4.6. WHERE WAS ROOT’S HEAD IN JUNE 1889?

1888 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 the Union Club 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 & Root’s office on the top floor, in the southeast corner, closest to the viewer. Note that construction on the Monadnock Block, to occur to the right of the Union Club,, nor its sister, the Chicago Hotel, has not yet started. (Bluestone, Constructing Chicago)

Before I review what was going on in Root’s mind when Brooks gave him the final go ahead to restart the Monadnock, I want to ask a question?  There are many of you who are Louis Sullivan fans out there, and I’m sure you want to ask me why I am ignoring Sullivan’s skyscrapers?  

The straightforward answer is: because I am trying to keep a chronologically accurate narrative, and Sullivan had not yet designed a skyscraper by June 1889, other than the tower of the Auditorium.  As I have stated a number of times, one of my objectives in writing this blog/book is to present a factual history of what happened in Chicago during the 1880s.  Two points that historians have completely skewed that I want to correct are first: the significance of Jenney’s Home Insurance Building’s structure, and second, presenting Sullivan, and not Root, as the leader of the Chicago School movement. 

Adler & Sullivan, The Auditorium. Top: View of interior showing central skylight over the first balcony. Both of the curved partitions have been lowered, closing off the second and third balconies. (Siry, The Auditorium.)

As I have shown, Sullivan in June 1889 was immersed in finishing the interior details of the Auditorium’s house in time for Opening Night, Dec. 9, 1889, a task he wouldn’t finish, including the remaining portions of the building until November 1890. Even by that date, he had yet to design a skyscraper. The facts are that all of Root’s skyscrapers were designed before Sullivan was commissioned to design his first skyscraper, the Wainwright Building in St. Louis.  Historians, starting with Sullivan’s own Autobiography of an Idea, and codified by Condit have created a “false narrative” about Sullivan’s role in the development of the Chicago skyscraper. Root was the leading figure during the 1880s, and most likely would have continued to have been so, but for his premature death in January 1891. All of Sullivan’s skyscrapers were designed in the following decade, meaning that Sullivan had the advantage of learning from Root’s mistakes during the 1880s. (By no means take this as my dislike of Sullivan’s work. Remember, I stated in Vol. Two, Sec. 1.3 that his Chicago Stock Exchange was the quintessential Chicago School skyscraper. I simply want people to acknowledge the chronological fact that all of Root’s skyscrapers were designed before Sullivan’s Wainwright.) This is self-evident when I list the skyscrapers designed Chicago’s architects during the 1880s:

In order to truly appreciate what Root was about to achieve in the design of his last buildings, we need to try to get into his head.  What I want you to appreciate is the number of different types of pressures he was under during the last year and a half of his life:

In June 1889, Root had the following buildings either under construction or design:

-Rand-McNally Building under construction

-the Monadnock Block

-the Reliance Building

-the second version of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union building

-the First Regiment Armory (see next section)

-and any number of houses for their clients that he enjoyed as a diversion.

Title page, Proceedings of the 1889 Consolidation Convention of the A.I.A. and the W.A.A., Cincinnati, 1889. (Online)

In addition, with only five months to go, he and Burnham were hard at work finalizing the Consolidation Convention for the new A.I.A. (v.4, sec. 4). In June the location and timing of the convention was far from settled as the A.I.A. was still trying to wriggle out from the 1888 Convention’s vote to hold it in Cincinnati by holding out for Washington, DC.  This issue wouldn’t be settled until Adler’s open challenge to the A.I.A. holdouts published by McLean in the August issue of Inland Architect forced them to agree to meet in Cincinnati on Nov. 21-2, 1889.  Root was hoping that this would be the culmination of their efforts over the past four years to reform the AIA.

With the success of the Paris World’s Fair of 1889 being reported in the papers, Root was, by June 1889 already quietly at work designing site plans for the insiders of the Mayor’s Committee of 100 assigned to bring the Fair to Chicago, for three potential sites: the Lake Front (Grant Park), Washington Park, and Jackson Park.  This was some six months before the Federal Government voted to give Chicago the Fair. In fact, so confident was Root of the whole affair during the summer of 1889 that he even sent one of his assistants, Jules Wegman, to Paris to study the design of the Fair.

And if this wasn’t enough, he knew the design of the country’s first 20-story building, the Masonic Temple, his chance to actually build Buffington’s “Cloudscraper,” was just waiting for its owners to give the final go ahead…

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

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