Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. The corner of Congress and Wabash, showing the office floors. Note the dual-arched Entrance at the far end of the Wabash ground floor. This served the office floors, the upper balconies of the theater, and the recital hall. (Chicagology)

When Adler had returned in September 1888 from his two-month tour of Europe with Peck, in addition to being told by the Directors to add the seventeenth floor to the tower, he was also directed to focus on completing the office portion (a total of 136 offices) of the building in order to have it ready to lease by the traditional start date of May 1, 1889, so that it could generate some badly-needed revenue.  While he was in Europe, the Auditorium directors had turned their attention to completing the office portion of the building that they had added to the program on the same time (May 6, 1887) that they had changed the exterior material from brick to stone.  The original plan for the project since its inception had been to wrap the theater along the site’s three public street fronts with a first-class European hotel, but as the project grew out of the ground the harsh financial realities of this idea began to be fully comprehended.  The most important realization was that the placement of the theater in the middle of the site had forced Adler to relocate most of the traditional public functions of a hotel (lobby, bar, barber, etc) that were typically placed in the center of a hotel plan, to the perimeter of the building on the Ground Floor.  This took the place of the traditional rental commercial space along the sidewalk that hotels had traditionally used to generate income that, of course, was still desperately needed by the Auditorium’s owners, and forced them to change the hotel floors west of the tower and along Wabash to rentable office space.  It is somewhat surprising that it took so long into the project for the Board to appreciate this aspect of Adler’s design.

The decision in September 1888 by the Board to fast-track the rental office space revealed the fact that by this time, the Auditorium was not only accepted as a success, but had generated a synergy in real estate values similar to that fostered by the move of the Board of Trade, some six years earlier.  The Tribune reported, “Undoubtedly the erection of the Auditorium building was the prime cause of the [real estate] transactions, that structure now being looked upon as the center of a new business district.”  As was the case with the Board of Trade deal, those who were “on the inside” of the project from its beginning stood to make a killing in speculation if they bought the right property at the right time.  Repeating the success of the Board of Trade deal in getting the city to purchase land from a small group of its directors in order to extend La Salle Street (before they returned and asked for it back, free of charge to build the building upon), a proposal to widen Congress Street in the immediate vicinity to reduce the expected congestion of carriages in front of the theater’s entrance, was passed by City Council on February 1889. Congress Street would be widened along its southern edge from 66’ to 100’ by the city purchasing the needed 34’ from the owners of the lots across the street. Apparently, no one understood this potential better than Nathaniel K. Fairbank, the Auditorium’s second Vice-President, who by the start of 1889 had purchased three lots across the street from the construction site.  This may explain what I had noted earlier, that while he had originally pledged $100,000 in 1881 towards Peck’s project, when it came time to put his money where his mouth was in November 1886, he only gave a tenth of this sum to the project.  It would seem that some of the remainder of this amount was spent on real estate speculation.  Peck’s brothers had also handsomely profited from a series of purchases they had made along Wabash Street.


Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Section showing the Dining Hall at the Tenth Floor of the hotel and the four floors of the kitchen located over the Stage’s flyspace. (Inland Architect, July 1888)

As construction of the theater’s permanent interior continued through the fall of 1888, the attention of the Board then shifted to the last phase of design and construction, the 400-room hotel.  As of yet, a manager for the hotel had not been secured as the Association did not intend to run the hotel, but to lease its space to a company that had the expertise to run such an operation.  Hence, Adler & Sullivan had been on their own up to this point in programming the hotel (for which they had little experience and explains why the office space had to be added at the later date).  On July 6, 1888, the Board directed Adler & Sullivan (Adler didn’t depart for Europe until the end of the month) to make the top floor of the Michigan Avenue side into the hotel’s Dining Room.  While elevated dining rooms in the more upscale hotels were just becoming fashionable, and obviously the higher a guest was in the Auditorium, the better the view of the lake was, the primary reason for this decision during the time before effective forced mechanical ventilation, was to elevate the kitchen and its cooking odors to minimize their impact on the hotel’s guests.   But there were other design advantages to moving this room to the top floor, principally among them the ability to create a column-free space that Adler & Sullivan did by using arched trusses to span between the walls.    Adler located the new four-story kitchen on the trusses that spanned the loft space over the stage’s flytower and linked it to the Dining Room with a series of short bridges.

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Above: Original Section. Note that this drawing was completed before the Banquet Hall had been added, which is visible (arrow) in the lower drawing. (Inland Architect, July 1888; Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

Prospective managers in Chicago were interviewed but either were unimpressive or not interested, forcing Peck to expand his search to New York.  By February 1889, a management contract was seriously being hammered out with James H. Breslin, long-time manager of the Gilsey House, and Richard Southgate, who had been the manager of the Brunswick Hotel.  These two well-experienced Manhattan hoteliers were interested in forming a company to manage the new hotel in Chicago, but one requirement that they insisted upon in order to increase potential revenues was the addition of a banquet hall smaller than the Dining Room that could be rented out for more exclusive private occasions.  The contract was signed on April 20, and once again, Adler was informed to make another change, but by this time the building was nearing completion.  The only space remaining on the site large enough for such a room was over the theater at the seventh floor, immediately between the front of the stage’s flytower and the theater’s main skylight.

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Birdseye overview showing how Adler shoehorned the Banquet Hall between the stage tower/kitchen, at the back, and the theater’s central skylight in the foreground. This also gives a rare glimpse of the hotel corridor’s elevation. (Historic American Building Survey, #IL-1007-62)

Therefore, Adler had no alternative but to literally build a 120’ long bridge at the seventh floor over the theater’s already-completed roof that spanned between the two lateral masonry walls that enclosed the theater.  He designed two 15’ deep steel trusses that spanned the entire width of the theater, within which Sullivan could then design the requisite Banquet Hall that seated 300.  Immediate access for private guests would be provided by an elevator that was accessible through the Ladies’ Entrance on Congress Street. As was the case with the change from the brick exterior to the limestone veneer and the added seventeenth floor to the tower, this would add even more weight to these particular foundations than Adler had originally designed them for and would also cause greater settlement.  He tried to minimize this by employing trussed structural members and plaster fireproofing that weighed less than conventional iron framing and terra cotta fireproofing.  Again more calculations had to be made and more drawings had to be printed.  There would be no profit, but more than likely, a significant loss for the architects on this project (which fact only compounds the suspicious nature of Adler & Sullivan’s “initial subscription of $25,000 of stock”).

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium Hotel. Steel framing for the Banquet Hall. Note the Stagehouse to the far right; the Central skylight over the theater is just visible on the left, beyond the trusswork. (Siry, The Auditorium)


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

Historic American Buildings Survey-The Auditorium:

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:

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