5.2. MEDIEVAL REVIVAL: THE CLEVELAND SOCIETY FOR SAVINGS BANK

Burnham & Root, Society for Savings Bank, Cleveland, 1887. Rockwell Avenue façade. (Online)

In the fall of 1887 Burnham & Root also received the commission to design a ten-story office building for the largest bank in Cleveland, the Society for Savings.  In essence, it was a program similar to the Rookery, albeit on a smaller lot. The 110’ by 132’ rectangular site, located on the highly-visible north corner of the city’s Public Square, was large enough for Burnham to ring the exterior with a single-loaded corridor of offices that left an 34’ x 56’ atrium that would extend the full height of the building.  Naturally, the bank’s banking hall would be located directly under it on the ground floor to maximize daylighting for its customers. Post’s Equitable Building had set this model, with the latest version of this model we have seen was Burling’s First National Bank of Chicago.

Left: George Post, Equitable Building. Banking Hall as it appeared in 1889. (Landau and Condit, New York Skyscraper); Right: Burling & Whitehouse, First National Bank. Banking floor. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

Given a ten-story rectangular mass, how should Root approach its exterior design, i.e., what would be his theme? As opposed to a generic speculative office building, however, this was to be a bank.  I think he was seeking an image for the bank as a secure location, and what would be closer on his mind after a two-month long tour of Europe than a medieval castle? To be exact, I think he used the latest castle erected in Europe, Balmoral Castle, designed by the royal patron of the British Design Reform movement, himself, the late Prince Albert. 

Top: Society For Savings Bank, Typical Plan. Note that Root has placed the chimney in the exact same location as the cylindrical tower in Balmoral; Right: William Smith with Prince Albert, Balmoral Castle Tower, Aberdeenshire, Scotland. (Online)
Above: Burnham & Root, Society for Savings Bank, Cleveland, 1887. (Online); Below: Left: Richardson, Marshall Field Wholesale Store.

Root chose a quarry-faced red sandstone for the building’s exterior, more than likely to give him the opportunity to experiment with Richardson’s stonework on the Field Warehouse, that at this precise moment was nearing completion.  Note that he did not, however, use Richardson’s motif of a geometric progression of arcades, increasing in the number of windows per bay in the upper floors. More than likely, this was because this would have reduced the amount of daylight penetrating into the interior. Whereas the Field Building was a warehouse staffed by Field’s employees, the bank building was renting these upper floors to professionals as office space. You can imagine this effect if you double the arches in Root’s second range and place a thicker pier in between these. The second inspiration I can find is the bank’s then current building, that he could have easily rationalized as an attempt to communicate the continuity of a long-trusted business institution.  

Left: Burnham & Root, Society For Savings Bank. (Online); Right: The first building for the Society, 1867. (The First Hundred Years)

The existing building had raised entrances at each corner that were separated by a Gothic-pointed three-arched arcade that was raised on a half-basement.  Root interpreted this in the building’s main façade facing on Rockwell Avenue, facing the Square, with a battered half-story high granite plinth that was split at both corners to allow an entrance marked by a low relief balcony with vertical sentries.

Burnham & Root, Society For Savings Bank. Lower floors of Rockwell Avenue elevation. Note the “add-on” stairwell at the far right. (texnh.tumblr.com)

Upon the plinth he placed the same number of four dwarf granite columns caped with a rough-cut capital that supported the same three-pointed arched arcade in the sandstone. This created a five-arched arcade across the building’s ground floor, that determined the building’s elevation of five vertical bays above.  

He treated the upper nine stories as an unbroken surface: he was experimenting with the lesson of not breaking a building’s elevation into horizontal layers with continuous sillcourses that Richardson had left in the Field Store. (Note that I said experiment because Root for some personal reason would continue to layer most of his elevations in later buildings.)  As such, the Cleveland Bank falls into the family of Root’s similar designs with continuous, unlayered exterior surfaces that included the two apartment buildings he had designed immediately before this building, as well as the later Monadnock Block.

Left: H.H. Richardson, Marshall Field Whole Store. Detail showing the elimination of a sillcourse (arrow) in order to allow the entire surface to read as one continuous field; Right: Similar detail in the Society For Savings Bank.
Burnham & Root. Left: Argyle Apartments, northwest corner of Michigan and Jackson, 1886. Right: Pickwick Flats, southeast corner of Michigan and Twentieth, 1886. Gone are all intermediate stringcourses, leaving an elevation of an unbroken plane of brick: the final solution for the Monadnock is born. (Hoffmann, Root)

He capped the building with the tenth floor containing paired windows with a square head and a corbelled cornice that was articulated from the stories below with a continuous line of trim that outlined the arcade below with an ogee-arched profile. The remaining eight interior stories he broke into two four-story zones, each zone comprising of a single lower floor topped by a three-story arcade.  The unity he achieved in the building’s surface by not using sillcourses was completely negated by Root’s always nervous pencil and his facile design ability: he used FOUR, NO FIVE different arch profiles (six if you count a flathead as a flat arch) in ten floors! (Hoffmann was kind in describing Root’s elevation as “evident caprice.”) The ground floor is pointed, the second floor is elliptical, the fifth floor has pointed arches, albeit slightly flatter than those in the ground floor, the ninth floor has semicircular arches, but with an ogee outline (that does, however, echo the original building’s façade). I think the ogee was leftover from his design for the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce competition that he lost. (And I just caught the scrolled bracket he employed at the entrance of the San Francisco Chronicle in the drawing below as well!)

Burnham & Root, Competition Submission for the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, Cincinnati, 1885. (Rudd, JSAH 1968)
Burnham & Root, Society For Savings Bank. Ontario Street Elevation. Note: Although the ground floor looks the same as the Rockwell Street front, there are no entrances cut into the plinth. The bank’s iconic wrought iron lamppost turning the corner is visible. (Online)

The longer Ontario Street elevation has the same elevational treatment spread over six bays, with the exception that there are no entries.  Root also used this language on the two alley elevations, with the exception of the addition of three-storied angled bay window in floors two-four. He broke the symmetrical massing in good medieval fashion with the addition of a two-story stairwell at the right side of the front elevation that created immediate access between the banking floor and the offices above.  

Burnham & Root, Society For Savings Bank. Alley elevations. Note the bay windows added to floors two-four. Also, the “add-on” stairway is visible in the middle of the right image. At the far corner of both images the attached round chimney mass is visible. (texnh.tumblr.com)
Burnham & Root, Society For Savings Bank. “Add-on” stairway elevation. (texnh.tumblr.com)

It’s stairstep elevation is a direct ode to Richardson’s use of such a detail.  To round off the analogy to Balmoral, three of the four corners at the roof sprout cylindrical turrets (again, an Albi Cathedral quote?) but the fourth corner, in the back, is joined to a much larger cylindrical form, much like that in Balmoral, except this more than likely contained the building’s chimney.

Burnham & Root, Midland Hotel, Kansas City, 1886. (Hoffmann, Root)

The question in my mind is why exterior walls of solid stone that are five feet think at the base?  Especially after he had experimented only the year before with a “thin” exterior masonry veneer in Kansas City’s Midland Hotel.  Was it in response to Richardson’s Field Store AND Sullivan’s Auditorium (curiously, both architects had originally planned these buildings with a brick exterior) or did the client (again, like these two same buildings) simply wanted the solid “security” of a stone wall?  Nonetheless, in the building’s interior structure, Root continued to push the technology of the iron frame.  The “Z-bar” columns were formed by riveting a number of wrought iron Z-bar sections into the shape needed.  This process is credited to Chicago engineer, Charles L. Strobel, then consulting with Burnham & Root. Strobel (1852-1936) was born in Cincinnati with German-born parents and sent to Stuttgart’s Royal Institute of Technology, graduating in 1873 with a degree in civil engineering. He returned to Cincinnati where he worked for the Cincinnati Southern Railroad. He assisted C. Shaler Smith in the design and fabrication of the railroad’s High Bridge over the Kentucky River (see Vol. 2, Sec. 6.1). 

C. Shaler Smith (with Charles Strobel), Cincinnati Southern Railroad “High Bridge” over the Kentucky River, 1875-7. (Online).

When it was completed in 1877, it was the first modern cantilever bridge in the U.S., the longest (519’) cantilevered bridge in the world, and the world’s highest railroad bridge (275’ only 6’ shorter than New York’s 281’steeple of Trinity Church).  He quickly became one of America’s leading railroad engineers, specializing in the use of steel. He had then moved in 1878 to Pittsburgh as the chief engineer for the Keystone Bridge Company, until the company relocated him to Chicago in 1885 as their agent and chief engineer.  His talents were quickly put to work by Burnham & Root, as well as by the city’s other architects.  His knowledge and experience with steel structures would advance the construction technology used to build Chicago’s ever-taller skyscrapers.

The Z-bar columns allowed the corresponding beams to be better connected.  This also applied to diagonal members.   Therefore, the building’s structure also utilized an early example of diagonal bracing, presumably to increase the building’s lateral stiffness to better resist wind loads. These were located on all the odd-numbered floors.

Charles L. Strobel, Column Cross-sectional Shapes Using Riveted Z-Sections. (Birkmire, Skeleton Construction)

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)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s