CHAPTER 5: ROOT AND SULLIVAN DURING THE 1886-88 SLOWDOWN

Before I move beyond the Republican Convention with the renewal of Chicago’s construction that began in the summer of 1888, there are three buildings by Root and three buildings by Sullivan that I need to examine first.

5.1. THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE: ROOT’S RESPONSE TO THE AUDITORIUM

Burnham & Root, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, 1887. (Online)

After his return from Europe in September 1886, Root’s first two large building commissions were still beyond the “friendly confines” of mid-decade Chicago. During the fall of 1887, Burnham & Root were commissioned to design a new building for the San Francisco Chronicle, the largest newspaper west of Chicago, and one for Cleveland’s Society for Savings.  The Chronicle had a program very similar to what the New York Tribune had handed Richard Morris Hunt some fourteen years earlier: spaces for the paper’s operations and printing, a number of rental floors to generate income to defray expenses, and a clock tower that would be the city’s tallest structure (and as far as I can ascertain, the tallest (208’) west of Chicago, until Minneapolis completed the 225’ Northwestern Guaranty Building).  

Burnham & Root, San Francisco Chronicle (Online); Richard Morris Hunt, New York Tribune, 1873. (Online)
Burnham & Root, San Francisco Chronicle. Left: Typical Floor Plan, showing location of horizontal seismic bracing. (Hoffmann, Root); Right: (Online)

The triangular site at the intersection of Market, Geary and Kearney Streets presented Root with an irregular shape that forced Root into an asymmetric location of the tower, again not unlike Hunt’s final design.  Root’s elevational language appears to have been the next iteration of his Kansas City Board of Trade, employing the multistoried arcade in the upper floors, while the rest of the windows were flat-headed paired openings. 

A two-story rusticated stone base, with the by-then conventional “Syrian” arched entrance, supported a transitional story in which Root once again married the stone base with the brick upper body by alternating layers (stripes) of stone and brick.  He articulated the seven floors of the brick body into a rhythm of 2-3-2 with continuous sillcourses, although this was inconsistent with the elevation’s architectonics because he had unnecessarily divided the four-story arcade with the sillcourse at the base of the arches. Quite simply, this sillcourse was not needed and he should have followed Richardson’s lead in how he had detailed the upper surface of the Field Store as one continuous field.

Burnham & Root, San Francisco Chronicle. Entrance. Why the scroll-sawed cyclopian bracket supporting the small bay window?? (Online)

Root massed the building as a 10-story block that followed the three street edges and then marked its entrance with the tower placed at the intersection of Market and Geary.  He used the tower to hide the awkward angle between the two blocks. This divided the building’s “front” into two bays facing Geary and four bays along Market.  As he had recently lost the Auditorium commission, this project gave him the opportunity to design a tower of equal magnitude to Sullivan’s design.  In fact, as one investigates the newspaper building, it has a suspiciously similar scale: a ten-story body and a 200+ foot tower. Therefore, I can infer that Root was attempting to design a “better” tower than what Sullivan had finally designed.  I say finally, because Sullivan, as I will discuss further into this chapter, had made a few “last minute” changes from what William Ware had proposed in his penultimate design of February 1887.  

Left: Adler & Sullivan, Final Auditorium design; Right: Adler & Sullivan (with William Ware), Penultimate Auditorium Design, April 1887. It is easy to perceive the vertical accent of Ware’s tower design versus how Sullivan’s final design, although unresolved, reads as a 7-story “tower” placed on the 10-story block of the horizontally-accented building. The “second cornice” at the base of the tower between the 11th and 12th stories is a meaningless complication.

I will briefly discuss these here (and in depth in a later section) so I can compare and contrast to how Root addressed this same problem in the Chronicle tower.  In his design, Ware had not only pushed the tower in front of the 10-story body, but had also interrupted the body’s top cornice line, allowing the tower to extend from the ground to beyond, uninterrupted by the cornice, hence allowing the tower to read as its “own” mass: an unbroken, vertical 16-story element counter-balancing the long, 10-story horizontal body.  (This was reinforced in Ware’s design by not allowing the sillcourse at the tenth floor to run past the four piers of the tower: therefore, the piers extended unbroken for six stories, making the tower dominate the similar language of the body.) 

Sullivan vs. Ware: Here one can easily perceive the difference in how the towers read. Ware’s on the right has a dominant vertical thrust, as he had stopped all but one of the body’s sillcourses from passing through the tower’s piers, allowing them to extend vertically unbroken. Sullivan, on the right, allowed the sillcousre and the cornice of the body to continuously run past the “tower.”

Meanwhile, for whatever reason, and historians have offered a number of explanations, Sullivan revised the final design of the tower so that both the tenth-floor sillcourse and the cornice ran unbroken past the tower, confusing the clarity of the expression of the tower vis-à-vis the body.  He then further blurred the building’s architectonics by placing a second, corbelled cornice at the base of the tower, one story above the building’s cornice.  This one story acts as a base upon which the remaining six-stories of the tower are placed. One author has surmised that Sullivan had expressed his organic idea by detailing this six-story tower to have burst out of the 10-story base, (as a flower rising out of its pot) leaving this one-storied corbelled base as evidence. A good story, but it can’t hide the fact that Sullivan was “still maturing” as an architectural designer: is it a 17-story tower in front of a 10-story base, or is it a 10-story base with a seven-story tower placed on top?  And it doesn’t get any easier to discern which it is when looking at the lower, unresolved ten stories of the tower.

Root vs. Sullivan: Left: San Francisco Chronicle; Right: Auditorium. Root has detailed the “upper cornice” at the base of the tower to be continuous with the building’s cornice, thereby forming a “cap” to the building.

I’m not sure that Root had any better luck with his articulation of the San Francisco tower vis-à-vis the building’s body.  He had pushed the tower in front of the body, and then added a continuous bay window to mark it, but then he ran two of the body’s sillcourses around it, blurring its articulation. (Let’s not address Root’s venture into Italian Mannerism with the oversized scrolled bracket that he placed under the bay window.)  It seems he was inspired by Sullivan’s corbelling at the base of the Auditorium’s tower and extended its height to better express it as a podium for the tower’s clock, but he also merged this story with the building’s cornice, blurring any architectonic clarity (is the tower the entire vertical element or is it merely the clock pavilion placed on this base).  I do see the “organic notion” of growth in how Root dislocated the arched window in the tower’s bay two floors higher, resulting in what Hoffmann described as a “Palladian motif.”  Quite frankly, my interpretation of Root’s detailing is that he is still in search of “repose” in the elevation of large buildings. In other words, the increased vertical scale of these buildings still merited a counterbalancing horizontal. We have yet to see a Root building in which he has fully embraced a vertically-accented elevation. (At this point I might observe that the professor, Ware’s design for the Auditorium tower might just well be the best example we have seen up to this point of such a design.)

Left: San Francisco Chronicle. Tower; Right: Albi Cathedral Tower.

In Root’s design of the clock tower, I can see the influence of Albi Cathedral again, as I had mentioned in the tower of the Kansas City Board of Trade.  Except that he has been more literal in copying the cathedral’s cylindrical forms that he placed at the tower’s four corners.  He built the clock tower out of wood, to reduce its mass in response to anticipated seismic quakes.  The wood structure was then encased with copper sheathing.  Helical stairs at its rear took visitors up to the 14-floor observatory.

Similar to Hunt’s vertical planning of the New York Tribune building, Root located the heavy printing presses, that were susceptible to the faintest vibration, in the basement’s two floors while the typesetting/composing functions were located on the tenth floor that provided the best daylight. One floor below, as close as possible, was the editing staff.  The paper’s business operations were located on the first two floors, as convenient as possible for clients. The remining six middle floors were rented out.  The building’s construction consisted of standard masonry exterior walls, with an interior structure of cast iron columns and steel beams and floor joists.  In an attempt to increase the building’s resistance to the lateral movements caused by earthquakes, Root incorporated steel straps in the floors (see plan) that were bolted to the columns and beams where they intersected, triangulating the building’s masses as best as possible in attempt to prevent the building from shaking apart.. 

The San Francisco Ritz-Carleton.

The building’s wooden clock tower was set on fire by a firework shot during an election parade in 1905. The building did not survive the fire that followed the 1906 earthquake, but the exterior was restored and two more floors added afterwards by the Burnham firm’s San Francisco office, headed by Willis Polk (probably best known for his design of the all-glass façade Hallidie Building in 1918.)  Fortunately, the original exterior of the Chronicle Building was maintained and incorporated in the San Francisco Ritz-Carlton Club and Residences in 2007.

Willis Polk, Hallidie Building, San Francisco, 1918. (Online)

FURTHER READING:

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

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

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