3.4. THE TACOMA BUILDING: THE BAY WINDOW

John P. Gaynor, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, 1871. (Online)

One of the more curious revisions that apparently was slipped in under the radar to the 1872 post-fire building code (Chapter 11, Section 2) was that the dimension that bay windows above the second floor were allowed to extend beyond the property line was increased to three feet.  Why this issue was addressed in the new “fireproof ticket’s” building code is puzzling, to say the least.  It was a gift just waiting to be taken advantage of by a greedy real estate developer: three square feet spread over the width of the window, multiplied by the number of windows and by the number of floors, all at no cost to the owner. (For instance, the Tacoma contained 7 bays per floor with eleven floors equating to 77 bays of roughly 30 sq. ft. each, totaling some 2300 extra square feet of rentable area that generated an extra $4500 per year.)  Today, the difference between the definition of a bay and an oriel window is that a bay window sits at grade, while an oriel window is cantilevered from the exterior wall and does not extend to the ground.  This is an arcane argument that I will gloss over and simply will refer to all such projected windows simply as bay windows.

Burnham & Root, Calumet Club House, Chicago, NE corner of Michigan Ave. and 20th St., 1881. (Lowe, Chicago Interiors)

Of course, this type of window has a long history. In post-fire Chicago, a bay or an oriel window put on a house by an architect was a romantic conceit from the domestic Queen Anne style.  A window seat could be provided that would offer a more expanded view of the outside than a traditional window in the wall.  The bay window represented a symbol of domesticity, and as such, was often placed on the exterior of hotels for just this reason.

Louis Sullivan, Earliest surviving drawing for his exterior for The Auditorium. Drawn by Paul Lautrup, Sept. 26, 1886. Sullivan sprinkled bay windows over the first two of his exterior designs. (Siry, Auditorium)

An early maximum use of the bay window on a hotel was the Palace Hotel in San Francisco, designed in 1871 (therefore its design preceded Chicago’s 1871 fire) by John P. Gaynor, the architect of New York’s cast iron-fronted Haughwout Building in 1857. The Palace Hotel was built by William C. Ralston, president of the Bank of California, the largest financial institution in the west, to be the largest and most opulent hotel in the world, intended as a “bookend” for the western terminus of the transcontinental railroad. 

John P. Gaynor, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, 1871. The Grand Court. (Lewis, Bonanza Inn)

It was specifically designed to be more opulent and expensive than its Eastern counterpart, the Palmer House ($5 million vs. $3.5 million). I have already discussed the Palace’s seven-story Grand Court (84′ wide by 144′ long; Chicago’s largest atrium, until the 20-story high Masonic Temple, was the 55’ x 75’ by six-story high atrium in the Burlington, designed ten years later!) that was far larger, especially in 1875 when it opened, than was any space in Chicago. The most important element of Gaynor’s design for this post, however, was the building’s exterior.  

John P. Gaynor, Palace Hotel, San Francisco, 1871. The gilded boltheads at the corner are visible. (Online)

All of the walls, exterior and interior were made as strong as possible in anticipation of an earthquake, using brick and a very strong, cement mortar.  The exterior walls were two feet thick and were “reinforced every four feet by double strips of iron (over 3000 tons of iron straps were used) bolted together, forming continuous bands from end to end.  The ends of the bolts were visible on the outer surface of the walls.”  The walls were painted a bright white and the exposed bolt-heads were gilded.  Gaynor had given every hotel room along the streetfronts a bay window in which the glass ran from floor to ceiling.  (This somewhat negated the advantage of an expanded view, because the only extra view one had from these bays, with the exception of those at the building’s corners, was that of the adjacent bay.) The result was an undulating white facade comprised of six-story continuous projections of horizontal floor structure and an infill of all glass.  The vertically-stacked bay window would be one of the key elements of a Chicago School skyscraper in the late 1880s, but it was used first here in San Francisco, at least 15 years before Chicago architects would begin experimenting with it, and twenty years before the Reliance Building, famous for the exact same detail, was constructed.  

Gaynor’s design of the Palace Hotel, in both its facade as well as its Grand Court, heralded what was to come in Chicago’s architecture, some ten years later.  It’s Grand Court and its crystalline bay windowed facades, let alone its existence, however, would be a well-kept secret for many years by Chicago’s architectural historians.

In trying to gain a better appreciation for the use of bay windows on the Tacoma, I spent over an hour yesterday reviewing each of my 237 past posts, looking for buildings that sported bay windows, in order to gain a history of this detail in prior Chicago buildings. I did not include inset oriel windows, such as those in the Rookery and the Studebaker, as they were not cantilevered beyond the face of the building. What I found was that the first such use, no surprise, was in Burnham & Root’s Brunswick Hotel in 1883.  Root had placed four-story bays at each corner of the Adams Street (across from the Pullman Building) facade.

Burnham & Root, Brunswick Hotel, Chicago, NW corner of Michigan and Adams, 1883. (Hoffmann, Root)

In 1884, John J. Flanders used the bay window for the first time to purposely increase the floor area in an office building the Mallers Building.  The small size of the lot (38’ x 60’) forced him to be the first to exploit the 1872 Code’s allowance for bay windows above the second floor. He placed one eight-story tall bay on each of the building’s two streetfronts.

John J. Flanders, Mallers Building, Chicago, 1884. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City)

Meanwhile, Root used the bay window for a completely different purpose in his next three skyscrapers: to house the main stairway that was cantilevered into the building’s lightcourt. This he used in the Rialto, the Insurance Exchange, and of course, the Rookery.  He would go to use his “signature” half-spiral stair in a number of later buildings (including the Midland Hotel and the Chicago Hotel).

Burnham & Root. Bay window containing stair in the lightcourt. Left: Midland Hotel. (Hoffmann, Meanings); Right: The Rookery. (Hoffmann, Root)

In 1885, Root “played” with the multistoried bay window in the Phoenix Building as a formal device. He extended a six-story bay window (its projection was minimal and therefore, not a rental-enhancing detail) over the building’s entrance. He then reprised the bay windows, albeit now only four stories tall at either end of the long Jackson Street façade, creating, in essence, corner pavilions. Then he inverted this scheme on the side elevations, a trick he had used before in corner buildings (see the Burlington and Counselman Buildings), by placing the bay window in the center bay of each of these elevations.

Burnham & Root, Phœnix Building, Chicago, SW corner of Jackson and Clark, 1885. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

He continued employing the central bay window to mark the entrance in each of his next four out-of-town designs, the three in Kansas City and the San Francisco Chronicle Building. Note that in none of these Root buildings was the bay window used to increase the rentable area, probably because the buildings were already sufficient in size.

Burnham & Root, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco, 1887. (Online)

Interestingly, E. Townsend Mix had used multistoried bay windows in both of his two skyscrapers in the Twin Cities at the same time that Holabird & Roche were putting them on the Tacoma Building.

In what was another high stakes poker game (like the one he had played to get the adjacent site), Walker had his architects originally draw up the Tacoma with bay windows over every bay of both street fronts.  Betting that this radical proposal would be rejected during the permit review, his end game more than likely was that he would “compromise” with Commissioner Edbrooke with a design that alternated bays on every other bay that was to be the building’s final configuration. The original design immediately garnered the anticipated rebuke from the Inter-Ocean in October 1888:

“And why, pray… should this Tacoma Building shoot out such a crop of projecting bow-windows way over into both streets, Madison and La Salle?  Or, does it own the whole of both thoroughfares, that it thus reaches forth its by no means translucent and fleshless arms to impede the light of adjacent buildings and of the streets.  The same sort of thing – and it is an undisguisable outrage on the public generally as well as neighboring owners – has been condemned and stopped in the past, and the same course ought to be taken now.

Inter-Ocean: Let me ask you specifically about the Tacoma and its plans submitted to you.   Were they approved after due examination?

“Edbrooke: Yes, sir, and this was fuller than usual, owing to some delay over an external feature.  Yes, I refer to the bays, to which I know that some of the citizens have taken exception… The design as originally presented, showed a continuous line of bays, and to this I objected, as there was really no street wall at all, no plain surface, simply one bay right after another on supporting piers.  Judge Green, the corporation counsel, with whom I consulted, agreed with me that I had a right to insist that only every other section should be a bay, the alternate spaces being plain wall and Judge Green also agreed with me that I could not prevent the building of bays to this extent, nor does the construction differ from other Chicago buildings with bays – quite a number of them – except that the latter buildings are not as high as the Tacoma.”

Holabird & Roche, Tacoma Building, Chicago, NE corner of La Salle and Madison, 1888. (preservationchicgo.org)

(If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to eMail me at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com)

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