LeRoy S. Buffington, West Hotel, Minneapolis, 1882. (Online)

There can be no argument about Buffington’s reputation as the leading architect in the Twin Cities, as the owners of the West Hotel had logically chosen him to design their new project.  Projected to be 8 stories tall, no architect in Minneapolis had more experience in the design and construction of such a large edifice than did Buffington.  He placed the main entrance and elevation facing Hennepin while a magnificent porte-cochere for carriages was placed in the center of the Fifth Street elevation.

Buffington, West Hotel. Porte Cochère. (Online)

The first story was faced in white Joliet marble, while the second story was used as a transition between the marble of the first floor and the red brick body above.  Buffington alternated layers of brick and marble that gave this floor an overly-busy, but fashionable striped pattern.  The over-all design of the exterior could best be described as a large Queen Anne house that was topped with a highly picturesque-silhouetted roofline of chimneys, and gabled pavilions.  Still, Buffington had the good sense to discipline the Hennepin elevation as symmetrical about the entry with corner pavilions.  

Buffington, West Hotel. Fifth Avenue Elevation. (Online)

The same could not be said about the Fifth St. facade that broke down as a poor attempt at symmetry because the gable roof at the corner of Hennepin Avenue and Fifth Street could not have a gable end for both streets. While the Hennepin elevation was symmetric, the Fifth St. elevation revealed only the exposed sloping roof on the left corner, while the corresponding right corner sprouted another gable end.  The middle floors were grouped into smaller combinations of single and double windows by colossal pilasters and projected stringcourses.  For good Victorian measure, Buffington threw in the requisite oriels, recesses, and balconies.

Buffington, West Hotel, Second Floor Structural Plan. (Upjohn, Art Bulletin, March 1935)

In plan, he lined the perimeter of the site with a double-loaded corridor of hotel rooms that left a 70′ x 90′ light court in the center, where he placed the hotel’s famous lobby on the ground floor.  The lobby’s famous grand stair took guests to a mezzanine that wrapped around and completed the great space.

Buffington, West Hotel. Lobby and Grand Stair. (Millet, Lost Twin Cities)

The lobby was spanned with a grid of iron girders that contained a skylight over the center of the room.  These were supported by eight brick piers, two feet square, in which was located a round, ribbed cast-iron column (a detail very similar to how Jenney would construct the exterior piers in the Home Insurance Building over two years later). It was reported that the building’s construction contained over 1100 tons of iron. Buffington had used an iron frame to support the interior that was the first in the Twin Cities to be fireproofed with Peter Wight’s terra cotta tiles.

Buffington, West Hotel. Demolition photo of the lobby showing the iron framing. (Christison, “Buffington,” Art Bulletin, March 1944)

The girders also had attached to them an iron shelf that supported the brickwork of the light court’s exterior walls above.  While designed and constructed prior to Root’s Rookery, there is insufficient evidence to prove either that the walls above were load bearing and simply rested on these transfer beams, or that Buffington had supported the masonry above on shelf angles at each floor using the same detail that Root used four years later in the Rookery (that Post had already pioneered the previous year in the New York Produce Exchange).  Nonetheless, Buffington was no stranger to iron skeleton framed construction as early as 1882. Although it was completed in April 1884, its opening wasn’t celebrated until November 19, 1884, with the traditional late nineteenth century banquet of seven courses and endless speeches which took over five hours to complete.  Buffington’s design even impressed a reporter from the Chicago Times, who rated him as the Twin Cities’ leading architectural figure in 1884:

“the one architect who more than any other has stamped the impress of his artistic personality upon the finest and most costly structures … (whose) abilities have pushed him to the front in the wild race of competition which is characteristic of the great Northwest, particularly so in Minneapolis, the city whose fortunes and those of a few of her enterprising, hard working citizens, of which number Mr. Buffington is one, are so inseparably connected.”

Sibling rivalry between the Twin Cities in this era was intense, to say the least.  St. Paul, therefore, could not just stand by and watch its larger sister build the area’s first grand hotel without making an attempt to one-up it.  St. Paul’s leading citizens looked around town for a suitably rich person to finance its hotel and settled upon asking Dennis Ryan, a local nobody who had gone to Montana and struck it rich in gold mining.  He had only recently returned to his hometown when he was approached by the project’s leaders with a proposal to fund the projected hotel.  Ryan consented (here is another example of a Midwestern businessman willing to donate his money, similar to Cincinnati’s Reuben Springer, that showed Chicago’s businessmen to have been tightfisted with their money during this period) with the caveat that the city had to raise a matching $200,000 on its own towards the project’s final cost that was done in no time.  

A site was secured at the northeast corner of 6th and Robert Streets and Chicago architect James J. Egan was commissioned in April 1883 to design the projected seven-story building.  Egan’s Victorian Gothic design made Buffington’s Queen Anne West Hotel look relatively chaste and well-mannered by comparison.  Taking Gilbert Scott’s Midland Hotel, located in front of London’s St. Pancras Station, for its model, Egan chose a dated polychromatic palette of red brick and Ohio sandstone that would have been more in style in 1874, rather than its date of 1884.  To top the design, Egan used a mansard roof that was regularly punctuated with gable dormers and pyramidal-roofed central and flanking pavilions.  No expense was spared by Ryan’s great investment, on the exterior or in the interior, and, unfortunately, it very much looked the part.  Nonetheless, when construction was completed in July 1885, railroad travelers would have the two alternative hotels to choose from when they arrived in the Twin Cities.

James J. Egan, Ryan Hotel, St. Paul, 1884. (Millet, Lost Twin Cities)


Christison, Muriel B.. “LeRoy S. Buffington and the Minneapolis Boom of the 1880’s,” Minnesota History, Sept. 1942, p. 50..

Hess, Jeffrey A. and Paul Clifford Larson. St. Paul’s Architecture: A History, Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Millett, Larry. AIA Guide to Twin Cities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.

Millett, Larry. Lost Twin Cities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992.

Morrison, Hugh. “Buffington and the Invention of the Skyscraper,” Art Bulletin, vol. XXVI, No. 1, March 1944.

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


LeRoy Buffington, West Hotel, Minneapolis, 1882. (Millet, Lost Twin Cities)

As was the case with every large city that prepared for the arrival of the railroad, the construction of a major, first-class hotel for those arriving by the new conveyance was the first order of business.  Minneapolis would be no different.  A group of Minneapolis’ business leaders, anticipating the completion of the Northern Pacific, approached John West, the manager of the Nicollet Hotel, the city’s leading hotel in 1881, for his advice on building a new grand hotel.  West, the nephew of Cincinnati millionaire, Charles W. West, undoubtedly approached his uncle about his possible funding for the project.  The elder West agreed to be the major stockholder, with the provision that his nephew would be named the manager of what would be named the West Hotel, in honor of its majority owner.  In early 1882, the group commissioned the city’s leading architect, LeRoy S. Buffington to design the new project for the southwest corner of Hennepin and Fifth Street.  (I am going to delve into the specifics of Buffington’s career because he is the central figure in one of American architecture’s great controversies: the invention of the skyscraper. Historians, especially those focused on Chicago, have not been kind to Buffington, maligning his otherwise stellar professional career that I am going to review to set the record straight.) 

Coincidentally or not, Buffington was also a Cincinnati native who had attended the local Ohio Mechanic’s Institute where he studied architecture and engineering, graduating in 1869.  (This date should interest you because MIT’s architecture program, founded by William Ware, began offering courses in the fall of 1868. By then Buffington had entered his final year of study.  The obvious question is whether or not the Cincinnati program was the truly first architecture program in the country?) He had relocated to St. Paul in early 1871 to help supervise the construction of the city’s new Federal Custom House.  He soon joined the city’s leading architectural firm of Abraham Radcliff and by 1873, had opened up a second office in Minneapolis, to which he had moved his practice when he established his own firm. In 1880 he had been hired by J. J. Hill as the Head Architect for the St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Manitoba Railroad.  Buffington’s prestige as Minneapolis’ leading designer in 1882 is readily apparent in the four buildings he had designed just prior to receiving the commission to design the West Hotel.

The Explosion of the Washburn ‘A’ Flour Mill, Minneapolis, May 2, 1878. (Online)

On May 2, 1878, Minneapolis witnessed one of its greatest disasters when the four-year old, seven-story, solid stone-walled Washburn ‘A’ (the Washburn Company was the forerunner of General Mills) flour mill was leveled in an instant by a massive flour dust explosion that killed 18 workers, sent the roof into the air a reported 500,’ and hurled chunks of stones as far as eight blocks away.  Buffington was contracted to design its seven-story replacement, that when completed in 1880, was easily the largest of the flourmills in the St. Anthony complex, a title that it held, however, for less than a year.

LeRoy Buffington, Washburn ‘A’ Flour Mill, Minneapolis, 1878. (Online)

Buffington’s reputation was such that he was also hired by Washburn’s competitor, Charles A. Pillsbury, later that year to design an even larger, more powerful flourmill, the Pillsbury ‘A’ Mill.  Pillsbury had spent five years in secret, planning what he announced in 1879 to be the world’s most advance and largest flourmill.  When completed in 1881, the mill had seven floors and a basement, with stonewalls that varied in thickness from 8 feet thick in the basement to 2 feet thick at the top.

LeRoy Buffington, Pillsbury ‘A’ Flour Mill, Minneapolis, 1880. (Lindeke, Minneapolis/St. Paul: Then and Now)

During the time when Buffington was engaged in the design and construction of the world’s two largest flourmills, he was also designing St. Paul’s new Union Depot.  In May 1879, the eight railroads that served St. Paul from three separate depots, had founded a company to build a new, single depot to unite and service all eight lines.  Buffington was selected to be the architect in April 1880, probably at the insistence of J. J. Hill that his company’s Head Architect be so employed.  Buffington was directed to design a simple, economical brick building, which in doing so turned out to be quite handsome.

LeRoy Buffington, Union Depot, St. Paul, 1880. Note that Buffington curiously incorporates four windows under the large arches, whose mullions tend to visual break the arch into two halves, even though there are only three windows immediately below them. In contrast, Richardson always used three windows, which respected the integrity of the arch to span. (Millet, Lost Twin Cities)

The fourth, and undoubtedly, the most prestigious building Buffington designed during this period was the replacement for the Minnesota State Capitol that had been destroyed by a fire during the evening of March 1, 1881, when both houses were still in session.  He had won the competition held to design its replacement, again showing the prowess of his design ability within the immediate region.  The highlight of this project was the 200′ high tower that topped the structure, announcing the Twin Cities intent to challenge Chicago’s reputation as having the tallest building in the country.  They would do this without the involvement of Chicago architects. 

LeRoy Buffington, Minnesota State Capitol, St. Paul, 1881. (Millet, Lost Twin Cities)


Christison, Muriel B.. “LeRoy S. Buffington and the Minneapolis Boom of the 1880’s,” Minnesota History, Sept. 1942, p. 50..

Hess, Jeffrey A. and Paul Clifford Larson. St. Paul’s Architecture: A History, Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2006.

Millett, Larry. AIA Guide to Twin Cities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.

Millett, Larry. Lost Twin Cities. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992.

Morrison, Hugh. “Buffington and the Invention of the Skyscraper,” Art Bulletin, vol. XXVI, No. 1, March 1944.

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


Map Showing: St. Paul (Minneapolis is NW along the Mississippi), Duluth at the western tip of Lake Superior, the Northern Pacific Railroad terminating at Duluth, and the St. Paul & Pacific RR, linking St. Paul to Duluth and the NP. (Online)

However, while Kansas City presented a challenge to Chicago by siphoning off its meatpacking industry, in truth, Kansas City was still dependent upon Chicago to gets its products to East Coast markets, as all rail routes from the West to the East converged at Chicago.  As such, Kansas City would remain a satellite in Chicago’s economic universe.  A much greater challenge to Chicago’s economic monopoly in the Midwest, however, would be posed by the emergence of the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, that were poised to administer a two-pronged attack on Chicago’s dominance in the West.  On Sept. 8, 1883, former President Ulysses S. Grant drove the final spike, completing America’s second transcontinental railroad, the Northern Pacific that stretched from Duluth, MN, at the westernmost point on the Great Lakes, to Puget Sound on the Pacific.   We have seen in Vol. Two, Sec. 4.2 that Philadelphia’s premiere financier, Jay Cooke, had started the construction of the line, only to have Bismarck’s demonetization of silver eventually cause the tightening of interest rates and Cooke’s bankruptcy on September 18, 1873, with the ensuing Long Depression of 1873-1879.  While those who fell into receivership of the line continued to fitfully push it westward, a line from the Pacific was also being driven east. This was the result of one man, Henry Villard, a German dual-citizen, who had become the Pacific Northwest’s rail mogul following the Panic of 1873 by overseeing the consolidation of a transportation system in Oregon financed with European investment.  He eventually succeeded in absorbing the nascent Northern Pacific, whose headquarters by this time was located in St. Paul.

St. Paul geographically completed the emerging transportation system in the Northwest as it was located at the headwaters of the Mississippi River, the northernmost stretch of flatland after the river emerged from its northern valley.  As such, St. Paul was the region’s entrepôt for river traffic.  While the Northern Pacific had struck out due west from Duluth on Lake Superior towards its ultimate terminus on the Pacific, all that was needed to link St. Paul and the Mississippi River that lay some 150 miles to the south of Duluth, with this emerging connection between the Great Lakes (thereby completely bypassing Chicago) and the Pacific was a rail line north to Duluth (similar to how the canal at Chicago had linked it to the Mississippi).  This was completed in 1870 in the guise of the St. Paul & Pacific Railroad.  

The Falls of St. Anthony, Minneapolis, ca. 1860. The early sawmills were built on platforms erected over the river. The rushing water underneath would power the saws. (Online)

The regional economy was fleshed out with the addition of Minneapolis that was built on a branch of the Mississippi at the Falls of St. Anthony, the only cataract on the river.  The 25-foot drop in the river elevation at this location provided the largest source of waterpower in the Midwest.  All one had to do to harness this potential was to divert a portion of the upper river with a channel to a waterpit that dropped to the lower level downriver and place a waterwheel in the pit, nature could then grind wheat or saw timber.  Two of the Northwest’s natural resources, wheat and timber, that had been central to Chicago’s regional dominance during its initial growth in the mid-nineteenth century, could now be processed less expensively closer to their source and transported directly to market, completely bypassing Chicago.  By the mid-1880s, Minneapolis was home to the largest flour-milling complex in the country, with over 25 flourmills and their accompanying storage elevators on the west shore of the falls, that was complemented by a large concentration of sawmills that were originally built on the opposite shore.  The period 1880 to 1890 would be known as the “Minneapolis Boom.”  In 1880, the city’s population was 46,887, by 1890 it had grown to 164,738, which represented a 250% increase in population during the decade.

The Falls of St. Anthony, Minneapolis. The Pillsbury ‘A’ Mill is on the far bank. (Online)

All that was needed to set this huge economic engine into action was a completed Northern Pacific Railroad that occurred in September 1883.  By 1883, a second and competing rail network had also emerged in St. Paul, out of the original St. Paul and Pacific Railroad that would eventually become the Great Northern Railroad in 1890, built by St. Paul entrepreneur, James Jerome Hill.  Minneapolis/St. Paul lay at the hub of a burgeoning railroad network that could give Chicago a run for its money. So it should come to no surprise that the Twin Cities would be a center of intense real estate speculation in the 1880s.   In 1882, it was reported that St. Paul had led the nation in new construction, with over 4000 new buildings.  The following year, the twin cities recorded a combined total of $17.8 million in new construction, a sum that again surpassed Chicago’s, and was second only to that of New York.  As early as 1876, so sure were they of their city’s future, that St. Paul’s civic leaders were boasting that St. Paul would join New York and Chicago as the third great city in the U.S.

Driving the last spike on the Northern Pacific Railroad at Gold Creek, Montana, September 8, 1883. Former President Ulysses S. Grant holds the hammer, with Henry Villard standing to his left. (digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu)

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


Burnham & Root, American National Bank, Kansas City, 1886. (Online)

Immediately following Root’s return from Europe, the firm was commissioned by J. Foster Rhodes to design a new building in Kansas City for the American National Bank, for the northwest corner of Eighth and Delaware Streets.  We need to keep our eyes open to see how Root’s trip influenced his post-Europe designs, similar to what we saw in Richardson’s post-Europe work. In this relatively small, eight-story office building, Root delivered one of his best performances to-date in the design of a commercial box.  There can be little doubt that Root’s point of departure was Peabody & Stearns’ United Bank Building in New York (the last building George Fuller, then contractor for the Rookery, had designed/supervised prior to moving to Chicago). 

Gone are the corner turrets of the United Bank Building as well as those of Root’s own medieval designs. It is the straightforward, relatively understated treatment of the two street elevations that reveal his maturing understanding of a commercial building.  

Burnham & Root, American national Bank. Plan. (Hoffmann, Root)

The elevations are divided into a 2:1:4:1 rhythm: two-story base (ground floor in rock-faced stone), one-story transition, four-story body, and one-story arcaded attic/cornice.  These four horizontal fields are vertically woven vertically together with an implied single arcade across the face of the building: Root’s capricious mid-level arcade is gone. Also gone is the romantic geometric progression in the size of the windows: all the windows have the same width from the ground floor to the cornice.  Both elevations were then framed by larger corner piers, that formally were required to buttress the thrusts of the arches of the arcade.  The building’s corner sprouted a terra cotta flagpole that marked the building’s urban location.

Burnham & Root, American National Bank. Above: Cantilevered terra cotta flagpole base. (Hoffmann, Root); Below: Entrance. (Online)

The building’s entrance on Delaware was marked with a pedimented triumphal arch, almost a direct copy of the United Bank’s entry, that carried the stone of the ground floor into the second floor.  This was the same entry design that Root had initially intended for the Board of Trade.  This was reinforced in the center of the building by an oriel bay that carried the four floors of the middle level around it, similar to how he had detailed the entry elevation in the neighboring Midland Hotel, except that this time the oriel didn’t break the cornice. The oriel left enough space between it and the corner piers for a set of paired windows to either side of it.  

Burnham & Root, American National Bank. Eighth Street elevation. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

Meanwhile, the length of the Eighth Street elevation forced a slight variation: after spacing four sets of paired windows between the corner piers, Root filled in the remaining wall dimension in the middle with two ranks of larger windows framed by three piers whose widths were also slightly larger than those used in between the sets of paired windows. Using the same detail from the Midland Hotel, he also rounded the corner of each pier with a continuous colonette, imparting a plasticity and a shadow line which helped to visually reduce the width of the pier.  

It is the four-story, unbroken piers that I find most interesting.  This is the first building by Root that employs four-story tall piers. I take that back, it was his first constructed design with four-story piers, for he had already employed seven-story continuous piers in one of his early 1885 designs for the Monadnock Block. But it is not just the piers that are a first, it is also that Root made the mullions between the paired windows continuous, while recessing the spandrels in all three stories!  When you compare the elevations above, the Bank’s continuous mullions override the spandrels’ potential horizontal offset to the vertical piers in the Monadnock. In fact, my eyes are more influenced by the thin continuous vertical mullions than the piers in imparting a definite vertical accent to the bank’s elevations. (I have included below a number of earlier Root designs for you to appreciate the subtle difference caused by this small detail.)

Burnham & Root. The Rookery. Elevation of the light court. I included this image as evidence of Root’s continuing experiments with a variety of solutions for the expression of his elevations. Here he has chosen to communicate the fact that the brick /glass enclosure is hung off of the iron frame behind it, rather than the brick piers being load bearing to the ground. Another example of the fact that there is not only one right way (only the “vertical accent” option) to design a skyscraper’s elevation from a rational viewpoint, i.e., “form follows function.”

Some historians have postulated that Root’s use of this detail was influenced by Louis Sullivan’s use of this detail in a number of three-story portions of six-story storefronts he designed between 1881 and 1885 that I documented in Vol. 3, Sec. 10.23.  I reviewed how the young Sullivan had experimented with this detail (above) in the Rothschild Store in 1881, the three-story portions in the six-story Revell Building and the three-story bay windows in the Ryerson Building). This detail, used in conjunction to the adjacent continuously vertical piers had imparted to these elevations a marked vertical accent.  

Adler & Sullivan, Troescher Building, Chicago, 15 S. Market (Wacker), 1884-5. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

Curiously, in the Troescher Building, the last of this series by Sullivan prior to the Auditorium commission, he did not continue the mullions in front of the spandrels, but positioned them in between the spandrels, allowing the spandrels to create a counterbalancing horizontal accent to the verticality of the four-story continuous piers. More than likely, it was the broader horizontal dimension of this building that favored this solution.  

Left: Monadnock Block, Chicago, 1885.  Preliminary studies of the Jackson Street elevation.   (Saliga, The Sky’s the Limit); Right: Adler & Sullivan, Wainwright Building, St. Louis, 1890. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City). Root was experimenting with seven-story unbroken piers five years before Sullivan employed them. Yes, Sullivan used more of them to get a dominant vertical read, but this came with the cost of a reduction in the quality of the interior environment: Root’s paired windows would allow more daylight to enter the interior.

I have always doubted the claim by some Sullivan scholars that Sullivan was the first to arrive at the ”vertical’ solution for the elevation of a skyscraper in his December 1890 design of the 10-story Wainwright Building in St. Louis, in which the unbroken piers extend continuous for all of seven stories (the same height that Root had used five years earlier in the 1885 version of the Monadnock Block. But if we really want to give credit to where credit is due, we need to remember that even earlier George Edbrooke in 1883 had used five-story piers in the Adams Express Building and seven-storied pilasters in the Hiram Sibley Warehouse.

The Wainwright story completely ignores the fact that Root had incorporated 12-story high piers (in which the entire Wainwright Building could easily be placed with two stories to spare) in his early 1890 design for the 20-story Masonic Temple.  

Burnham & Root, The Masonic Temple, Chicago,, 1890. (chicagology.com). For comparison sake, I have placed the 10-story Wainwright’s entire height, in scale, within the 12-story tall piers of the Masonic Temple. The Temple’s piers still have two more stories left over. Remember, Sullivan designed the Wainwright some six months after Root had designed the Temple.

In fact, if we compare Root’s design of the piers in the Eighth Street elevation of the Bank, with Sullivan’s piers in the Wainwright, designed four years later, they seem remarkable similar… (Let’s not forget that both buildings were built in Missouri, meaning that while Root’s bank in far-off Kansas City was not well-known in Chicago, the St. Louis owner may well have been better acquainted with it.  Root would be dead by the first publication of Sullivan’s design, but I’m getting ahead of my story…)

These four buildings in Kansas City (along with three houses) during the second half of 1886 and into 1887 were extremely important for Burnham & Root, as these contracts allowed them to keep their staff not only intact, that is, employed, but also provided continuity in their efforts to develop new design ideas and construction techniques during the construction slowdown Chicago in the aftermath of the Haymarket Affair.

One footnote: below is a hard-to-find photo of the last of the four major buildings Burnham & Root designed in Chicago: the Kansas City YMCA. It seems obvious why it is hard to find…

Burnham & Root, Kansas City YMCA, Kansas City, 1886. (Online)


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

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


Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (kcrag.com)

The final detailing of the brick and terra cotta exterior was again, a tour de force in clay. Root consciously modeled the building as a three-dimensional form in masonry.  He expressed the mass of the masonry by pushing the windows as far back as he could so one could actually see the wall’s thickness (in contrast to the Midland Hotel) and emphasized its mass by curving every corner.  There were no sharp 90° corners that resulted in planes in this building; it was mass, true plastic mass, through and through.

Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (kcrag.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (urbanremainschicago.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (kcrag.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (kcrag.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (urbanremainschicago.com
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (urbanremainschicago.com
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (urbanremainschicago.com

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


Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade, 1886. (Online)

The Kansas City Board of Trade resolved to have an architectural competition for its new building.  The significance of this decision was that the competition would be the first to be held under the new regulations for competitions developed by the Western Association of Architects.  In Vol. Three, Sec. 9.5. I documented the formation of the W.A.A. at its first convention held Nov. 12-4, 1884, in Chicago, at which Burnham and Root had wasted little time in addressing one of their longstanding professional frustrations: design competitions (remember that they had thought that they had twice won the competition for the Chicago Board of Trade, only to have last minute closed-door political intrigues deny them the opportunity to design Chicago’s most important building).

Burnham & Root. Above: Competition Submission, Kansas City Board of Trade, 1886. Exterior perspective. (Inland Architect, August 1886); Below: Traders Building, Chicago, 1884. Entry.(Hoffmann, Root)

Burnham had revealed his sense of frustration over competitions in his speech that opened the convention: “There are many things undoubtedly to come up for discussion… for instance… that frequent source of trouble, competitions.”  He, therefore, as Chairman of the meeting, named Root to chair the Committee on Competitions 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 (that more than likely they had prepared in advance), 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.  Henry Cobb motioned that Burnham, as the Chairman of the Convention who had showed such passion over the issue in his opening remarks, should be one of the committee’s five members. Burnham, as the Chairman of the Convention, filled out the committee, naming Root as the Chairman.  Burnham and Root were where they wanted to be in order to change the rules for future competitions.

Burnham & Root, Competition Submission, Kansas City Board of Trade, 1886. Exterior elevations. (Inland Architect, August 1886)

The standing committee made its report the following year at the 1885 convention in St. Louis.  Burnham and Root were once again at the forefront of the meeting, with Root giving the W.A.A.’s official response to the City of St. Louis delegation’s opening welcome.  Burnham took to the floor in the afternoon session to lead the floor fight to adopt the committee’s drafted Code for Architectural Competitions that he, along with Root, 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 & Root, had encountered in past competitions.

And so, having written the rules under which the Kansas City Board of Trade competition would be organized, Burnham & Root seemingly were in an ideal position to win the competition, which they did.  Unfortunately for the four Chicago promoters of the Midland Hotel, a site for the new building, different from the one they had gambled on, was chosen at 210 W. 8th Street, four blocks away from the hotel.  Prof. William R. Ware, who had started the country’s first collegiate program in architecture in 1867 at M.I.T. but had left the school in 1881 to start a new school of architecture at Columbia University, was chosen to be the professional advisor of the competition.  The competition board, under his direction, made formal invitations with an agreement for $500 compensation towards expenses to three architects: George B. Post of New York, Peabody & Stearns from Boston, and Burnham & Root.  Other architects were welcomed to submit entries if they chose to do so at their own expense, the deadline being June 15, 1886. Office legend had it that Root, who was scheduled to leave for Europe on June 12, spent the entire Saturday before he was to depart, hammering out not only the complete set of competition drawings for the firm’s entry but also a series of alternative plans as well.  This wasn’t as impossible as it may first seem, as Root was known to have simply reworked his best scheme that ultimately had been rejected for the Chicago Board of Trade.  As the invitations had been sent in early April, Root had over two months to work over his design in his head during this period, and surely, it was simply a matter of making the final drawings.  Root was known as a draftsman par excellence and would have had little trouble in completing the drawings in a day. 

Ware identified five projects from the 53 submissions that he felt were the best from which the building committee would choose the winner.  The committee ultimately chose Burnham & Root’s, anonymously labeled as Utilissimus.  As scheduled, the committee announced the winner on June 30, stating the Utilissimus‘s plan was “plainly the best of all for light and ventilation of offices, gave to the halls the best positions possible, and furnished the largest number of offices for rent in the best groupings for advantageous use, and on the whole promised the largest returns of income.”  Edbrooke & Burnham from Chicago was awarded second place, Weston & Tuckerman from New York, third, John L. Faxton of Boston, fourth, and W.W. Clay of Chicago fifth place.  Robert McLean, the editor of Inland Architect and prime advocate of the W.A.A. could not hold back his pleasure in noting that the best of the West had beaten the best from the East:

“Kansas City will enjoy the possession of a building which will represent the best architectural talent this country can produce, and that western architects have been honored as its authors will be a matter which architects east as well as west will generally rejoice in, showing, as it does, that the talent of the United States does not lie in any prescribed section.”

He also quoted Ware’s report that stated that “sixteen [submissions] were designed in some variety of Roman or Renaissance architecture, nine with a tolerably strict and nine with a somewhat free use of Romanesque or round-arched medieval motives” as evidence of progress “toward an American style of architecture…and will be the foundation…of our architectural creations of the future.”  The narrative that accompanied the drawings of Utilissimus‘s submission described Burnham & Root’s process that generated the final design:

“This competitor began a study of the problem by laying out all plans he could devise as feasible for such a building and lot.  Their value as to exterior light and air was then compared; and the one herewith submitted giving the best results, was therefore chosen. It depends but little on interior courts, and opens well to the south, from whence comes most of the sunshine and the summer breezes… Following out this scheme of looking first and only to practical utility in the consideration of all the main questions, the outside of this building is to be almost entirely of red brick and red semi-glazed terra-cotta.

First-Because these materials alone are fireproof.

Second-Because they are always bright and warm in their glowing monotone.

Third-Because they keep clean and do not grow dingy with age.

Fourth-Because, most especially, good effects are obtainable by these materials more cheaply than by any other known to your designer…

It is not deemed necessary to more minutely describe this design, as the author of it has full confidence in the professional adviser, and feels that under his investigation everything of value will be brought out without tediously calling his attention to the same herein.”

Burnham & Root, Competition Submission, Kansas City Board of Trade, 1886. First floor plan. (Inland Architect, August 1886)

As they had described above, Burnham & Root had chosen a U-, or more accurately, an H-plan that incorporated two parallel wings of single-loaded office floors that were separated by an exterior lightcourt that opened to the south, maximizing sunlight and summer breezes.  In essence, Root had chopped the Rialto in half, and vertically extruded the center circulation core to make the tower.  The exposed light court not only marked the location for the main entrance, but also gave visual access to the central tower in the back.  

Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. Entrance/skylight. (urbanremainschicago.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. View of light court to tower. (urbanremainschicago.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. Light court with tower beyond. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

Root said that he had placed tower with the elevators on the north side of the building as this location had the poorest access to daylight.  This location also guaranteed that a visitor would have to walk through the entire first floor lobby and thereby, be exposed to the businesses located on both sides of the lobby.  One walked, therefore, under the triumphal arched-entry and into the skylighted two-story lobby.  Marble stairs on both sides immediately gave one access to the offices on the mezzanine. In essence, he had synthesized the best detailing from the lobbies of Post’s Mills Building, Beman’s Pullman Building, and his own Phoenix and Rookery.

Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. Entrance lobby. (urbanremainschicago.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. View back to the entrance. (urbanremainschicago.com)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. View of lobby from the mezzanine. (kcrag.com)

Root placed the 59′ by 115′ Trading Hall in the west wing to take advantage of the late afternoon daylight, and on its top floor for better views and also because it would be easier to clearspan the space with scissors trusses so that no columns would interfere with its openness.  The tall room was enclosed on three sides with tall, triple-windowed arches that in the original design were mirrored in the east wing for the sake of symmetry.  He then articulated the Trading Hall from the east wing on the exterior by placing a pediment over it (covered the gable roof) in the south and west facades.  Rental offices, once again included to help defray the cost of the project, were located on floors 3-6 in the east wing and floors 3-4 in the west wing.  These were single-loaded, and therefore, an interior lightwell extended vertically through the section to a skylight at the roof in the east wing, while light was provided to the lightwell in the lower floors of the west wing by Hyatt glass prisms built into the floor of the Trading Hall.

Burnham & Root, Competition Submission, Kansas City Board of Trade, 1886. Building section. Note the internal light wells in both wings. (Inland Architect, August 1886)
Burnham & Root, Competition Submission, Kansas City Board of Trade, 1886. Fourth floor plan. (Inland Architect, August 1886)
Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. West wing with the Trading Hall. (urbanremainschicago.com)

Upon his return from Europe in September 1886, Root made two significant changes from the original design in the constructed building. First, he toned down the entry arches by removing the triangular pediment in favor of his more typical triumphal arch inscribed within a rectilinear frame.  More intriguing was the second change.  

He replaced the arcades in the facades of the East wing with lintels and an attic of square-headed windows.  This resulted in his first elevation of a major building that was completely rational as no romantic arches were gratuitously employed since his eight-story Traders Building designed two years earlier.  He obviously felt it was more “honest” to make the expression of the Trading Hall more unique by reserving the arcade for this space and damn the need for “symmetry.”  

Burnham & Root. Above: Kansas City Board of Trade. East wing. Root has replaced the three-story arcades in the upper layer (seen in the opposite west wing) with a repetition of the middle layer capped with a story of flathead windows under the cornice. Also note the balcony around the base of the Trading Hall. (kcrag.com); Lower: Traders Building. (Hoffmann, Root)

The fact remained, however, that the decision to place a pediment above the cornice to hide the truss over the Trading Hall, without a corresponding gesture in the East wing, left the building lopsided.  (This unbalanced composition apparently was a result of the competition’s program. Root implied as much in his accompanying brief: “The use of the different stories [in the Trading Hall] is as directed by you…”) The formal imbalance was only made worse by the requirement of a cantilevered balcony around the Trading Hall.  Removing the arcades from the elevations of East wing seemed to only make the problem worse.  This was unfortunate and could have been better resolved if he had detailed a balancing gesture in the roofline of the east wing.  He certainly had the opportunity to do so because it was here that he had located most of the building’s mechanical equipment.  While one might point the finger of judgment at the program, Root should have been able to come up with a better design to resolve the asymmetry inherent in the program, rather than merely accepting a pragmatic, but awkwardly lopsided solution.  As it was, the foreground triangular pediment fought against the tower, that should have been the dominant visual focus. There must have been something more behind the scenes that caused this unfortunate result…

Above: Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. (Online); Below: Albi Cathedral, Tower. (Author’s collection)

Speaking of the tower, the real revolutionary detail in this building was Root’s straightforward exposure of the building’s mechanical system on the exterior, something more typically associated with twentieth century architecture.  Here he may have been influenced by Richardson’s three towers in the Allegheny County Courthouse, that he had used to supply fresh air and exhaust cycled air. But I also believe that Root was experimenting with the image and details of the Albi Cathedral, the largest all-brick cathedral in the world, because I think he was doing this in anticipation of seeing the real building during his upcoming trip to Europe. The Albi Cathedral’s tower was built against a pair of cylindrical towers that act as a spine, much like how Root’s two shafts work. On the north side of the tower, Root designed two continuous, unbroken brick shafts that extended the entire height of the tower.  One served as the building’s chimney, the other as a ventilation shaft.  Note that the west tower is taller than the eastern. (With predominant southernly winds, your guess is as good as mine as to which one served which purpose.)  Root’s remarkably frank expression of function was decade’s ahead of Louis Kahn’s concept of “served and servant spaces.” (As had Root’s design of the rear elevation of the Phoenix Building been decade’s ahead of Le Corbusier’s concept of the “free façade.”)

Left: Burnham & Root, Kansas City Board of Trade. North side of the Tower, showing the two mechanical shafts that extend unbroken/unarticulated for their entire height. The windows between the two shafts light the elevator shafts as was done in the Phoenix Building. (Hoffmann, Root); Right: Albi Cathedral. Back of tower. (Online)


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.   New York: Horizon, 1967.

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


Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel, Kansas City, 1886. (Hoffmann, Root)

What Rodgers and Hammerstein didn’t say was that the seven-story skyscraper had been designed by Burnham & Root.  Kansas City’s leaders began to see the need for a new, larger building for their Board of Trade, rumors about which were freely circulating in early 1886.  Four of Chicago’s real estate investors, A.J. Cooper, William E. Hale, Norman Ream, and J. B. Smith,  were planning on repeating the successful speculation that had occurred four years earlier around the site of Chicago’s proposed Board of Trade.  As we have seen in older cities, the first mark of the growth of a town into a railroad city was a large hotel, and Kansas City would be no different.  Within a month after the Haymarket bombing, it was announced that the four Chicagoans were going to build a new seven-story hotel immediately adjacent to one of the proposed sites for the new Board of Trade (to their poor fortune, another site was chosen for the actual Board of Trade). The group once again hired Burnham & Root to design the Midland Hotel. 

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. Typical hotel room floor plan. (Hoffmann, Root)

They lined the three street fronts of the 150′ by 85′ site on Seventh Street, between Grand and Walnut Streets, with a double-loaded corridor of hotel rooms.  This created a U-plan with a 43′ by 81′ lightcourt in the rear facing south; similar to the Rookery minus the rear wing of offices.  Root articulated this massing scheme in the front elevation by slightly projecting the two side wings slightly forward from the middle, so slight that one could easily miss it, unfortunately, if you wouldn’t looking for it.  The side wings were also called out by the placement of a square turret that extended beyond the cornice at each corner of a wing, denying any chance of the building being read as a box.

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel, Kansas City, 1886. (Online)

The first thing one is struck by when viewing the rendering of the hotel above is the extreme openness in the elevation; it is quite skeletal in its overall detailing.  Its artist has taken some license with the size of the piers when compared to an actual photograph, but then when one looks carefully at a photograph, it is the extreme “flatness” or “thinness” of the exterior walls (that is caused by the placement of the windows set flush with the wall, i.e., they are not set back into the wall that would reveal the thickness of the wall) that is unusual for a Root design, especially in 1886.  

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. Note the ground floor is completely iron-framed and filled with glass (similar to how Root had detailed the alley elevations in the Rookery. The structure is not well-coordinated, as the masonry piers above do not necessarily align with the iron columns in the ground floor. The original entry portico and corner turrets are visible in this photo. Note the chimneys in the roofline that extend past the cornice. (Online)

The elevations’ flatness speaks to the possibility that portions, if not the entire exterior of the hotel was constructed using the iron skeleton frame for the first time.  Root had just employed the iron skeleton frame in the four exterior walls in the Rookery’s lightcourt, a detail he repeated in the three exterior walls of the hotel’s lightcourt.  A construction photograph shows the iron columns that lined the three exterior walls of the lightcourt.

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. Construction photo showing the iron columns used in the light court walls. (Online)

One difference from the Rookery’s light court, however, is that instead of infilling the entire structural void with glass, Root has used brick, supported on lintels cantilevered from the iron frame, the same detail used in the Rookery, to enclose the interior except for where windows were conventionally cut into the brick wall.  The masonry was cheaper than glass, the space behind the wall was a hotel room and not an office (not the same amount of daylight needed), and the light court opened directly to the south (as opposed to the Rookery’s four walls blocking out much of the daylight).

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. South side, showing the light court and the skylight over the ground floor. (Online)

This construction detail, in some ways, is even more important than the Rookery’s use of all glass. In essence, the hotel’s detail would allow an architect to hang a “conventionally-designed” masonry façade on an iron frame.  A hotel room also required smaller windows than an office building. As we are still in the infancy of the “curtain wall hung on an iron frame” technology, architects would readily fall back onto convention for the design of the façade, while recouping the economic advantages of “iron frame/curtain wall” construction, such as a thinner exterior wall and a corresponding increase in rentable floor area.  

When one carefully studies the hotel’s floor plan, Root has drawn circular voids in many of the piers in the exterior walls.  While some of these are obviously flues for the fireplaces in each room (that terminate in chimneys above the facade), some rooms have piers with two voids that leads me to speculate whether or not Root took advantage of the “looser” building code in such a young Western town like Kansas City, to experiment with using the iron skeleton frame in the exterior of a building (as opposed to only in the protected walls of the Rookery’s light court) for the first time in the U.S.  Root’s biographer, Donald Hoffmann, to whom we all owe a great deal of gratitude for his documentation of Root’s buildings and writings, made a reference to the hotel’s structure as being “peculiarly ad hoc: besides the masonry piers, there were circular cast columns and certain brick piers enclosing cast box-columns with rolled columns in the centers.”  

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. Construction photo showing the iron framing in the ground floor as well as in the interior. (Online)

Another construction photograph shows the iron framing in the first floor (similar to the Rookery’s alley elevations).  Nonetheless, it is the flatness of the exterior facades that I find hauntingly suspicious about the nature of their construction.  If we assume that all three streetfronts were iron skeleton framed, then the two interior masonry bearing walls that “close-off” the two side wings, in combination with the south walls of each of the side wings would have served the purpose of providing lateral bracing against wind loads (Holabird & Roche will use the exact same structure of an exterior skeleton frame with interior bearing walls for wind loads two years later in the Tacoma Building), a conservative precaution that any careful architect would take in making such a radically new experiment in construction.  Was the Midland Hotel the first tall building that was completely (or a great portion of it) iron skeleton-framed in its exterior?  While the first construction photograph confirms that the three walls in the lightcourt were completely framed with an iron structure à la the Rookery, actual drawings or more definitive photographs are needed to confirm my speculation about the use of iron skeleton framing in the three street elevations.  

Midland Hotel elevation versus the Rookery’s alley elevation. Root has “fixed” the error of the “floating” capitals in the Rookery’s seventh floor by simply eliminating the superfluous middle arcade in the Midland (see arrow).

Root’s overall composition of the hotel’s elevations bore a striking resemblance to that of the Rookery’s alley elevations.  They both had five layers marked by strong continuous bands: the hotel’s elevation comprised of a stone base, a two-story “upper base” upon which Root placed what appeared as six-story, arcade articulated into a 3:2:1 decreasing perspective: a three-story colonnade grouped by unbroken pilasters and recessed spandrels, a two-story arcade colonnade (sans capitals) that was topped with the single-story arches that linked these three layers into an arcade.  This was slightly misleading, however, for the upper two layers, the two-story colonnade and the arches, actually enclosed the two-story ballroom/banquet hall.

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. This photo was taken after the entry portico, the corner turrets, and the chimneys were removed in a “modernization.” Note how open the ground floor was. (Online)

Still playing fast and loose with the gratuitous arcade, however, Root placed them in rather meaningless locations: above the entrances on the side streets, and to either side of the front entrance on Seventh Street, where a rather spindly-looking portico was originally erected over the sidewalk.  Lastly, a truly anachronistic curved pediment broke the cornice over the front entrance that acted as a background for a very unfortunate and poorly proportioned two-story curved bay window.  One wonders if these last two details were actually designed by Root before he left on vacation, or more than likely were added at the request of the client and designed by someone in the office with much less experience while Root was in Europe?

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. Cornice detailing. Note the engaged colonette at both corners of each pier. (Hoffmann, Root)

Whether constructed completely with the iron frame or not, Root’s detailing of the brick and terra cotta in the three exterior street facades, especially in the cornice was exquisite.  Brick is corbelled, slightly recessed to create a grid, and even the mortar joints are varied: vertical joints were struck flush with the face of the brick so that they virtually disappeared to create a continuous horizontal line in certain locations, in other locations resorting to a standard tooled joint. (Did he also have the mortar in the vertical joints colored to match the color of the brick? This was a typical detail in 1885 as seen in the masonry details of the Ponce de León Hotel in St. Augustine, FL, designed Carrère & Hastings. No, Frank Lloyd Wright did not invent this detail…)   

Carrère & Hastings, Ponce de León Hotel, St. Augustine, FL, 1885. The brick detailing uses thinner vertical joints of mortar colored to match the brick that are struck flush. The horizontal joints are raked. The origin of this detail is often, mistakenly, credited to Frank Lloyd Wright. (Author’s collection)
Burnham & Root. Oriel containing stair in the lightcourt. Left: Midland Hotel. (Hoffmann, Meanings); Right: The Rookery. (Hoffmann, Root); Below; Spiral stair in the cantilevered oriel bay. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

On the interior, again similar to the Rookery, the skylight of the lightcourt was brought down to cover the first floor, under which were located a dance court, bar and billiard room.  There was a set of spiral stairs, like that in the Rookery, that took one up, through the skylight and continued up in a cantilevered oriel bay.  No photograph has been discovered that shows how Root brought this stairway down through the skylight and into the lower floors, à la the Rookery, but it appears that he did take advantage of the cantilever once again, this time projecting a balcony at this point at the second floor elevator lobby into the Hotel’s main lobby. 

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. Lobby. Note how Root has cantilevered a lookout from the elevator lobby at the second floor on the left that more than likely corresponds to where the spiral stair begins. (Online)

At the seventh floor, Root cantilevered a continuous walkway beyond the exterior wall as well as the stair in the oriel.  Until a plan of this floor is located, one can only surmise that the purpose of this walkway was to provide access for the waiters serving the banquet hall. As construction neared completion, unfortunately, two trusses over the banquet hall on the top floor collapsed on March 1, 1888, killing one worker that led to a Coroner’s inquest.  

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel. Photo taken after construction accident on March 1, 1888. (Online)

The final report of the investigation found that during construction, it was decided to make the banquet hall free of columns by replacing the beams in the roof with clearspan trusses.  Burnham & Root had issued the necessary change orders and drawings, in which they had moved a flue to one side in the masonry pier that supported the heavier-loaded truss (no mention of an iron column was mentioned or apparently detailed), in order to increase the amount of solid masonry directly under the truss so as to be able to support it.  The contractor had ignored the relocation of the flue but was obviously aware of the flue’s location because the iron bearing pad for the truss was reduced in area from the size that Burnham & Root had specified in the change order, so that it was smaller and, therefore, would not put any load on the portion of the pier that still contained the flue in its original location.  Unfortunately, this reduced the overall bearing area over which the load of the truss was spread that increased the stress in the masonry pier beyond its capacity and failure ensued. Amazingly, that Root was quick to point out in a press release, the rest of the building was so well built that the only damage the building sustained was localized to where the truss fell.  It did not initiate a progressive collapse in the floors below but was halted at the floor of the banquet hall.  Burnham & Root were eventually absolved of all liability.


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.   New York: Horizon, 1967.

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


Map of the Northern Pacific Railroad. The eastern hub was St. Paul. (Online)

In truth, the class warfare being waged in Chicago at this time was only exacerbating the effects that “Manifest Destiny” were already beginning to impact Chicago.  For as the railroad giveth, the railroad can just as easily taketh.  Chicago was destined to suffer a similar fate to that which it had just inflicted on its two older rivals, Cincinnati and St. Louis.  Western expansion didn’t just stop when it arrived at the corner of La Salle and Jackson Streets, but continued ever westward, leaving Chicago in its dust.  Chicago’s tool of economic expansion, the railroad, at the city’s own urging I might add, simply continued to move west, diluting Chicago’s geographical and commercial advantage.  As the railroads continued to open up the West, real estate speculation moved with them.  By 1885, two more transcontinental railroads were being completed, creating greater investment potentials in the termini of the Northern Pacific Railroad (that William Ogden had chartered in 1856) for, St. Paul and Minneapolis (that Ogden’s C&NW would connect back to Chicago) and in Kansas City, the center of the Atkinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad (funded by the same Bostonians who had built the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy).  While Chicago was mired in class warfare, developers sought the more secure markets emerging in the hubs of these two new transcontinental railroad routes.  Naturally, the expertise of Chicago’s architects in the design of big buildings followed their clients, as did the technology that they were developing for the construction of skyscrapers.  These ideas and techniques would be perfected in buildings constructed not in Chicago, but in these newly-emerging boom towns.

Map of the Atchison, Topeka, & Santa Fe Railroad. Kansas City is located at the far right upper corner. (Online)


Map of Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad. (Online)

Kansas City’s fortune was secured in 1868 when the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad (the Bostonians’ next link that connected at Hannibal, MO, across the Mississippi from Quincy, IL, with the Chicago, Burlington, & Quincy) decided to build a bridge over the Missouri River at Kansas City, rather than at Leavenworth, Kansas.  The immediate result of this decision was that all cattle being raised in Texas for consumption back East would eventually funnel through Kansas City on their way to Chicago.  Cattle would have to be driven from their grazing land in Texas to a railhead in Kansas, such as Abilene, or directly to Kansas City.  The cattle would then be shipped live via the railroad to Chicago to be either slaughtered, or rerouted live to the east coast.  Shipping cattle live was not economically efficient, however, simply because much of the weight of the live steer was not used, and cattle were bruised and lost weight while in transit.  The person responsible for changing the calculus of this process was Gustavus Swift, Philip Armour’s main competitor in Chicago’s meat packing business.  The solution to the economic problem of shipping live cattle was easy: to ship only the dressed meat, and not any of the inedible material of the steer.  The nut to crack was how to keep the meat from spoiling?  Transporting pork had been solved long ago with the use of salting.  Salted beef, however, just didn’t meet the tastes of Americans who had grown up eating fresh beef.  The solution seemed to be some type of chilled storage, but the solution of a viable refrigerated railroad car had eluded American engineers for over 35 years.  

A refrigerated railroad car, ca. mid-1870s. Ice tanks were located at each end of the car, access for which was gained by hatches in the roof. (Online)

Finally, in 1878 Swift hired engineer Andrew Chase to solve the problems with the refrigerated car, which he did.  This finally allowed only the dressed beef, and not the unusable parts, to be shipped cheaper anywhere from Chicago’s slaughterhouses.  It didn’t take long for meatpackers to figure out that even greater profits could be had by slaughtering the cattle closer to where they grazed, rather than shipping them live to Chicago and suffer the corresponding economic loss of a reduction in weight and quality.  Kansas City seemed to be the ideal location for the next generation of slaughterhouses, as Philip Armour had confirmed only six months after the Haymarket Square bombing

“The day of Chicago’s supremacy as a porkpacking center will soon be a thing of the past…  The corn belt has moved west and with it hog raising.  It is history repeating itself.  Only a few years Chicago took away the supremacy from Cincinnati and St. Louis.  To show this is not idle talk brought on by present troubles, I will say I have not added a single brick to my packing house here in Chicago while in Kansas City, where I already had $1.5 million worth of packing house property, I have built $300,000 worth additional this summer, and between now and next January will build another $300,000.”

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



In Volume Three, I documented Chicago’s architecture and urban growth during the years 1879 through mid-1886.  I started in Chicago just as it began to recover from the Great Depression of 1873-79 and ended with the events that led up to the Haymarket Square Bombing.  During this period, Chicago emerged as a serious competitor for New York City in business as well as architecture, although it was still playing catch-up with Cincinnati in the cultural arts. The rise of Chicago during this six-year period is easily visualized: imagine that on May 1, 1879, you have just stepped out of the temporary city hall and are standing in the middle of the intersection of La Salle and Adams (lower lefthand corner in left figure below), looking south to the La Salle Street Station. You are surrounded by 3-4 story buildings, with the towering exception of the seven-story Grand Pacific Hotel (right photo) on your left. Then blink your eyes and its now May 1, 1886. BAM! The new Board of Trade is standing towering over you and blocking the view of the station. You are now surrounded by new 10- to 12-storied skyscrapers that dwarf the not-so Grand Pacific (your relative vertical scale has just increased by over 300%!).


In architecture, the major stories in Volume Three were:

1. The move of the Board of Trade and the erection of its new building, that topped off at 303’ (322’ if we count Sperry’s Corona).  This was taller than any structure in New York City (a first!) and was second in height in the U.S. only to the Washington Monument.

S.S. Beman, Pullman Building, Chicago, NW corner of Michigan and Adams. I chose this early photo because it shows the large jump in urban scale from pre-elevator Chicago with its 3-4 storied buildings to the vertical scale of the 10-storied “skyscrapers.”

2. The importation from New York of a new building typology, the skyscraper, a tall office building made possible by the exploitation of the elevator. Two investors from Boston, Peter and Shepherd Brooks were responsible for the construction of Chicago’s first skyscraper. The height of these early skyscrapers was able to be increased with the addition of iron skeleton framing, also invented in New York, in fact, by the same architect who had worked on New York’s first skyscraper, George B. Post. (Let me repeat: The skyscraper and the iron skeleton frame were invented in New York, and the first skyscraper built in Chicago was the idea of the two brothers from Boston.  Notwithstanding “Windy City” legend.) In order to build this type of building on Chicago’s “uncertain” soil, the city’s architects and builders had developed a lightweight system of terra cotta tiles to build fireproof floors and to protect iron structural members that allowed them to replace heavy masonry interior bearing walls.  This type of construction was referred to as “Chicago construction,” as it was invented in Chicago. This invention, and not the skyscraper or the iron skeleton frame is Chicago’s factual legacy to architecture.

“Chicago Construction.” Hollow fireclay segmental flat arches span between iron/steel beams that are protected from fire either by the floor tiles or by added fireclay casings, as are the iron columns. This is a drawing of a more developed system employing steel columns from the early 1890s. (Condit, Chicago School)

3. There were 15 skyscrapers (10+ stories) built during this period.  Burnham & Root had designed half of these.  (As I had stated early on, Root had designed and erected more skyscrapers than the combined number designed by all of his peers, even by this early date of 1886.) The other architects involved in decreasing order were two each: W.W. Boyington and S.S. Beman; and one each: J.J. Flanders, Cobb & Frost, George Edbrooke, and William Le Baron Jenney. (Once again to remind you, Louis Sullivan’s first skyscraper, the Wainwright Building was designed in late 1890, four years into the future; if you want to count the Auditorium Tower as a skyscraper, it still wasn’t started until 1887.  This is another of my primary theses, that is, that Sullivan, contrary to many histories, was not a central player in the first ten years of the Chicago School.)

Burnham & Root, Phoenix Building. South(rear) elevation. Demolition photo taken by Richard Nickel in 1959. The windows behind the four elevators that were supported by iron skeleton framing. The first use of iron framing in a partial exterior wall in a Chicago skyscraper. (urbanremainschicago.com)

4. The central figure in the first ten years of the Chicago School was John Wellborn Root. This will become even more obvious as we move through 1886-1890.  Root brought the technology of the New York iron skeleton frame to Chicago, that he first employed in 1885 in the elevator wall of the Phoenix Building and the light court walls of the Rookery.  His precedents came from the buildings by George Post in New York. (Remember that Root had graduated from the same Engineering program at NYU that Post had eleven years earlier.)  Note that no skyscraper by the end of 1885 in any city, however, remotely came close to being constructed solely with the skeleton frame simply because this new technology had not sufficiently matured to the point that it could resist wind loads (or seismic forces for that matter) without the rigidity imparted to a building by its masonry walls.  The good news is that we will see the solution to this problem in this coming volume.  Meanwhile, Root had also applied his technical knowledge to the problem of foundation design and winter construction.  He will continue to innovate in the technical design of his buildings of the next four years. The bad news is that just as Chicago’s architects were beginning to push iron skeleton framing into the exteriors of their skyscrapers, the Haymarket Square affair halted construction in Chicago in its tracks at precisely this moment.

Burnham & Root, The Rookery’s light court. The first use of iron skeleton framing in an exterior wall in a Chicago skyscraper. (Author’s collection)

5. In urban design/structure, investors of La Salle Street (the Board of Trade gang) overran the plans of those invested in Dearborn, meaning primarily Peter and Shepherd Brooks.  The Brookses had inside information about the planned location of the new C&WI station to be built in line with Dearborn, but their plans were frustrated by the La Salle group’s “clout” with City Hall, that slowed the construction of the extension of Dearborn south of Monroe for over two years. During this same time, Adams Street emerged as the major east-west corridor, running from Union Station at the river to the Exposition Center at Michigan Avenue.  Adams was a natural simply because the post-fire City Hall, the “Rookery” sat the corner of Adams and La Salle, and the site for the new, post-fire Federal Government Building had been moved two blocks farther south to Dearborn and Adams.  The buildings erected on Adams during this period included: the Pullman, the Revell, the Home Insurance, the Insurance Exchange, the Burlington, Field’s Wholesale Store, and, of course, the Rookery.

Reconstruction of Adams Street Looking East from Franklin, Left side, Burlington Building, Right side, in order, Field Wholesale Store, Rand McNally Building (1889), Insurance Exchange, The Rookery, with the Home Insurance Building across Adams. Cobb & Frost’s Owings Building (turret in back of the Rookery) is three years in the future, and the Pullman Building (in front of Expo Building). (Digital image by David Burwinkel)

6. The architects in the West had left the A.I.A. en masse and formed their own organization in 1884, the Western Association of Architects.  They began to enact professional reforms that they believed were long overdue, sometimes by themselves, other times in collaboration with the A.I.A.

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


The Haymarket Square Bombing, Harper’s Weekly, May 15, 1886. (Online)

On Tuesday, April 27, 1886, H. H. Richardson quietly succumbed to the disease that had increasingly incapacitated him, denying him the opportunity to see and enjoy his last creations, including the three buildings that were under construction in Chicago. Only two days earlier on Easter Sunday, buildings that lined the streets on Chicago’s West Side were bedecked in red banners of all kinds.  The Central Labor Union had organized a march reported to have involved over 15,000 people that marched among the red flags of the International Working People’s Association that day, forming a procession over two miles in length, that ended at the lakefront, where Albert Parsons encouraged them to act and stay united.  The “Great Day” was only a week away, and it appeared that the supporters of the “Eight-hour workday” movement were succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.  Since the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions had set a deadline of May 1, 1886 for the universal acceptance of the eight-hour workday back at its convention in Chicago in October 1884, over 47,000 workers in Chicago had already been given an eight-hour workday, City Counsel had approved an eight-hour day for municipal workers that Mayor Carter Harrison whole-heartedly had endorsed, and there was still a week to go before workers across the entire country were to go on a coordinated general strike on Saturday, May 1.  For all practical purposes, there was little work done in Chicago during the spring of 1886 that led up to the “Great Day.”

Anticipation of the “Great Day,” May 1, 1886, had continued to build throughout the early months of 1886.  To mark the fifteenth anniversary of the Paris Commune, 1,500 people celebrated at Vorwärts Turner Halle with the usual speeches, theater, and dancing.   The following day Parsons reported on the celebration in his paper, The Alarm, urging the need for an American Commune: “Vive la Commune! is a cry which condemns the state, the state which in all its forms seeks but one object, the oppression of the many by the few.  Vive la Commune! is a protest against private property which kills all progress… [An American Commune was called for to be the] revolt of labor against the domination of capital.”  Meanwhile, the city’s “captains of industry” were seemingly justified in their nightmares of a reoccurrence of the Paris Commune of 1871, and were making their preparations accordingly.  

Five weeks later, Parsons and other IWPA leaders stood before the Easter protest throng in Lake Park, where Van Buren deadended at Michigan Avenue, and poetically predicted the resurrection of the working class by the end of the week. And, indeed, so it seemed that Parsons’ vision was coming true, as over 80,000 marched down Michigan Avenue with red flags unfurled in the annual May Day protest on Saturday, May 1, 1886.  The sun shined that day on Chicago’s working class of whom it was reported that between 40,000 and 60,000 had struck peacefully in support of the national General Strike.  Reports came in from throughout the land that over 350,000 had stopped work altogether.  That night the beerhalls and pubs in Chicago, the center of the storm, were alive with talk of the success and what was to come next.  Sunday passed relatively quietly, as many attended church in the morning and then returned to the beergardens to continue the ongoing speculation about what tomorrow would bring.

Monday, May 3, would be the first real test of the new eight-hour workday.  And it would be its last.  As the workday ended at the McCormick Reaper Works, that had been relying on non-union workers since Cyrus McCormick, Jr. had locked out all union workers in February, the non-union workers were starting to leave the plant when they were confronted by a group of striking McCormick workers.  This had been a common occurrence since the start of the lockout and had not resulted in any significant altercations before.  But today it was going to be a different story, as those among the city’s elite who had had enough of this socialist-inspired revolution had convinced the city leaders to station a force of 200 policemen to put a stop to any attempt to convince the non-union workers to stop work and join the union movement.  The police wasted no time in dispersing the mob of strikers with clubs and pistols.  Class warfare, once again, had been engaged in the streets of Chicago.

The “Revenge” Flier: “Workingmen Arm Yourselves and Appear in Full Force.” (Online)

Anarchists among the labor movement saw their opportunity and ran with it.  That night they flooded the streets with copies of the famous “Revenge” pamphlet, calling all to a mass-meeting the following night at 7:30 in the Haymarket Square on Randolph at Des Plaines.  Tuesday, May 4, saw tensions rise as strikes continued and anticipation of the evening’s meeting grew throughout the day.  The actual meeting that night was unorganized, and poorly attended.  Most felt that the police would be there and, therefore, there would be a repeat of yesterday’s violence and wanted no part of it.  They were not wrong, as a special detail of 176 policemen had been brought into the Des Plaines Street station, a half-block away, as a precaution.  The meeting finally commenced around 8:15 to a very dishearteningly small crowd.  It was peaceable enough, so much so that Mayor Harrison, who had come to make sure nothing violent was about to happen, had convinced himself that nothing was going to come of the meeting and bid those around him a good night sometime after 10:00.  

Unfortunately, this left a power vacuum that was willingly filled by those in the police force who were spoiling for another fight, and in less than 20 minutes later, a police column was spotted by the crowd, moving at double-time up Des Plaines towards the speaker.  The commander yelled halt to his men and demanded that the speaker cease immediately.  The speaker replied that they were acting peaceably, and as the commander began to repeat his demand, an unknown assailant in the crowd threw a lighted bomb into the middle of the police formation.  In the midst of the confusion caused by the explosion, the police opened fire, wounding not only many of the crowd, but also a number of their own.  The final recorded death toll included eight policemen, at least four bystanders, seven of the eight anarchists who were rounded up in the ensuing dragnet and found guilty of murder, and the eight-hour movement (at least for many more years to come).

What was to become known as the Haymarket Square Affair, Bombing, Incident, Massacre, or Riot (depending upon one’s political orientation and whether one included the subsequent courtcases and executions) had put the final nail in the coffin of real estate investment in downtown Chicago for the immediate future.  The vast amount of newly constructed office space near the Board of Trade had flooded the Chicago market in the spring of 1885.  The national economy had already been already in recession as capitalists had retrenched their finances following the election of Democrat Grover Cleveland in the previous November.   The bombing only confirmed the worst fears of capitalists that Chicago was truly becoming “the Paris (Commune) of America.”  No new skyscrapers would be proposed in Chicago during the three-year period from early 1886 to the summer of 1888.  This period was marked in Chicago by stagnation in the speculative development market, a decline in the local economic picture in general and in architectural commissions specifically, and extreme dissatisfaction within the ranks of organized labor.  Nowhere had this been better recorded than in the pages of Inland Architect:

In June 1886:

“The almost complete stagnation which describes the building situation for the past month continues but with hope of permanent revival within a few weeks.  While the agitation of the trade unions in favor of shorter hours and increased pay was the cause which brought on this condition, the continuance is mainly due to the fact that owners have yet received no assurance that they can order work resumed without further interference.

In June 1887:

“’It is an ill wind that blows nobody good’ is an adage applicable to the general ‘dullness’ that is a feature of architects’ offices in Chicago just now.  Good use of any spare time could be made by getting perspectives drawn and sending them to us for publication.”

In April 1888:

“The building season has seemed rather backward as far as actual work is concerned.  This is not due to any lack of business in projected work among the architects, but largely because of a certain amount of nervousness among architects and owners in regard to possible building strikes, the experience of the past two years making this quite natural.”

In January 1889:

“Strikes in the building trades in 1886 and 1887, undoubtedly were most largely responsible for the comparatively small number of large buildings constructed during the past year, and although there has been but little agitation recently in labor, still the past experience makes a stoppage of work next spring a possibility…

Chicago’s architects understood what the Haymarket Square affair meant for their immediate prospects: the city’s two leading architects, John Root and S. S. Beman, individually booked passage to Europe and were en route within a month for an extended summer of travel.


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

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)


H.H. Richardson, Bagley Memory Armory, Detroit, 1885. (Ochsner, Richardson)

These two great architects had learned some “new tricks” from each other’s buildings. Root had had an immediate impact on Richardson’s work.  This was first seen in Richardson’s desire to design the Field Store as a red brick box, inspired by Root’s Burlington Building standing across the street from the Field Store, rather than using his characteristic stone walls topped with a high-profile roof.  Although Field denied him this opportunity, Richardson succeeded in realizing the red brick box in his next (and last) two large urban commissions.  In December 1885, he was commissioned to design an armory in Detroit as a memorial to John J. Bagley, Michigan’s reform-minded governor who had died from tuberculosis in 1881.  The degree of openness that Richardson achieved in the brick streetfront was unknown in his exteriors prior to his trip to Chicago.  This was accomplished with a three span arcade that rose for the first three stories.  He had employed a three-storied arcade in the courtyard elevation of the Allegheny County Courthouse, but had only opened up the upper-most story as a clerestory for the courtrooms. When Richardson arrived in Chicago he found Root had detailed triple windows under such an arcade in both the McCormick Building and well as the then under-construction Art Institute.

It is easy to read the influence of Root, as well as once again, Peabody & Stearns, in Richardson’s design.  The model for the elevation was the McCormick Building with its triple windows within each arch as well as the single, square-headed windows in the attic.  From Peabody & Stearns R. H. White store he appropriated the projected arch course that highlighted each of the primary arches.  Here we see him taking the idea that he had been evolving since his return from Europe in 1882 that he had incorporated in the Field Store, that is the wall as one, continuous surface.  This is especially noticeable in the upper portion of the elevation in which he has cut out the five rectangular windows above each primary arch.

Although Richardson’s characteristic dormers have reappeared, they have been pulled two-thirds into the body of the building, so that they are more of an ornamental vestige of the boldly projected volumes of his past.  This placement resulted in an awkward equilibrium between the straight cornice and the triangular peaks of the three gables.  This was his final use of the dormer, as if he couldn’t be sure he had made the right decision in the design of the Field Store and wanted one more dance with his old friend, the dormer.  He had been right in the Field Store for the gables dated the armory’s design.  It was time for Richardson to join his younger peers of the 1880s.  His next building would have a flat roof.

H.H. Richardson, F. L. Ames Building, Boston, 1886. (Ochsner, Richardson)

If one doubted the influence of either of these two precedents on Richardson’s last designs, one needed only to wait a few weeks for Richardson to design an even more direct quote.  In January 1886, Richardson was commissioned to design a six-story office building in Boston on Harrison Avenue for F. L. Ames. (This building is frequently referred to as the F. L. Ames Store, although only the ground floor was occupied as a store by J. H. Pray, Sons and Company, while the upper five floors contained office space.)  Richardson could not ignore the R.H. White Store in this project if for no other reason than it sat directly across the street from where he was to build the new Ames Building.

H.H. Richardson, Ames Building. Across the street sat Peabody & Stearns’ R. H. White Store. (Online)

He began by taking the multistoried arcade from the White Building, including its projected arched silhouettes.  He increased the opening under each arch, as he had done in the Detroit façade, by echoing Root’s McCormick Building’s triple windows, as well as the same proportions of its one-story base, a four-story arcade (supported on three-story continuous piers), and a single-story top.  In the cornice, he appears to have recalled the machicolated cornice of the Beacon Hill reservoir, except the vertical masonry mullions are not cantilevered over the surface of the wall, but rather, gently flair or taper from being flush with the wall to their final projection.

Here I will flag Root’s early designs for the Monadnock Block as a potential source for this detail. At the time that Richardson had visited Root’s office in November 1885, Root was working on the early designs for the 13-story Monadnock Block. Replace Root’s Egyptian capitals with Richardson’s arches, and the result is a shortened sibling of Root’s 1885 vision of the Monadnock Block.  Maybe Richardson had been so busy concentrating on Root’s drawings during his visit that he wasn’t able to pay enough attention to Root’s response to his question about the foundations for the Field Store.

But wait!  Richardson did give us a radical design in this building that hasn’t truly been appreciated for its originality.  The Ames Building had no corners because Richardson had rounded the building around the two corners of its site!  In his designs prior to the Ames, such as the Allegheny County Jail and the Glessner House, I had discussed how his elimination of the layering had allowed the building to be read as a sculptural mass/volume.  But these buildings still had sharp, defined corners, so they read as cubic masses.  In the Ames Building, Richadrson had simply wrapped his five-story arcade along the entire perimeter of the site, curving the arch of the arcade in plan where the sidewalk curved at the lot’s two intersections.  In a sense, this is a complete inversion of the Field Store. 

Ever since Labrouste had used an arcade in the elevation of the Bibliothèque Sainte-Geneviève, architects have had to reinforce the corner of such elevations to buttress the thrusts.  In the Ames Building, where one would expect to find another such solid pier, Richardson doesn’t stop the arcade but continues it around the corner!  This required that he not only curve the arch over this bay in plan (and to curve the glass windows: it appears he simply used three segments to make the curve) but also to curve this arch in elevation. So think about this detail for a few moments… 

First, the keystone of the arch is not in the same plane that is defined by the two spring points of the arch: it is cantilevered beyond its supports, therefore, gravity wants to pull the highpoint of the arch down, meaning that it is rotating away from the plane determined by the two supports.  This action is called torsion. Of course, it stood up, but only because the curved arch was tied back into the rest of the building’s structure. 

Hadrian’s Villa, Canopus, Tivoli, c. 120. Note that in this semicircular colonnade, each lintel is either curved in plan or in section (i.e., an arch). (Online)

We don’t even find such three-dimensional curvilinearity in the Canopus in Hadrian’s Villa at Tivoli. Here, while the structure curves in every bay, the curve either is in plan of the lintel or in the elevation of the arch.  The arch doesn’t also curve in plan.  Second, imagine the Ames Building at night when the interior is lit.  The “corner” has no mass.  This was a big deal when Walter Gropius cantilevered the floors in the corners in the Fagus Works of 1911!  Richardson had scooped Gropius by twenty-five years!  (Someone needs to thoroughly research and document the Ames Store.)  The idea of a building with no corners would be adopted and developed by Root during the remainder of his career.

Walter Gropius, Fagus Factory, Alfred-on-the Leine, 1911. Gropius has expressed the steel structure by cantilevering the floor at the corner, thereby removing all vertical structure from the building’s corner. (Online)

Tragically, Richardson would not live to see his last designs constructed, for on April 27, 1886, he finally succumbed to Bright’s disease, a chronic infection that attacks the kidneys that had increasingly afflicted him during the last years of his life.  Having completed his masterpiece, the Allegheny County Courthouse, the design for the Field Wholesale Store had signaled a radical shift in his design intentions, a mid-life crisis, if you will.  His last two urban projects showed the direction he wanted to take his architecture. Following his return from his 1882 European tour, he had been pursuing the simplification of his designs.  First, he had abandoned his characteristic dual-color light stone with dark stone trim in favor of a monochromatic body. Then he had begun to eliminate the horizontal layers in his elevations in favor of achieving a single volumetric sculptural form.  With the Field Store he had abandoned his “Medieval crown” in favor of a flat cornice. One can only speculate what he would have been able to accomplish had he lived beyond the forty-seven years granted him.  Would he have produced as powerful designs in the new aesthetic as he had built with the picturesque Romanesque, or had the muses been kind to him by relieving him after he had accomplished his destiny?  Either way there is no doubt that American Architecture had prematurely lost its first great figure.

Meanwhile, Root had mutually benefitted from Richardson’s presence in Chicago.  Richardson’s elimination of the need to articulate the middle of an elevation into distinct horizontal layers in the Field Store would set Root, and other Chicago architects free to express the middle of their elevations as one continuous volume or entity, bounded by a base at the ground and at the sky with some sort of termination.  Root quickly experimented with this idea in two relatively inconsequential residential projects in early 1886.  In both the Argyle Apartments at the northwest corner of Michigan and Jackson, and the Pickwick Flats at the southeast corner of Michigan and Twentieth, Root detailed the five middle stories of both buildings as unbroken, flat surfaces of brick that were given a vertical articulation with the regular spacing of bay windows.  He had given birth to their subsequent siblings that would incorporate both details and culminate in his final design for the Monadnock Block, that would continue to be delayed for the next three years.

Look carefully at these two apartment buildings: how did Root eliminate the corners, à la Richardson’s Ames Building?  Of course, he put a stack of bay windows at the corner, as Richardson had done in the tower of the Allegheny County Courthouse, thereby not only eliminating the corner, but implying that the building had been wrapped with one continuous surface. I could also point to the Maller Building standing diagonally across from the site of the Rookery as a precedent with the exception that J.J. Flanders had detailed this masonry cylinder as a solid.

John J. Flanders, Maller Building, Chicago, 1884. On the left is the Gaff Building and on the right is the Quincy elevation of the Royal Insurance Building. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

While a sharp-edged corner allows one to read the two-dimensional plane of the wall, the elimination of the corner emphasized the building’s volume or mass, depending upon how the architect detailed the openings (flush with the surface for volume or setback allowing one to read the thickness/mass of the wall).  I reiterate once again, one technique (2-D surface) is not inherently better than the other (3-D volume/mass), but they do impart a different type of “read” to a building, a conscious design decision to be made by the architect.

The two apartment buildings would be Root’s last design for a building in Chicago for the next two and a half years.  The deadline for the eight-hour workday that the IWPA, back in October 1884 had set for May 1, 1886, had finally arrived.  This timebomb detonated in the evening of May 4 in Chicago’s Haymarket Square.  The socio/political climate in the city would change overnight to one that would not be conducive for any capital investment for the upcoming two years (with the eventual exception of the Auditorium, that was erected specifically in response to the city’s boiling class-conflict as Joseph Siry has documented).  Meanwhile, Manifest Destiny that brought with it architecture, would continue moving west of the Mississippi River. Kansas City would challenge Chicago’s meat industry (as Chicago had done to Cincinnati), and Minneapolis/St. Paul would surpass Chicago’s wheat business.  Both cities will give Chicago’s architects the opportunity to continue the evolution of the skyscraper during the coming dark days in Chicago…

I will be taking a week-long hiatus from the blog. I should return with the start of Volume Four (1886-1891) by Feb. 16. In the meanwhile, I hope you enjoyed my presentation of Chicago’s architecture during the period 1874-1886. If you have the time, I’d appreciate hearing from you about what you have learned so far. I guess it’s the teacher in me…… Thanks for following! In the meanwhile, here’s something to look forward to…

In 1885 Chicago did not have a building that expressed the skeleton frame as boldly as the Bank of Minneapolis. Note how large the operable panes of glass in the lower floors were…

In 1888 E. Townsend Mix, (we last mentioned Mix in Sec. 3.7, where he had been the first architect to use P. B. Wight’s new terra cotta system in Milwaukee’s Mitchell Building in 1875) designed the 12-story Northwestern Guaranty Loan Building, the highlight of which was its 12-story atrium (and Chicago thought the just-completed Rookery was something special…). Unfortunately for the building’s owners, who wanted the tallest building outside of New York, the Pioneer Press in St. Paul hired S.S. Beman to design its 13-story building, This forced Mix to add a 40′ tall pavilion to the Northwestern Building, topping it off at 220,’ taller than any building in Chicago except the tower of the Board of Trade (this addition forced the owners of Chicago’s Auditorium to add two floors to its tower, increasing its height to 225′). Nonetheless, no Chicago building in 1888 had a 12-story atrium. Mix’s building had a 12-story atrium, and the atrium in Beman’s Pioneer Press was 13 stories high.


Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl. H.H. Richardson:  Complete Architectural Works. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982.

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