Burnham & Root, First Regiment Armory, Chicago, NW corner of Michigan and Sixteenth, 1889. (Online)

In mid-1889 Root was, by no means, unfamiliar with the design of a large pile of bricks. During his European tour in the summer of 1886, he almost certainty took the time to study the all-brick cathedral in Albi, located in central France, details of which I have shown he used frequently.  The church was built as a fortress in the aftermath of the successful Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) in which Papal forces joined with the French King’s troops to wipe out the Cathars, a group of reformist Christians considered to be heretical, centered in the Albi region. The bishop who began its construction wanted a symbol of the church’s power lest this sect think that it might overthrow him.

Cathedral of St. Cecilia, Albi, FR, 1282-1480. (Author image)

Following Root’s return, while the four remaining Haymarket Seven (two had their death sentences commuted by Gov. Oglesby and a third had committed suicide) had been hanged on November 11, 1887, the issue of the eight-hour workday still simmered in Chicago’s streets.  Chicago’s wealthy who lived along prestigious Prairie Avenue felt especially vulnerable to attacks by labor supporters (remember J.J, Glessner’s fortress at the southwest corner of Prairie and 18th Street designed by Richardson: v.3, sec. 11.18)

As Chicago’s labor unrest continued to simmer during the 1888 presidential election, Prairie Avenue’s most powerful residents banded together to finance an Armory for the Illinois National Guard to protect their neighborhood.  The northwest corner of Michigan and Sixteenth Street was purchased for the erection of the building.  The site was only four blocks from Glessner’s house as well as from the Calumet Club of Marshall Field, George Pullman, and Philip D. Armour.  As Burnham & Root had designed the Club, they were also hired to design the armory.

Map of Prairie Avenue Neighborhood, showing relation of the Armory to it. A: the Armory at the NW corner of Michigan and Sixteenth; C: Calumet club at the NE corner of Michigan and 20th. J.J. Glessner House: 1800; George Pullman House:1729; Marshall Field House: 1905. (Zukowski, Chicago: Growth of a Metropolis)

At this moment Root was also involved with another artefact relating to the bombing.  The Union League Club (Jenney had designed its building at the SW corner of Jackson and Custom House Place (now Federal Court), dedicated to defending the Union, had hired sculptor Johannes Gelert to design and fabricate a bronze memorial to the seven policemen who were killed in the bombing that was to be placed in the center of Haymarket Square.  Root voluntarily designed the stone base for the statue that was unveiled on May 30, 1889 (just one more item in Root’s head on June 1, 1889…). Five years later in 1893, supporters of the anarchists erected their own Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument in what is now the Forest Home Cemetery in suburban Forest Park.

Haymarket Square (N. Des Plaines and W. Randolph), showing location of the Police Memorial. (Online)

Root’s first rendering of the Armory is dated March 1889, tying it directly to the fear of more labor violence that could result from a letter written by the President of the American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, that proposed to the newly-formed Second International formed in Paris during the World’s Fair on Bastille Day, July 14, 1889, that it declare May 1, 1890, as a day for an international day of demonstration in favor of the eight-hour workday.

Burnham & Root, First Regiment Armory. Entry archway detailing. (archinform)

Root designed the armory as a fortress with a single, massive 40’ wide arched entrance (the voussoirs were 10’ deep) with sloping sandstone walls at grade (the entrance was secured by an iron portcullis that weighed six tons).  The stone base supported two stories of solid red brick walls with appropriate gun slits. The brickwork employing large relieving arches foretold of the best of Louis Kahn’s brick detailing.  The building was capped by a machicolated cornice straight out of the Middle Ages.  Each corner of the building sported a cylindrical bartizan cantilevered beyond the exterior faces to enfilade each of the four walls.

Burnham & Root, First Regiment Armory. Detail of relieving arches and gunslits. (archinform)

In plan, the building was a hollow donut, with a column-free interior court for drills that measured 150’ x 168.’ This was enclosed by a 50’ x 105’ skylight that sat on top of the steel trusses that clear spanned over 150.’ (Undoubtedly, this brought back memories of Root’s first important job as an assistant for architect John Snook as the construction supervisor for New York’s Grand Central Terminal in 1870-1. In fact, the traveling construction crane was quite similar.) Two stories of living spaces were suspended from the trusses so as not to interrupt the drill floor below.

Burnham & Root, First Regiment Armory. Section. (urbanremainschicago.com)
Burnham & Root, First Regiment Armory. Interior court. (archinform)
Burnham & Root, First Regiment Armory. Construction photo showing traveling construction scaffold. (Online)
John B. Snook, Grand Central Depot, New York, 1869. Construction of the Trainshed. Root was Snook’s construction superintendent for this project. (Online)


Hoffmann, Donald. The Architecture of John Wellborn Root. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973.

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

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