Adler and Sullivan, Standard Club, Chicago, 1887. Remove the 1892 addition to the left to imagine the original formal simplicity. (Cannon, Louis Sullivan)

During the summer of 1887 while the contractor lockout dragged on, Adler & Sullivan had four other buildings on their boards whose design revealed how quickly Sullivan was maturing as a designer of building exteriors.  Prior to being asked by Peck in mid-1886 to design the Auditorium, Adler & Sullivan had been commissioned by the Standard Club, the premiere private club for Jewish men, among which included current and former clients such as Charles Schwab, Morris Selz, and Levi Rosenfeld, to design a new building on the southwest corner of Michigan and 24th.  This project was one of the casualties of the Haymarket Square bombing, however, as it was first shelved after the bombing, only to be further delayed by the bricklayers’ strike and lockout in the summer of 1887.  This period of incubation paralleled Sullivan’s maturation as a designer during the constant redesign of the Auditorium’s exterior under Ware’s tutelage.  The final design of the Standard Club, a rectangular box with a flat roof, exhibits Sullivan’s change from Furness’ picturesque massing to the geometric simplicity of Richardson’s Field Wholesale Store.  (I have labelled this Sullivan’s first “box” because the Borden Block of 1880 was the product of Adler.)

Left: Richardson, Field Wholesale Store; Right: Burnham & Root, Society for Savings, Cleveland.

Like Root had experimented in the Cleveland Society for Savings Bank, Sullivan also used Richardson’s rock-faced stone from the Auditorium, perhaps as an opportunity to experiment in response to the Auditorium Board’s dictate to change the exterior of the upper floors from brick to stone. This choice of material may also have been dictated by the Standard Club because the Union Club, THE CLUB on the northside had only recently completed its new building designed by Cobb & Frost that sported a rock-faced stone exterior.  Comparing the massing of the Union Club to Sullivan’s massing, however, reveals the change from the picturesque to the “classical” simplicity of geometric form that was occurring in American architecture at this precise moment.

Cobb & Frost, Union Club, southwest corner of Dearborn and Washington Place, 1881. (Wolner, Cobb)

Sullivan composed the elevation into a layered 1:2:1 ratio.  To accomplish this, he eliminated the stringcourse at the third floor à la Richardson’s example in the Field Store.  He also used this project to experiment with two other details he had intended to use in the Auditorium: first, the ground floor employed a very similar treatment to what he had used in his first design, including curved cantilevered balconies at the corner. Second, he capped the façade with the fourth floor that on the Michigan elevation consisted of a redoux of the Auditorium’s triple window motif from his final design.

Louis Sullivan. Left: Standard Club; Right: First Design for the Auditorium. Sullivan repurposed his original base and the curved cantilevered corner balcony.


Adler & Sullivan, Martin L. Ryerson Tomb, Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, 1887. (Online)

While the Standard Club had sat on the back shelf during the aftermath of the bombing, Martin L. Ryerson, whose initial stock subscription of $25,000 to the Auditorium Association was larger than all others except for Peck and Field, had commissioned Adler & Sullivan to design a seven-story loft building at the southwest corner of Adams and Market.  The program was to be a wholesale furniture and home furnishings store.  Although Ryerson had secured a building permit on December 23, 1886, the depressed market and the 1887 lockout had also postponed the start of its construction.  The project was then further complicated with Ryerson’s death on Sept. 6, 1887.  His son, Martin A. Ryerson asked Sullivan to design his father’s tomb for Graceland Cemetery.  

Upper: Adler & Sullivan, Martin L. Ryerson Tomb, pilistrade detail; Lower: Valley Temple of Khafre, Giza. (Online)

Sullivan eschewed the rock-faced granite of the Standard Club, whose construction was then well under way, for a smooth-faced dark Quincy (MA) granite.  As the cornerstone of the Auditorium had recently been placed, one could surmise that Sullivan had used the tomb as an opportunity to experiment with a smooth-surfaced stone to see how it would look before he made the final decision on how to finish the Auditorium’s limestone.  Like the Standard Cub, he employed simple geometric forms that now recalled Egyptian architecture, traditionally associated with both death and the Hebrew captivity in the Old Testament.  A battered base with outward-curving lines bookended what can be interpreted as a truncated obelisk that was topped with the timeless symbol of death, a pyramid.

Adler & Sullivan, Martin L. Ryerson Tomb, Ornamental Bronzework. (jaapix.wordpress.com)


de Wit, Wim, ed. Louis Sullivan: The Function of Ornament. New York: W.W. Norton, 1986.

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.

Van Zanten, David.  Sullivan’s City: The Meaning of Ornament for Louis Sullivan. New York: Norton, 2000.

(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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s