VOLUME SIX: THE 1892 WORLD’S FAIR: NEW YORK VS. CHICAGO

In addition to the Chicago Hotel, Burnham & Root had two other mammoth projects to design in early 1890 whose owners wanted to cash in on the free publicity and exposure of their cause that the World’s Fair could generate.  In addition to having to completely redesign the W.C.T.U.’s Woman’s Temple so that it could be built on the site of Field’s stillborn office tower, Chicago’s Freemasons had also hired the firm to design a new headquarters/temple on the northeast corner of State and Randolph.  As both projects were being designed by Root at the same time, and that they were both not merely speculative office buildings, but headquarters for major social organizations, we can compare the design of these two skyscrapers to discern where Root’s design ideas had evolved to as he moved into the new decade.

The first thing that one is immediately struck by is the addition of a roof to Root’s new skyscrapers.  All skyscrapers designed by Root prior to 1890, with the sole exception of the tower in the Kansas City Board of Trade and the pinnacles atop the Rialto’s piers (unless we count his entry for the six-story Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce), no matter whether the building’s function was a hotel, a company headquarters, or a speculative office building, were flat-topped, urban palazzos. (And once again, I repeat my earlier assertion that Root, and not Richardson, had brought the box to Chicago.) The Chicago Tribune had noticed this sea-change immediately in praising the Woman’s Temple’s design as being close to “the ideal of office buildings.  It appeals to the eye in a manner wholly unlike any of the ‘dry-gods box’ giants which are becoming too common.”  How are we to account for this abrupt change in Root’s aesthetics as we find a roof added not only to these first two buildings of 1890, but also to his design for the San Francisco Examiner and an unidentified skyscraper being designed as the first two buildings were being finalized?

CHAPTER 1: EVENTS IN NEW YORK

1.1. THE CONSOLIDATION OF THE A.I.A. AND W.A.A. BRING BURNHAM AND ROOT TO NYC

In November 1889, Burnham and Root had successfully completed their campaign to reform the old A.I.A.  While Root had represented the W.A.A. in these negotiations, the two partners had agreed that Burnham, following his defeat in the presidential election at the 1888 W.A.A convention, would play the Trojan Horse from within the A.I.A. and therefore, had distanced himself from the W.A.A., in order to appear to be more committed to A.I.A. issues.  On November 20-1, 1889, both the W.A.A. and the A.I.A. had met in a joint convention in Cincinnati to approve the final consolidation of the two regional professional organizations into a new, nation-wide Institute.  While it was finally argued successfully that legally the name of “The American Institute of Architects” had to be maintained in order to avoid all of the legal headaches in applying for a new state charter, there was no doubt that the West had won the war in that it was the W.A.A.’s constitution and professional philosophy that were the foundation for the new Institute.  While Richard Morris Hunt was respectfully recognized as the Dean of American architects by being elected the first President of the new Institute, Root’s (note it was not Burnham) central role in the overall merger was rewarded with his election as its Secretary, the second highest position in the new organization.  All official correspondence of the new A.I.A., therefore, would no longer go through New York, but through the top floor of the Rookery in Chicago.  Root’s election as Secretary was also tantamount to the certainty that following Hunt’s two-year term, Root would be nominated to fill the presidency at the 1891 convention.  (Root had, thus, been “knighted” as the Number Two Architect in the U.S.)

1.2. NEW YORK CITY PREPARES FOR THE 1892 FAIR

While both Root and Burnham had played major roles in the consolidation negotiations, spending many days in New York hammering out the final details with their opposites, New York was at least as busy as Chicago in trying to convince Congress to make it the host city for the 1892 World’s Fair.  In fact, Burnham and Root, who were personally involved with both of these tightly contested campaigns, that is, the reform of the A.I.A. and the contest to have their city awarded the Fair that were taking place simultaneously, (the decision naming Chicago was made on February 24, 1890, exactly three months after the formation of the new A.I.A. was approved in Cincinnati) would spend many days in New York during the last quarter of 1889 (providing them with a legitimate cover for spying on New York’s plans for the Fair).  It is now time to examine what new buildings they saw in New York and how they may have been influenced.

Chicago may have had a head start in “gussying itself up” to convince the country’s political leaders to name it as the host of the Fair simply because it had been playing catch-up in construction ever since the 1871 fire, (i.e., the Interstate Exposition Building, the Board of Trade-then the tallest building in the U.S.- and of course, the Auditorium), once the idea of an American World’s Fair gained traction, New York shrugged off its smugness, took an honest look at itself, and dove into the competition with as much “Old and New Money” as was needed to erect a number of new buildings to respond to the “Cowtown in the West.”

George B. Post. Left: Mills Building, New York, 1881; Right: Produce Exchange, New York, 1880. (Online)

The last important building in New York I have reviewed was George Post’s Produce Exchange of 1880-3.  As construction in Chicago had boomed with the economy in 1881-1885, a similar phenomenon had occurred in New York.  While Richardson had always given his buildings a picturesque roofline until 1885 with his first box, the Field Wholesale Store, the less expensive flat-roofed box topped with a straight-lined cornice had been in fashion for tall buildings, since the start of the depression of 1874.  This had continued into the first half of the 1880s, as best represented by Post’s Mills Building and Produce Exchange in New York, and Root’s Burlington and Rookery Buildings in Chicago.  As the national economy continued to improve, however, it was inevitable that as the economy improved, more ornate silhouettes would become more affordable and once again be demanded by clients.  In v.5, sec. 1.12, I stated that the American version of la querelle des Anciens et des Modernes in architecture had sprung to life around 1886, first with the death of Richardson on April 27, 1886, and second, with the corresponding design in 1887 of McKim, Mead, & White’s Boston Public Library. This is how I described this divergence between the East and the West in the mid-1880s:

“Precisely at this moment, however, Eastern American architects had also consciously diverged from the American omnipresent Romanesque Revival (Richardson had died on April 27, 1886, only a week before the Haymarket Square bombing). However, rather than looking to the problem for the solution, these architects chose to repurpose (positive)/ imitate (negative) the Classical architecture from the past. The best example of this sea change in Eastern architectural style was the new Boston Public Library designed in 1887 by McKim, Mead, & White, that poignantly sat facing the great Richardson’s Trinity Church. I will (need to) discuss the reasons for this change of style in depth prior to discussing the 1893 Columbian World’s Exposition.  For now, it must suffice to state that as Chicago’s architects, led by Burnham and Root, had diverged from their East Coast contemporaries in terms of professional practice with the formation of the W.A.A. in November 1884, it should not surprise us that they would also take their own architectural path into the future.  These divergent paths will collide in January 1891…”

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

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