The construction of the foundations was well under way when Lautrup’s third and final rendering was made public in mid-April. At this time, the exterior above the two-story granite base, including the tower, was still designed to be brick and terra cotta. It had been a relatively quiet winter (1886-7) primarily because of the heavy-handed response to the bombing by Chicago’s business leaders, as the eight Haymarket defendants had been found guilty and their appeals were making their way through the legal system. But as May 1, 1887, the traditional start of new leases and corresponding construction contracts, and the first anniversary of the May 4 bombing approached, Chicago’s construction unions were regaining their confidence as they were gearing up for their annual contract demands. Among these were the eight-hour workday, a uniform minimum wage, union shops, and a Saturday payday. The most powerful of these unions at this time was the United Order of American Bricklayers and Stonemasons of Chicago. On Friday, April 29, the union had presented its demands to the city’s Master Masons, the local masonry contractors. Prudently, the Master Masons waited for the anniversary of the bombing to come and go, before they rejected these demands on the following day, May 5. The Union countered on May 10 with the demand for a strict union shop that the Master Masons not only rejected, but also instituted a lock-out throughout all of the city, that shut down all construction and idled an estimated 30,000 construction workers that lasted for two months until the union finally caved in and agreed to arbitration on July 11.
On May 6, the day after the Master Masons had rejected the initial demands of the bricklayers’ union, with only 13 months until the start of the Republican National Convention, the Executive Committee of the Auditorium Association adopted a resolution that unilaterally changed the material on the upper eight floors in the latest design from brick to Indiana limestone. (Lautrup’s rendering of the third design had been finished only the month before!) It is obvious from the chronology of these events that the Master Masons had already decided to resort to the lockout to weaken the Bricklayers Union, and the Executive Committee was in no mood to either have the construction on the project halted during the lockout, or even show the slightest support for any union. (Siry pointed out the local stonecutters had succeeded in having their demand for an eight-hour day agreed to by the local stoneyards, so this may have emboldened the Board to switch to stone, knowing that the supply of stone would not be threatened.) What better message could be sent to the bricklayers’ union than to strip all of the brick from the exterior of the largest construction project in the city?! Of course, stone is denser and heavier than brick, and therefore, this decision on the part of the owners would result in the building’s significant differential settlement between the interior footings and the now heavier-loaded perimeter footings because Adler’s carefully calculated footings, were already under construction (the settlement of the exterior is 18” more than the interior at places that slanted the floors towards the outside walls and eventually made the floor of the Main Foyer a skateboarder’s dream).
Undoubtedly, Adler had warned his betters against such a decision, but sometimes one must cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face… And so, the most important aspect of the design of the Auditorium’s exterior, what material to use to enclose the interior, that from the beginning had been designed to be pressed brick, was changed solely by the building owners as an anti-union political statement. (Therefore, one cannot link the Auditorium’s stone exterior to Richardson’s Field Store, as many historians have done in the past.) Unfortunately for them, they made this decision too late and it resulted in the undulating floor surfaces that at times made it quite impossible for those same owners and their wives to easily make their way to their private boxes.
2.12. LAYING THE CORNERSTONE
Curiously, while the 1887 lockout agreed to by all of Chicago’s owners, builders, and suppliers had completely shutdown construction throughout the city, the sounds of construction, including those of non-union bricklayers, continued to be heard at the corner of Michigan and Congress during May, June, and July… Peck was trying to walk a dangerously thin tightrope: while his ultimate goal was to create a national monument where both the Republicans and the Democrats would gather every four years to nominate their presidential candidates, he was damned if he would let his archrivals, the radical labor unions, prevent him from completing his lifetime objective: the Auditorium, as a response to the unions’ agenda and activities, would be built solely with non-union labor. Unfortunately for Peck’s dream, his worldview was not shared by all those in the Democratic Party…
Construction on the Auditorium’s substructure continued throughout the summer of 1887 and Peck looked forward to the next opportunity for national exposure, the laying of the building’s cornerstone on October 6, 1887. During the nineteenth century, this event, especially for large public buildings, was celebrated with Masonic rituals and the accompanying grand oratory. Peck had personally invited Democrat President Cleveland to come to Chicago for his first official presidential visit to the city where he had been nominated three years earlier, to participate in the ceremony. Cleveland had agreed to Peck’s proposal and all was going as planned until the carpenters’ union got wind of Peck’s plans. There had been no love lost between the unionized carpenters and the Auditorium Association. The carpenters had attempted to gain recognition for their union during the spring of 1887 until the bricklayers’ union’s action had forced the owners and builders to initiate the lockout, that affected all of the building trades. With only a week before the President was scheduled to arrive, the union informed the President, in no uncertain terms, that if he participated in Peck’s ceremony, they would not only boycott it, but also view his participation as supporting Peck’s anti-union stance, with the obvious implication for the upcoming Presidential election.
While Cleveland correspondingly gave in to the union’s threat and reneged on his promise to Peck, the President tried to please both sides (as any good politician does) by agreeing to review the usual parade that accompanied such a ceremony, if it was moved up a day to October 5, 1887. This would divorce it directly from the cornerstone ceremony, and implicitly, the Auditorium. Peck deferred to the President’s offer, but still coyly maximized what public exposure he could by having the President’s reviewing stand constructed on the Auditorium’s site, overlooking Michigan Avenue and the lakefront. Meanwhile, the date of the first day of the Republican Convention was scheduled for June 19, 1888. Adler & Sullivan had eight months (with at least four of these during the winter) left to redesign and redetail the exterior, redraw the working drawings accordingly, and erect the country’s largest permanent concert hall. Fortunately, the first two floors of granite were not effected so their construction could proceed as scheduled, The rest of the city, however, was quiet. Following the end of the lock-out on July 11, owners were in no hurry to begin construction just before the traditional winter slowdown began. Their plans could keep until spring of 1888.
Cannon, Patrick F. Louis Sullivan: Creating a New American Architecture. Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate, 2011.
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.
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