWPA sponsored the “Poor People’s March” on Thanksgiving Day 1884.  A crowd estimated to have been 3000 gathered at Market Square where they were whipped into an appropriate mood by Albert Parsons:

“We assemble as representatives of the disinherited, to speak in the name of 40,000 unemployed working men in Chicago… Woe to him who buildeth a town by blood, and establisheth a city by iniquity.

They then set off down Market Street, led by the black flag of hunger (and anarchism) and the red flag of International Socialism.  They turned east onto Monroe in order to pass by the Palmer House, where the band played the ‘Marseillaise’ as the parade turned north onto State.  They purposely walked past the homes of the rich and famous, stopping in front of the homes of the wealthier industrialists long enough for verbal epitaphs to be hurled at those celebrating the annual feast behind their bolted doors.  At the Union Club, they “groaned, hissed and hooted at the old and young sprigs of aristocracy who filled the windows and were beholding their future executioners.”


Green, James. Death in the Haymarket. New York: Anchor Books, 2006.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

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


Owen Jones, The Crystal Palace Bazaar, London, 1857. (Online)

Thanks to the monograph on Owen Jones written by historian Carol A. Hrvol Flores, Jones’ pioneering efforts in arguing for a modern architecture have finally come to light.  As Jones was putting the finishing touches on The Grammar, he was commissioned to design what would become London’s premiere performance venue for the next 50 years, St. James’s Hall, located near Piccadilly Circus, probably the most important private building in London at the time, a testament to the prestige that Jones had earned as a designer following the successes of the two different color schemes for the Crystal Palace. 

In St. James’s main hall that could seat approx. 2500 between the floor and its galleries, Cole employed his understanding of color to create an interior “daylighted atmosphere” at night.  The first thing that immediately grabs your attention should be the diagonal lattice (or also known as a skewed grid) he used in the ceiling.  One can see the influence of his study of Arabic geometry as well as his use of the three geometric systems (grid, diagonal, and curve) that he had stated was the basis for all ornamental patterns.

Owen Jones, St. James’s Hall, Longitudinal Section. (Flores, Jones)

He achieved his “daylighted” feeling by painting the ceiling diamonds with a blue background while using white to outline the pattern within each diamond.  He complemented this using his, by now, iconic color palette of primary colors and gilding to highlight the trim and ornament. The best surviving example of his designs that employed this type of ceiling is the “new” ceiling he designed for the restoration of the 14th century choir in Carlisle Cathedral in 1856 (see below).

 The effect was completed in the auditorium by his choice not to use the conventional large chandeliers hung from the ceiling to light the space, but instead he suspended a number of star-shaped gasoliers whose light set-off the entire daylight effect in the ceiling. 

In this close-up of his ornamental pattern you can compare it with his system of using three geometries to design a modern ornamental pattern that he included in The Grammar.  Note in the longitudinal section how he had also cleverly worked in the pointed arch of the stylish Gothic revival while only employing the semicircular arch.  Jones’ use of geometry in combination with his use of color and non-historical ornament spoke to his search for a new style of architecture.  The hall opened on March 25, 1858, appropriately with Prince Albert in attendance. Jones’ younger colleague at the Kensington School, Christopher Dresser, may have best summed up the public’s response to Jones’ theater house: “When in St. James’s Hall we appear transported to some fairer world – art is here.”

Owen Jones, Osler Crystal’s Showroom, London, 1858. (Flores, Jones)

Jones also did a number of interiors in London in which he followed his rules for a modern architecture. The task that he undertook in these projects and his ability to achieve it may have best been identified in 1862 in a review by The Building News of what many felt was his best project, a ceiling design for London’s Hancock’s of Bruton Street (Britain’s leading diamond and jewelry designers-they still make the Victoria Cross medal):

“It matters little what the style is because it is so thoroughly harmonious… there is not a feeble or false line in the whole work… the whole work Is linked most skillfully together, and it is only after attentive examination that one is enabled to detect the secret of its success, or to realize its full value as a work of art.”

Owen Jones, Osler Crystal’s Showroom. With mirrors on each side wall as well as the rear, Jones made one feel as if s/he were actually walking inside a diamond. (Quite literally, “To Infinity, and Beyond…”) (Flores, Jones)

My favorite building of his was a showroom in London for the Osler Crystal company.  Jones took the multiple reflections of the glass pieces as his inspiration and created a spatial infinity in the narrow, 24’ wide space by lining the sidewalls with 14 pairs of full-length mirrors, in addition to placing a full-length mirror at the back of the 106’ long space.  He extended the spacing of the mirrors into the barrel-vaulted skylight, and then further articulated each bay with a 4×4 grid of rectangular prisms of primary colors. Jones was responsible for a great number of buildings and interiors, and if interested I would direct you to Flores’ excellent monograph.

Owen Jones, Osler Crystal’s Showroom. Detail of stained-glass ceiling. (Flores, Jones)


Flores, Carol A. Hrvol. Owen Jones. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.

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


Owen Jones, Plans, Sections, Elevations, and Details of the Alhambra, Title page, 1841. (Flores, Jones)

Because it is central in understanding the Chicago School to appreciate the influence of Owen Jones’ ideas and designs during the 1850s that, even though I have presented these in Volume One, since this is was done on my Instagram site, I would like to review his legacy, if for no other reason, than to compensate for the lack of coverage by earlier historians of his iconoclastic career.  Although the impact of his book is often discussed in terms of Root’s and Sullivan’s use of ornament, his forward-looking, ahistoric-styled buildings are seldom, if ever mentioned.  This I will rectify in the following sections.

Twenty-six year-old Welsh architect Owen Jones had burst onto the British architectural stage on December 1, 1835, when he presented a paper, “On the Influence of Religion upon Art” at the Institute of British Architects.  The young architect had just returned from a six-month study of the Alhambra Palace in Grenada, Spain, where he had documented and analyzed Islamic techniques of architectural ornament and polychromy.  Having completed his studies at the Royal Academy Schools and an architectural internship with a London architect, Jones had departed in 1832 on his continental Grand Tour.  After touring Italy, he had moved on to Greece where he made the acquaintance of Jules Goury, a French architect who was working under German architect Gottfried Semper at this time in researching the use of polychromy in ancient Greek architecture.  Semper had by this time already departed to return to Germany to publish his findings, Preliminary Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity in 1834.  Meanwhile, the two young architects set off first to study Islamic architecture in Egypt and Constantinople, before returning to the continent via Spain, to study the Alhambra.  Inspired by the Islamic approach to design that was totally different from the traditions of Classical antiquity yet had produced buildings that in terms of their beauty were at least the equal to those of ancient Greece and Rome, in his talk Jones had taken the British architectural profession to task for not having kept up with the nation’s engineers, in terms of developing a progressive architectural aesthetic that reflected the country’s new industrial construction materials and techniques. (Note: the year was 1835, before Britain had ever heard of Pugin or Ruskin.) 

Owen Jones, Plans, Sections, Elevations, and Details of the Alhambra, “Divan, Court of the Fish-pond,” 1841. (Flores, Jones)

Following his lecture, Jones had embarked upon a six-year effort to publish his findings in serial form between 1836 and 1842 that he titled Plans, Elevations, Sections, and Details of the Alhambra. More than likely he had been inspired by Semper’s 1834 publication, Preliminary Remarks on Polychrome Architecture and Sculpture in Antiquity. Having spent six months studying and analyzing the palace’s ornament and use of color, Jones wanted to accurately portray the building’s colors. However, he was dissatisfied with the lack of contemporary British printers’ ability to reproduce color in their publications, and so was forced to personally develop a new process of printing colored drawings, chromolithography, in order to be able to reproduce the building’s colors. 

Owen Jones, Plans, Sections, Elevations, and Details of the Alhambraa, “Detail of Mosaic in the Divan, Court of the Fish-pond,” 1841. (Flores, Jones)

This involved a process where he employed seven stones, one for each color.  Their flat surface had been smoothed onto which he then acid etched the pattern for each of the color, rolled the color ink on it, and then placed the paper on it, so each piece of paper took seven different rocks in order to get these colors.  Through such efforts, he established a reputation as an expert in color in Britain.  He also had distilled Islamic ornamental patterns into three rules that these typically conformed to: rectilinear order, diagonal order, and a curvilinear order. 

Owen Jones, The Grammar of Ornament, 1856. “Proposition Ten.” Jones recommended achieving harmony in a new ornamental system by “the propering balancing , and contrast of, the straight, the angular, and the curved.” (Flores, Jones)

Through these efforts Jones came to the attention of Henry Cole, a self-made designer who had risen through the ranks of Britain’s public service such that his abilities had caught the attention of Prince Albert, who employed Cole to manage his campaign of improving Britain’s industrial production that had culminated with the 1851 World’s Fair and its Crystal Palace, for which Cole had named Jones the “Superintendent of the Works” for the fair who was in charge of the color scheme for the interior of the Crystal Palace (as described in the previous section). 


The re-erected Crystal Palace, Sydenham Hill, S. London, 1852-4. The building was extensively enlarged, including raising the vault over the Central nave, and the addition of a barrel vault and cross transcepts to the Grand gallery. The tower at each end was added as a water tower to generate sufficient pressure to power Paxton’s fountains in the new gardens he designed. (Online)

Following the closing of the 1851 Fair, Parliament had required the Crystal Palace to be completely dismantled and its site in Hyde Park restored to its original pristine setting.  A group of private investors, working in concert with Albert and Cole, had purchased the building with the objective to re-erect its pieces at Sydenham Hill, some eight miles to the southeast.  Completed in 1854, the redesigned building hosted a myriad of functions, including a series of courtyards designed on historic architectural styles that would be part of Cole’s campaign to educate the public’s aesthetic tastes.  

Owen Jones, The Alhambra Court, Crystal Palace, Sydenham, 1854. Photo by Philip Delamotte. (Online)

Jones responded to the the building’s change in function from an exhibition hall to more of a green house, that required the elimination of the calico awning with the corresponding change in light from diffused to direct daylight, by changing the color of the columns to red with yellow and blue highlights as he no longer had to “paint” depth/shadow on the columns. Meanwhile, he kept the original palette for the rest of the horizontal structure above.

Owen Jones, Two different color palettes for the interior of the Crystal Palace, London. Left: 1854; Right: 1851. (Flores, Jones)

Meanwhile, the Fair was such a monetary success that its profit was used to start the South Kensington “project,” a series of schools and museums to foster British art and science.  Prince Albert saw to it that Cole was put in overall charge of the campus, including the South Kensington School of Design and Museum. Cole proposed that the Schools be programmed to train designers for Britain’s industries that up until then had been producing rather uninspired products that sometimes verged on pure ugliness.  He tasked his colleague Jones to write a textbook for its design students, thus The Grammar of Ornament had been conceived.

Jones first published The Grammar of Ornament in 1856. In it he argued for a style of architecture that reflected contemporary Great Britain, and against architecture that copied the forms of the past, be they Classical or Medieval, thereby directly challenging Pugin’s and Ruskin’s call to resurrect Gothic architecture as the solution to the problem of finding an appropriate style of architecture for nineteenth century Great Britain, for which he had laid out 37 propositions of good design that would influence a number of American architects of this period.  I have already discussed these in great detail in Sec. 4.10.  

In addition to comprising a complete encyclopedia of the world’s ornamental systems, Jones also restated, first published in his 1836-42 publication on the Alhambra, his system of how to design a modern (non-historical) ornamental pattern by employing the use of three geometric systems. The following year, 1857, he was awarded the Royal Institute of British Architects’ gold medal.


Flores, Carol A. Hrvol. Owen Jones. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.

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


Owen Jones, The Grammar of Ornament, 1856. (Online)

Returning to the criticism of Sullivan’s color palette above by some of Moody’s congregation as well as that by the critic of Sullivan’s color palette in the interior of the Grand Opera House who had described it as “garish,” I am reminded of the similar controversy in early 1851 that surrounded the color palette proposed by Owen Jones in 1851 for the interior of the Crystal Palace. We can trace the interest in color in both of Root and Sullivan back to Owen Jones and his Grammar of Ornament, as well as to his polychromed interiors in his mature building designs of the late 1850s.  I have discussed the work of Jones in Volume One, but as it is on Instagram (#38/39), permit me to recapitulate the important aspects of his works for this blog.  Jones, who afterwards went on to write and publish The Grammar of Ornament in 1856, had been put in charge by the Director of the Fair, Henry Cole (see Vol. 1) of the interior design of Paxton’s glass building, including the colors that the building’s iron structure was to be painted. While the main nave of the palace was to be covered with a glass barrel vault in order to permit sufficient daylight to penetrate for the health of the existing trees that were required to remain during the Fair, the rest of the horizontal glass roof was to be covered in calico canvas in order to reduce the heat gain. 

Joseph Paxton, 1851 Crystal Palace, London. Interior colors by Owen Jones. Note that while the barrel vault is left open to the sunlight, the flat glass roof at the far left is covered with a calico awning, as is also shown below. (Online)

Jones believed that the light penetrating the calico would be deadly in the interior because it would be uniformly diffused, and, therefore, if the iron structure was painted white (typically like the interior of a greenhouse so that light can be reflected to the plants) the building’s structure would appear flat and muddled. 

He wanted to give the interior some depth and life, or what he referred to as a “bloom of color” and so developed the following palette of primary colors based on his understanding of the latest scientific theories of color: horizontal surfaces were painted red, any convex surface that was projecting out at you he accented with yellow, while any concave surface that receded was given a cool blue, and white was used for all vertical surfaces. Once critics heard of the plan they cried out (as had Chicago’s critics after their first sight of Sullivan’s early interiors) in disbelief: “you are putting make-up on it like a prostitute!”  Jones, however, had the confidence of Cole who had the ear of Prince Albert, and the plan went ahead successfully.  Jones was vindicated when people viewed the interior and the “bloom of color” he had achieved with his scientific use of primary colors.

Owen Jones, Diagram of Color Palette used in the 1851 Crystal Palace, London. (Flores, Jones)

I have already mentioned the influence that Jones had had on Sullivan’s early work.  I also stated that Jones had also made a significant impact on Root’s work and ideas as well.  In fact, Root incorporated Jones’ idea of the “bloom of color” in two of his early articles in Inland Architect: “The Art of Pure Color” in the August 1883 issue and “Architectural Ornamentation” in the April 1885 issue where he stated:

“In large buildings the use of several colors should be less violent, so that while the general tone may be deep and full as we can make it, the variations of color are subtle and are obtained through gradations instead of contrasts… Probably no higher art exists than this: to produce in a great building that wonderful bloom obtained by mosaics of pure color.”

One wonders whether Root’s first article In the June 1883 was a defense of Sullivan’s “unorthodox” palette of interior colors in the above-mentioned theaters or a reaction to it (I think it is the latter, given Root’s preference for gradations over adjacent contrasts), or if he simply felt the urge at that moment to bring the issue to the attention of his fellow western architects. While Sullivan was incorporating color in his interiors, Root was proposing its use on his exteriors.  

Burnham & Root, Rialto Building, Chicago, at the rear of the Board of Trade on Van Buren, 1884. (Hoffmann, Root)

He had first proposed it for the Rialto Building in 1883 (see Sec. 7.14) apparently in an attempt to reinforce the verticality of the piers by varying the color of the brick from dark at the base to light at the top, reinforcing the sense of visual perspective. (The following year he would later attempt to use this detail also in the Monadnock, but to no avail. This technique would, however, eventually be used in the upper portions of Art Deco skyscrapers.) 

Schwartz & Gross, Central Park West at 66th St., New York, 1930. An example of Root’s proposal to vary the color of the brick in a tall building from dark at the base to light at the top to make it appear even taller. (Robinson/Bletter, Skyscraper Style)

In “The Art of Pure Color,” Root also cited ideas and works by Ruskin:

“Ruskin, a few years ago, called attention to the fact that in nature color was not applied according to the rules which were recognized in form; that the color of objects in nature was rarely coincident with their form, but generally overload it in waves and flamings, without any consideration to the outlines of the object decorated by it.”

Root was attempting to transcend Victorian “structural” polychromy, that is achieving color in a building’s façade using “truthful” real materials, with “applied” polychromy, quoting Ruskin’s idea that color in nature is independent of form. He also cited paintings by J.M.W. Turner, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, as well as Americans James Whistler (with whom Jenney had palled around with in Paris during the late 1850s), George Innis, Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge:

J.M.W. Turner, Norham Castle Sunrise, c. 1845. (Online)
James Abbott McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Silver-Chelsea, c.1871. (Online)

“This development from an art based upon simple need to one of pure emotion…by emotion, I mean sensations which are elemental, which, as I shall point out, we share with the greater part of all creation. Intelligence, I use to mean either immediate cognition, or sensations resulting from personal experience.  It is in these senses that, in painting, form appeals directly to the mind, color to the emotions, just as in an oratorio or opera the mind is directly interested in the words, while the emotions are more moved by the music… [Whistler] was able to translate into pigments effects which were in their nature too vague to be drawn… When Turner first flung upon canvas the full chaotic strength of his wonderful palette, all the art world thought the graceful water-colorist had gone mad… Even after Turner had worked his miracles on them, they were not yet whole, seeing “men only as trees walking,” but they had been led toward sight, and could at least see enough to know that all sky was not blue, nor all grass green… Till within a few years color has been the most servile of handmaids…, it was entirely subordinate, being at no point recognized as a thing itself, but always as a slave to something else…” [Wassily Kandinsky’s essay “On the Spiritual in Art” was still some 26 years in the future.]

Wassily Kandinsky, Lyrical (Lyrics), 1911. (Online)

“The new art, whose birth is so recent that its voice is as yet inarticulate and almost unheard, is the art of pure color…Fancy, then, a group of optical instruments, each capable of producing a given color in all intensities and in larger or smaller masses; or fancy one composite instrument-like the organ; played by a single performer (remember Root was an accomplished organist).  There is no musical effect now produced by the orchestra which would not have an analogous color effect produced by these instruments….(this is the phrase that made me suspect that Root had a touch of synesthesia like Kandinsky). Out of this chaos of color the new art will arise as great as music itself.  Then will come the complete unification of the arts [gesamtkunstwerk] for which [Richard] Wagner labored, when we may hear “Coriolanus” acted, while to the reds and yellow of brasses, the greens of oboes and flageolets, the violets of ‘cellos and the blues of violins in Beethoven’s overture, will be added that symphony of color which another Beethoven has written to the same theme.”


Flores, Carol A. Hrvol. Owen Jones. New York: Rizzoli, 2006.

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


Louis H. Sullivan, Central Music Hall, Organ Screen, Chicago, 1879. (Siry, Auditorium)

In the Introduction, I identified two design aspects of a Chicago School building: first, the building’s exterior expressed the building’s structural system, be it a bearing wall or an iron skeleton frame; second, its exterior ornament (as well as its interior ornament) was not an imitation of an historical style, but was derived by its designer free from direct historical quotes, i.e., it was ahistorical, and as it was derived by Americans, could be construed as a modern, American system of architectural ornamentation.  The architect we associate with this aspect of the Chicago School is, of course, Louis Sullivan, and we have now arrived at his emergence in Chicago as its leading ornamentalist.  I consider him to be the J.S. Bach of Chicago architecture as he continued to evolve his systems of ornament over the course of his professional career.  One of his chroniclers, David Van Zanten, described it, I think, best: 

“Why did Sullivan’s ornament get better, more subtle, and more powerful as he got older, in spite of the evaporation of his practice?.. Historicism in architecture, like period imitation in ornament, worked by the modification of a predictable model… [while] Sullivan’s elaboration of a principle produced a solution predictable only from the problem engendering it.  Such solutions could thus surprise and their production could be an imaginative performance in itself, a display of artistic virtù… Design, for Sullivan, was a process, a performance, something that he did carefully and progressively to display and enjoy his virtù.  As such, Sullivan found [arenas] for its performance in successively different contexts… finally in pure, functionless ornamental fantasy when real building of any sort was denied him [towards the end of his career].”

As one looks back on this period, Louis Sullivan has the more important reputation, but if it wasn’t for Dankmar Adler’s expertise in acoustics and theater house design, Sullivan would never have had either the opportunity to design or to publicly showcase his maturing superiority in the design of architectural ornamentation.  We have reviewed Sullivan’s early interior decoration commissions of 1875 in Sec. 1.8.: together with his friend, John Edelmann the interior design for Moody’s Tabernacle, the interior of Adler’s Sinai Synagogue as well as the organ screen for Adler’s Central Music Hall.  

The reviews of Sullivan’s first two interiors had been mixed, as one might have expected, given the “newness” of his design theory and process.  The Chicago Tribune had published the most detailed description of Sullivan’s design of the interior of Moody’s Tabernacle:

“The severe simplicity, coupled with the absence of perspective, [abstracting, not copying] gives an ancient, or perhaps a cabalistic, cast to the whole, yet when the puzzle is solved it astonishes the beholder with the very lack of what at first seems most prominent… When you see it, it is alright, but until you do see it it don’t amount to much.”

But some of Rev. Moody’s congregation did not appreciate Sullivan’s departure into the “new:” “This is the most disgraceful coloring that ever defaced the walls of a church.”  A Daily Inter-Ocean reporter interviewed Edelmann’s partner, Joseph S. Johnston on Sullivan’s “unique style,” to which he replied that Sullivan “did not spare his colors, and they harmonize perfectly.”   A few days later, Rev. Moody tried to end the controversy: “It [Sullivan’s decoration] is peculiar but I don’t see anything out of the way in it.  If I had been directing it many would have objected to my style as do to this… This thing of working for and trying to please the public is an ungrateful task.”

Dankmar Adler (with Louis Sullivan), Remodeled Grand Opera House, Chicago, 119 N. Clark, 1880. (Gregersen, Adler)

Unfortunately, no pictures or even detailed descriptions of either design have survived, so all we can do is to assign the term “controversial” to Sullivan’s early designs.  Following the completion of the Central Music Hall Adler hired the 24-year old Sullivan on May 1, 1880, to be his head draftsman. At this same time, Adler had been commissioned by William Borden, (owner together with his father John, of the Borden Block) to enlarge the Grand Opera House on the former site of Bryan Hall, destroyed in the 1871 fire, on the east side of N. Clark St., between Randolph and Washington, across the street from the under-construction new City-County Building.  

While Adler reconfigured the entire house to improve sightlines and acoustics, it is the interior ornamental program that is most important for this study, as this was Sullivan’s first commission as a full-time employee.   Now that Sullivan was no longer a part-time contractor, but a full-time employee, he seems to have been self-encouraged to explore the full range of the expression of his ideas as he employed in the refurbished interior, what one critic described as “a multitude of garish colors that ranged from green and maroon to blue and black.”

In June 1881 Adler was commissioned to design a new Opera House from the ground up in Kalamazoo, MI.  He placed a three-story office slab along the street behind which he placed the auditorium, that Charles Gregersen compared to S.S. Beman’s design the year before for the theater in the Pullman Arcade.  New York set-designer Hughson Hawley was commissioned to design the interior of the Pullman theater, in which he incorporated Islamic and Persian motifs. I mention Beman here because I believe Beman’s detailing in the Pullman Building will also have an influence on Sullivan in the future.  For the Kalamazoo theater, Sullivan was, once again, responsible for the design of the ornamentation on the proscenium and the private boxes.

Following the 1882 Chicago May Festival in the Expo Center, Adler was then hired by the owner of Hooley’s Theater, just around the corner from the Grand Opera House at 124 W. Randolph, to rework the proscenium and to add a number of box seats that was completed by August 1882.  Adler placed three tiers of box seats that were constructed of ornamented cast iron frames to both sides of the reworked proscenium.  

Dankmar Adler (with Louis Sullivan), Remodeling of Hooley’s Theater, 1882. (Siry, Auditorium)

Sullivan had designed the ornamental patterns that were cast in the iron spandrels that were bronzed in such a manner that a critic remarked that “it seems incredible that the parts are castings.”  When Sullivan was interviewed by the Inter-Ocean about his design, the writer tried to force him to categorize his work in terms of traditional ornamental styles. Sullivan revealed the influence that Frank Furness had had on him during his brief stint in Philadelphia: 

“I have no terms to characterize what you see.. I have not given study to the nomenclature of the peculiar art forms developed in these boxes or carried out in that proscenium crown.  These are unclassified forms, and stock terms will convey no adequate idea of the successful treatment under a formula that is a new phase in the art view of architecture… I prefer that you speak of it as the successful solution to a problem.” 

The reporter may have had the last word, however, for he summarized Sullivan as a “pleasant gentleman, but somewhat troubled with large ideas tending to metaphysics.”  I’m quite sure that this writer had no idea just how prescient his evaluation of Sullivan’s inner nature was… 

Nevertheless, this was the first recorded statement by Sullivan I have found that declared he had joined the ranks of Chicagoans Peter B. Wight, William Le Baron Jenney , and John Wellborn Root  in the open pursuit of developing a new style of architecture, free from copying the styles of the past.


Gregersen, Charles E.  Dankmar Adler: His Theaters and Auditoriums. Athens, Ohio University, 1990.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.

Van Zanten, David.  Sullivan’s City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan. New York: Norton, 2000.

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


While Theodore Thomas had resigned from Cincinnati’s College of Music, he remained committed to the Cincinnati May Festivals throughout his life.  The overwhelming success of this biennial event had led Cincinnati’s cultural elite to expand into Grand Opera, seemingly in response to New York’s inception of the Metropolitan Opera.  Cincinnati had a head start in this competition, however, for while New York still had to construct a major music hall for Grand Opera, Cincinnati already had its majestic Music Hall.  Mapleson was named the impresario of the Cincinnati Grand Opera Festival and convinced to bring his star, world-famous soprano Adelina Patti, along with his Covent Garden troupe in February 1881 to Music Hall. Although born to Italian parents who at the time lived in Spain, the family had moved to New York where she learned to sing, making her operatic debut at the Academy of Music in 1859.  At the age of 16 she had been brought to London by Mapleson to make her European debut, where she remained for the next twenty years. Finally, in February 1881 Mapleson brought her back to the U.S. for a homecoming tour.  I cannot ascertain whether she played first in New York, which is what I expected happened, or she debuted in Cincinnati.  Either way, her appearance assured Cincinnati’s huge auditorium would be packed to the rafters, shaming Chicago’s music community to react as best it could. (It was reported that some Chicago opera buffs had taken the train to Cincinnati to hear the diva.)

Opening Night of the First Cincinnati Opera Festival, Feb. 21, 1881. Drawing by H. F. Farny. (Online)
First Cincinnati Opera Festival, Libretto for Mefistofele. Feb. 21, 1881. (Online)

Meanwhile, Mapleson would continue to bring his Covent Garden troupe, sans Patti, each January to Chicago to play in Haverly’s Theater (note that the new Central Music Hall was not used by Mapleson) to smaller and smaller crowds each year. N. K. Fairbank once again reacted to the events in Cincinnati by organizing the Chicago May Festival Association that same February of 1881, while Cincinnati’s first Grand Opera Festival was in full force, to plan a music festival for the following year similar to Cincinnati’s eight-year-old May Festival, including inviting its disillusioned director Theodore Thomas to lead it.  As local choral groups rehearsed, the Tribune mused “whether Chicago in the future will have a chorus distinctively its own, and as intimately identified with the city as the Cincinnati chorus is with that city.” Mapleson returned to Cincinnati with Patti in February 1882 for the second Cincinnati Grand Opera Festival, where she once again enchanted all who heard her sing the role of Aida on Valentine’s Day and closed the Festival on Saturday, Feb. 18, in the role of Leonora in Verdi’s Il Trovatore.  So Patti had played Cincinnati twice before Chicago could stage its first May Festival. 


The following month, meanwhile, saw Chicago’s Socialists commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the Paris Commune with another “monster rally” in the Interstate Industrial Exposition Building in March 1882, only two months before Fairbank’s May Festival Organization was scheduled to use the same building to house the first Chicago May Music Festival during May 23-6, 1882.  In essence, the struggle over the Expo Building in 1882 summarized the battle being waged in Chicago between its business elites and the city’s growing Socialist movement.  Fairbank once again turned to his trusted friend, Dankmar Adler to design a temporary hall in the antiquated Expo Building for the 1882 May Festival.  Adler was given the south end of the building for his installation that comprised of a sounding board similar in design to the one Thomas had designed back in 1877, and seating for 6500 built in sections on raised platforms.  Access tunnels to the seats were painted in a variety of colors that matched the tickets so that the audience could easily locate their seats.  Adler’s valiant attempt notwithstanding, however, the vast Expo Building had not been designed for musical performance and the music simply disappeared into the air:

“The people were there; but did not hear the music… It may be reasonably doubted that more than ten percent of those who were present heard any soloist as they should all have been heard, or felt the chorus and orchestra [carry] to their ears the complement of harmony necessary for genuine pleasure… The readiness with which business men advanced the cost of the festival, and the actual popularity of the concerts, even in severe weather, indicated that Chicago people are eager to enjoy music of the highest character.  They have not yet had an opportunity to do so… The opportunity cannot arrive until a suitable structure, like that of which Cincinnati justly boasts, shall be erected.”

The final kiss of death for the concerts that May was provided by the Illinois Central locomotives as they whistled and chugged by during the performances less than 100’ to the east of the glass-enclosed structure…


Nonetheless, encouraged by the over the 45,000 who had attended the festival during the four days in May, Mapleson finally brought Patti to Chicago for her debut the following January 1883.  The successive reduction in ticket sales that he had been forced to swallow over the past two of his annual Chicago appearances in Haverly’s Theater, however, led him to lease the smaller McVicker’s Theater (1800 seats vs. 2500 seats) to insure a sold house at the higher price that a Patti performance would command.  The $20 price for all six nights, in which Patti made but only one appearance, precluded all but the very rich from attending what many had thought should have been uplifting entertainment for those in the middle and lower classes, some of which had attended the preceding May Festival.  If these people were ever to enjoy such entertainment, Chicago would eventually have to erect a structure similar in size and acoustic quality to that of Cincinnati’s Music Hall:

“The Academy of Music needed [in Chicago] must be erected by public spirit alone [as was Cincinnati’s], for no one pretends to think or say that it will be a good financial investment.  It must be large, with excellent acoustics, central in location, with exits on three sides possible – nothing else can give satisfaction or benefit the community.  Such a building devoted to art and music would make it possible for the middle class to hear opera and not become paupers.”

Indeed, N.K. Fairbank as early as 1880 had pledged to give $100,000 towards a permanent music hall if nine other similarly-minded businessmen would each match his pledge.  None had come forward. (Remember that five years earlier Cincinnatian Reuben Springer had personally donated over $250,000 toward the cost of the Music Hall in 1877 during the lowpoint of the Depression.)  Following Patti’s Chicago debut, Fairbank, with the support of one or two other like-minded individuals, had again made this offer, but again Chicago’s leading businessmen were still simply too tightfisted to give this kind of money for a civic institution. 


Josiah Cleveland Cady, Metropolitan Opera House, 1881. (Siry, Auditorium)

The contrast with New York at precisely this moment couldn’t have been starker.  While Chicago’s business leaders would not entertain Fairbank’s proposal, this was precisely what New York’s elites were doing in order to erect a new building for the new Metropolitan Opera.  Following the incorporation of the Met’s stock company in April 1880, seventy families had donated $17,500 each through the purchase of shares in the company to raise $1.2 million.  A loan of $600,000 completed the amount needed to construct the design of architect J. Cleveland Cady on the west side of Broadway, between 39th and 40th. It was completed in October 1883 with a capacity of 3,045 seats, many of which were located in private boxes that lined the first three galleries.  As opposed to Cincinnati’s Music Hall that was designed on the exterior to look like a music auditorium in its park-like setting, however, Cady had to design the Met’s exterior as a downtown business building, similar to Adler’s exterior of the Central Music Hall.  Its four-story central entry was flanked by seven-story pavilions on each corner whose upper five floors contained bachelors apartments, an inclusion to generate income towards the building upkeep.  

Josiah Cleveland Cady, Metropolitan Opera House, 1881. Note that private boxes line the first three galleries. (Siry, Auditorium)

As the Metropolitan Opera was established to be a rival for New York’s Academy of Music, where Mapleson’s Covent Garden troupe performed each November, an entire new opera company had to be formed in time for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera building in October 1883.  This responsibility was given to Henry Abbey, the former manager of Edwin Booth’s theater, who arranged to have the premiere of the new troupe on October 22 with Gounod’s Faust, starring Patti’s rival, the Swedish soprano Christina Nilsson.  

Christina Nilsson, (Online)


Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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


Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt) as she appeared at her 1883 costumed ball. (Online)

The leader of this next generation of New York’s elites was Alva Vanderbilt, wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt, the second son of the Commodore’s eldest son, William H.  William K. had married Alva Erskine Smith in 1875, the ambitious daughter of a New York commissions merchant who had business contacts in Europe.  While living in England during the Civil War, Mr. Smith had his daughter educated in a private school in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a northwestern suburb of Paris.  The new Mrs. Vanderbilt was not a person to cross swords with, as we shall she, and had set her sights on achieving the social status for the Vanderbilt clan among New York’s old money, knickerbocker social circles that she felt her family’s money and influence merited. The Commodore had died on January 4, 1877, leaving his son, William H., a rail empire that controlled virtually all of the traffic between Chicago and the Northeast.  The Commodore’s estate had finally been settled in April 1879, after which the Commodore’s son and his two eldest grandsons, Cornelius II and William K., took little time in spending a portion of their inheritances in erecting for each of themselves a spectacular mansion along Fifth Avenue just south of Central Park, eventually creating what was known as “Vanderbilt Row.”  (See Vol. 2, Sec. 5.17)

Vanderbilt Row: Fifth Avenue and 51st, looking north. At the far left is the dual mansion of William H. Vanderbilt (son of Cornelius), designed by John Snook. Across 52nd street stands Hunt’s chateau for Alva and William K. Vanderbilt. (Online)

Once her husband’s share of the Commodore’s estate had been finalized, Mrs. Vanderbilt hired New York’s leading architect, Richard Morris Hunt, who also had very strong ties to France and was already engaged in the construction of her family’s new home on Long Island, Idle Hour, to design for her family the most luxurious of all New York mansions to sit directly across 52nd from the house that her father-in-law was building for his two daughters, in order to make sure the Vanderbilts could no longer be ignored by the city’s Knickerbocker social elite.  Mrs. Vanderbilt had not only chosen Hunt to design it, but also worked very closely with him during the design and construction of the mansion.  Mrs. Vanderbilt, as I noted earlier, had been educated in France, and, therefore, it is quite apparent that she had no interest in building an “American”-styled house, but wanted to emulate the taste of the French Aristocracy (pre-1789 of course). First announced in December 1879 and completed in late 1882 with a final price tag of $3 million (Potter Palmer had spent $3.2 million only eight years earlier building the entire Palmer House. One wonders what influence Alva’s new house had had on Bertha Palmer’s decision to build a new house?), it was renown as being the most expensive house ever built in the U.S. up to this time.

Richard Morris Hunt, William K. and Alva Vanderbilt House, New York, NW corner of Fifth Avenue and 52nd, 1879. (Online)

Hunt used this blank check to produce an academically rigorous version of a French chateau whose style would soon be referred to as Francois I, that was not the typical nouveau riche overuse of decoration (a lá the Palmer House-hotel), but was still ostentatious while also being so historically accurate and well-designed that it immediately became the epitome of “good taste.” Francois I was Hunt’s favorite style, and the turret or tourelle with a conical roof, that he placed on Fifth Avenue, near the corner of the building, was his favorite detail:

“Hunt’s motive for using the corner tower was not practical; he did not seek to provide extra daylight.  His impetus was aesthetic.  A towerlike corner treatment tied his often disparate elevations together, emphasized the three-dimensional quality of the house, and served to “detach” the building from all-too-close neighboring buildings.  Not incidentally, it also served to draw attention to the building.”

Critics Montgomery Schuyler praised Hunt’s design as “brilliantly successful,” and Royal Cortissoz  pronounced it to be “an isolated triumph of lightness and vivacious beauty… It stands alone in all America.”  Overnight it became the model for countless other buildings during the decade.

To introduce New York society to its new self-appointed fashion-setter, Mrs. Vanderbilt held a costume ball in her just-completed mansion on March 26, 1883.  An apocryphal story relates that she consciously did not invite Caroline Astor, the youngest daughter of Mrs. William Astor, Jr., (Caroline Schermerhorn Astor) the recognized queen of New York’s old social elite, “The 400,” who had snubbed the Vanderbilts up to this point as mere nouveau riche in the past, in order to force Mrs. Astor to first call upon her at her new house in order to secure an invite and not be left out of THE social event of the year. Whether true or not, Mrs. Astor had called on Mrs. Vanderbilt before the ball, and did attend, with her daughter, the ball that the New York Herald described the following morning as “probably never rivaled in republican America and never outdone by the gayest court of Europe.”  Continuing the parallel with France, it was as if the Empress Eugénie, Napoléon III’s wife and consort, had simply transplanted herself in the New World following the fall of the Second Empire.  New York City’s new fashion leader had only just begun her long career and influence.

Richard Morris Hunt as costumed to be “Cimabue” for the Vanderbilt costume party, 1883. (Baker, Hunt)


Josiah Cleveland Cady, Metropolitan Opera House, 1881. (Siry, Auditorium)

Mapleson’s second New York Opera Festival was scheduled for November/December 1879.  Alva Vanderbilt’s husband had just received his share of his grandfather’s estate back in April and she was about to announce Hunt’s design for their new house, planned to be the most expensive house in the country.  Yet she could not buy her way into one of those eighteen private boxes in the Academy of Music for the Opera Festival so that she could also show off her new wealth among New York’s elite.  So be it!  Together with similarly stymied nouveau riche families, they banded together to establish an entirely new opera organization and to build an appropriate building to house it.  Thus, New York’s famous Metropolitan Opera was born in April 1880.  This spat among New York’s upper society had paralleled a similar power struggle in Cincinnati, (1880) where Theodore Thomas had taken his charge to develop the Cincinnati College of Music very seriously, but had run into a brick wall as his vision of an elite school on the European model funded by an endowment, conflicted with that of the College’s Board of Directors, led by Maria Longworth Nichols’ husband, George Ward Nichols, who planned to run it on the American model of charging tuition to all that could afford it.  After a year and a half of building the best music program in the country, Thomas was disillusioned by the CCM Board’s lack of vision, resigned in March 1880, one month before the organization of the Metropolitan Opera, and returned to New York to pick up the baton of the New York Philharmonic once again.  Thus ended Cincinnati’s chance to become the music capital of the United States, and just maybe, the world as well (to Chicago’s good fortune as we will soon see):

“[The college] was nevertheless rapidly being developed on university lines, and it is reasonable to suppose that the man who could achieve such important results in the short period of eighteen months, would eventually have carried it to its logical conclusion, had time, money, and authority been given him.  Unfortunately, none of these essentials were at this command in the Cincinnati College of Music.  But, in spite of the handicap under which he worked, the close of the first season of the College, found it a thoroughly organized school, possessing, in addition to the customary departments of such institutions, a chorus of three hundred thoroughly trained voices, a fine string quartette for chamber music, and a symphony orchestra [not to mention the largest Music Hall in the country].  In short, with these advantages, and the biennial May Festivals already established, Cincinnati had only to go on as it had begun and it would soon have become, in very truth, the leading musical center of America and one of the foremost in the world.”

Thus, by April 1880, New York had taken the needed steps to establish both the Metropolitan Opera and the New York Philharmonic that would become the premiere American musical organizations that they are today.


Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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



Cobb & Frost, Chicago Opera House Block. Plans of Main Floor and Balcony of the House. (Siry, Auditorium)

In August 1885, the Chicago Opera House opened to less than stunning reviews.   The first auditorium designed by Cobb & Frost was to house the “spectacular extravaganzas” staged by impresario David Henderson, staged to awe middle-class audiences with glitz and over-the-top special effects.  Apparently, Cobb & Frost could not resist competing with Henderson’s “lack of good taste.”  One critic excoriated its gaudy interior decoration: “every advantage has been taken of the color scale, so as to obtain the greatest amount of glitter and glare.  There is a want of repose – some cool spot to rest the eye upon.  An endeavor has been made to gild refined gold and paint the lily, and the feeling aroused is more one of astonishment than admiration.”

While the negative response to their aesthetics could have been waived off as being subjective, Cobb & Frost’s lack of experience in the actual physical design of an auditorium was suffered by all who were crammed into its 2300 seats, as related by two critics: “By the way the people on the sides of the balcony stand up and crane their necks to look at the stage it is evident that the construction of the many seats in that quarter will have to be revised” for it “impresses one as less open and airy than most of the other city theaters, more compact, something of agreeable appearance having been sacrificed to the purpose of getting as many people as possible as close to the stage.”  The theater’s owners had to admit their error in hiring a firm without any prior auditorium experience to design the theater and once the theater’s premiere season ended in June 1886, and hired Adler & Sullivan, who by this time had established themselves as the city’s leading theater designers, to completely remodel the auditorium’s interior.


Police Break-up Meeting in Vörwarts Hall, Chicago, July 26, 1877. (Siry, Auditorium)

The one fact I did not discuss about the Opera House Block when I reviewed it in Sec. 8. 9 was the reason why the owners felt the need to build another large theater in Chicago in the spring of 1884? The time to do this has now come, and to do so we must first return to July 1877 when Maestro Theodore Thomas was in the midst of his concerts of the Chicago Summer Nights series held in the Exposition Center.  Joseph Siry has documented in his book on Chicago’s Auditorium building the interrelationship between the rise of Chicago’s Socialists in the post-fire city and the efforts of the ruling business elites to counter this with an agenda of European artistic culture, i.e. theaters and museums.  Charles Gregersen has cataloged the theaters designed by Dankmar Adler, along with the young Louis Sullivan, that were erected as part of this program in his monograph, Dankmar Adler: His Theatres and Auditoriums. I will combine the research of these two historians with my studies of the history of Cincinnati’s music and artistic scene to present the intense competition between New York, Cincinnati, and Chicago that occurred between 1877, when Cincinnati first embarked on the construction of its Music Hall, and when Chicago finally opened its Auditorium Theater some twelve years later on December 9, 1889.

Hannaford and Proctor, Cincinnati Music Hall. The Auditorium. Note the new organ, also the largest in the country at the time, including Boston’s then famous organ. (Painter, Music Hall)

Thomas’ concert series in 1877 was brought to an immediate halt and the remaining series cancelled by the Railroad Strike of 1877 and the protest/riots that ensued, especially those that broke out in Chicago between Friday, July 20 and Thursday, July 26.  The series promoters, George B. Carpenter and Nathaniel K. Fairbank attempted to make amends to Thomas for the interruption by having him perform a benefit concert on August 1, the proceeds of which were given to Thomas, but the damage had been done to Chicago’s campaign to entice him to move to the city.  Thomas would take up residence in Cincinnati in its brand new 4400-seat Music Hall the following year.

Adler, Central Music Hall. Interior. (Lowe, Chicago Interiors)

The police had brutally quashed these protest/riots that had resulted in the Socialists’ success in the November 1878 municipal elections that had upset the balance of power in City Council and had led to the Council’s forcing the Exposition Center’s owners to allow the Socialists to hold their massive rally in the building on March 28, 1879, to mark the eighth anniversary of the Paris Commune.  This threat to the business community’s control of the city had been met with the construction of the Central Music Hall as an attempt to not only respond to the success of Cincinnati’s Music Hall and to provide an alternative venue to the Socialist lectures around town, but also to provide an auditorium for the Rev. David Swing and his influential followers who had moved from the Fourth Presbyterian Church on the Near North side to McVicker’s Theater.  Dankmar Adler was commissioned to design the building in which he succeeded in providing a venue with excellent acoustics that had launched his career as Chicago’s premiere theater designer.  The first church service had consecrated the building on January 5, 1880.   The requirement that Adler had to design the interior primarily for Swing’s church services, however, resulted in the exclusion of a stage and provisions for scenery, in favor of a pulpit framed by the church’s large organ; there were no provisions or space for performances or scenery, and therefore, failed to provide an adequate venue to compete with Cincinnati.


Alexander Sältzer, New York Academy of Music, remodeled in 1866. Note there are only nine private boxes at each side of the stage. (Siry, Auditorium)

As Theodore Thomas was to orchestral music in the U.S., British opera impresario James H. Mapleson was the central name in Italian opera in the U.S.  In the mid-19th Century, there was no art form more important or influential than opera, a fact of which many 21st Century people are simply oblivious. It was the equivalent of today’s movies. In fact, it was the closest thing to a movie before the invention of electricity. Opera had drama, stage sets, special effects and lighting, sometimes dancing, and music, such great music. Richard Wagner understood this when he employed the term “gesamtkunstwerk“( total work of art) in his 1849 essay, “The Artwork of the Future,” in theorizing the ultimate union of drama, opera, art, and life. Paris had just opened its new Opera House in 1875. Wagner had completed his new house in Bayreuth the following year, with Cincinnati opening its Music Hall in 1878. Civic and national prestige were, quite simply, measured by one’s opera house.

Mapleson managed a number of London’s leading opera houses and companies, including Her Majesty’s and Covent Garden’s. As America’s economy had begun to improve towards the latter part of 1878, Mapleson had brought his London opera company first to New York, staging what he planned to be an annual opera festival in New York’s Academy of Music during the months of November and December, that he would then follow up with a national tour along a route similar to that taken by Theodore Thomas and his orchestra during the previous decade, making major appearances in both Chicago and Cincinnati. 

Oscar Cobb, Haverly’s Theater, Chicago, 57 W. Monroe. 1881. (Chicagology)

Mapleson chose the largest venue (2500 seats) in Chicago, the recently completed (opened on Aug. 4, 1878) Haverly’s Theater, designed by Oscar Cobb and located on the south side of Monroe between Dearborn and Clark, to initiate his annual national tour of his opera troupe in January 1879, establishing it as the site for Italian Grand Opera in Chicago. Following the city’s mediocre response in Chicago, Cincinnati’s Music Hall, with its 4400 seats had provided Mapleson with large profits, even though he had to lower the price of the tickets.  New York’s Academy of Music, the bastion of Manhattan’s old-monied elite society, however, was much smaller than Cincinnati, so Mapleson had charged exorbitant prices for tickets and still filled the house. The combination of the small number of seats and the high prices of those seats had only increased the frustration among those who enjoyed opera in New York.   But the Academy of Music had posed an even more significant obstacle for the city’s newly-emerging elites: there were only eighteen private boxes in the entire theater, and they were all owned by the old-monied knickerbockers.  There was no room for the newcomers to show off their wealth and good taste.


Gregersen, Charles E.  Dankmar Adler: His Theaters and Auditoriums. Athens, Ohio University, 1990.

Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.

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