6.5. MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: OPENING NIGHT

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Opening Night, December 9, 1889. The reducing curtain has been lifted to open up the entire stage. Note the Presidential box in which Peck sat at the right front of the stage. (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, Dec. 21, 1889)

The theater’s capacity had been increased for the inaugural performance with risers on the stage and temporary seats squeezed in throughout the hall so that over 7000 were in attendance as Peck, Harrison, and others made the pro forma introductory speeches that accompanied such events.  But truthfully, no one really could pay more than a cursory interest in their words for all eyes were focused on Sullivan’s own visual symphony of patterns, colors, and lighting.  (As this was one of the earlier concert spaces lit only by electric light, try to imagine what the audience must have experienced as they looked around the space: they were sitting in the future!) Peck had cleverly prohibited any premature description or photographs of the theater’s vast interior, hoping to add to audience’s sense of wonderment and delight.  The ambiance that Sullivan had successfully created was best summed up by a reporter from The Tribune:

“You could not feel the sense of immensity till you turned from the footlights and looked back under the white and gold-ribbed vault of the body of the Auditorium to the balconies, which flattered the eye and then bewildered it; for, first, there sloped back from the parquet a stretch like a flower garden; then came the curving balcony, black with thousands, as if more people were there than anywhere else; above it the straight line of the second balcony, with banks of sightseers; and last and highest of all the gallery, whose occupants looked like dots.  Now came the triumph of architecture – for, while you felt the largeness, you also felt the compactness of the whole.  Despite the distance, you knew these dots in the gallery were near you, and could hear every word or note uttered on the stage.”

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Opening Night, December 9, 1889. (Scientific American Building Edition, Feb.1, 1890.)

At 8:00 pm, the Presidential party appeared on stage and made its way to its box on the right side (stage left).  Once it was seated, the orchestra accompanied by the new huge (7000 pipes) organ, struck up “Triumphal Fantasia” composed for the occasion by Theodore Dubois.  Then followed Mayor Creiger who opened the festivities by welcoming all in attendance and then introduced Peck.  Peck spoke a few, well-earned remarks, after which he introduced the President.  Following Harrison’s brief remarks, the 500 voices of Chicago’s Apollo Club sung a cantata composed by Frederick Grant Gleason, using a poem specifically written for the occasion by 30-year old poet Harriet Monroe (who just happened to be Root’s sister-in-law).  Peck, again wanting to showcase Chicago’s artistic talent, had personally sought her out to compose the Ode, insisting that she use the word “Auditorium” at some point, which she had obliged in its climax, “My hall of state, thine Auditorium of Liberty.”  Then John S. Runnells, one of the country’s leading Republican orators who had just relocated to Chicago to be George Pullman’s General Counsel, rose and delivered a speech complimenting both the Auditorium Association as well as President Harrison.

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Opening Night, December 9, 1889. (chicagohistorytoday.wordpress.com)

As the applause died down following Runnells’ speech, the sense of anticipation was palpable throughout the great space. “Applause, first low and murmuring, but deepening into a loud roar, now marked the event of the evening.  Descending the steps from the right, escorted by Manager Adams, was Mme. Patti, who advanced smilingly, but almost timidly, to the front as the orchestra struck up a triumphal welcome.”   She warmly acknowledged the applause, looked directly at Peck, who was sitting with the President and proceeded to serenade him, accompanied by only a harp and a flute, with the song that she was best known for, “Home, Sweet, Home.”  The audience burst into applause, even the President was standing, and the rest of the evening was a testament to Peck’s confidence in Adler’s ability to produce a space with perfect acoustics.  “The expected cries of ‘Encore!’ followed from the delighted audience, and Mme. Patti responded with the ‘Swiss Echo Song’ that afforded wonderful evidence of the power and flexibility of her marvelous voice.  Repeated attempts were made to elicit another song, but she responded by a smiling bow of acknowledgment and retired to her apartments.” A brief intermission followed.  (For her performance of these two songs, Patti received $4200, an unbelievable 41% of the total paid attendance of $10,235.47 for the night’s event. Let’s remember, Adler & Sullivan’s commission was $50,000 (roughly $4 an hour) that had to pay the salaries of the entire staff for the better part of three and a half years as well as the corresponding office expenses …)

Adelina Patti. Portrait from the Opening Night Program. (online)

The concert continued after the intermission, ending just before midnight with the Apollo Club leading the audience in a rousing rendition of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, that was followed by a thunderous ovation that brought Peck back to center stage for an encore of a closing valedictory.

“This has been done out of a desire to educate and entertain the masses.  This has been done out of the rich man’s largesse and the poor man’s mite for the benefit of all…  [We laud the architects, who] are entitled to a large share of credit.  These men have faced successfully unprecedented problems.  These men should never be forgotten… We must not forget the army of workingmen who have labored with their hands day and night, and have shown a zeal which is without precedent.  They knew that they were erecting an edifice for themselves and their associates as much for any class.  They knew that the Auditorium stood for all.”

Incredibly, no one, not even Peck, during the entire four-hour long ceremony, had thought to bring Adler and Sullivan onstage to receive a well-deserved congratulatory ovation. In fact, none of the introductory speakers, including both of Peck’s appearances, even mentioned the architects by name that night.  While he did thank the architects who “are entitled to a large share of the credit. [Applause] These men have faced successfully unprecedented problems.  These men should never be forgotten.”  But who were they?  Unfortunately, he never stated their actual names or brought them onstage to be recognized.  In fact, their names did not even appear in the evening’s program. As Chairman of the entire project, Peck had to have had the final say in the program for the Opening Night.  Was his failure to publicly recognize the architects a simple oversight, or were architects, even in Chicago, during the end of the Nineteenth Century simply not considered to be in the same social class that merited such appreciation that was granted Adelina Patti that night?

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Opening Night, December 9, 1889. (chuckmanchicagonostalgia.wordpress.com)

This would never had occurred in Europe.  To offer an example of how architects were appreciated differently in Europe than in America, one can compare Adler and Sullivan’s lack of acknowledgement with how Charles Garnier was recognized during the opening night of the Paris Opera House, January 5, 1875: 

“At the intermission, Charles Garnier stepped out onto the landing of the grand staircase.  The audience filled the floor below him, the foyer level, and the balconies around and above him on all sides.  Applause rose, punctuated by enthusiastic shouts of recognition, as if Garnier himself had just sung the tenor role in La Juive.”

But this was not Europe, it was the United States and the sad fact remains, even up to today, that even in Chicago, Americans, as a rule, do not appreciate architects or their art to the same level that do Europeans.  With, perhaps, the exception of the construction workers. One of the building’s contractors perceived this professional insult to Adler and Sullivan and made note of it in a letter to the editor of The Tribune:

“Workmen employed upon the building know that Mr. Sullivan was the guiding spirit, everywhere and all over, attending to the smallest details, giving up a great deal more time than his health warranted, until, in fact, his nervous force gave way, and he was some weeks in recovering. Had such an event as the opening of this building occurred in Paris or any large city in England the architects would have been among the first called before the people and publicly thanked upon the stage.  It is their due, and I am surprised that the citizens of Chicago should neglect to give the full measure of praise to whom it belongs.”

FURTHER READING:

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 )

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