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)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s