Due to its youth, Chicago had lagged behind other American cities in the West, as well as the East in the formation of cultural and professional institutions. Chicago, like most American cities, was primarily focused on survival and growth during its first fifty years of existence. This was even truer of Chicago in view of the two depressions, the Civil War, and the 1871 fire. Nonetheless, Chicago still prospered and grew, so that by the time it turned fifty years old in 1883, its leading citizens began to realize that the city was large enough to support, in fact require, the institutions of a major urban center.
The city’s builders and architects were just one of the middle-class groups in Chicago that responded not only to the economic boom in the first half of the 1880s, but also to the increased presence in the late 1870s of labor unions, with the formation of supportive organizations to improve the business and the cultural climate in the city. The master masons were the first such group to organize, forming the Master Masons’ Association in 1880. Chicago’s architects were aided by two pivotal figures, Robert Craik McLean and Henry Lord Gay, in their campaign to organize locally. Critical to the effort would be a regular organ to coordinate all communications and promote the local profession.
In February 1883, the first issue of Inland Architect, “a monthly journal devoted to architecture, construction, decoration and furnishing in the West,” was published under the editorship of McLean. McLean was born in 1854, four years the junior to Root, in Waukegan, only 40 miles north of Chicago, and his father had hoped that his son would study medicine. The depression of the 1870s put an end to that dream as the young man needed work and had found a job in Evanston working for a religious weekly magazine, where he realized he had a knack for journalism. During the 1880 Republican convention in Chicago, the 26-year old McLean had scooped all of the city’s major newspapers with the news that James A. Garfield would be the eventual candidate. The Tribune offered him a position the next day and he moved to the big city. His passions were music, literature, and the theater… sound like anyone else we know already writing reviews for the local press. This is informed speculation on my part, but judging from what Root, Burnham, and McLean would accomplish over the next eight years, I believe Root (I list Root because of the two partners, he was more inclined to music and theater) and Burnham not only encouraged McLean to start to magazine, but most likely assisted in securing the necessary funding to do so. In fact, the first issue contained a rendering of Burnham & Root’s Calumet Club as its first illustration and the following issue featured their Burlington Building.
The organization of the magazines early issues was: editorials and late-breaking news, articles that spanned a breadth of issues (professional, i.e., competitions, technical systems and materials, history, artistic, “art notes” that kept Chicago’s budding Michelangelos current with the fine arts, and architectural theory), an ever-increasing collection of illustrations, and lastly, a monthly round-up of local building news from all large midwestern cities, ending with Chicago. To assist the region’s architects in self-improvement during the magazine’s inaugural year, McLean included three continuing series: William Le Baron Jenney authored a series on the history of architecture (in which he introduced Viollet-le-Duc and Scottish architectural historian James Fergusson) that really was simply a makeover of his 1869 publication, Principles and Practice of Architecture, John Van Osdel at the age of 72 attempted to reconstruction the history of Chicago’s early architecture, and decorator Louis J. Millet of Healy & Millet submitted a series on the early history of “Decoration in America,” in which he reinforced Jenney’s opinion that Viollet-le-Duc was the leading theoretician of the era. McLean published Root’s first two articles that established his position as the leading theoretician of the emerging Chicago School. As was typical of the polymath, his first article only tangentially referred to architecture, as its subject was the future use of “pure color.” (I will include his main points in the next chapter.) By April 1885, when Inland Architect first published its list of contributors, Root was at the head of the (non-alphabetically-listed) group of well-versed practitioners.
In December 1883, a rather well-off local architect, Henry Lord Gay, took it upon himself to establish a central exhibit for building materials and products called the Permanent Exhibition and Exchange of Building Materials that opened on February 1, 1884, for the comparative benefit of the public and the local building trades. In January 1884, Gay freely offered his hall to be used for the organizational meeting of the Chicago Builders and Traders’ Exchange, in the formation of which Chicago sorely lagged behind other major American cities. The leading force behind the new organization was George C. Prussing, who was ably assisted by such stalwart associates of Burnham and Root as Amos Grannis, who was elected Treasurer, and George Tappan, who was named to the Board of Directors.
Prestiano, Robert V. The Inland Architect: Chicago’s Major Architectural Journal, 1883-1908. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1973, pp. 5-6.
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