Auditorium Building Dining Room

[Auditorium Building Dining Room (1890) Adler & Sullivan, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The opening of the Auditorium Building on Chicago's Michigan Avenue in was a big deal.  
It was the largest building of its kind in the country and the national press had spent the past three years covering the structure's progress every step of the way. The city's newspapers went berserk. When the theater portion of the multi-purpose building opened in December 1889 the reviews were as glowing as Sullivan's interior. When Mr. and Mrs. P.E. Studebaker hosted the first reception in the massive structure's 10th floor hotel dining room, the clusters of sparkling gemstones decoratively draped on expensively attired women found stiff competition in the room's glistening gold leaf and stained glass.

[Auditorium Building Dining Room, 430 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

Guests of the Studebakers made their way up to the 10th floor through an unfinished
hotel. The 400-room, first-class hotel wouldn't be ready for its official debut for another 8 weeks, but it didn't stop the flow of rave reviews from around the world, and the project catapulted the architectural firm of Adler & Sullivan into the top tier of their profession. Dankmar Adler had been designing buildings for 14 years when he hired a 24-year-old draftsman named Louis Sullivan in 1879 to work in Adler's firm. Sullivan's talent propelled him into a full partnership position at Adler & Co. in just three years, and in 1887 the commission to design the Auditorium Building complex was in their hands.

[Auditorium Building Dining Room, Oliver Dennett Grover, muralist /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The hotel's dining room had originally been located on the 2nd floor, but in 1888 while
the building was under construction, the Auditorium Association owners decided that a 10th floor dining room fit the bill. The hotel rooms on the east side of the building were erased from the floor plans and a 175 foot long, 47 foot wide, barrel vaulted room was drawn in to replace them. Sullivan then got to work adding the kind of architectural flourishes that made him famous. Among the many skilled tradesmen working on the space was a plasterer named Kristian Schneider, one of the 10 workers employed by plaster contractor James Leggee. Sullivan was so impressed by artisan's abilities to mold the material from drawings on paper into exquisite three dimensional form that he worked with Schneider for the rest of his career.

[Roosevelt University Library Reading Room (1980) John Vinci, restoration architect /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

The Auditorium Association had provided the funds to create a great piece of
architecture, but the building was not a great money maker and the operation was plagued by income to expense ratios for decades. On February 1, 1929 the owners threw in the towel and declared bankruptcy - they owed over $1 million in back taxes and payment of the original construction bonds were due. The building struggled to stay open, but in 1941 the doors were locked for good. That is until the City took it over to use as a Servicemen's Center during World War II, to be followed by the newly organized Roosevelt College who took-up occupancy in 1946. By the time Roosevelt moved-in the building had been through some rough times. Every piece of woodwork in the dining room - converted into a library space by the school - had been painted over, along with the Oliver Grover's murals at each end. While the beautiful art glass ceiling panels that had once filtered light into the room's vast space had simply disappeared. In 1980 Roosevelt - now a university and owners of the property - undertook a restoration of a portion of the room overseen by architect John Vinci. The murals, along with the room's lower flat-ceilinged mahogany paneled alcove were returned to their original appearance. Layers of battleship grey paint were removed from the bronze stair rails and the stained glass windows lining the staircase wall, which had been covered-over years before were revealed. There is more work left to be done in restoring the entire room back to its former glory. Roosevelt has undertaken an extensive - and expensive - restoration of Adler & Sullivan's masterpiece. And perhaps one day, when funds are available, the magnificent dining hall will shine just as brightly as it did on that cold January night 123 years ago.

[Auditorium Building Dining Room, stairwell /Image & Artwork: designslinger]

See more of Adler & Sullivan's magnum opus at: Supreme ReprieveArcaded Away; Auditorium Building Tower and Ganz Hall - Roosevelt University

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