U.S. Post Office and Custom House Square, c.1889. The Post Office is in the right, center, immediately to its left is Jenney’s Union Club with its domed turret), and to the left of it is the Phoenix Building, just to the right of the Board of Trade’S tower. The Rookery is just above the Post Office, with Burnham and Root’s office on the top floor, in the southeast corner, closest to the viewer. Note that construction on the Monadnock Block, nor its sister, the Chicago Hotel, has not yet started. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

The urban pattern of Chicago’s business district (I am now going to refer to it as downtown as “The Loop” didn’t come into fashion until the mid-1890’s) had undergone significant changes from its post-fire rebuilding during the period 1880-86.


James J. Egan, Post-Fire City Hall and Cook County Courthouse, 1878-85. (Online)

1. The City Hall had moved in 1885 from its post-fire “temporary” building that had been erected around the surviving water reservoir at the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams back to its new building on its pre-fire location on the Courthouse Square. One drawback of the new design was that it took up the entire, square, removing the green, open space that the Square used to offer. 

The only remaining open space on the “north side” of downtown was Dearborn Park, across Michigan Avenue from Lake Park. Meanwhile, the offices and businesses that had sprung up on the south side around the temporary City Hall, for the most part, chose to remain where they were, farther from the pollution and congestion of the Main Branch. The result was that there were now two centers of “urban business”: the original, older section of the downtown closer to the riverbank, centered around the City Hall, and the much newer section centered around the new Board of Trade that opened in May 1885. These buildings were primarily located along the first two blocks of La Salle north of the Board’s building.  This new “Wall Street” included the new Insurance Exchange, the Home Insurance Building, and the city’s largest office building, The Rookery, erected on the site of the old temporary City Hall, on the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams.  Burnham & Root moved its office to the southeast corner of the top floor, overlooking the lake.

Intersection of La Salle and Adams, looking north. At the left is the Insurance Exchange; opposite is the Rookery, with the Home Insurance on the other side of Adams. (Merwood-Salisbury, Chicago 1890)
Left: Burnham and Root in the Library. (Online); Right: Plan of the office of Burnham & Root. The left arrow points to the view of the drafting room, the right arrow is the library view. (Hoffmann, Root)

2. The construction of the Auditorium had extended the southern edge of the downtown by two blocks, from Jackson to Congress.  This opened up new real estate for development, and pulled the centroid of the downtown even farther south than had the move of the Board of Trade.

The Auditorium. (
View down Adams Street from the Bridge over the South branch to the dome of the Exposition Building. The Farwell Wholesale store is across the river at the left center. The site for the Walker Warehouse on the opposite side of Adams and immediately to the right of the bridge has just been cleared. (Andreas-vol. III)

3. One of the results of this continued southward extension of the district was the emergence of Adams Street as the southern east-west corridor.  (Some historians credit the horsecar line along Adams for this occurrence. While its presence surely added to the attractiveness of property along Adams, the fact was that every other east-west street in the downtown by 1888 had such a line, i.e., Madison to the north and Van Buren to the south.)

Public Transit Lines in 1890. The black lines are cable car lines, and the gray lines are horse car lines. Note that east/west horse car lines were located every two blocks: Lake, Randolph, Madison, Adams, Van Buren, and Harrison. (The Encyclopedia of Chicago)

While the bookends of the corridor, Union Station on the west bank of the river and the Exposition Center on the lakefront, were post-fire stalwarts, the last ten years had seen Adams Street filled in block by block until it sported most of the city’s better examples of architecture. Pullman’s Building sat across Michigan Avenue from the Exposition center. Three new wholesale buildings, Farwell’s, Walker’s, and Field’s, anchored the new wholesale district opposite the river from Union Station. 

Reconstruction of Adams Street Looking East from Franklin, Left side, Burlington Building, Right side, in order, Field Wholesale Store, Rand McNally Building (1889), Insurance Exchange, The Rookery, with the Home Insurance Building across Adams. Cobb & Frost’s Owings Building (turret in back of the Rookery) is three years in the future. (Digital image by David Burwinkel)
Intersection of La Salle and Adams, looking north. At the right is the Insurance Exchange; opposite is the Rookery, with the Home Insurance on the other side of Adams at the far left. (Merwood-Salisbury, Chicago 1890)

At La Salle Street, the new Rookery anchored Chicago’s “Wall Street.” In the middle of the corridor now sat the U.S. Post Office Square, containing the only open green space within the entire southern half of downtown.

William A. Potter, U.S. Post Office and Customs House, 1874-1880. The only open space within a three block radius. (Gilbert, Chicago)

4. The eastern edge of the Post Office Square was the recently constructed and paved portion of Dearborn that finally extended south to the Dearborn Street (C.& W.I.) Station, located so far back at Polk Street that, for all practical purposes, it seemed as if it sat at the Indiana border.  

View looking south down Dearborn Street from the Post Office Square (right) to the Dearborn Street Station. The Monadnock Block is at the right, and the curved bay windows of the Northern Hotel are at the left side. Note at the far right that the Post Office has been replaced with Henry Cobb’s Federal Building of 1896. (Leslie, Chicago Skyscrapers)

As I reviewed in vol. 3, sec 6.5, the C. & W.I. Railroad had been forced to build this far south by those in City Hall who were connected with La Salle Street.  Although Boston’s Brooks brothers had planned to continue their development of Dearborn farther south after the completion of the Montauk Block, their plan to build the Monadnock Block in 1884 at the southwest corner of Jackson had been stymied by the city’s inaction on the extension of Dearborn.  During the past four years, Root had designed and redesigned the building so many times that I am sure he must have had nightmares over it.  Things in Chicago, however, were finally, after over two years of stagnation, about to change…

Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block, Chicago, 1884. Preliminary study of the Jackson Street elevation (12 stories plus basement). It still bears the original name for the building, Quamquisset. Root is slowly come to grips with verticality: here he has incorporated 7-story continuous piers. (Saliga, The Sky’s the Limit)

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