During Peck’s talk to the Commercial Club, he had proudly announced that the young Walker had transferred this land to the Grand Opera Association (the precursor to the Chicago Auditorium Association). As such, the project was no longer simply a dream, but at the beginning of becoming a physical reality. Peck had continued to encourage his associates to purchase the last remaining lot, the northeast corner of Wabash and Congress, but found no one willing to make such a financial commitment and finally, had to purchase it himself for $193,000. Finally, a Chicagoan had matched the civic generosity of Cincinnati’s Reuben Springer in funding its Music Hall some ten years earlier.
Foiled from being able to replicate Cincinnati’s donation of public land for the project, the inclusion of income-generating space in the project was once again required, as had been done in the Central Music Hall and the Opera Block, to offset the increased cost of acquiring the land. As the final site was adjacent to hotels, and initially thought to have been too far south of the business district for rental offices, Peck directed his architects, Adler & Sullivan, to incorporate a hotel into their design (note that Peck was acting and compensating the architects unilaterally because the Auditorium Association wasn’t officially incorporated in Springfield until Dec. 8, 1886). His motives for adding a hotel to the project, however, were not simply driven by a need to generate offsetting funds for the expected losses to accrue from the operation of the theater. Peck’s father. Philip F.W. Peck, had been a major investor in the erection of the original Grand Pacific Hotel (he owned the eastern half of its lot), and following his death, his son had inherited the management of this site and thus, became personally involved in the intense competition among hotel owners in Chicago to own the bragging rights for “the best hotel in the city.” The Grand Pacific had been designed as such, only to have been quickly surpassed by Potter Palmer’s second Palmer House, that had held the reputation as Chicago’s premiere location for banquets and receptions since its opening in 1874. When one adds the political dimension to this competition of Palmer being a leading Democrat (with all Democratic functions taking place in the Palmer House) and Peck being a leading Republican (with all Republican functions taking place in the Grand Pacific), Peck’s opportunity to finally eclipse the Palmer House with the newly-planned hotel comes into full resolution.
2.5. THE FIRST DESIGN
Logically, Adler & Sullivan had initially placed the theater in the center of the site, pushed up against the site’s northern lotline, and surrounded it on the three street fronts with the hotel. As a critic best summarized the operative synergies in such a plan:
“To build a theater in the center of a block and surround it wholly or in part with an outer building is to insure [sp] perfect freedom from any of the noises of the street; while to build a hotel on the outer edges of a block gives it the great length of street frontage and large proportion of front rooms that every hotel architect strives for. The incidental advantages to bar and restaurant business that proximity to an opera house gives are worth taking into consideration, and still more important is the access of the hotel trade proper that an opera season brings.”
The oldest surviving rendering of their early designs is a watercolor by Paul C. Lautrup that dates to September 1886. Sullivan’s predilection towards a “highly active” exterior exhibited in his recent buildings manifested itself once again in his first design of a large building, a nine-story block that was capped with a picturesque gable roof. To better understand Sullivan’s design, we need only refer back to his last two commercial designs we reviewed in Vol. 3, Sec 10.23.
When confronted with the Troescher and the Ryerson Buildings designed in 1884-5, two years earlier, I gravitate to the Ryerson as the more indicative of Sullivan’s inclinations as revealed in his first attempt to design the exterior of the Auditorium. First, I am not surprised to find in his first design none of the “structural openness” with regards to Sullivan’s detailing of thin, continuous piers and triple windows that was evident in all of his earlier storefronts, especially the Troescher Building. Why? Because these were short, six-story buildings, in which the gravity loads were not severe nor overcome by concerns of wind loads.
Now he faced the design of a ten-story building, in which not only were the gravity loads almost doubled, but the wind loads, because they are a function of both the increased surface area and the increased height (the wind can be treated as a concentrated load [accumulate the 10 stories of surface load] applied at the midpoint of the façade) that resulted in a tripling of the applied rotational force or moment over that of a five-story building). In such a building, one cannot “throw caution to the wind.” So there are no thin piers and large windows in this design, i.e., the Troescher design offered nothing usable.
Therefore, we turn to Sullivan’s design of the Ryerson Building as his point of departure. Not for its skeletal scheme, but for its “lack of repose,” a euphemism for “too many notes” and the lack of a synthetic, coherent ornamental strategy. Mario Manieri Elia in his book, Louis Henry Sullivan, posed that Sullivan’s lack of synthesis in his early buildings was a conscious attempt on his part to develop a new language. If this was the case, why did Sullivan not employ this language of vertically-accented continuous piers with recessed spandrels in this first elevation? I think this opinion is far too kind and viewed through hindsight. Architectural synthesis is a skill not easily mastered if one is not born with it, (and I state this as a former studio teacher with over 40 years of experience) and it is quite obvious to me from his early attempts at exterior design that Sullivan was not as facile in architectonic design as he was in ornamental design. The lack of resolution in Sullivan’s early exteriors, especially his early designs for the Auditorium, was the straightforward result of his inexperience in architectonic design, one that he would eventually overcome, as most of architects (including myself) do, with practice. This was the gist of Root’s comment, if true, in the apocryphal story recorded in Theodore Tallmadge’s book, Architecture in Old Chicago that Paul Mueller, Adler & Sullivan’s engineer during the design of the Auditorium, had claimed that a remark by Root had been repeated to Sullivan, to the effect that “Louis couldn’t build an honest wall without covering it with ornament.” Whether Root had actually stated this or not, after looking over Sullivan’s first design of the Auditorium, Root more than likely had thought as much… Sullivan needed much more practice, and as we will see, some much needed assistance from a more experienced designer.
In attempting to discern the precedents that the young Sullivan had relied upon to assist him, I find the following influences:
First, the lower eight floors were articulated as would have been any Chicago lotline extruded business block in the early 1880s: a two-story granite base from which rose six stories of brick and terra cotta (not stone!), that were articulated into a one-story, smooth-surfaced transition layer, a four-story arcade, and a one-story run of continuous square-headed windows. The four-story arcade bore a striking resemblance to the arcade that Root had detailed in the McCormick Building and the Insurance Exchange..
In the top floor, he could return to his thin piers/large window motif because the loads were minimal. Within the granite base, Sullivan had placed a triple triumphal arched-entry, a favorite motif of Richardson’s at the base of the tower for the theater, and another triple arched-entry on Michigan Avenue for the hotel. The hotel’s three arches were not symmetrical, for Sullivan had increased the radius and height of the central arch (as Richardson had done in the Albany City Hall), perhaps as a nod to the similar proportions of the midrange arches in Beman’s adjacent Studebaker Building.
Second, Sullivan would ideally have to make the hotel look different from the typical Chicago business block and he chose to do this with the addition of a gable roof punctuated with small dormers à la Richardson.
He even incorporated a gratuitous Richardsonian gabled dormer midway between the tower and the Michigan Avenue façade, where he terminated the gables at both ends by echoing Root’s gable plus tourelles in the Art Institute that stood at the opposite corner of the block, thereby attempting to create along Michigan Avenue a set of gabled bookends framing the Studebaker Building.
(One might also speculate the corner cylindrical bay window topped with the conical roof to be a recapitulation of Beman’s Pullman Building at the northern end of the Michigan Avenue vista.) I consider these urban design attempts on the part of Sullivan to have been quite mature for such an inexperienced designer. In an attempt to give the building a further residential character symbolic of a hotel, Sullivan sprinkled a number of bay windows across the two street fronts, similar to those in the Studebaker, except that they were detailed in a similar manner to how he in the remodeled McVicker’s Theater.
Lastly, the formal centroid of the composition was a 12-story tower with a steeply pitched hip roof on the Congress façade that marked the entrance to the theater. The tower extended above the roof by two more stories before Sullivan again resorted to quoting Root in terminating the tower. Sullivan took Root’s hip roof from his competition winning entry in the Kansas City Board of Trade Building that had just been published in the August issue of Inland Architect., the month before the watercolor had been made.
Sullivan biographer Willard Connely noted that the tower’s hip roof and cupola bore a striking resemblance to that of Paris’ Hôtel de Ville that had been torched by the Communards during the last days of the Commune. If this was designed on purpose, the intended symbolism was obvious: Peck was throwing the gauntlet down to Chicago’s communists: not only had their French comrades failed in their attempt to destroy Paris’ city hall as it was being reconstructed in all its past glory, but Chicago’s new civic institution would bear a similar crown, visible from every point in the city.
Sullivan’s first attempt to design the exterior of the Auditorium, therefore, can be described as having employed Richardson’s standard picturesque silhouette that was fleshed out with four details taken from Root’s latest designs. It was very au courant for August/September 1886, except that Richardson (who had just died four months earlier) had recently abandoned the picturesque roofline in his Root-inspired palazzo box design for the Field’s Wholesale store, that had just begun to grow out of the ground.
Morrison, Hugh, Louis Sullivan: Prophet of Modern Architecture. 1935. Reprint, New York: W.W. Norton, 1962.
Siry, Joseph M. The Chicago Auditorium Building. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002.
Twombly, Robert. Louis Sullivan: His Life & Work, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986.
Twombly, Robert and Narciso Menocal. Louis Sullivan: The Poetry of Architecture. New York: Norton, 2000.
(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org)