CHAPTER 4: THE NEW AND IMPROVED AIA: SAME NAME, NEW RULES

I have consciously avoided events in Chicago following the Haymarket Square bombing, with the exception of the construction of the Auditorium (there were few other notable events) with a purpose: to create a psychological sense in my readers similar to how this two-plus year hiatus in construction in Chicago was actually experienced by the local architectural community.  There was a “great divide” in Chicago’s architecture during this decade: what was built prior to May 4, 1886, was different in many ways from what was to be built when the local building economy began to rebound in the summer of 1888.  I have used the 1888 Republican Convention, June 19-25, as the temporal pivot between these two periods.  We have seen that Root took advantage of the slowdown to take a European tour to catch-up with events in Britain and on the continent. (No itinerary of his trip has survived, but based on his interests, I assume that it included Britain, Paris, Albi Cathedral, and Venice.)

When he returned, he found the construction of the office’s four projects in Kansas City, including the Board of Trade, under the firm control of Burnham, who also had a bevy of construction sites in Chicago, including the Rookery, to deal with.  The contest of over the design of the Auditorium was just beginning to heat up but would not peak until December-January 1887 that resulted in the loss of his chance to design Chicago’s largest building. (The loss of the Board of Trade that had robbed him of the design of Chicago’s tallest building I’m sure still sat in the back of his memory…) With little else to design in Chicago at the time, he seems to have directed his energies once again to reforming his chosen profession. (As far as I have been able to research, the story of the consolidation of the WAA and the AIA has never been published. The event has been shrouded in misleading assumptions and broad generalizations, until now. I have read all of the transcripts of the meetings that took place over this event and have summarized the 1887 and 1888 AIA and WAA conventions that led up to the 1889 Consolidation Convention in Cincinnati, that I have transcribed in great detail so you can make your own decision about what actually had transpired. Enjoy!)

4.1. THE CHICAGO ARCHITECTURAL SKETCH CLUB

On the evening of Nov. 15. 1886, two nights before the first day of the W.A.A. Annual Convention, to be held in Chicago, the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club (founded only one and a half earlier; see: Vol. 3, Sec. 9.6)) held its first Annual Banquet.  Root was honored not only by the appearance of his name at the top of the guest list, but also by giving the first toast after dinner, one of the highest privileges at this time, for it set the mood of the evening, that could easily go until 5 in the morning.  It was reported that “Mr. Root’s response was an unusually fine address to the draftsmen.  It will long be remembered, and merited the enthusiastic manner in which it was received.”  To top off what could be considered to have been a rather successful evening, Root was also voted as the Club’s first honorary member.  (Three days later he would be voted President of the W.A.A.)

Root returned to the front of the Sketch Club six weeks later to give the first lecture of the new year, the subject of which was “Style:”  

“The paper was listened to with the deepest attention by the largest attendance of members ever assembled at a meeting of this club, there being over sixty present.  The paper was probably the best ever written upon the subject, and the deep silence of the listeners was only broken at the close of the reading, when it was most enthusiastically applauded.  Remarks were made… and a vote of thanks was responded to by Mr. Root, in a manner that will always be remembered by the members of the Club, and add to the esteem in which the speaker is already held by them.”

Over the next four years, Root would emerge as the most revered personality by the group’s members.  An example of this was that he was the subject of one the group’s favorite drinking songs, “The Jovial Crew,” that contained “many personal allusions in the verses that were complimentary to Mr. Root,” that were always followed with the chorus, “When John Root Gets Through My Boys, When John Root Gets Through.”

4.2. THE REFORMATION OF THE A.I.A.: ACT ONE

Once having succeeded in seceding from the A.I.A. in 1884 with the formation the W.A.A., Burnham and Root had then set their sights on merging the two organizations, under the W.A.A.’s new constitution.  Their campaign, together with R.C. McLean, the editor of Inland Architect, was designed as thoroughly as any Burnham & Root building, and at its start, unfolded like clockwork.  Root had been elected at the 1886 W.A.A. convention held Nov. 17-9, 1886, in Chicago as its president, a position we will see, Burnham would never attain.  Root had then been named as the official W.A.A. representative to the A.I.A. convention to be held the following month in New York City.  As only Richard Nixon could open the door to China, Root as President and one of the founders of the W.A.A., was the Western leader who alone could start the ticklish process of reunification with the East.  He, therefore, took the liberty, undoubtedly pre-meditated, to first extend the olive branch of peace: “Do not understand that the Western Association is in any way a rival of yours, but is established to carry forward the work you are engaged in in the ‘Wild West.'” Then he revealed the purpose of his attendance, by extending an opportunity for the A.I.A. to continue the reconciliation process by inviting its leaders to hold the 1887 convention in Chicago.  He slyly gave no hint of the ultimate agenda, however.  The trap had been set.

After months of avoiding the invitation, the A.I.A. eventually accepted Root’s invitation and scheduled its 1887 convention for Chicago, taking the bait.  Thus, the West had launched its campaign to unite the two organizations, and in good old Chicago political fashion, the opening round was to take place in a convention in Chicago, where the voting membership could easily be stacked.  In order to be able to vote in the upcoming convention, W.A.A. members individually began to apply for and were granted A.I.A. membership.  Burnham and Root had already decided that while Root would manage the campaign from within the W.A.A., Burnham would play the Trojan Horse and manage the politics from within the A.I.A.  He had already begun distancing himself from the W.A.A. in order to be able to more openly approach the A.I.A.  

4.3. ACT TWO: THE 1887 CONVENTIONS

Burnham and Root, Art Institute, Chicago, 1884. (Larson, Richardson)

Thus, the stage was set for the A.I.A. to come to Chicago on October 19, 1887, to meet for three days in Burnham & Root’s newly completed Art Institute.  Of the 58 A.I.A. members who attended the convention, only 25 were old-line Easterners.  The W.A.A. had stacked the membership roll effectively, for of the 33 members from the W.A.A., 26, one more than the entire Eastern contingent, were from Chicago alone.  Any item of business the Westerners wanted to pass, including consolidation of the two organizations, would be assured of a majority vote.  In addition, the interests of the W.A.A. would be well-managed, for the Board of Directors had appointed President Root and Dankmar Adler, to be the W.A.A.’s official representatives at the A.I.A. convention.

The convention schedule listed Burnham as the A.I.A. member who had volunteered to introduce the issue of consolidation on the floor.  This was a clever maneuver on the part of the Chicagoans, for rather than officially broaching the issue of consolidation in a W.A.A. forum, the idea would, therefore, be formally presented as an A.I.A. idea.  This was evidently a tactic employed not only to placate the ego of the A.I.A. members, but also to allow the W.A.A. to say in later debates that consolidation was an A.I.A. idea to which the W.A.A had graciously consented.  

On the second day of the A.I.A. convention, Burnham and Root launched into their characteristic Damon and Pythias routine.  While Root, the president of the W.A.A., played the great diplomat and succeeded in being elected to the A.I.A. Board of Trustees, the first Westerner to be so honored, Burnham was the point man on the third day in giving an inspirational speech that laid out Chicago’s plan for a truly national, newly-formed organization of the country’s architects, that included a new constitution based upon the W.A.A.’s, and the controversial proposal to reuse the name, American Institute of Architects, (this was not in the W.A.A.’s original proposal but a politically necessary compromise to move the project forward).  He concluded with a motion that a committee of five members be appointed to meet with an equivalent committee from the W.A.A. to work out the final details of consolidation.  The motion was approved, and Burnham was one of the five named to the A.I.A. committee. 

The following month when President Root opened the 1887 W.A.A. convention in Cincinnati, Burnham was nowhere to be seen.  Apparently, he had indeed withdrawn from visual participation in the W.A.A. to work from within the A.I.A.  It was Adler, as Chairman of the Board of Directors, who introduced the issue of consolidation with the A.I.A. and moved that a committee of five be named by Pres. Root to meet with Burnham and the A.I.A. committee.  Louis Sullivan quickly responded with an amendment that Root should appoint himself to the committee.  While Sidney Smith was elected president of the W.A.A. for the coming year, Root was promoted to Chairman of the W.A.A. Board of Directors at the same time that he was also sitting of the Board of Trustees of the A.I.A.  So much for conflict of interests.  The campaign was well under way.

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

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