Two months after the W.A.A. convention, the Illinois State Association of Architects (I.S.A.A.) was formed as the W.A.A. chapter to parallel the Chicago Chapter of the A.I.A.  Burnham seemed (or wanted) to be in complete control, as he was the first to nominate candidates to each of the Executive positions.  He first nominated Adler to be president, who quickly deferred to the candidacy of W.W. Boyington as president, dutifully recognizing him as Chicago’s leading architect, as the Board of Trade neared completion:

“I do not know that there is a member of the profession here, whose services to the profession at large have been so eminent as those of Mr. Boyington.  There is no one among us who has handled such large buildings, whose professional practice has extended over so great an extent of country, and who has been so uniformly successful in professional practice, and I think we, perhaps, owe it to one who has been the most successful among us that we recognize that success by calling him to the head of this association.”

Even Burnham had to admit the truth of Adler’s sentiments, and so seconded Boyington’s nomination.  Burnham then nominated Adler for vice-president, to which position he was elected, after which Burnham was elected second vice-president.  Burnham kept the power all in the family by successfully nominating Root to be chairman of the Association’s Executive Committee.  The I.S.A.A.’s monthly meetings provided the venue for the city’s leading architects to express and debate their viewpoints on a variety of theoretical and professional issues. Therefore, with Burnham as chairman of the W.A.A. Board of Directors, and Root as chairman of the I.S.A.A. Executive Committee, the dynamic duo was ready to dictate their agenda of the West’s direct challenge to the prestige and power of the eastern establishment.


C.A.S.C. Membership Card. (Hasbrouck, Architectural Club)

McLean appears to have been a ball of energy.  No sooner had he succeeded in getting the WAA off the ground then he turned his efforts to assisting the city’s “draughtsmen” in creating a similar professional organization.  At this time the term applied to almost everyone working in an office who was not an “architect:” from the mature, head of the drafting room to the newest hire.  In the longstanding tradition of the apprentice system, such an association would allow its members to continue working during the day while they improved their knowledge and skills during the evenings.  This was especially important at this time as the area’s universities (University of Illinois-started in 1873 with Nathan Ricker; University of Michigan-had fitfully started in 1876 with Jenney) were slowly developing their own architecture programs, but it would take a while before these programs would deliver the prerequisite new talent needed by Chicago’s burgeoning building campaign.

Other cities, noteworthy among them being New York and Boston, already had such organizations for draughtsmen and McLean published a letter from 42-year old James H. Carpenter, a local draftsman, published under the name “T-Square” in the Feb. 1885 issue of Inland Architect, inviting individuals interested in forming such a group in Chicago:

“Will you please consider the proposition to invite the draughtsmen who desire to form a sketching club, to send their names directed, if you please, to yourselves, or to “T-Square,” in care of your office?  The intention is to commence at once.”

McLean editorially followed up with: “The idea is a good one, and if properly organized and conducted by the right parties, cannot but result in a permanent and increasing good.”  He then offered his office for the group to meet that occurred on Feb. 26, with McLean acting as the temporary chairman.  Eighteen men attended and all had the same idea: this was not to be a trade union, for they considered themselves as professionals.  Two weeks later this group met again in McLean’s office to hammer out a constitution under his direction.  Henry Lord Gay once again stepped up to the plate by offering the free use of the meeting room in his Builders’ Exchange (the same spot where the first W.A.A. convention had taken place only five months earlier) and the first official meeting of the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club took place on April 13, 1885.  

So that by May 1, 1885, when the new Board of Trade, as did many of the new skyscrapers opened in Chicago, the city’s architectural community had put into place a complete system of professional education and development for its entire population: from the lowliest draftsman to its established leaders.  Jenney would give history lectures at the University of Chicago and Root, among others, would present papers on theory and practice at the I.S.A.A.  All of these talks would be reprinted for all to read in the Inland Architect.  The last ties to the East had been severed.  This, by no means, meant that Chicago would develop its architectural ideas on its isolated own, as some historians have argued.  It only meant that Chicago architects no longer had to rely on information filtered by East Coast prejudices, especially as printed in Boston’s American Architect.  

Chicago would be well versed on the latest ideas from Europe, as I have mentioned earlier: Jenney, the graduate from Paris’ École Centrale des Arts et Manufacturers, could speak firsthand of Viollet-le-Duc’s ideas. Root, having studied in Great Britain and then graduated from NYU’s Civil Engineering program, would be joined by Peter B. Wight in promoting the ideas of Owen Jones and the British Design Reform Movement. Frederick Baumann and Dankmar Adler would present Gottfried Semper’s and other German writers’ ideas on architecture. And a few years later, Louis Sullivan, who had spent just enough time at both William Ware’s MIT program and at Paris’ École des beaux-arts to develop his own ideas about each program’s plus and minuses, would eventually join this august brew of modern architectural thought.


The A.I.A.’s response to the success of the W.A.A. convention was one of accommodation, rather than confrontation, although in truth, there was no alternative.  The Board of Trustees forwarded their congratulations: “[We] trust that the Western Association of Architects will be the means of accomplishing much good, and that the A.I.A. and the W.A.A. will long continue to work together in harmony in the development of our national architecture.” American Architect was more direct in its report of the convention:

“We take sincere pleasure in learning of the complete success of the movement for establishing a western association of architects… the feeling of the gentlemen present seems to have been unanimously in favor of the establishment of an association working in concord with the American Institute of Architects, but representing the interests of the profession in the West.  Although the American Institute has had no more valued or useful members than many of the Western architects, its influence has been unquestionably too remote to give that moral support which professional men need.  Even Eastern architects find the authority of the Institute less substantial, so far as regards its effect upon their individual business, than that of their local societies, and to their brethren in Chicago and St. Louis the quarterly meetings of the Trustees in New York are of still less practical service, so that the formation of a professional body in the West, which should unite the direct influence exerted by home associations with the authority conferred by a large membership, was, if not yet absolutely necessary, at least most fortunate;”

In response to the charge that the A.I.A. had become solely East Coast-oriented, the A.I.A. decided to hold its 1885 convention in Nashville, only the second time in the past twelve years that it had been held west of the Allegheny Mountains.    The choice of a southern city was wise in that it was not a direct challenge to the W.A.A.’s territory in the West yet tried to show that the A.I.A. could operate further west than its recent history indicated.  Nonetheless, the Institute was in such a sorry state that only 30 members attended the convention in October.  Even worse, the annual reports of the “Chicago and Cincinnati chapters” (if they could still be considered as such) indicated how low the Institute had fallen:

“Chicago Chapter reported meetings once a year for the election of officers.

Cincinnati Chapter reported few meetings, except when a member died though all were not dead yet.”

Two architects from Chicago were actually made Fellows at this convention.  Jenney was finally rewarded for his long-time faithfulness to the cause by being “promoted” to fellowship, while F.M. Whitehouse was elected as a new fellow. The writing was on the wall with regards to the emerging power of the western architects, and to the credit of the A.I.A. Trustees, they recognized as much in their annual report to the convention:

“It would seem desirable that some effort be made to bring about a closer relationship between the architectural associations of this country, The American Institute of Architects and the Western Association.  To this end it seems but proper that some advance be made by the American Institute of Architects as the oldest organization of architects on the continent.  As a means to that end, it would seem desirable that this convention take some action looking to a representation, through a regularly appointed delegate, at all conventions of architectural societies throughout the Union, and that such be requested to send each a delegate to all conventions of the American Institute of Architects.”

The A.I.A. convention so acted, directing the Trustees to appoint a delegate to the W.A.A. convention the following month. More than likely, this action was in response to the presence of McLean at the A.I.A. convention.  Although feigning neutrality in his official capacity as the editor of Inland Architect, he acted as an unofficial liaison between the W.A.A. and the A.I.A.  His specific interest was the A.I.A.’s initiative to reform the federal government’s procedure of erecting buildings through the office of the Supervising Architect in the Treasury Department.  After the convention had approved the A.I.A.’s version of a bill, section by section, McLean requested the privilege of the floor to ask that the convention postpone any further action on the subject until the W.A.A. could review the matter, to avoid a split in the professional community and provide a unified front in Congress.  The A.I.A.’s weakened position was such that although the bill was adopted as the views of the A.I.A., it was voted that the trustees should meet with a committee from the W.A.A. to finalize the bill before sending it to Congress.  The West had won its first battle.


A month later, 73 members of the W.A.A. met in St. Louis, in what President Illsley in his opening address claimed to have been “much the largest gathering of architects our country knew.”  Even in the presence of the A.I.A.’s official delegate, A. J. Bloor from New York, Illsley could not contain his pride in boasting that the W.A.A.’s membership of over 250 far surpassed that of the A.I.A.:

“The infant is now a year old, and we think it has grown so well that it may fairly claim its right to wear adult clothing.  Who of the architects now present, or who of the smaller body which met last November… could have dreamed that a year later the newly-born Western Association of Architects would assemble in these commodious quarters in the City of St. Louis, with an active membership greater than that of any similar body in these United States?  Who could have thought that its first birthday party would bring together the largest convention of architects ever seen in this country?”

Burnham and Root were at the forefront of the meeting, with Root giving the W.A.A.’s official response to the St. Louis delegation’s opening welcome.  Burnham took the floor in the afternoon session to lead the floor fight to adopt his committee’s drafted Code for architectural competitions, that he, along with Root and Illsley, had helped to write during the intervening year between the two conventions.  In essence, it required: submissions by all competitors to be uniform; a three-man jury of experts; a custodian to be appointed who would check all submissions before they would be forwarded to the jury; the cost of the winning entry to be verified to be within the allotted budget prior to a final announcement; the winning architect to be guaranteed to be contracted to design the building; and that the drawings of the unsuccessful entries would be immediately returned to the respective architects without any part of these designs being used in the final building, without the consent of the designer.  The Code, as adopted by the convention, would result in reforming some of the more infamous “evils” that architects, especially Burnham and Root, had encountered in past competitions.

The other major business item for the convention to consider was a response to the A.I.A.’s bill to reform the Government’s office of Supervising Architect.  The W.A.A., especially Burnham, differed with the A.I.A. on a few important points in the proposed legislation being drafted for congressional action, as was revealed in McLean’s actions the previous month at the A.I.A. convention.  The chairman of the W.A.A.’s standing committee charged with this issue was Adler, who had apparently bowed to the A.I.A.’s viewpoint in composing the draft that was presented to the convention for its adoption:

“Mr. Bloor is here with us… He has not come with positive power to agree to the several concessions which we have thought it advisable to ask him to make.  We have put the bill as reported in the shape which he believes, with his present knowledge, of the wishes of the directors of the directors of the American Institute will meet with the approval of that body.”

Burnham, however, had in mind other tactics, similar to those of McLean’s at the A.I.A. convention, when he moved:

“that it be referred to a committee appointed by the chair, the committee to have charge of the bill, with power to draft its final form without further reference and as it shall seem best to them… and if it shall become necessary, for a conference with another committee appointed by the A.I.A.”

The convention was swayed to Burnham’s strategy and Illsley appointed Adler, Burnham, and John F. Alexander as a committee of three to meet with the A.I.A.’s corresponding committee.

Apparently, it was Root, however, and not Burnham, who, of the two partners, was the more respected by his peers, for while Adler was nominated to be the second president of the W.A.A., Root was nominated as the secretary.  With another Chicagoan, S. A. Treat, nominated as treasurer, Burnham and Root’s earlier anticipation of resentment among the out-of-town architects proved well-founded, for there were grumblings about the “Chicago clique” in the new organization, which Charles Ramsey, from St. Louis, rose to dispel prior to the election of officers:

“It has been drawn out since this convention assembled-several hints that I have heard around at various places-that this convention was run entirely by Chicago and Chicago men, but I do not think anything of the kind.  I will admit that on the face of it, the convention would appear to be run by Chicago men…[but] while the convention has been handled and managed to a great extent by men who have come to St. Louis from Chicago, they have not managed the convention in the interest of Chicago, nor in the interest of any Chicago clique… I would ask the gentlemen to put aside any personal animosities that might possibly be lurking in their brains.  I don’t know that there any; but I speak of this from the fact that I have heard it said that there was a little disposition by Chicago men to run this, and I wish them to put that entirely aside.”

Burnham thus rose in righteous indignation:

“Gentlemen of the convention, the remarks of Mr. Ramsey are a surprise.  Until he spoke just now I had no idea there was such feeling.  That there be is unjust.  The Board of Directors has taken special pains to avoid anything that should make an impression of this sort… If any one has the slightest notion that there was any such feeling among Chicago men, I beg him to dismiss it… “

Thus said, the convention approved the slate of new officers from Chicago.  While Burnham and Adler marched off to work with the A.I.A. to reform the government’s design process, Root would be coordinating all W.A.A. correspondence, in addition to preparing winning designs under the new competition code.


Hasbrouck, Wilbert R. The Chicago Architectural Club. New York: Monacelli Press, 2005.

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


The call for such a convention was rather single-handedly promoted by McLean, who continued to agitate during the summer of 1884 for the formation of the new organization with monthly articles in Inland Architect.  While continuing to criticize the A.I.A.’s practices, McLean’s view of the new Western organization was not as a national competitor for the A.I.A. (for the A.I.A. had no “national” following at this time), but as a regional sister organization to promote in the West the causes that the A.I.A. championed in the East:

“The American Institute has for many years sought to enlist the interest of the profession in the West, but has failed to do so in any general or active sense.  Seeing this, and realizing the benefits of organization, many Western architects have expressed that an association distinct from, but in harmony with the American Institute, Western in spirit… would have the active support and co-operation of the West… There need be no conflict between an independent Western Association and the American Institute, both having kindred aims, one would aid the other.  With two distinct organizations a lively interest would be awakened and a healthful emulation be engendered, the West striving to outdo the East in the good work of establishing needed reforms.” 

While McLean still encouraged all western architects to attend the 1884 A.I.A. convention in Albany in the upcoming fall, realistically he had to note the reasons for the formation of the new organization:

“This movement is called forth, in a large degree, by the small attendance of Western architects upon the annual meetings of the American Institute; and though for the past few years Western members of that body have been requested to exert themselves in the work of increasing the attendance upon meetings of local chapters, the membership has not enlarged in a degree corresponding with the increase of the profession in the West, while the rolls of the Institute show that a large majority of names of Western members of former years have lapsed.  The Chicago convention is intended to in no way interfere with the existing institution, but to aid it in the work it has so long and creditably performed.  It is therefore apparent to the majority of the profession that the time has come when the architects of the United States should be more united in their action, and this can only be accomplished by the meeting of those who have the future architecture of the country in their charge.”

In August, Henry Lord Gay once again stepped forward to encourage the formation of this new association in Chicago by offering not only the free use of the Permanent Exhibition and Exchange of Building Material’s hall for the convention, but also to pay the entire expense of such a convention.  With the appropriate resources now secured, McLean called for the convention to meet in Chicago on November 12, 1884.  Since the A.I.A. had no authority in the West, its protest would have been counter-productive.  The response of the American Architect to the convention in the West was as cautiously optimistic in its support as had been McLean in his arguments for the convention:

“We trust that the response to the invitation will be general, and are sure that the Western convention will have the best wishes of all architects in the East, and, unless the invitation should be made less general, some of them are not unlikely to make an effort to express in person their fraternal sentiment.”

McLean’s diplomatic request that westerners attend the A.I.A. convention went unheard, for of the twenty-two architects who convened in Albany on October 22, all were from east of Cincinnati.  The comparative strengths of the two organizations were revealed in the relative sizes of their 1884 conventions.  While 22 architects attended the A.I.A. convention in Albany on October 22, 140 architects registered in Chicago three weeks later to form the Western Association of Architects.  None of the 87 who were from Chicago, would be more instrumental and involved with the formation of the W.A.A. than McLean’s close associates, Burnham and Root.


A review of the minutes of the W.A.A. convention, discloses that Burnham, Root, and McLean, in the tradition of Chicago politics, had well-prepared their strategy and goals for the convention.  On the morning of Wednesday, November 12, 1884, McLean stood in front of the gathered throng and called the meeting to order.  He immediately nominated Burnham to be the temporary chairman to open the convention.  Before Burnham called for the election of a permanent chairman, he took the opportunity to deliver a long and inspirational oration on his vision for the new organization, in which he “hoped that the united efforts of us all will leave impressions which shall stamp a pure American spirit on the ages to follow.” Even though he modestly declined many early nominations and begged disinterest in the position, Burnham’s speech had achieved its objective: he sat triumphantly as Chairman in control of the convention at the end of the first day of the three-day meeting.

Attendees at the 1885 W.A.A. Convention, St. Louis. (Inland Architect, Feb. 1886)

To ensure the smooth running of the convention along their lines of thought, Burnham, Root, and McLean apparently enlisted, in addition to Gay, the cooperation of Charles K. Ramsey and Charles E. Illsley of St. Louis, and Isaac Hodgson of Minneapolis.  The group’s strategy for controlling the convention was to use motions that asked the chairman to appoint a committee of five to formulate draft resolutions for the variety of issues upon which the convention would vote.  One of the inside group of seven would quickly make such a motion, another would second it, and Burnham would proceed to appoint two of the group to a committee of five, one of them as chairman.  Hence, the size of the group of seven avoided any outward appearance of impropriety, for somebody different always managed to make the initial motion.  Nonetheless, for a convention comprised of 140 people from 14 states, it becomes indeed suspicious to find the Chairman appointing the same four names to sit on the convention’s four committees: Credentials-Hodgson(chair) and Illsley, Constitution-Ramsey(chair) and Hodgson, State Building Laws-Hodgson(chair) and Ramsey, and Competitions-Root(chair-don’t forget the Chicago Board of Trade fiasco: they hadn’t) and Ramsey.

Program for the W.A.A. Banquet, Nov. 13, 1884. (Inland Architect, Nov. 1884)

The approved constitution reflected the differences between the West and the East.  There was to be only one level of professional membership in the W.A.A.: all members were to be known as Fellows (as opposed to the A.I.A.’s two-tiered rankings of Fellow and Associate).  The other major difference was that the organizational structure of the W.A.A. was to be hierarchical, consisting of local, state and the national associations.  This was in stark contrast to the A.I.A.’s recent decision to divest itself of its local chapters and remain a collection of individuals.

The main objectives of Burnham and Root, however, were specifically related to their business interests: competitions, fees and professional registration and ethics.  Obviously still outraged over American competition practices, including their loss in the previous year of the Chicago Board of Trade competition, it was the Committee on Competitions that was their main concern. Burnham had revealed his sense of frustration over competitions in his opening speech: “There are many things undoubtedly to come up for discussion… for instance… that frequent source of trouble, competitions.”  He, therefore, named Root as chairman of the committee with a charge to draft a statement on the subject overnight that could be voted on by the convention the next day.    Root returned the following morning with a sweeping reform of the American competition system, about which Burnham quickly stepped out of the chair to defend.  After much debate, the committee’s resolution: “That no architect should enter a competition for any building or other work, unless the decision of the competition shall be made by recognized experts,” was adopted for the coming year, pending a thorough review of the subject by a standing committee.  It should be no surprise, then, to find Illsley moving that the Chairman appoint a standing committee of five to further pursue the competition reform issue.  Henry Cobb added that Burnham should be one of the five, to which Burnham added Root and Illsley as chair.

In the spirit of true democracy (and shrewd politics), the end of the convention saw Root magnanimously lead a well-coordinated campaign to elect a non-Chicagoan as the first president of the W.A.A., thereby insuring the interest of a broad constituency for the western reform movement.  Not to worry, for Charles Illsley (St. Louis) was duly elected the first President of the W.A.A.  Leaving nothing to chance, however, Burnham then “suggested” that a committee be appointed to nominate the five members of the Board of Directors.  The convention having made and passed such a motion, Burnham appointed Hodgson and McLean to the committee, which quickly came back with the name of Daniel H. Burnham as Chairman of the Board of Directors.

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


Such was the atmosphere of “association fever” in Chicago immediately following the A.I.A.’s final divorce from its local chapters in late 1883.  The Chicago A.I.A. chapter at this time is best described as an ineffective collection of a few old architects who had been long devoted to the cause of the A.I.A.  It held no value for the city’s architects, as witnessed this letter by local architect H. R. Wilson, that was published by McLean in the March 1884 issue of Inland Architect:

“Can I trespass upon a little space in your interesting journal to express a want that I think has been in the minds of most Chicago architects for a long time, but each one, from lack of time or some other cause, is waiting for some one else to take the initiatory step in the direction of supplying that want, – which is an association of architects in this city.  We are far behind many less important cities in this respect, and should organize at once a strong, vigorous society of that character, and enroll as its members all worthy Chicago architects.”

Sidney Smith, an architect from Omaha, quickly expanded upon Wilson’s suggestion with a plan to organize the new local societies into a “Western Association,” that could serve a function not unlike that which the A.I.A. provided in the East:

“While I fully indorse all that Mr. Wilson has urged in support of his suggestion for the establishment of a society or association of architects in Chicago, may I be permitted to offer an additional suggestion – that is, to form it as a Western association, embracing the larger and fast-growing cities of the West, in which many architects of good standing and ability have located, and who from various causes are denied the privilege of attending or offering themselves as members of the American Institute of Architects in New York, would embrace the opportunity of doing so in Chicago, and thus be the means of uniting in future the men who are destined to make this the greatest nation of the earth. It will also infuse new life and energy to members of a profession who, more than any other, need unity of action and comparison or exchange of ideas.”

Such a veiled challenge to the A.I.A. establishment found deep sympathy throughout the ignored West, that, once united by McLean’s efforts, quickly rallied behind the issue and dispensed with diplomatic niceties, no longer being afraid to voice their complaints about the group of eastern architects who called themselves the A.I.A.  This opinion was best reflected later in the opening toast by Chicago architect J. C. Cochrane at the banquet of the W.A.A.’s first convention in November 1884:

“We have had heretofore a chapter of the American Institute of Architects; we have tried to carry that along, but it has been a perfect failure, and I have regarded it as detrimental to the architectural profession in the west, for this reason, that the majority of our architects did not become members.  I attributed this to the fact that the American Institute of Architects really seems to be an Eastern institution.  I feel that we have not been treated fairly in the West by the Institute.  I feel that we Western architects have not been represented.”

Criticism of the A.I.A., was not, however, just limited to those in the West, for in June 1884 even the American Architect ran an article that was critical of the A.I.A. and offered some “possibilities of increasing the practical usefulness of the Institute. Among the magazine’s complaints of the A.I.A. were the following:

“1.  That it is sectional-perhaps “urban” would be a better word- in its composition and operation.

2.  That it is to all intents a trades-union [with respect to its fee schedule].

3.  That to be a member secures an ornamental honor and not a practical benefit; that the member receives no real quid pro quo, and that his fees are simply money wasted.”

Besides being viewed by Westerners as only a regional organization serving the needs of only Eastern architects, the A.I.A. promoted two other practices that were contrary to the Western way of thinking.  The primary philosophic differences between East and West were quite evident in the constitution of the first local association formed in the West, that somewhat surprisingly, was not in Chicago, but in Des Moines that was led by its firebrand secretary Eugene H. Taylor:

“It is indeed time that the profession be thoroughly organized…  The profession should not be divided by sectional lines, since many of its most valuable members have long been connected with the A.I.A., and would be interested, and of great service in perfecting a broader organization than the Institute has proven to be.”

While the A.I.A. promoted a two-tier, hierarchical system of Fellows and Associates, the Des Moines chapter opted for a democratic equality among all of its professional members. Hence, while the aristocratic A.I.A. rated individuals along hierarchical classes, and had just voted to dissolve its relations with any organized structure other than itself, the West viewed each architect as one among equals, and strove to establish an organization based on a hierarchy among local organizations.  Such was the thrust of a letter by Taylor that McLean published in the July 1884 issue of Inland Architect:

“The “Institute” System is a failure.  Witness the present demoralized state of the British Institute itself and the efforts of the ‘American’ one to patch and repair its organization.  An Institute is properly the honor-corps of a nation, containing the highest men of many corps.  It forms the great cap-stone of the pyramid.  Until Architecture in America is sufficiently advanced, and an organized corps of workers need a capping-stone, an ‘Institute’ must be laid aside as ‘the stone the builders reject.’

We cannot build enduring pyramids balanced on one point.  Egypt teaches us better than that.  We want this time to build a broad and good foundation, and to root it well into the soil… Without any delay… let associations begin to form at once.  These are local, rooting into every crevice of the soil…

This winter a convention can be called, that will bring the pyramid above the ground and provide for the necessary ‘batter’…  Let this uncapped pyramid, starting where it belongs, in the great valley of the Mississippi, be… made up, not of individual members, but of local associations.”

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


Inland Architect, Titleblock, April (Mid-month) 1885. Note that Root is listed first among the non-alphabetized listing of Special Contributors. (Online)

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.

Advertisement for Henry Lord Gay’s Permanent Exhibit and Exchange. Inland Architect, March 1885.


Prestiano, Robert V. The Inland Architect: Chicago’s Major Architectural Journal, 1883-1908. Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1973, pp. 5-6.

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