2.8. PLAYING FOR TIME: WILLIAM WARE IS INVITED TO REVIEW THE DESIGNS

Adler & Sullivan, Design for the Auditorium, December 1886. Watercolor by Paul C. Lautrup. (Siry, The Auditorium)

Four days later Peck tried to move the Board towards his choice of Adler & Sullivan by proposing to invite outside experts to come to Chicago and review their designs, hoping that such approval would sway a majority of the Board.  Peck had added the caveat to his proposal that Adler had to personally agree to such a review that he did at the next meeting on December 22.  Martin Ryerson (the Ryerson Building, among other Adler & Sullivan projects) then quickly followed up Adler’s consent with a motion that Adler & Sullivan be confirmed for the commission, but the opposition would have nothing of it.  Why be in a hurry to make such a decision until the experts weighed in…?

The expert agreed to by the Board who was invited to Chicago to review the designs was none other than Prof. William Ware of Columbia University, the same person who had chosen Burnham & Root’s entry in the Kansas City Board of Trade competition only six months earlier.  Siry wondered out loud why Peck and the Board had not turned to Nathan Clifford Ricker, the founder of the architecture program at the University of Illinois, the second collegiate school started in the country, to review the design?  He claimed that this revealed “how far Chicago architects and patrons were willing to cede aesthetic judgment to eastern architects.”  His implication is the obvious: if this group was as dedicated to a “Midwestern” architectural movement as later historians have portrayed it, why did they bring in Ware instead of Ricker to judge the design? 

Although it is true that Marshall Field viewed eastern architects in such a light (his house was designed by Richard Morris Hunt and Richardson had designed the Wholesale store), my interpretation of Ware’s invite differs from Siry’s.  Peck viewed the project as a national conventional center (as we will soon see). Ware was recognized as the country’s leading authority on architectural education, and as such, was chosen undoubtedly to lend an air of national legitimacy and publicity to the entire project.  If we view the construction of the Auditorium as a campaign on the part of the city’s business leaders to overcome the negative publicity of the Haymarket Square bombing, then it would reinforce the campaign to bring in a national expert, rather than Ricker, a regional expert to review the building’s design.  It also must be remembered that Peck needed the Burnham & Root camp to approve the choice and Ware had successfully run the competition for the Kansas City Board of Trade that Burnham & Root had won, so there would be little hesitation to approve the choice of Ware from Peck’s opposition. Therefore, I view the choice of Ware as having been politically expedient and in no way ideological.

While Ware had probably taught Sullivan thirteen years earlier during his sole year at MIT, there is no evidence that Ware had any recollection his former student.  There was also no opposition to Ware’s invitation from the Burnham & Root camp, who more than likely were successful in suggesting Ware as compensation for the loss of holding a direct competition.  Ware traveled to Chicago in mid-January and after reviewing both designs, recommended three significant revisions to the second design: 1.) remove the pyramidal roof, 2.) add two more stories to the tower to compensate for the visual loss of the pyramid, and 3.) rework the detailing of the elevation in order to achieve a 3-4-3 composition by making a three-story base, a four-story arcade, and a three-story top.  New Yorker Ware’s recommendations, especially those revising the overall massing bore a striking relation to George Post’s red brick box design of the New York Produce Exchange.  The influence of George Post on Chicago’s architecture would continue to spread.

George B. Post, Produce Exchange, New York, 1880. (Online)

Following Ware’s presentation of his recommendations to the Board on January 17, 1887, it was time for the Burnham & Root camp to play their cards, as reported by Sullivan in a letter he wrote to his brother, Albert, three days later:

“Mr. Pike: Professor Ware, I judge from the tenor of what you have just said, that you have confined your effort solely to estimating the artistic quality of the present designs, and to a search for means to improve them in detail, -assuming always that these designs are a finality in the eyes of this board. 

“Professor: Certainly, I understand it was that purpose that I was called here.

“Mr. Pike: Very good.  Now let me ask you this question.  Assuming that you your self, instead on Messrs. [Adler & Sullivan] had from the inception of this project been engaged to design this building.  Would you, in your opinion, have arrived at a result substantially similar to theirs, or do you believe that you would have produced a result somewhat or a great deal better?

“Professor: Had I been entrusted with the designing of this building, I do not believe I should have reached the same result.  But had I reached such a result, I should consider it the inspiration of my life!

“To the question next put (to be exhaustive) as to whether there was any reasonable probability that by calling in the services of other prominent architects, a sufficiently better design could be secured, to justify the board in such action, the professor replied, -that while there was no telling what might be done, he thought it extremely problematical, and that in his judgment the board would not be justified in waiting a couple of months for such purpose.”

Waiting a couple of months was not a viable option for Peck for he was hoping to bag both of the 1888 Presidential conventions (in less than 18 months!) as Chicago had done in 1884. Ware’s glowing endorsement of Adler & Sullivan’s design completely deflated the last hopes of the Burnham & Root faction, finally settling the issue once and for all. The following day, the Board approved the first payment to the firm of $10,000, of their contracted fee of $50,000.  And so Adler & Sullivan had gained the commission for Chicago’s largest building, and Burnham & Root had lost their second large public project and corresponding opportunity to design the city’s tallest structure within four years.  

FURTHER READING: 

Historic American Buildings Survey-The Auditorium: https://loc.gov/pictures/item/il0091/

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: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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