Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University

[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University (1889) Adler & Sullivan, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

December was probably not the best month in which to debut a new theater in Chicago. The stockholders and promoters of the stately 1,900-seat auditorium were keeping their fingers crossed that the formal dedication of the Central Music Hall on December 8, 1879 would not go down in history as one of the city’s snowiest or coldest but instead as one of the most brilliant theatrical debuts the city had ever seen. Their wish was granted. The weather cooperated and Carlotta Patti’s mellifluous voice resonated majestically into the upper most reaches of the vast room. The isacoustic curving, “democratically” designed Music Hall was a triumph, and the venue’s architect Dankmar Adler became the talk of the town.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

One of the stockholders in the Central Music Hall sitting in the audience that night was a wealthy Chicago real estate heir and patron of the arts. Ferdinand W. Peck and his brothers had come into a substantial inheritance upon the death of their father in 1871, and the Peck boys grew  their patrimony into an even larger and more substantial fortune in the years following the Great Fire. Ferd Peck was a big fan of grand opera, and by the mid-1880s the major domo of the Chicago Grand Opera Festival began a campaign to construct the largest and most acoustically perfect auditorium in the world in his hometown. He enlisted the help of his wealthy friends and fellow Music Hall investors like N.K. Fairbank, Marshall Field, Edson Keith, Levi Leiter, George Pullman, and began talks with Adler.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The architect’s reputation as the sublime supplier of acoustical perfection – and without a bad seat   in the house – had soared after the completion of the Music Hall. By the time Peck and his Chicago Grand Auditorium Association came calling in 1886 Adler had acquired a partner, 29-year-old Louis Sullivan. Adler brought Sullivan into his office in 1879, and recognizing the immense talent of his employee, Adler invited Sullivan join him as a full partner in the firm in 1883. In addition to industrial, residential and commercial projects, Adler & Sullivan had reworked the auditorium of Chicago’s McVicker’s Theatre and had created an operatic performance space inside the enormous shell of the Interstate Exposition Building, but nothing anywhere near the scope of the new Grand Auditorium building had ever come across the architect’s drafting tables. Peck’s belief in Adler made other Association shareholders nervous, and although the investors agreed to give the pair a chance, all of the drawings produced by the firm had to be looked over by outside experts and given the okay. On January 30, 1887 excavation began on a large piece of property on the north side of Congress Street between Michigan and Wabash Avenues.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, National Register of Historic Places / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The property. The Association didn’t actually own the land that the largest private construction    project ever undertaken in the United States would sit upon. Peck had used his real estate skills and connections to acquire the 363 x 187 x 160 foot plot under long term lease agreements which stretched for a term of 99 years. Long term land leases were not uncommon, but, unfortunately, it was a decision that would cause quite a kerfuffle years later. As for the building itself, although the primary impetus for the entire operation was to provide a top-notch theater for Chicagoans of all stripes, the stockholders were wary that the performance space would ever be able to pay for itself so the design included an income producing hotel and commercial office space. The idea of combining a theater with alternative income generating tenants wasn’t exactly new. Adler’s Music Hall was fronted on its State Street side with regularly paying office and retail tenants, and the old Crosby’s Opera House which had burned down in the fire, had ground floor retail, galleries, and office space for rent. The idea of incorporating a 400-room hotel into a theater project of this scale was untried, but with a number of hostelries already lining Michigan Avenue the Auditorium Hotel would not only join the row but provide visitors with the latest in luxury accommodations.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, City of Chicago Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

From the get-go, Peck not only wanted the grand auditorium to host opera for a mass audience, but businessman that he was, the enormous room was also intended to serve as a meeting place for any number of large gatherings – like conventions. The Republican National Party had chosen Chicago as the site for four of its presidential electoral gatherings since nominating Abraham Lincoln in 1860, and the Republican confab in the Exposition Building in 1884 had given an extra incentive to Peck’s grand idea. What if Chicago were to become the go-to spot for all sorts of national conventions? The possibilities were endless. The Auditorium’s auditorium wasn’t exactly finished when the Party gathered together in the summer of 1888 to nominate Benjamin Harrison as their nominee. The brick walls were in place, and the space was covered by a roof and its supporting trusses, so with a few thousand Edison electric light bulbs and many more thousands of yards of bunting to mask the raw interior, the 8,000 attendees would be none the wiser.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, Historic Michigan Boulevard District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

On the night of December 9, 1889, almost ten years to the day that Adler’s Music Hall was revealed to the general public, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison and Vice President Levi Morton joined 4,237 other patrons as they listened to Carlotta Patti’s sister Adelina sing “Home, Sweet Home” to a packed house. The massive, brilliantly decorated auditorium surpassed all expectations. Those seated in the upper most row of the upper most balcony of Adler’s megaphone shaped room could not only see the diminutive soprano, but could hear her as clearly as if seated within feet of the stage. It marked another triumph for Adler and catapulted Sullivan into the pantheon of one of the world’s great, architectural visionaries. Unfortunately not long after the stellar debut, the “luxury” hotel was considered outdated when “in-bath” rooms became all the rage. After the Chicago’s symphony orchestra moved to a dedicated performance space in 1904, followed by the opera company 25 years later, office rents were all that the owners could rely on to try and keep the project afloat. The Great Depression clanged the building’s death knell. By the time Roosevelt College took an interest in the massive white elephant, the building was crumbling and one of the property owner’s estates owed over $1 million dollars in back taxes. Remember the 99-year deals Peck had made when he assembled the land in the late 1880s? Well Roosevelt was able to buy-up almost all of the encumbered ground underneath the building save for one parcel of property. Chicago attorney Abraham Teitelbaum owned 52 1/2 by 170 feet of soil beneath the north edge of the building on its Michigan Avenue side and he wanted $800,000 for his share. The school said no.


[Auditorium Theatre – Roosevelt University, Auditorium Building, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Eventually Teitelbaum settled for $336,623 and Roosevelt became the owners of the forlorn structure and, for the first time, the ground it stood on. Over the past 68 years, under the University’s stewardship, and the support of a dedicated board, volunteers, and the general public, the Auditorium Theatre will triumphantly celebrate its 125th anniversary with a gala performance by Carlotta and Adelina Patti’s great-grand niece Patti LuPone in Adler & Sullivan’s pitch perfect auditorium.



See more of the story at: Supreme Reprieve; Arcaded Away; Auditorium Building Tower; Ganz Hall – Roosevelt University; Auditorium Building Dining Room; and Auditorium Theatre, Chicago.



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Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion

[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion (1885) James R. Willett, Willett & Pashley, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The soil was sandy and somewhat unstable, but with a good stone foundation the house would most likely settle into its site just fine. Architect James R. Willett had learned a lot about such things during his service as an engineer in the Civil War, and after the conflict was over, and landing in Chicago, he set-up an architectural practice. In 1880 who should arrive in the city to take over as Chicago’s very first Roman Catholic archbishop, none other an old war buddy, Father Patrick Feehan. Once he settled in, the Catholic prelate asked the architect to design a residence befitting the status of the leader of the recently elevated diocese and chose a site at the northern edge of a new residential subdivision the archbishop was developing in and around the grounds of the old Catholic cemetery.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, 1555 N. State Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

James Patrick Feehan was serving as the Bishop of Nashville when the Pope called him to Chicago. The city had been pastored by a Catholic priest since the arrival of Father John Mary Irenaeus St. Cyr in 1833, and by the time the Right Rev. Father Feehan arrived 47 years later, St. Cyr’s 32 family parish had grown into a 150,000 family archdiocese. Feehan moved into the episcopal residence on Ohio street when he first got to town, then moved over to North LaSalle Avenue before deciding to build a much larger residence on the piece of land overlooking Lincoln Park – the former City Cemetery.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

It was a large piece of property, certainly one of the largest in the emerging residential     neighborhood north of Division Street and east of Dearborn. Feehan’s episcopal house plot had been acquired by the city’s first bishop William Quarter in the early 1840s. Located at the northeast corner of the Catholic cemetery, the parcel wasn’t included in the cemetery’s first plat map because in short order the Bishop sold the tract to the Sister’s of Mercy for $100. The nuns had considered building a hospital on the site but they eventually sold the land back to the diocese when Bishop Anthony O’Regan paid a bargain basement price of $1.00 for the vacant lot in 1856. O’Regan, not popular with a large segment of the city’s Catholics, had recently built himself a new residence on diocese property at the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Madison Street which proved to be a perfect foil in a mud-slinging p.r. campaign organized against the cleric. Dubbed the “Bishop’s Palace,” the house became a symbol of O’Regan’s total disregard for his flock and his complete mismanagement of the diocese. The name stuck, and even as future bishops moved from one house to another, no matter the size or location, the Catholic leader’s home was there after referred to as his “palace.”


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Astor Street Historic District, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By the time Archbishop Feehan made plans to build a house the size of a palace, no one batted an eye. Chicago’s Catholics were proud of their stature within the larger American community and were happy to show that they had the financial resources to build a house worthy of their new status as an archdiocese. Willett and his new partner Alfred Pashley delivered. The house was one of the largest residences in the city, and featured one of the largest number of impressive brick chimney stacks around. Feehan was able to pay for the place because he was in the midst of grading streets and subdividing the old Catholic graveyard for residential development, and selling house lots at a premium price. On January 15, 1882 the Chicago Tribune announced in their Real Estate column that agent George Rozet had sold over $100,000 worth of property to various individuals including a large swath of land along the “Lake-Shore drive from Schiller to North Avenue” to Potter Palmer for a tidy $90,695, or just over $2 million today.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Near North Side, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When the archbishop moved into his “House of Many Chimney’s” in 1885 Potter Palmer’s ownCastle” was nearing completion on the Drive. Soon many more homes occupied by members of Chicago’s upper crust would line the streets carved out of the old cemetery grounds. In 1924, Archbishop George Mundelein was elevated to the position of Cardinal, and the large red brick house facing North Avenue between State Parkway and Astor Street shifted from “Palace” to the Cardinal’s Mansion. And although Mundelein and his successors moved into the residence without giving it a second thought, by the early 2000s the first native born Chicagoan to sit on the cathedra of the Church of the Holy Name decided that perhaps the time had come to sell this very valuable piece of Gold Coast real estate. Although in a prime location, the large house with its substantial lot could prove to be a tough sell. Francis Cardinal George would not only have to find a deep-pocketed buyer willing to purchase an aging structure in need of updating, but also a buyer willing to pay an estimated $14 million for a home located in an historic landmark district.


[Archbishop’s Residence – Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago – Cardinal’s Mansion, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The real estate market collapsed in 2008, and in September of this year Pope Francis announced     that Bishop Blase Cupich would be Chicago’s next archbishop. On November 18, 2014 upon his installation as the leader of the country’s third largest Roman Catholic diocese, for the first time in nearly 130 years, the Archbishop of Chicago will not be living at 1555 N. State Parkway and will instead reside in a small apartment in the rectory of Holy Name Cathedral. While the mansion is used for special gatherings and events, a committee of clergy and lay members will report to the archbishop who will decide on the house’s fate within the Chicago church.



See more of Willett & Pashley’s work for the Roman Catholic archdiocese at: Holy Name Cathedral.




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425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago

[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago (ca 1872-1874) Bauer & Loebnitz, Burling & Adler, William Arend, Otis H. Placey, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

“Reborn,” “Rebirth,” “Rebuilding,” three “r’s” used repeatedly in headline after headline as    Chicago built itself all over again following the devastating fire in the fall of 1871. Haines H. Magie, one of the city’s early pioneers and one of its wealthiest citizens, was caught up in the frenzy of reconstruction investing tens of thousands of dollars to rebuild a property investment portfolio that had been consumed by the fire and been turned to ash. Magie not only lost a great deal of his building inventory in the Great Conflagration, but he had been severely burned while trying to save his north side home from the approaching inferno and had come close to losing his own life. His recovery was slow, but with his son-in-law Lambert Tree on hand to help the former dry goods merchant turned millionaire real estate mogul reclaim his property investment income, Magie and Tree got to work building buildings.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Augustus Bauer had arrived in Chicago in 1853 after a stop over in New York City where he helped oversee the construction of the Crystal Palace, and a degree in architecture from the Polytechnic in Darmstad, Germany. Thirteen years later Robert Loebnitz, another Polytechnic grad emigrated to the city, joined Bauer, and established a thriving architectural practice. Post-fire, many former clients and a slew of new ones hired Bauer and Loebnitz to design new “fireproof” buildings on rubble cleared lots, and when the time came for Magie and Tree to rebuild on the northeast corner of Clark and Michigan Street (today’s Hubbard) they secured the services of the Polytechnic grads. It was a heady time for the city and its architects. On the first anniversary of the Great Fire in 1872, the Chicago Tribune counted 51 buildings totaling 2,711 linear feet of frontage, costing $2,723,000 having been designed and built under the Bauer & Loebnitz banner alone.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Twenty-five feet north of Magie’s lot architects Burling & Adler were hired to design a 3-story    business block with retail space on the ground floor. The second and third floors were set aside for a two level meeting hall, and soon after the building was completed the large room was being used by the Swedish Singing Society for their weekly gatherings and by the Germania Mannerchor every Tuesday and Thursday evening. Unlike Bauer or Loebnitz, Edward Burling came to the city in the early 1840s with no formal training as an architect, but he used his skills as a journeyman carpenter to find work on one of the the many incarnations of the city’s famous Tremont Hotel. After a stint as a general superintendent for real estate tycoon William B. Ogden and his attorney and business partner William E. Jones, Burling was ready to start his own architectural practice. By the time a young Dankmar Adler joined the Burling office in 1871, the former carpenter had established himself as one of the city’s go-to architects, and in 1872, the firm could boast of having completed 100 post-fire buildings comprising 8,675 feet of frontage, costing $4,022,000.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

As the rebuilding boom exploded between 1872 and 1875, a small 3-story structure was squeezed   into the lot between the Bauer & Loebnitz and Burling & Adler buildings. Architect William Arend designed a 3-story commercial building on the next piece of property to the north, and Otis H. Placey’s 3-story design on the northeast corner of Illinois Street completed the west facing block. The row may have been brand new but the buildings looked very much like the thousands of facades that had lined the streets of the city prior to the fire. The immediate post-fire architects and their clients weren’t interested in pushing the envelope much farther than they had before October 1871. This was no time to gamble, time was money, and other than making sure that the new construction was “fireproof,” the innovations that would make Chicago’s architecture world famous would have to wait.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Magie and Tree were able to lease most of their office space to a number of doctors, including Cook County physician Ferdinand Henrotin and founder of Henrotin Hospital. Eventually the offices above the corner saloon of the Magie Building were filled with lawyers who were just a hop-skip-and-a-jump from the County Courthouse and Jail on Michigan (Hubbard) Street. As the city grew and expanded, the area around the 400 block of north Clark fell into economic decline. Many of the rooms above the ground floor retail spaces became home to a transient population who were able to rent rooms by the day or the week, and the building stock suffered through neglect and disinterest.


[425-449 North Clark Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Originally built by different owners employing five different architects, the cohesive looking facades along Clark Street were still fairly intact when Rick Bayless opened Frontera Grill in the old Burling & Adler building in 1987. Two years later the pioneering restauranteur opened Topolobampo in the same building, and in 2010 Xoco opened on the ground floor at the corner of Illinois Street originally occupied by John W. Stead’s fish market. Freidman Properties restored the exterior of the Magie Building, and brought the interior office spaces into the 21st century.  Today the slightly altered but mostly restored row of “Athens Marble” and brick-fronted structures is one of the city’s few remaining examples that gives a hint of what a Chicago street might have looked like right after the fire, and is the oldest post-fire commercial group that still occupies its entire original city block.



See more 1870s-era “marble” fronted structures at: Washington Block, William J. Onahan Row Houses, Isaac N. Camp Row Houses, 810-812 N. Dearborn Street Row Houses, and another pre-fire/post-fire redo from Burling & Adler at: Scottish Rite Cathedral, Chicago.




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1550 North State Parkway

[1550 North State Parkway (1911) Marshall & Fox, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The combined vacant lots at the southwest corner of State Street and North Avenue comprised a     very generous 98 x 132 feet, providing plenty of room for a dwelling place befitting a multi-millionaire – and it came with a view. To the north the vast expanse of Lincoln Park exposed the parcel to the open sky and fresh Lake Michigan breezes. To the east, the Catholic archbishop’s nearly block long piece of property with its landscaped gardens and house of many chimneys, provided a break from the rhythm of the lot-line to lot-line mansions and town homes rising along the streets of this emerging residential neighborhood. But after owning the 12,936 square foot vacant lot for only a short amount of time, Hobart Chatfield Chatfield-Taylor decided not to build, and in 1906 he sold his spacious piece of property for $70,000 to Charles Dickinson who planned on building his own millionaire behooving mansion on the open and airy corner.


[1550 North State Parkway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Dickinson’s building plan didn’t go much farther than Chatfield-Taylor, and in March 1911 architect Benjamin Marshall paid $85,000 for the privilege to maybe, finally, construct something on the prominent site. Marshall however wasn’t interested in building a private home, he purchased the lot as an investment and planned on building a sumptuous, income producing, multi-unit apartment building for tenants willing to pay upwards of $8,000 a year (around $200,000 a year today) to live in one of the 8,000 square foot, 14-room apartments. Marshall had introduced luxury living for a luxury loving clientele in 1900 when he designed the Raymond Apartments at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Walton Street, and in 1905 he designed the 8-story, one apartment per floor, Marshall Apartments at the northwest corner of Cedar Street and Lake Shore Drive. That building was one of many in Caleb Howard Marshall’s real estate investment portfolio. Benjamin’s father had made a fortune in the flour milling business, and after consolidating and merging his company into the National Biscuit Company at the turn of the 20th century he retired. After Caleb’s death in April 1910 and with his inheritance in hand, Benjamin would now take on the role of architect, developer and partner/owner of a number of future apartment projects constructed for affluent Chicagoans.


[1550 North State Parkway, Gold Coast National Historic District / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The 12-story building at 1550 N. State at the corner of North Avenue, designed by Marshall in conjunction with his business partner architect Charles Fox, would soon be heralded as the city’s most elegant and elite address. The elaborately detailed exterior teased and tantalized the eye of the passerby as an indication of what one might expect to find inside if one were lucky enough to pass through the doors of the discreet and tasteful entry. The $600+ per month rental (which would translate to roughly $16,700 today) meant that only a select group of the city’s citizenry would be able to afford one of the ten floor-through residences. The idea of giving up your extremely large single family home to live with other people stacked one on top of another seemed like a hard sell. But as the Gilded Age moved further into the 20th century, trading in your 10 or 15,000 square foot mansion for 8,000 square feet on a single floor didn’t seem like such a bad idea.


[1550 North State Parkway, Gold Coast, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Among the first tenants at 1550 were Mr. and Mrs. Frederick Countiss, the John Mitchells, the Albert Dicks, and Marshall Field’s nephew Stanley and his wife. The 14-room units included staff quarters, and if your apartment flat didn’t provide enough sleeping accommodations for your servants you could always rent additional space in the first two floors of the building which were set aside for such purposes. Among the butlers, maids, chauffers and cooks counted in the 1920 census there were the ten servants each in the William Kelley and David Cummings households, nine serving to the needs of the Albert Dicks, eight for the Edward Moores, and seven for the Frederick Rawsons. Their five other neighbors seemed to do just fine with a service staff of just five or six. Help was required when trying to maintain an opulent lifestyle in an apartment with a 700 square foot “Grand Salon” (or what we would call the living room), a 560 square foot “Chambre” for “Madame,” one for “Monsieur” and five more “Chambre a Coucher.” Then there were meals to be cooked and served in the expansive 625 square foot dining room.


[1550 North State Parkway, Near North Side, Chicago, Image & Artwork: designslinger]

1550 N. State Street, later State Parkway, appeared regularly in the society columns. On May 29, 1932 however, the Chicago Tribune carried a banner headline proclaiming “Finds Swift Death an Accident.” Edward Foster Swift was the 68-year-old former chairman of the Swift meat packing company and had plunged to his death after falling to the ground from his 8th floor apartment window. In the summer of 1920, 1550 made the headlines once again when it was reported that the tenants had obtained 99 year leases on their apartments after buying into a syndicate that purchased the State Parkway building from Marshall for $675,000. Then in the summer of 1943 the Tribune reported that the syndicate sold the building which was being “fashioned into the small suites so much in vogue.” With four apartments per floor rather than one, the building underwent another change in 1977 when the rental property was converted into a condominium. Since then a few of the downsized units have been enlarged, but the ratio of staff to square feet has not reached its former peak population.



See more of Marshall and Fox at: Stewart Apartments – 1200 Lake Shore Drive; Michigan Avenue Lofts – Karpen and Standard Oil of Indiana Building; Blackstone Hotel, Chicago; Uptown Bank Building; and 1201 N. Astor Street Apartments.




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Edith B. Farnsworth House

[Edith B. Farnsworth House (1951) Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The dinner party was going to be held in one of those charming old buildings built at the close of the 19th century. The Irving had been constructed on the northwest corner of Oak and State Streets in two phases, first in 1895, then in 1898, and Georgia Lindafelt and Ruth Lee’s apartment was within easy walking distance of Georgia’s bookshop at Delaware and Michigan Avenue. Dinner guest Dr. Edith Farnsworth didn’t have far to travel either. She lived with her mother in her parents Astor Street mansion, but if the doctor couldn’t get home in time to freshen-up before dinner, Georgia and Ruth’s place was just a hop, skip and a jump from Passavant Hospital where Dr. Farnsworth practiced. According to a memoir the nephrologist wrote years later, upon entering the apartment Georgia casually introduced the other dinner guest to Edith, “This is Mies darling.”


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, 14520 River Road, Plano, IL / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Edith recalled that the German-born architect sat through almost the entire dinner like a massive immobile piece of granite, saying nothing while the women carried on a lively conversation. Edith was telling her friends about a piece of property she had purchased from Chicago Tribune publisher Col. Robert McCormick not far from the tiny town of Plano, Illinois, about 60 miles west of Chicago. It was only 9 acres, but the secluded site along the bank of the Fox River would be ideal for weekend get aways. The Farnsworths and the McCormicks moved in the same social circles. Edith’s grandfather George had come to Chicago in the late 1830s, left, and discovered the wooded acreage of Wisconsin and Michigan. After returning to the city in 1868, he went on to became one of Chicago’s wealthiest lumber barons. Edith’s father, also named George, took over the reins of the family business and after his death in 1941 Edith, her mother, sister, and brother were beneficiaries of the bountiful Farnsworth estate. The house she shared with her mother and two servants at 1448 N. Astor Street was large and comfortable enough, but she told Georgia and Ruth that she wanted a retreat from the city and her very busy medical practice. When she asked the brooding architect if there might be a young man in his office who would be interested in a small house project he replied, “I would love to build any kind of house for you.”


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, National Historic Landmark / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe had come to Chicago in 1938 to head-up the architecture program at the Armour Institute. In 1945, when the architect told the doctor he would be happy to design a house for her, his private architectural practice consisted of a handful of young men who were working primarily on the campus buildings that van der Rohe was designing for the recently merged Armour and Lewis Institutes, now known as the Illinois Institute of Technology. When a young architect named Myron Goldsmith came to work in Mies’s Wabash Avenue office in 1946, he was handed a pencil and watercolor sketch that Mies had done of Farnsworth’s house the year before, and was given the project. It took another three years however before things really started to take off.


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, Plano, IL / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Mies, Edith and Myron took many a picnic trip out to Plano, and by 1949 the glass enclosure Mies had designed for his dynamic client was ready to be built. The house was unlike anything anyone had ever seen along the Fox River, the Chicago area, the United States, or anywhere else in the world for that matter. Almost. In 1945 Mies had shown architect Philip Johnson the Farnsworth watercolor but because the project had taken so long to reach construction, Johnson was able to complete his version of a glass house in 1949.  But once the Farnsworth project was completed, critics saw that the glass dwelling in New Canaan, Connecticut lacked the uncompromising clarity of purpose and intense attention to detail that Mies had provided for his doctor friend.


[Edith B. Farnsworth House, Fox River Valley, IL / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Early in their discussions Mies had mentioned that the house could probably be built for around $40,000, but by the time construction finally got underway in 1949 the budget had grown to an agreed upon $65,000. Edith’s 2,200-sqaure-foot weekend retreat was not exactly small when considering that the average single-family home in America measured 950-square-feet. Slabs of travertine marble and enormous sheets of polished plate glass didn’t come cheap, neither did steel or copper electrical wire in post-WWII America. Sorting through every single piece of marble to make sure they were laid correctly, matching the primavera wood veneer to perfection, working side-by-side with welders on the steel joins, the hawk-eyed architect left nothing to chance – which can be expensive. As construction drew to a close in 1951, and the budget climbed above $65,000, tensions rose between the architect and his client. In a 1986 oral history with the Art Institute of Chicago, Myron Goldsmith said that Mies didn’t want to discuss the issue with the haranguing Edith any longer, and that from that point on Myron would have to handle the bothersome doctor. Hurt, and feeling cut-off and shunned, Edith stopped sending checks to cover costs.


[Edith B. Farnsworth House / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When the house was finished in 1951, Mies was still owed money so he sued for payment. Edith    counter sued and said that not only had the architect gone over the original $40,000 budget, but that the house she had paid for was uninhabitable – it was like living in a terrarium. In 1953 Mies was awarded over $12,000 in judgments, and settled for $2,500. Edith retreated to her “uninhabitable” glass container for another 19 years before deciding to sell the property because the county had decided to build a new bridge over the Fox River within 180 feet of her now world famous summer retreat, and Peter Palumbo, a wealthy London real estate developer purchased the property for $120,000 in 1972. In 1996 the five foot above grade platform that Mies had designed to keep the house free of flood level river water proved to be no match for the changing topography of the formerly rural area. Suburban development meant there was less ground surface to absorb rain and after a record-breaking 17 inch rainfall the Fox River rose higher and higher, engulfing the large plate glass windows. Under intense pressure one of them finally gave way, broke open, and water inundated the interior. The platform built in the hinterlands in the early 1950s was no longer a match for 1990s urbanization. In 2003 Palumbo was ready to sell and put the Farnsworth house up for auction at Sotheby’s. After a nail biting eight minutes of bidding an offer – put together by Landmarks Illinois, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and beneficent individual donors – brought the gavel down at $6.7 million. Then in 2008 another record high flood filled Edith’s terrarium with water once again. Now there is a proposal on the table to build a system of hydraulic lifts under the house that could raise it as much as nine feet above the ever rising river.



See more of Mies in the 50’s at: 860-880 Lake Shore Drive and S.R. Crown Hall.




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St. Paul Catholic Church, Chicago

[St. Paul Catholic Church (1899) Henry J. Schlacks, architect; (1922) Cav. Angelo Gianese Co., mosaics; Royal Bavarian Art Institute for Stained Glass, art glass (2008) restoration: JNKA, architects; WJE, engineers / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Bricks – and lots of them. That’s exactly what 29-year-old architect Henry Schlacks was going to    need for the parishioners of St. Paul’s parish to build the church edifice he had designed for them.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, 2234 S. Hoyne Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The parish had been founded in 1876 when a cluster of German immigrants settled in a sparsely populated area of Chicago located within easy walking distance of the recently completed McCormick Harvesting Company factory on Blue Island Avenue. The neighborhood was primarily Irish, and although the Catholic mass was universally celebrated in Latin, the Chicago archdiocese established native language parishes for their non-English-speaking congregants.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, 22nd Place & Hoyne Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Schlacks and his partner Henry L. Ottenheimer had designed a school building for the parish in  1892, but Schlacks alone came back to design the new church. The architect had decided that not one piece of wood, steel – or even a nail – would be used in the construction of the 209-foot long building or its soaring twenty-four story tall towers. A decision that was aided by the fact that members of the congregation – who were going to do most of the actual construction work – were from a section of Germany with a long tradition of masonry construction. In the northern European lowlands, along today’s Germany, Poland and Denmark’s Baltic Coast, large brick churches were built in Medieval Gothic and Romanesque styles during the heyday of the Hanseatic League, a tradition of craftsmanship that carried on well into the 19th century.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, Heart of Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

A multitude of custom-made, vitrified brick in all shapes and sizes was furnished by the Chicago-based Jenkins and Reynolds Company, with project supervision by contractor Paul F.P. Mueller, who had met Schlacks when both men had been employed in the offices of architects Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan Sullivan. Everywhere you looked on the job site it was brick, brick, and more brick, and the entire structure rose from the ground, clay-fired-piece by clay-fired-piece, in just the same way as the mason’s ancestors had done 500 years earlier. When 50 priests assisted Archbishop Patrick Feehan on June 25, 1899 at the dedication of Saint Paulus Kirche, an over flow crowd of 2,500 people packed the intersection of Hoyne and 22nd Place, and no one had ever seen anything quite like it.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, Pilsen, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Over the next 30 years the interior was decorated, step-by-step, inch-by-inch, and Henry Schlacks was there to oversee all of it. The art glass came from studios in Munich, and the polished white marble from Carrara, Italy. The exquisite mosaic tile work was created in a Venetian workshop and the completed panels were shipped from Italy to Chicago for installation. By the turn of the 21st century, time, weather and moisture had not been kind to the roof or floor of the massive structure. The unsealed basement had compromised the sanctuary’s floor joints and the leaking roof had caused interior water damage. In 2008 the archdiocese began a $10 million restoration of the building overseen by architects and engineers Jaeger Nickola Kuhlman & Associates, and Wiss Janney Elstner Associates. And just as they had done 100 years earlier, the congregation, now primarily Hispanic, worked alongside the contractors to help renew the only building of its kind in the United States.


[St. Paul Catholic Church, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

And we close with a great big thank you to our friend Pete – an active parishioner and dedicated steward of the church and its community – for the wonderful tour. St. Paul’s is on the Open House Chicago schedule this weekend, so be sure and stop by.



See more of Schlacks at: St. Boniface Church, Chicago and Holy Name Cathedral.





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Louis H. Brink House

[Louis H. Brink House (1909) E. E. Roberts, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Before there was a Prairie Style or Prairie School of architecture there was something called the “New School of the Midwest.” The term was often used to describe the new style of architecture that had cropped up in and around the Chicago area lead by an architect named Frank Wright. In 1942 the esteemed architectural historian Henry Russell Hitchcock wrote a book about Wright and his like-minded Midwestern colleagues called In the Nature of Materials and the phrase “Prairie style” was prominently placed into the architectural lexicon. Then in 1972 H. Allen Brooks’s seminal work The Prairie School: Frank Lloyd Wright and His Midwest Contemporaries sealed the “Prairie” deal.


[Louis H. Brink House, 533 N. Grove Avenue, Oak Park / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Architect Ezra Eben Roberts watched the New Style of the Midwest crop up all around him. Roberts lived just around the corner from Wright, and could see his neighbor’s work and expanding influence first hand as E.E. walked up and down the streets of suburban Oak Park. Wright may have been getting a lot of attention with his new style, but Roberts got more jobs. He was happy to provide his clients with whatever style of house they felt comfortable in, and even used the phrase, “Designer of Homelike Homes” when advertising for his services. It made him a popular choice for many of the home building residents in the west suburban community and kept the architect very busy.


[Louis H. Brink House, Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie School National Historic District / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Although Roberts looked to historic revival styles for many of his designs, he was always open to   new ideas and was happy to embrace some of what he’d seen Frank and other architects doing with their residential work. Vertical became more horizontal, brick and wood gave way to stucco, roof lines became broader, eaves were extended, the massing became more simplified and geometrical, as Roberts joined the ranks of the New School of the Midwest designers. In 1909 Louis H. Brink hired the architect to design one of these kinds of houses on a lot he’d purchased on Grove Avenue, not far from Roberts’ own home.


[Louis H. Brink House, Grove Avenue, Oak Park / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Grove Avenue property already had a house standing on it, but Brink wanted something new and modern. He was born in Chicago in 1865, was a founder of the Chicago Poultry Board and the Butter and Egg Exchange, and was in the commission trade business which had made him a millionaire. Roberts had recently completed a project for Charles Schwerin not far from the Brink location, and from the looks of things the architect used the Schwerin house for inspiration. Stucco had become a Roberts favorite by this time so that wasn’t an unusual choice. The overall mass of both homes was nearly identical right up to the arched dormers tucked into the roof line. But to shake things up a bit the Brink’s dormers would be a little broader, the porch roof would be flat with the stairs tucked behind a wall, and the geometrical pattern of the banded wood trim would be reworked.


[Louis H. Brink House, Oak Park / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When Louis Brink died on April 18, 1931 at the age of sixty-six, he left an estate valued in the neighborhood of $1.25 million (around $19.5 million today), with his three sons named as executors. The income from the trust was to pay for his wife Ida’s expenses and care, while any remaining income was to be split among the sons and their sister. Louis had stipulated that upon Ida’s death whatever monies were left were to divided into four equal shares. John, Laurence and Ernest would get their money outright, but Jessie’s share was to be held in a trust overseen by her surviving brothers, with the income from that trust distributed to her in quarterly payments. In 1933 Ida and Jessie sued the estate and contested the terms of the will in court. The suit must have made for uncomfortable living arrangements. Jessie lived in her brother Laurence’s house next door to where Ernest lived with their mother. The judge found no grounds for the suit and dismissed the case, and Ida lived in the house until her death in 1947. E.E. Roberts had died ten years earlier, leaving behind a legacy of over 100 projects built in Oak Park, far more than the 25 designed by his internationally famous neighbor.



Over the years we’ve often been asked, “Do you give tours?” “What kind of camera(s) do you use to take your photos?” “Are there any special tricks you use when you take your pictures?” “Who is designslinger?” Well we’re hosting a four block historic walking/photo tour this Saturday in conjunction with the Oak Park Art League where we’ll see more of E.E. Roberts, share a few stories about some of few of his colleagues and the homes they designed for their clients, as well our approach to taking the photos that you’ve seen here on designslinger for the past five years. So join us from 1:00 – 3:00 p.m. on October 11th and help support the Art League by signing-up here.




Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., Landmarked, Prairie School, Preservation | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Americus B. Melville House

[Americus B. Melville House (1904) E. E. Roberts, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Americus Bell Melville had a good law practice going in Huron, South Dakota. The New York born    attorney had written and published a 587 page treatise in 1885 on Dakota Justices’ civil and criminal court practice, was a member of the State Senate, and very busy. The ink dot that marked Huron on the Dakota Territory map had barely dried when Melville first arrived. The Chicago & North Western Railroad had bridged the James River in 1880, and the company decided to create a division headquarters on the river’s west bank at Ragtown. But future C&NW president Marvin Hughitt apparently thought that as one of the nation’s most prominent road lines Ragtown wouldn’t do, so he changed the name to Huron. When the railroad arrived Ragtown was a tiny hamlet of 164 people, but in just 10 years the population increased 1,752% to just over 3,000 inhabitants, and Huron fought hard to be named the capital of South Dakota when the southern portion of the Dakota Territory achieved statehood in 1889. Melville had been there for all of the excitement but the times they were a changin’, so he decided to pack up his family and head to Chicago.


[Americus B. Melville House, 437 N. Kenilworth Avenue, Oak Park / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

By 1891 this former frontier town had become the nation’s second largest city, and one of its fastest growing. The recent U.S. census had put Chicago’s population just behind that of New York City – which consisted of just Manhattan Island back then – and it was predicted that the Midwestern metropolis would be in the top spot by the time heads were counted in 1900. Melville set up his office in the city’s downtown business district and searched for a family home in the suburbs for his wife Belle and her twin 13-year-old daughters.


[Americus B. Melville House, Frank Lloyd Wright – Prairie School of Architecture National Historic District / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

About 10 miles west of his office, Oak Park was home to a number of upper-middle-class     businessmen who enjoyed the fresh air and tree lined streets of suburban life within an easy train commute to their city-based offices. The Melvilles purchased a recently completed home in the built-up northwestern section of the suburb on Chicago Avenue. Immediately next door, on the southeast corner of Chicago and Marion Street, stood the home of George Nordenholt who had built the Melville house as well as a number of other Oak Park and River Forest residential and commercial structures. Two houses over to the east stood the newly remolded home of Walter Gage which was next door to Walter’s brother Thomas who lived one lot over from the Robert Parkers. Then, at the southeast corner of Chicago and Forest Avenue, sat the very unusual looking home of the architect Frank Wright.


[Americus B. Melville House, Oak Park, Illinois / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1903 when A.B. and Belle decided to build a home for their recently married daughter Jessie, they chose nearby Superior Avenue neighbor Ezra Eben Roberts as their architect even though they were surrounded by the work of their notable Chicago Avenue neighbor Frank Wright. Wright had designed the Gale houses, the Parker, and a few more down Forest Avenue, making him quite celebrated for his unique approach to architecture as well as his lifestyle. Apparently the free-thinking architect pushed the boundaries a little too far for the Melville’s taste. Roberts on the other hand may not have been as renowned as Wright, but he was very well known and highly regarded in Oak Park and by the early 1900s had designed more houses around town than his more conspicuous neighbor. Jessie and Henry Benton Howard’s home would stand at the rear of a corner lot Melville had purchased at Chicago and Kenilworth Avenue east of Wright’s home and studio. E.E. didn’t have as identifiable a “style” as Frank, but by the time the Melvilles came calling Roberts had begun to integrate some Wrightian concepts into his own work. Soon after the Howard house was underway Roberts got to work on a new home for the Melvilles which would sit at the front end of the corner lot facing Kenilworth.


[Americus B. Melville House / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Here Roberts left his ornate historical revivalism behind him and created a dwelling place that   embraced the more simplified geometric shapes and and forms that Wright and other proponents of this new Midwestern style were incorporating into their domestic architecture. He even revamped the traditional Italianate bracket found under many an Oak Park eave and turned it into a less complicated, elongated version of its old self. Apparently the Melvilles were so happy with their large corner home that when they downsized a bit in 1916 and moved into the house next door, they called on Roberts to update the early 1880s-era structure. The Melvilles lived on Kenilworth until 1923 when after Belle’s death the sixty-eight year old widower moved to Los Angeles, married a woman 33 years younger than himself, and then moved to Florida.



Join us on Saturday, October 11th and see more of Roberts’ work as we lead a 2 hour neighborhood walking/photo tour in conjunction with the Oak Park Art League. We’ll share a few stories about the architects whose houses you’ll see, their clients and share our approach to photographing the buildings that show-up here on designslinger. So bring your camera, wear comfortable shoes, and help support the Art League by purchasing your ticket(s) here.




Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., Landmarked, Prairie School | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Joseph E. Tilt House – Salvation Army College for Officer’s Training

[Joseph E. Tilt House – Salvation Army College for Officer’s Training (1914) Holabird & Roche, architects / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

When Carl Sandburg opened his poem Chicago with the line “Hog butcher for the World,” he paid tribute to the city that processed nearly 85% of the meat consumed in North America. Industry leaders like Armour, Swift and Nelson not only slaughtered thousands of hogs, cattle, and sheep on a daily basis, they also produced goods that were byproducts of their processing operations. Soap, glue, gelatin, leather, and even shoe polish, were just a few of the secondary products the packers were able to market and sell for even more profit. With millions of pounds of animal hides available for tanning each and every day, Chicago became one of the largest shoe manufacturing centers in the country, and Joseph E. Tilt became a millionaire by making shoes in the “City of the Big Shoulders.”


[Joseph E. Tilt House – Salvation Army College for Officer’s Training, 700 W. Brompton Street, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Tilt was one of the thousands of young men who came to Chicago as it recovered from the fire of 1871 because they saw potential in the recovering city. The move was fortuitous. After a stint as a  superintendent, Tilt decided to start his own shoe making enterprise and opened a small manufacturing plant. Although Chicago’s meat industry provided vast amounts of animal hides for tanning, what hogs, sheep and cattle didn’t provide was top quality leather. After being treated with chemicals and dried, the “heavy leather” wouldn’t do for fine high-priced goods, but it worked perfectly well for lower-cost shoes and work boots. Tilt, along with a few other Chicago-based shoemakers saw potential in the low-grade leather, and with over 200 tanneries in the city the processed hides were often within blocks of their factories, and readily accessible.


[Joseph E. Tilt House – Salvation Army College for Officer’s Training, Lake View, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The J.E. Tilt Shoe Company produced boots for the U.S. military, and the firm’s large sales force placed thousands of pairs of Tilt-manufactured footwear in dry goods store across the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. By the late 1880s, with his income on the rise and the introduction of his higher quality “Diamond T” brand of shoes, Tilt purchased a large plot of land north of Chicago in the city of Lake View, at the southwest corner of Addison Street and Evanston Avenue – today’s Broadway. The 4-acre parcel ran 234 feet along the west side of Evanston from Addison south to Brompton Avenue, 274 feet west on Addison, and 409 feet along Brompton, comprising one-half the entire city block. He built a large, 2-story house at the northeastern corner of the lot, and a green house that was almost as large as the house. At the time, Tilt, his wife, and six children, had very few neighbors.


[Joseph E. Tilt House – Salvation Army College for Officer’s Training, Addison & Broadway, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In 1905 Tilt’s son, an early car enthusiast, built his own automobile in his father’s garage.    Two years later 28-year-old Charles started the Diamond T Motor Car Company with $1,000 provided by his mother because his father apparently didn’t approve the financially risky automotive adventure. On the other hand, by the time 1914 rolled around, Tilt had decided that spending $80,000 or so to build a new house that better reflected his millionaire status was worth every penny. The old house was torn down and in its place architects Holabird & Roche designed a 25-room, 14-bedroom manse fit for a shoe baron. But Tilt didn’t stay long in his new home. On May 23, 1920 the Chicago Tribune reported that the shoe maker had sold his $300,000 corner and downsized to a $135,000 house at the southeast corner of Barry and Sheridan Road. The Tilt’s had joined other Chicagoans who chose to spend winters in Pasadena, California, and built a large Spanish Revival house where they began spending more and more time, and in 1928, trading in his cobbler’s tools for easels, Tilt and his wife opened an art gallery in the western outpost.


[Joseph E. Tilt House – Salvation Army College for Officer’s Training, Chicago / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Addison and Broadway property had been purchased by the Chicago branch of the Salvation Army. The organization had been operating training facilities around the city since the 1880s, and the Tilt purchase provided them with the opportunity to consolidate their operations into one location. The house was named for Army founder William Booth, and in 1954 a new dormitory building was constructed just to the west of the Booth Manse. Over the next 50 years the campus complex grew to include the series of residential and classroom buildings that you see on the block today. And Charles A. Tilt’s automotive adventure proved to be a very successful after all. The Diamond T company got into the truck manufacturing business and by the time of his death in 1956, the Chicago resident had accumulated a fortune that was larger than anything his father could have ever imagined.



See more nearby at: Lake View Presbyterian Church, Chicago and Town Hall Station.




Posted in 20th Century Bldgs., Adaptive Reuse | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

We’re hosting a tour!

[Oak Park Art League Building (1938) E. E. Roberts, architect / Image & Artwork: designslinger]

In conjunction with the Oak Park Art League, we’ll be leading a two hour walking/photo tour on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 1 to 3 p.m. Using the League’s very own E.E. Roberts designed building on Chicago Avenue as our starting-off point, we’ll stroll up and down two adjacent blocks and take a look at eight Roberts designed homes, a handful from Prairie School practitioners Tallmadge & Watson, a George W. Maher, and the last house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Oak Park.


Join us as we share our stories about these architects and their clients as well as our approach to taking the photos that you’ve seen on designslinger for the past five years – while you snap away. So bring your SLR camera, point-and-shoot or smart phone, wear a comfortable pair of shoes, and with your ticket purchase help support the Oak Park Art League.


You can find more information and tickets on the League’s website under classes/workshops.


See you on the 11th!




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