My wishes to all of you for a happy and healthy 2022. I would like to announce the launch of my second blog: Chicagoarchitecturehistory.com. I will document the history of Chicago’s architecture and urban development from the erection of Fort Dearborn in 1803 to the 1874 fire, at which point my first blog takes over. (If you haven’t read my earlier blog but you want a chronological history, maybe you should wait to read my earlier blog until I finish this new one.) To the best of my knowledge, no one has published a comprehensive history of pre-fire Chicago’s architecture. I hope you will enjoy my story of Chicago’s evolution from a marsh at the mouth of the Chicago “stream” into Lake Michigan to a metropolis of over 100,000 people that was the hub of the world’s longest network of railroads, all accomplished in the span of thirty-eight years.

In order to get notifications of each new post, I believe you must register on that site as a follower by clicking the blue button at the right.

I welcome comments and questions at: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com


I have structured this study along chronological lines. You can choose a particular subject by reviewing the Contents as listed above, or you can start at the beginning: https://thearchitectureprofessor.com/2020/04/18/chapter-one-introduction/

I hope you enjoy this study of Chicago’s famous architects and buildings during the 1880s.

Please contact me if you have any questions: thearchitectureprofessor@gmail.com

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple, Chicago, NE corner of State and Randolph, 1890. (Online)


Burnham & Root, Monadnock Block.

Everyone knows about Root’s famous chamfer of the corner of the Monadock, but I have only recently understood a much more subtle detail on the part of Root in the Monadnock. It took me almost 50 years to see it, let alone understand it, but I hope I have it figured out.  There is an old saying among artists, sometimes you do something for yourself, and if even one person finds/appreciates it, it was worth the doing.  I think this detail I am going to discuss is just one such detail.

In his 1973 biography of Root, Donald Hoffmann included this cryptic sentence on p. 166: “The upper framing members of the sash windows were rounded at the ends, and the broad frames of the second-story windows were gently bowed to echo in the vertical plane the bowing of the bays above.” He included no photos of this detail, so I assume like most people, I read the sentence without digesting its importance. Recently as I was looking at a number of detail photos of the lower two floors, I caught the curve in the corners of the windows under the bays: with this detail was Root showing how the three-dimensional curve of the bays above was first emerging in two-dimensions in the window frames located immediately below the first bay in the third story? As was the case with the chamfered corner, Root was again playing with optical illusion. If one looks from just the right angle, (above left photo) the curved frame makes the glass look like it is gently bowing out, setting up the curved bay above.


Apparently, Root used this detail in the first-floor windows as well, as the pre-restoration photo above does match the restored version. Here my opinion differs from Root, for I argue that with the first-floor windows also curved, Root blew a chance to show the growth of the curved bay from a simple rectilinear void on the ground-floor to a transitional curved frame in the second-story to the full-grown curved bay in the upper floors.  I would like to know if Root also used the rounded frames in the single windows he cut into the masonry piers between the bays. I hope he didn’t because if he did, it negates this idea of showing the growth of the curved bay from ground floor to its full emergence above, and my hypothesis of Root’s emergence of the curved bays is simply a post-rationalization. (If you have the chance, when you walk by the Monadnock, take a picture or two of the single window frames and forward to me: thanks!) I owe acknowledgements to a number of my followers (especially friend and former student Tom Lee) who took the time to shoot close-ups of these windows so I could get a better grasp of their detailing and share them with you.

Let’s take a moment to put these curved corners into perspective. Hopefully, this motif should jog your memory as an Art Nouveau detail.  I include images of two of the better examples of this: Victor Horta’s house (1898) and Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló (1906).  

Victor Horta, Horta House, Brussels, 1898.
Antoni Gaudi, Casa Batlló, Barcelona, 1906.

Root’s curved window detail is another Chicago School example, in conjunction with Louis Sullivan’s proto-Art Nouveau stenciling in the 1885 Chicago Opera Festival retrofit of the Interstate Exposition Center (v.4, sec. 10.19) as well as his interior details in the Auditorium, that gives evidence to the contemporary emergence of a modern style of architecture in Chicago that paralleled that in Europe.

Louis Sullivan, 1885 Chicago Grand Opera Festival Hall. Ceiling stencil of Art Nouveau design. Sullivan designed this Art Nouveau design seven years before the usually agreed-upon start date of the European Art Nouveau in 1892. (Gregersen, Adler)


I think the Masonic Temple was Root’s best building. I list it over the Monadnock Block simply because the Temple’s program was more complex than just a spec office building.  While the Monadnock was a unique sculptural form, the Temple was an architectural synthesis of form and space. The 19-story open cab elevator ride with Lake Michigan behind you had to have been simply exhilarating. Henry Van Brunt, one of, if not the premiere American architectural critic in 1890 had this to say about the Temple in his obituary of Root published in Inland Architect in January 1891:

“The Masonic Temple is an extreme example of the daring quality of Root’s genius… It is a departure so fundamental from the traditions of decorative architecture that I hardly know how to characterize it.  It is a building absolutely committed to what one may call a perpendicular tyranny of pilasters… Thirteen stories of similar use and importance, typical of an industrial hive of democratic industry, find themselves expressed here externally in an absolutely monotonous and unmitigated system of fenestration, separated by vertical piers which rise from top to bottom without incident.  It is perhaps the frankest admission of a structural and economical necessity ever expressed in architectural form… For the interruption of these vertical lines there would be of course only the excuse of design; none are supplied either by the structure or use.  It is probable that in this experiment, which looks like the apotheosis of the elevator in the modern social system, it was Root’s desire to permit an exceptional character of structure to have the fullest and most honest architectural expression once and for all.”

Root had succeeded in imparting the sheer verticality of Buffington’s Cloudscraper’s unbroken, multistory pilasters to the elevations of the Masonic Temple.  More on this issue in a moment. Van Brunt’s phrase, “a perpendicular tyranny of pilasters,” is a remark eerily similar to that made by American Architect’s Cincinnati correspondent who had complained some fifteen years earlier about the piers in the Shillito’s Store being “very monotonous.  Each bay is just like its next neighbor, and the whole may be likened to a street parade of well-drilled soldiers, so uniform, straight, and severe are the windows and piers.”  In some ways Shillito’s and the Masonic Temple represent the bookends of this first phase of the skyscraper’s evolution.  

James McLaughlin, John Shillito and Co. Store, Cincinnati, 1877. (Cincinnati, Queen City)

Later opinions of Root’s design ebbed and flowed with the fashion tides of the times. Burnham’s biographer, Thomas Hines in 1974, at the end of the reign of the International Style, stated that “Had its first eighteen floors been capped by a flat roof and an appropriately bold cornice, the masonic building might have been the firm’s greatest skyscraper, but instead the partners placed a steeply pitched, densely dormered, and wholly irrelevant gabled roof at the summit of the ‘tallest building in the world’.”  So much for the commandment that “form follows function”… Only the year before, Root’s biographer, Donald Hoffmann had a similar criticism about “that roof”: “The attic-which may have seemed a final flourish of the Queen Anne revival, in monstrous scale-represented Root’s attempt to express the presence of the Masonic bodies…” Here again we have a critic judging Root’s roof using the fashion of the present for flat roofs to critique it.

Root designed at least eighteen skyscrapers that were constructed. How many more designs he studied for how many more buildings that were not erected we will never know. But as I stated earlier, Root had the luxury, and took advantage, of experimenting with “full-scale models.”  His strength was improvisation and I think this is how he viewed his work. Improvisation is not a pejorative term, it is a valid method of creating, just ask any jazz musician or composer.  Root held very strong, well-thought through theories of design, but this does not mean he was a formal ideologue, i.e., every building, no matter what its function, had to be designed from the same set of formal “rules.” (I place Sullivan, McKim, and Mies in this category.) Root saw artistic rigor/discipline in his design process. (I place Eero Saarinen in this category.)  Therefore, he could produce such “different-looking” buildings at the same time without any intellectual conflict, i.e., the Woman’s Temple vs. the Monadnock Block.  The bottomline for him was that his designs met the client’s program as well as the design problem he had set for himself in a particular project. 

In the Woman’s Temple, in addition to the client’s program, Root wanted not only to symbolize that the building was by and for women, but I believe there was also an underlying theme of Root’s innate competitive nature: Root had just been elected the Number Two man in the new A.I.A., the organization’s Secretary to its President, Richard Morris Hunt. Hunt had made headlines not only with his Alva Vanderbilt house on Fifth Avenue (that Root had parried in his design of the Calumet Club) but also with the ongoing construction of Biltmore, the nation’s largest house. I cannot avoid seeing Root using Hunt’s Francois I language in the Woman’s Temple as a refrain on the old lyric, “Anything you can do, I can do better” (or at least bigger). 

The Woman’s Temple was a virtuoso performance,  But critics point to it at the same time they discuss the Monadnock Block, trying to figure out how the same architect could produce such diametrically-opposed designs at the same time in his career.  The answer is, I believe, quite straightforward: both buildings met the clients’ different programs perfectly.  Their formal differences came from the problem that Root had set for himself in each building.  In the Monadnock he had been restrained by Brooks to avoid the use of any carved ornament.  The genius of the design is how Root followed this limitation and yet achieved a synthesis of construction, function, and beauty (in this case his theme of the Egyptian pylon). The program was explicitly expressed in the building’s massing, that was then ever so subtly sculpted in brick to evoke the idea of a brick skin covering the building’s rounded volume.  The Monadnock was detailed for what it was, a 16-story unbroken brick surface (note I did not say wall, because I have pointed out that its structure was a series of masonry piers) that undulated between wide-open bay windows and ranks of windows carved into the masonry surface.  It is the continuous 13-story bay windows that impart the building’s verticality. This was structural expression, yes, but not literal structural exposure; there is a significant difference.  During the 1880s, structural expression was a “rational” design methodology, especially when compared to the Academic Classicism being promoted at the École des Beaux-arts at this moment.  

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple, Chicago, 1890. (Hoffmann, Root)

As I’ve said, the Masonic Temple’s program was much more complicated than that for the Monadnock or the Woman’s Temple, and yet this was exactly where Root began. Sixteen floors of repetitive structure and function (the difference between small store and office not withstanding) that surrounded the country’s tallest space/atrium.  This to be topped with two floors of longspan, column-free meeting halls for the Masons.  Is this not what he expressed in the building’s massing and elevation (let’s ignore those two side elevations, OK?).    

Burnham and Root, Masonic Temple. Exterior from Floor 16 to the top of the skylight. Root has expressed the Observation Deck as well as atrium via the skylight. (Hoffmann, Root)

To restate my earlier compliment of his design, in the building’s top floors (so criticized by the biographers of the two partners), Root achieved a synthesis of true genius proportion with the pair of the meeting halls’ equilateral triangular volumes: they expressed the structure of the roof trusses that made the column-free spaces possible; they evoked the main symbols of the Masons; and once again, they gave Root the opportunity to stick it to New York.  His building with triangular gables was twice the height of New York’s famous highrise apartment building, The Dakota (who’s competitive?)  And then to top it off, Root finally exposed the atrium’s skylight above the building’s roof, expressing and exposing the presence of the atrium completely hidden behind the building’s skeleton-framed elevations.  (Augustus Pugin would have approved of the massing that expressed each function.) This was not a “Queen Anne” conceit, but a well thought-out, totally modern expression and synthesis of function, structure, and symbol. (Vitruvius rules!)

It is the cage-like expression of the Masonic Temple, with its language of vertical piers, unbroken by any sillcourse for eleven stories, that should be celebrated as the first vertical solution to the design of the modern iron-framed skyscraper, that is, if one discounts Buffington’s project as being unrealized.  Van Brunt said as much in his January 1891 article. As early as October 1892, the Chicago Tribune praised the architects of the Monadnock and the Masonic Temple for leaving the central shafts of these buildings in a “natural state,” thereby expressing “power and mightiness.”  Once again, Root had expressed, not exposed, the Temple’s structure, a skeleton frame in its elevations. Consistency in process, not formal vocabulary.

But Historians of the International Style some 30 years later would attack Root’s design as not being “rational” because they equated “rational” with “honest,” that is, using and exposing only what was required to do the job structurally.  These critics crucified Root for the heavier corner piers because they were not “honest”: corner columns carry only half the load that exterior columns support and therefore, should be designed to have a smaller, not a larger cross-section than the other columns in the exterior.

Left: Burnham & Root, The Masonic Temple, Chicago,, 1890. (chicagology.com); Right: Adler & Sullivan, Wainwright Building, St. Louis, 1890. (Online)

In light of these facts, I have always doubted the claim by some historians that Louis Sullivan was the first to arrive at the ”vertical’ solution for the elevation of a skyscraper in his December 1890 design of the 10-story Wainwright Building in St. Louis, in which the unbroken piers extend continuous for all of seven stories vs. the Masonic Temple’s 11-story piers that were designed some six months before the Wainwright.  In fact, the entire height of the Wainwright Building could be easily fitted within the 11-story piers of the Temple. 

For comparison sake, I have placed the 10-story Wainwright’s entire height, in scale, within the 11-story tall piers of the Masonic Temple. Remember, Sullivan designed the Wainwright some six months after Root had designed the Temple.
Left: Monadnock Block, Chicago, 1885. Preliminary studies of the Jackson Street elevation. (Saliga, The Sky’s the Limit); Right: Adler & Sullivan, Wainwright Building, St. Louis, 1890. (Van Zanten, Sullivan’s City). Root was experimenting with seven-story unbroken piers five years before Sullivan employed them. Yes, Sullivan used more of them to get a dominant vertical read, but this came with the cost of a reduction in the quality of the interior environment: Root’s paired windows would allow more daylight to enter the interior.

The seven stories of the Wainwright’s piers was the same height that Root had used five years earlier in the well-published 1885 version of the Monadnock Block. I have mentioned a number of times how Root and Sullivan had influenced each other’s designs. If I compare Root’s design of the piers in the Eighth Street elevation of the American National Bank in Kansas City (1886), with Sullivan’s piers in the Wainwright, designed four years later, they seem remarkable similar… 

But if we really want to give credit to where credit is due, we need to remember that even earlier George Edbrooke in 1883 had used five-story unbroken piers in the Adams Express Building and seven-storied pilasters in the Hiram Sibley Warehouse.

Inland Architect published Root’s obituary in its January 1891 issue.  On page 94 was placed a photograph of Root.  When one turned the page, “there it was” to use Frank Lloyd Wright’s own words, the first published drawing of Louis Sullivan’s design for the Wainwright Building, Sullivan’s first skyscraper.  How more poignant can this issue of Inland Architect be?  For indeed with the death of Root, the first skyscraper era in Chicago had ended and a new page in the history of the Chicago skyscraper was about to be turned.  As I stated in the Introduction, Louis Sullivan’s skyscrapers were all designed AFTER Root had died.  Therefore, it is pure fiction to state the Root and Sullivan were professional equals during the 1880s.  It is an insult to the memory and the accomplishments of John Wellborn Root to champion Louis Sullivan as the leader (or even as its co-leader) of Chicago’s architects during the heyday of skyscraper construction before the 1893 World’s Fair.  The important skyscrapers of Adler & Sullivan were not contemporaneous with those of Burnham & Root as Sullivan had implied in the Autobiography of an Idea.  Root’s designs were of the 1880s, Sullivan’s skyscrapers were done in the 1890s.  Pathetically, Sullivan seems to have known this as he also included the following his The Autobiography of an Idea.

“John Wellborn Root in passing left a void in his wake…Who now would take up the foils he had dropped on his way, from hands that were once so strong?  There was none!”

Left: Obituary photograph of Root in January 1891 Inland Architect; Right: Adler & Sullivan, Wainwright Building, St. Louis, 1890. (Inland Architect, Jan. 1891)


The Masonic Temple would be a great building to digitally model. The elevator ride up looking at the lake and down through the atrium should be thrilling. I am offering my help in any way to those who would take on this task. Best luck!

This will be my last post on this blog for a while, simply because I am still researching the coming chapters:

Chapter 3: A Review of Chicago’s Modern Architecture, including the work of Louis Sullivan, up to 1893 compared to similar developments in Europe.

Chapter 4: The American Renaissance: The Rise of the Ancients in the East

Chapter 5: High Noon in the American Battle of the Ancients vs. the Moderns: The 1893 World’s Fair

The good news is, I hope, is that I am not stopping the blog, I am only starting a second blog: “Chicago Architecture Before the Fire.” This will be the first comprehensive history of Chicago’s pre-fire architecture (that I am aware of) that will start with the building of Fort Dearborn in 1803 and end with the 1871 fire. I have already written this, I just need to revise it for the blog format. I hope you will enjoy it as much as what I have just completed: over 700 pages of double-spaced text with over 2000 images.

I will make one more post on this first blog alerting you to the address of the new blog in about a week.

Thank you all for your interest, support, and questions/comments. It’s had to believe that I started this blog on April 18, 2020, seventeen months ago……


Hines, Thomas S. Burnham of Chicago: Architect and Planner. New York: Oxford University Press, 1974.

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

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967..

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

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


Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple, Chicago, NE corner of State and Randolph, 1890. Looking east along Randolph. (Online)

So what would Root have used as his theme or concept for the design of the exterior of the Masonic Temple?

1. This was not just another speculative office building like the Rookery.  It had a very special client that needed to be architecturally symbolized, much like the Woman’s Temple.

2. This was planned to be Chicago’s tallest building. It would be seen from almost everywhere, therefore, it deserved a “unique,” specifically-designed top that would complete it, rather than a flat roof like how he had topped the Chicago Hotel.

Henry Janeway Hardenbergh, The Dakota Apartments. View from Central Park. (Stern, New York-1880)

3. The first time I saw this photo of The Dakota in Robert Stern’s book New York 1880 I immediately understood Root’s design for the top of the Masonic Temple. Once again, and by now this should seem to you to be a recurring theme: Root was using a New York building, however this time not designed by George Post, as his inspiration for another of his designs of a Chicago building. (If you want to review this point, please refer to v.6. sec.1.4.)

4. Because of its height, the building’s construction would be steel framing. As opposed to the Chicago Hotel, whose rooms didn’t require the same amount of daylight, this building was to have not only offices, but also shops that also required a maximum of daylight, i.e. large windows.

Therefore, Root had no alternative for the overall language of the building but to minimize the size of the column coverings to maximize the size of the windows.(Hoffmann included an interesting detail: he stated that the columns’ masonry cladding was not supported on the frame at every floor but only at three points: the ground, the fifth story, and the 16th story.) Root could have either covered the entire twenty stories with one continuous surface, like he did with the Chicago Hotel and Monadnock, and then carve in it as large of windows as possible, or he employ the pier-and-spandrel language of a number of his previous designs.   From the final design of the elevations, Root had made the decision to emphasize the building’s verticality by detailing the piers as continuous vertical lines.  As one studies the elevational designs of his skyscrapers, the break point for him in designing either a balance of horizontals and verticals versus an unashamedly vertical elevation appears to have been 14 stories (Monadnock and the Chicago Hotel using their bay windows, and Masonic Temple with its unbroken piers).  In all his other shorter skyscrapers (including the Mills Building in San Francisco that came after these three), one finds Root trying to achieve a repose between the vertical and horizontal lines in the elevation. But once a building was at least 14 stories, it seems Root felt that such a repose was unachievable with these taller proportions and simply decided to celebrate the height of the building.  It was finally time to meet Buffington on his own ground: the piers of the Masonic Temple would be unleashed and the spandrels correspondingly recessed so as to create a vertical rush to the top similar to how the unbroken bay windows in the Monadnock Block read.

This did not, however, mean that Root had to apply the pier-and-spandrel language equally across the face of the building.  This is where the art of composition came into play. Similar to the Woman’s Temple, the Masonic Temple’s plan was a U-shape: two parallel wings linked by the State Street front.  In addition to the plan, the Masons’ major halls were to be located on top of each of these wings.  Root expressed the location of these halls with a 60° gable roof.  Rather than turning the corners of the building with this roof as he had done it the Woman’s Temple, however, he extended the front wall so that it intersected the gable roofs, not only expressing the structure of the trusses spanning the halls, but also forming an equilateral triangle, one of the symbols of the Masons (more on this later).  He had achieved a triple synthesis in this design: function, design/massing, and symbol: rare indeed, and underappreciated by critics. The gables defined the widths of the wings of the U-plan that Root expressed in the façade by recessing the remaining central piece of the façade, creating in essence, corner pavilions, his favorite elevational compositional technique (every skyscraper he designed, with the exception of the Calumet had thickened corners. In this category I include the curved corner bays of the Chicago Hotel and the Woman’s Temple).  Each corner pavilion he then further defined with wider corner piers at each side (the widened interior piers also expressed where the lines of windbracing were located). within which he then set an arcade (three arches in the corner pavilions, five between the bookend corner pavilions.

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Base. Note how the base is not solid but stands on the piers. Also, look at how Root has carried the bay windows down into the granite base, creating an interlocked joint between the grantie base and the brick body above. (Online)

Root detailed the first three floors as an appropriately–scaled base for such a tall building, sheathing it with a gray granite. He might have been able to get away with only a two-story base, but the dimensions of the entry arch were such that after Shankland had calculated the size of the transfer beam need to carry the seventeen floors above it, Root needed a third floor of granite to integrate the blind arcade above the arch that he used to hide the beam.  As in all his skyscrapers, the granite base was not detailed as a wall that met that ground but a series of piers, once again expressing the fact that this building was built with a steel frame and not a bearing wall.

The upper seventeen floors were enclosed with a matching mottled gray brick brick curtain wall that Root articulated into a 13-story arcade, a transition floor, and then a three-story top. The lowest floor (floor 4) of the arcade was detailed as a transition from the granite below to the unbroken run of eleven stories of brick above with a projected sillcourse that ran around the entire body of the building at the fifth floor, paralleling how Root had detailed the joint between the granite and the brick at the fourth floor.  Then came ten repetitive stories with their unbroken vertical piers and recessed spandrels.  

Burnham and Root, Masonic Temple. Exterior from Floor 16 to the top of the skylight. Note that the windows in the Observation Deck are open.. (Hoffmann, Root)

In the 14th story Root began to visually slow down the eye with the incremental addition of detail by first starting a thin projected vertical line of bricks in the piers of the 14th story that continued all the way to the top of each arch and then returned back down. Then he added ornament to the spandrels in floors 15 and 16 (the spandrels were unornamented until this point). Finally, the piers were brought to a stop by the arches that had the heaviest brick detailing (i.e., darkest texture and shadow) between the upper edge of the arch and the sillcourse of the 17th floor. And yes, the arched windows had the “proper” tripartite division by mullions.

Before we move to the top of the building, a word about the addition of the bay windows: why?  I mean why were they needed?  It was already, without such extras, one of the larger floor areas ever constructed.  The stores on floors three through ten couldn’t really use them to any advantage. This may explain why there were only three added on the State Street elevation: one in the center of each corner pavilion, and only one meager bay placed in the center bay of the five central arches.  In other words, there were eleven bays across the State Street façade, and only three of these contained a bay window. While I can question their value, I can compliment the designer in how he continued the bay windows from the brick body down into the third-floor granite, thereby creating an interlock between the brick and granite that softened, and enriched the joint between these two different materials. 

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple, Randolph façade. (researchgate.net)

Let’s also have a brief word about the two side elevations before we address the top.  As much as the wider piers in the State Street elevation made compositional sense, these same elements had NO COMPOSITIONAL REASON to exist on the side elevations.  If I wanted to be an apologist for Root, I might point out that in the side elevations the addition of widened piers “kinda” created corner pavilions on the two side elevations as well… but then this holds only as long as one doesn’t continue looking up to the roof where there is no such corresponding articulation, Oops… This problem is then compounded by the incorporation of the bay windows in this elevation. The “corner pavilions” have an even number (two) structural bays, not three.  So, where does one put the bay window without making this “pavilion” look lopsided?  Can’t be done.  At least there are an odd number of bays across the entire elevation so that the middle bay window is symmetric.  But then take a look at the plan and see if he did this same mistake on the north face… Nope, this elevation has its bay windows in each of the pavilions in the opposite side.  Of course, you might say, well, nobody is ever going to catch this mistake, because nobody will ever see the two sides at the same time. There is simply no excuse for such carelessness; this is not wit that we expect from Root, this was a simplistic inversion of the bay windows from one side to the other with no reason. This willfulness was and is, inexcusable in architecture, and one must wonder whether this detail was changed after Root was dead?  The two side elevations should have been the same: wider piers at both corners as bookends, with seven equal, repetitive arched bays running between these. (As he had done correctly in the State Street elevation and would also do so in the elevations of the Mills Building in San Francisco, his next design.)  If bay windows were required, these should have been located in bays 2, 4, and 6, as was done in the north elevation.

With The Dakota’s double-gabled roof motif as his precedent, Root used the triangles at either side of the elevation to symbolically express the building’s owner and occupants: Chicago’s Masonic Order.  Given the formal symbols of the Masonic Order, especially the compass and framing square, the triangle, and the Eye of Providence, it would have been natural in Root’s design process to have played with their symbolic potential in this location.    Each of the two floors that contained Masonic Spaces (fl.s 17 and 18) were articulated separate from the “skeletal” lower body by being detailed as a horizontal, planar surface into which were carved square-headed windows.  Both stories were given an emphatic horizontal accent that not only combined with the arcade to stop the vertical rise of the piers below, but also provided the necessary base and transition to the 50’ tall double-gabled roof.  This was especially true at night, when the lit repetitive windows would have created a glowing base for the triangles above, and as the Masons’ meetings typically took place during the evenings, would have signaled to those outside of the Order that a meeting was in session. This is not the first time I have mentioned Root’s use of electric light as a new design medium in the exteriors of his buildings.

Left: Masonic Temple; Center: The Reverse side of the Great Seal of the U.S., showing an unfinished pyramid (with 13 layers, one for each of the original states) being watched over by the All-seeing Eye of Providence (God), occupying the pyramid’s capstone. Right: The Reverse side of the Great Seal of the U.S.: the All-seeing Eye of Providence (God) occupying the pyramid’s capstone;

The massive 50’ triangles were then further broken with a rectilinear geometry of lines that resulted in the formation of a smaller, central triangle in which a circular window was placed: an abstracted Masonic symbol of the All-seeing Eye of God within the capstone of a pyramid. This symbol was approved for the reverse of the Great Seal of the U.S. in 1782. (This did not appear on the one-dollar bill until 1935.) Is it coincidence that Root has surrounded this triangle along its two upper sides with 13 steps, the same number of layers (13 original states) in the unfinished pyramid in the Seal? It appears that the circle was a glass window that, if so, lighted would have looked down upon the city at night, hovering above the two parallel lines of lit windows of the two Masonic floors.

I also must admit that Root’s conscious thickening of the top two sides (and not the bottom) of the triangular gables, in both their width, but even more so their three-dimensional thickness that Root detailed to extend beyond the surface of the roof in back of it, evokes in my eyes an inverted squaring frame in the Masonic symbol of the compass and framing square that even though it is at a 60° angle, is, coincidentally, the same open angle of the compass. This design was not repeated on the two triangles on the east elevation.


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

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967.

Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna. Chicago 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

Wolner, Edward W., “Chicago’s Fraternity Temples.” Roberta Moudry (ed.), The American Skyscraper: Cultural Histories. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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


Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Above: Plan 18th Floor; Below: Plan 17th Floor. They were almost identical except for the exterior windows. I have dashed in the cantilevered walkways seen in the atrium photo that do not appear in these originals. It is apparent that these were added not only for privacy screening, but also to permit access to the smaller center hall without having to move through the larger halls. (Architectural Record, March 27, 1893)

The rooms for the Masons and their secret rituals were located on floors 17-18, high above the sidewalks and completely out of sight from the non-member.  The building’s floor plan had been so designed and structured to provide large, 50’ by 111’ column-free halls with capacities of 1300 people for balls and banquets on the North and the South sides of each of these floors, that were linked by a smaller hall on the West or State Street front.

The seventeenth story was spanned by 3’ deep lattice girders that not only had sufficient depth to support the large live loads of Masonic events performed on the eighteenth floor, but also to act as tierods for the A-framed trusses that spanned the eighteenth story. 

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Left: Section through Floors 17 to the skylight; Right: Construction of the roof trusses. (Online)

These trusses not only gave the rooms on this floor a 20.5’ high ceiling which allowed for the insertion of balconies in the vaulted ceiling, but also supported the smaller nineteenth floor. 

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Left: Plan of the Observation Deck. Note the stairway immediately above the atrium, coming up to this level; Right: Plan of Floor 19. Visitors bound for the Observation deck would step out of their elevator on this level and proceed up the stairs to the Wintergarden. (Architectural Record, March 27, 1893)

 The nineteenth floor housed the men’s toilet rooms and barbershops.  The A-framed structural solution bore a remarkable resemblance to Post’s design of the top floor of his Western Union Building, built some fifteen years earlier, providing yet another precedent of Post’s work for Root’s designs.


Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Rooftop Observation Deck and Wintergarden. (chicagology.com)

As a response to not only the success of the Auditorium’s new observation deck, but also to Madison Square Garden’s rooftop beergarden, the project’s leaders decided to make the rooftop (the twenty-first floor, as there was a mechanical space or twentieth floor squeezed in between the 19th and the roof) a combined wintergarden and observation deck.  While the Chicago Hotel had a rooftop summer garden, an enclosed greenhouse would not only continue to draw paying customers year-round, but also better encourage those who were of weaker heart to experience the open-air elevator cab ride with the hope that they would come back to visit the ten floors of shopping without any reservation.  There were four express elevators that whisked visitors up to the nineteenth floor, from which they would then climb up two flights of Root’s open ironwork stairway along the edge of the vast chasm that was sheathed with mirrors at this level (if the faint-of-heart didn’t lose it at this point, looking down into a 300’ deep well that at its top was lined with mirrors…) and into the artificial Garden of Eden in the sky.  (During the gray, cold Chicago winter, the warm and lush world of the Observation deck would most definitely have seemed to be “heavenly,” in more then one way!)

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Above: Top four floors of the East (the business side) elevation. The windows on floors 18 and 19 have elevators in front of them. Floor 20 appears to have a blank wall (although the mechanical room here with the elevator equipment could have used the daylight (its hard to determine from this photo). The Obsevation Windows of the 21st Floor give an unobstructed view down to the street and out to the lake. Below: Framing sections of the skylight.
Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Framing sections of the skylight.
Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Plan of Roofdeck (Floor 21). This is my best reconstruction: visualize the stairs starting at the 19th floor with only a hole for the stairs in the roof deck for the runs coming from the landing-see drawing below. Note there are no elevators on this level so as not to obstruct the view of the lake. Also note that only the East (lake) windows are flush with the building’s exterior, i.e., one can look straight down to the street. The other three sides look down on the sloping roof. (Architectural Record, March 27, 1893)
Burnham and Root, Masonic Temple. Exterior from Floor 16 to the top of the skylight. Note that the windows in the Observation Deck are open. Also note the exposed steel trussed arches that support the skylight. (Hoffmann, Root)

The Conservatory was completely enclosed with a sloped glass roof that ran up from the building’s edge, where there were radiators to provide heat for the winter, to the vast skylight that covered the atrium.  Sliding panels of glass lined the perimeter walls of the Conservatory that could be opened on a summer day.  Similar to how Armand Moisant had detailed the skylight in the Bon Marché, Burnham & Root placed the skylight’s iron structure outside of glass making the glass from the inside seemingly to float effortlessly above the atrium.  From the Observation deck, a visitor had a 360° unobstructed vista of Lake Michigan sparkling in the east, and the infinite plains disappearing to the horizon on the north, west, and south.  This view was unobstructed because the architects had stopped the elevators at the nineteenth floor and made visitors walk up two flights of stairs.  This was necessary because the elevators’ mechanical space, above each shaft, was located in the “hidden” twentieth floor, so that it did not raise its head into the Observation deck. Had the elevators run any higher, say to the rooftop, these, in addition to their mechanical room above would have blocked the most important view: looking to the East out over Lake Michigan.

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple.  Rooftop Observation Deck and Wintergarden.  Note the stairway from the 19th Floor at the right center.  (Wolner, The American Skyscraper)


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

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967.

Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna. Chicago 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

Wolner, Edward W., “Chicago’s Fraternity Temples.” Roberta Moudry (ed.), The American Skyscraper: Cultural Histories. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

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


Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Exterior from Floor 16 to the top of the skylight. Note that the windows in the Observation Deck are open. Also note the exposed steel trussed arches that support the skylight. (Hoffmann, Root)

The challenge of designing and erecting this building was not, by any means, eased by its intended program, for this was not to be your ordinary 1890 office building.  Anticipating the demand that the Fair would generate for new hotel rooms it had been Gassette’s original plan to incorporate a hotel in the project, but at some point the hotel was replaced by a much more ambitious idea: a vertical shopping arcade.  (The recent construction spate of office towers had created a surplus of office space.) Up to this time, very few American cities offered the upscale shopper a commercial venue that offered the comfort of shopping within the protection from the elements that the Parisian shopping arcade provided (once again, Cincinnati was one of the few American cities that did, since 1876 with the Emory Arcade while Chicago did not).  The covered shopping street protected one from the weather, from the traffic on the street with its inherent smell of horses and manure, and from the hustle, bustle, and crime of crowded urban sidewalks.  This idea seemed to Gassette and his architects to make sense, on paper at least, that such a building in Chicago could succeed, especially given the city’s long, cold winters.  After all, it was to be located on the city’s major shopping street, State Street.  Therefore, Chicago’s tallest building would be built neither on Dearborn nor LaSalle, but on the northeast corner of State and Randolph, opposite Marshall Field’s store, where Potter Palmer had started the rotation of Chicago’s commercial grid from Lake to State Street.  Coincidently, and most appropriately, Chicago’s tallest vertical grid would mark the point where Chicago’s streetgrid had first rotated from its East-West river orientation to meet the railroad with a North-South emphasis.

But there was even more planned than just a new type of shopping venue, for this building was intended as a response to New York’s Madison Square Garden. As I had mentioned earlier, although the House of Representatives had voted on February 24, 1890, to give the Fair to Chicago, this was only the first of a number of decisions that had to be made before President Harrison could truly make Chicago the site of the Fair by issuing a proclamation inviting all nations to come to Chicago (that didn’t happen until November 26, twenty days after the laying of the cornerstone, and those would, indeed, be intense days for Burnham and Root).  In other words, the battle of one-upmanship between New York and Chicago was far from over when the Temple’s building permit was granted on June 21, 1890, only five days after the grand opening of Madison Square Garden with its 304’ high tower and observation deck.  Hell, Chicago was about to erect an entire skyscraper as tall as that spindly little tower. And to top it off, its wintergarden wouldn’t be only five floors above the ground, but twenty!

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Above: typical office floor (11-16) plan. Note the inner ring of offices that look onto the atrium, but do not have direct access to fresh air or day light; Below: typical shopping floor (3-10) plan. (Architectural Record, May 13, 1893)

So the first ten floors of the Masonic Temple would be designed as what today is termed a vertical shopping mall around a vertical atrium.  While large department stores, like A. T. Stewart’s in New York and Shillito’s in Cincinnati, had been designed as a stack of floors around an interior atrium during the past thirty years, this was going to be a completely different concept.  Instead of one store with its various floors built around an atrium in which the customer had already entered, a great number of stores would be arranged around the vertical space.  The challenge was to first get the customer to enter the building, and then once in, entice her to travel to the tenth floor to arrive at a particular store to shop.  Would this be as, more, or less desirable than walking along State Street?  Gassette showed his concern not only over this issue, but also over the fear of heights of potential customers by not numbering the floors in the shopping zone (so as “to do away with the idea of altitude”), but by naming them instead after distinguished Masons that “allowed Mrs. Browne to be shot up to Smith Street, instead of starting with the idea of going up to the nineth floor.”

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Ground Floor Plan. Note how the stairways were placed to either side, permitting an unobstructed approach to the elevators. (Architectural Record, May 13, 1893)

Burnham’s U-plan concept lined the two street fronts and the north alley face with single-loaded commercial space around a central atrium that opened to the east.  The site wasn’t deep enough to complete a doughnut plan and still have an atrium wide enough to balance its interior height of 300,’ so he closed the eastern face with a curved bank of 14 elevators to complete the atrium. The extreme height of the atrium meant that the architects would have to employ every trick in the book to coerce sufficient daylight to penetrate into the lower floors, even though they had resorted to the window wall behind the elevator tracks, similar to how they designed the Phoenix Building. 

Burnham & Root, Phœnix Building. South (rear) elevation.. The windows behind the four elevators that were supported by iron skeleton framing. (urbanremainschicago.com)

They also lined the storefronts between the balcony and the shops with large plate glass windows. This not only provided clear views into the shops to entice customers to come in, but also allowed daylight from the exterior windows to bounce into the atrium.  The last detail they employed to maximize the use of daylight was using highly polished materials on all the surfaces: alabaster-encased columns, marble-sheathed ceilings, mosaic tile floors, and even mirrors in the upper levels of the atrium, to help reflect daylight into the atrium. 

George H. Edbrooke, Adams Express Building, Chicago, 1883. (Online)

A shopper would enter the building under the colossal 30’-6” high by 29’ wide granite arch, (this was not, however, the largest entry arch in Chicago, that honor still belonged to George Edbrooke’s 35’ wide cyclopian arch in the Adams Express Building of 1883: v.3, sec.7.15),  through a double-doored vestibule to minimize the stack effect, and into a relatively low vestibule, not unlike the Rookery entrance sequence.  This space provided the spatial transition or compression that set the stage for the shock of entering into the tallest space in the U.S., the 20-story, 300’ high atrium. (This was twice the height of the tallest Gothic nave in Europe, Beauvais Cathedral at 138′ as well as that of St. Peter’s at 152.’ I thought that, of course, the interior height of St. Peter’s dome was much taller, but then I tried to find this dimension, could not find it other than it is 240′ to the start of the dome with a diameter of 138.’ Thist calculates a height to the dome’s oculus as 309′ so the Temple’s atrium appears to have been as tall (minus 7 feet) as St. Peter’s dome! The interior height of the U.S. Capitol dome is only 180.’ Bottomline, the size of this atrium deserves more publicity than it has received.)  

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. East elevation showing the all-glass wall behind the elevators. (Online)

In the morning on a bright day, the rising sun would have flooded the atrium, passing through the east wall of windows behind the elevators, accentuating the incessant movement of all 14 cabs and their shadows.  A first-time visitor most likely could have missed the stairways to the second floor as these spilled out, onto the ground floor immediately adjacent to the edge of the opening at the second floor, as they walked awestruck into the atrium.  The lateral location of these stairs on the First and Second Floor not only provided an unimpeded view from the entry to the elevators, but also allowed the architects to carve the second floor opening deeper into the floor plate. Note that the Third Floor stretches across the two columns and is not carved back, creating a subtle two-story high transition to the elevator lobby.  The lateral stairways ended at the Third Floor where the stairs were then joined at the centerline of the atrium for the remaining height of the building.  A new visitor would have to be careful into which elevator s/he walked into because although there were 14 elevators, they were divided into two banks: while the first bank of seven cabs stopped at all 20 floors, the second bank of “express” elevators served only the upper ten floors (i.e., the offices and the Masonic Rooms). I have found reports that four of these went directly to the roof garden to make this effort as convenient as possible.  Meanwhile, if at any time a shopper wanted a bite to eat, a 2000-seat restaurant, the largest in the city, was available in the basement.

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Ground Floor Rotunda. Note the windows in the wall behind the elevator shafts. The stairways to the Second Floor are at either edge of the photo, so as not to impede the direct view and route to the elevators. While the Second Floor is recessed between the two center columns, the Third Floor projects flush with the columns, creating a lower lobby for the elevator bank. (Hoffmann, Root)
Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Atrium at the Second and Third Floors. Note the large panes of plate glass used in the storefronts. This photo also shows the entresol stairs stopping at the Third Floor (in the middle) and then were redirected to the center of the atrium (just visible in the right upper corner), going from the Third to the Fourth Floor, etc. (Hoffmann, Root)
Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Stairway between floors 3-20. (Wolner, The American Skyscraper.)

Floors 11-16 were designed for rental offices that required a shallower depth from the exterior windows than the shops on the floors below.  The corridors were correspondingly pulled in from their location at the perimeter of the balcony along the atrium to an interior location that divided the office space into a double-loaded corridor scheme.  This pushed the “exterior” window wall of the inner ring of offices to the outer edge of the floor at the atrium, for which Root designed another modern, straightforward, unornamented elevation sheathed with a veined, white carrara marble with a rectilinear grid design similar to those he had designed in the Phoenix and Rookery. 

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. View down the atrium from the Fourteenth floor. I have rotated the original image 90° to better focus on the stairway. At the bottom of this photo the “exterior wall” of the offices floors is visible. Note the straightforward, unornamented design in carrara marble of this elevation. At the ground floor the entresol stairway design is visible. (Merwood, 1890)
Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. View up the atrium from the Eleventh floor. This is a better view of Root’s “rational” wall elevation. Instead of emphasizing the horizontal construction of supporting the enclosure at each spandrel beam, as he had done in the Rookery, here he has expressed the rectilinear geometry of the skeleton frame (one method is not better or more rational than the other). Note the corridors cantilevered over the 16th story in floors 17 and 18 (Masonic floors). These do not appear on the floor plans below and maybe, were added to screen the activities in these spaces. (Online)
Burnham & Root. Left: Masonic Temple, Atrium elevation; Right: Rookery, Lightcourt elevation

This internal ring of offices, however, presented a unique problem:  how to provide these offices with fresh air?  In all previous double-loaded corridor buildings (i.e., the Rookery), the atrium’s skylight had been lowered to the ground floor in order to be able to allow the offices in the inner ring to be able to directly open their windows to the outside to gain fresh air ventilation.  This was an impossibility, however, with the Masonic Temple’s skylight being located at the roof.  These same offices would also suffer a similar reduction in the amount of daylight that was available for the same reason.  I have always been vexed by the ventilation issue in these offices ever since my first introduction to this building.  Either there was a special mechanical solution to this problem (which I have yet to uncover) or, quite simply, the rent charged for these 66 offices was accordingly reduced.


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

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967.

Merwood-Salisbury, Joanna. Chicago 1890. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2009.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

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


LeRoy S. Buffington, 28-story Cloudscraper, Minneapolis, 1888. (Inland Architect, July 1888)

All of these tall buildings in New York that I have reviewed were constructed with ‘boxed” construction, that is, while they had iron skeleton framing in their interiors, they still had masonry bearing walls/piers supporting the exterior.  We have seen that this even included the 309’ tall World Building, whose walls at grade were 7’-4” thick. (Yes, Bradford Gilbert’s structure for the Tower Building was completely iron-framed, but this due more to expedience given the slender depth of the site than a straight-on attempt to build an all-skeleton framed building.) In fact, with the exception of Jenney’s 16-story Manhattan Building, I have shown that all of Chicago’s skyscrapers up to this point also had at least one masonry bearing or party wall. I posited that the reasons for this were two-fold: first, that Chicago’s building code required a masonry party wall for fireproof reasons, and second, economics, that is, a masonry bearing wall was cheaper than an iron-framed wall.  The Manhattan was the exception, and this was due to the fact that an iron-framed party wall on both interior lotlines was less expensive because the two neighboring buildings contained printing businesses, and the cost of underpinning these to strengthen their respective foundations (in money and time) was prohibitive. Jenney had no choice but to erect the first tall building in Chicago that relied solely on an iron frame.  My analysis of its structure, however, showed it to have been slightly “jerry-rigged,” that is, its structure wasn’t a systematic approach to a free-standing tall building but rather an empirical solution to the foundation problem.

The Masons had assembled the entire quarter block at the northeast corner of Sate and Randolph, with alleys on the north and east, i.e., like the Rookery; there would be no party walls required.  Unlike the Rookery, the Temple was planned to be twice the height of the Rookery. There was no way of avoiding the facts, that is, a 20-story masonry bearing wall on Chicago’s soil would sink to China, as the Auditorium’s tower was proving. It was finally the moment to take on LeRoy Buffington’s challenge (v.4, sec.3.1). Could a free-standing skyscraper be built solely with a metal skeleton frame? Burnham, Root, E.C. Shankland and George Fuller would be the first to attempt to build Buffington’s iron skeleton-framed Cloudscraper, first proposed some two years earlier, and as such, it’s design and construction engendered great interest in the American press, equally in the Midwest as well as on the East Coast.  It marked the end of the beginning phase in the development of the American skyscraper.  Francisco Mujica, in his early history of the skyscraper published in 1930, stated that the Masonic Temple was “the first really important skyscraper in history.”  A statement my research most emphatically supports.

Structurally, the Masonic Temple would fulfill Buffington’s prophesy in the Cloudscraper. A twenty-story steel frame with no supplementary rigidity provided by any bearing walls.  Lateral stability was gained with the same system that Burnham & Root first tried in the Chicago Hotel: two lines of continuous diagonal bracing that were located on either side of the elevator bank that also supplied the columns for the long, clearspan trusses over the Masonic spaces in the upper floors.  The diagonal bracing extended for two floors, typically intersecting the intermediate floor at a column connection.  Very concerned about the overall stiffness of the frame, Burnham & Root’s engineer E.C. Shankland employed two-story iron columns that were arranged in an alternating pattern so that half of the columns in each floor were always continuous at that point.  (This practice continued to be used in many skyscrapers up through the World Trade Center!)  The foundations were detailed as the by-now standard construction of a concrete pad upon which were placed steel beams (one of Root’s many technical firsts). Shankland had calculated the amount of settlement he expected once the building had been completed and set the elevation of the top of the footings this much higher than the desired final elevation for the ground floor (again, a standard practice by then), expecting to bring the behemoth to a smooth landing…

Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple. Entry arch. Note the eight low relief niches above the arch, in which were placed various Masonic symbols. This arcade hid the seven-foot deep transfer beam. (Hoffmann, Meanings)

The three-story triumphal-arched entry posed a significant structural problem in that there were two columns that carried the load of the seventeen floors above the arch that had to be transferred to the sides of the arch so that the opening would be column-free.  Shankland placed a 25 ton, 7’ deep by 43’ long box girder immediately above the arch to carry the column loads over to the adjacent columns.  (There is some irony in having to use a seven-foot deep steel beam so that an arch with this depth would have no loads to carry except its own self-weight…) The Chicago Tribune realized that the city’s builders had invented a new “type of the American school of Architecture, the masonry is only to protect the real supports of the building, steel beams.” (Once again, there are no similar claims made in contemporary accounts of the Home Insurance Building’s construction.)  I’ll take the opportunity here to point out that the Tribune had called this the “American school of Architecture,” to reinforce my argument that there were, indeed, those in Chicago during this period that were aware of, and encouraging the development of a modern style of architecture in Chicago, i.e., the Chicago School of architecture..


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

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

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


Burnham & Root, Masonic Temple, Chicago, NE corner of State and Randolph, 1890. (Online)

Five days after the laying of the cornerstone for the Woman’s Temple, a much grander ceremony on November 6, 1890, preceded the laying of the cornerstone for the 302’-1” Masonic Temple, for there was no more important building for such a ceremony.  Mayor DeWitt C. Creiger, past Grand Master of the Illinois State Lodge, led a procession to the site of four thousand Masons, including those who held the all-important 33° Scottish Rite, dressed in black clothes to set-off their white aprons.  The project was the idea of Norman T. Gassette, the Grandmaster of the Chicago Lodge, who most likely planned it as a response to the Minneapolis Lodge’s recently completed huge, 8-story building designed by Long & Kees, the newest and largest Temple in the Midwest. (I have not uncovered any evidence that either Root or Burnham were Masons.)

Long & Kees, Masonic Temple, Minneapolis, 1886. Hennepin elevation. (Larson, Spirit of H.H. Richardson)

The Chicago Lodge had outgrown its rooms that it had rented in Richardson’s American Express Building since 1884, and Gassette appreciated the potential publicity that could be gained for the organization if Chicago would win the contest for the 1892 Fair.  In anticipation of Chicago’s victory, the lodge bought the property at the northeast corner of State and Randolph in January 1890 and announced that it was planning to build a 12-story building that would contain the headquarters of the Illinois and Chicago orders, as well as an 850-room European-style Hotel.  The Chicago Tribune reported that the new building would “honor Masonry, much as the Auditorium (that was still receiving its final finishing touches) has honored its promoters.”  It was not at all odd that the report had mentioned both the planned Temple and the Auditorium (with its 17-story tower) in the same article, for the Mason’s planned building grew in height to 15 stories in February 1890, and then to 18 stories in July, when Inland Architect noted the real objective of the building committee: “The extreme height of the building up to the finial on the gables as shown in the design will be 288,’ 48 higher than the top of the Auditorium tower,” that had just been completed during the previous month (the added U.S. Signal Corps watch tower brought its final height to 275’).  Once again, the challengers who were planning a taller building had waited until construction of their competition was completed so that it would be next to impossible to add extra height to compete with the planned taller height of their tower.   The final design would comprise 20 stories to a final height of 302’-1.”

While the Chicago Hotel had given Root the opportunity to begin to avenge the loss in late 1886 of the design of the Auditorium to Adler & Sullivan as Root’s hotel rose four floors higher than that in the Auditorium, Sullivan’s 17-story tower was still the second highest structure in the city, overshadowed only by the Board of Trade’s tower, another lost commission and sore spot with Burnham and Root.  As we have seen, when the 303’ (322’ counting the corona) tall Board of Trade tower was completed in early 1885, it was the first Chicago structure to be taller than New York’s tallest, the spire of Trinity Church at 281’ (though the Washington Monument still under construction was already taller than the Board of Trade).  It was not coincidence, then, that on the same day that the permit to build the Chicago Hotel was approved, June 21, 1890, the permit to build the city’s tallest building (in terms of number of floors), the Masonic Temple, was also secured.  Root, who had already designed Chicago’s first and largest skyscrapers, had his opportunity to finally avenge the loss of both of Chicago’s two tallest commissions.  Note that I am limiting the Masonic Temple’s height title to only Chicago, because in New York, when the permit for the Masonic Temple was approved, New York had already reclaimed the title of the tallest building in America (and would keep it until the Sears, now Willis Building was topped off in 1973 and returned the title to Chicago.) The 305’ Statue of Liberty had overtaken Chicago’s Board of Trade, unless one counted Sperry’s corona that topped off at 322.’ Post’s New York World Building was quickly approaching its final height of 309’ (done on December 10, 1890), and construction of the tower for Madison Square Garden had already reached 304’ when it opened on June 16, 1890, with its ultimate height, including Saint-Gaudens Diana, still to be determined (for obvious reasons).

The Masonic Temple (302’), Trinity Church (281’), Statue of Liberty (305’), U.S. Capitol (288’). Scientific American, February 10, 1894. Note that the writer has not included the taller Madison Square Garden tower (341’), the spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral (330’) and the New York World Building (309’). (Chicagology.com)

So I have always been perplexed by reports that refer to the 302’ Masonic Temple when it was completed in June 1892 as the tallest building in Chicago (it would not the tallest until the tower of the 303’ Board of Trade was demolished in 1895), or as the tallest skyscraper in the world (the 309’ World Building had been completed only five weeks after the laying of the Temple’s cornerstone), or especially those who claim that Masonic Temple had finally taken from New York the title of the tallest building in America.  It was never the tallest building in the U.S., let alone the world, unless one defines tallest not in terms of its physical dimensions, but as having the greatest number of floors, which what must have obviously been meant at the time (for I know of no other building that had 20 floors, the World Building had 19).  All these claims appear to simply be typical “Windy City urban legends.”  Quite frankly, the matter was moot in less than two years anyway after the completion of the Masonic Temple, for the 348’ high Manhattan Life Insurance Building in New York designed by Kimball & Thompson with its own cupola, ended the argument (with the aid of Chicago’s  self-imposed height limit off 1891) once and for all. 

Kimball & Thompson, Manhattan Life Insurance Building, New York, 1893. (Stern, New York 1900)


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

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

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


One entered through a two-story, skylighted vestibule, again like the Rialto and Kansas City Board of Trade (and poignantly, Post’s Mills Building), that led directly to a rotunda formed by a curved bank of eight elevators that was located immediately to the west of the central, crossing corridor. 

The vast majority of the building was dedicated to rented office space in order to help pay the cost of the annual $40,000 lease, nonetheless, there were various-sized rooms to provide space for the headquarters for the national, state, and local organizations.  The project’s leader, Matilda Bradley Carse, had a vision of providing a variety of services and functions for the betterment of the city’s women.  The most important space, however, was a 700-seat auditorium on the ground floor, that Carse had named Willard Hall, after the organization’s founder and national president, Miss Frances E. Willard.  Similar to the Chicago Opera Block, Willard Hall had its own entry not from the building’s central rotunda, but located on Monroe Street. 

Burnham & Root, W.C.T.U. Woman’s Temple. Monroe Street Entrance. (Online)

Root once again worked with William Pretyman and Walter Crane (the same Pre-Raphaelite jolly band that decorated Cleveland’s Society for Savings Bank: v.4, sec.5.3). The hall “was decorated with thirteen stained-glass lights and two rostral paintings commissioned from Walter Crane… Crane’s subjects [were] Temperance, Purity, Mercy, and Justice – all of which he represented by elongated female figures in the Pre-Raphaelite style of (Edward) Burne-Jones.” (I included a copy of Crane’s mural from the Society for Savings as an example of the colors Crane employed.)

Walter Crane, Mercy & Justice, Willard Hall, 1893. (victorianweb.org)
Walter Crane, “Fortune Never Comes With Both Hands Open,” Cleveland Society For Savings Bank, 1891. (The First Hundred Years)

The cornerstone was laid on November 1, 1890, with a children’s chorus singing “The Saloons Must Go.”  Root is reputed to have characteristically responded with a puckish suggestion that he and his friends needed to leave and have a drink.

WCTU Woman’s Temple, La Salle Street Entrance.


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

Hoffmann, Donald. The Meanings of Architecture: Buildings and Writings by John Wellborn Root.  New York: Horizon, 1967.

Monroe, Harriet. John Wellborn Root; A Study of His Life and Work. Park Forest: Prairie School Press, 1966.

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