Field Museum of Natural History
by: chicago designslinger
[Field Museum of Natural History (1921) Peirce Anderson, designer, Graham, Anderson, Probst & White; Graham Burnham & Co.; D.H. Burnham & Co.; architects /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
If you weren't sure, you might wonder if that corrosively challenged marble maiden is holding up the porch roof of a classical Greek temple, but of course you'd be wrong. She is perched far from the Athenian Acropolis and stands proudly, though a little worse for wear, in Chicago near the shore of Lake Michigan. Built between 1915 and 1921, the Field Museum of Natural History was never intended to stand where it does today, but its classical facade was part of the plan from the get-go.
[Field Museum of Natural History, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The majesty of Greco-Roman classicism had a big impact on a lot of people as a result of Chicago architect Daniel Burnham's embrace of the ancient decorative form as the style of choice at the World Columbian Exposition in 1893. One of those so impressed was the city's powerful and wealthy merchant prince Marshall Field. He had hired Burnham the year before to build the first portion of what would become one of the largest department store buildings in the country, so he and Burnham had established a relationship that went beyond one anothers professional interests. But by the time the Fair opened for business in May of 1893 Burnham had moved away from the heavy rusticated stone his lead designer Charles Atwood had produced for Field's Wabash Avenue extension, and had become the champion of the western traditions of architectural antiquity.
[Field Museum of Natural History, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When the Fair closed 6 months after its debut, Chicago movers and shakers decided to capitalize on the momentum that the Fair had generated, transforming the public's perception of Chicago as the unsophisticated cow town on the prairie and into a world class city. A collection of artifacts had been accumulated during the Exposition that could be used to form the nucleus of a natural history museum adding another feather in the cap of the city's emerging cultural capital. But the organizers needed someplace to house and display the stuff, and called on Marshall Field for a donation. He declined. Then Edward Ayer, a collector of the kinds of items you might find in such a museum and a member of Field's social circle, told the retailer that someday, long after Field's death, his store could be no more. But if he put-up the cash and put his name on the building, that could last in perpetuity. The pioneering merchant fell for the pitch and ponied-up $1 million dollars for the Field Columbian Museum.
[Field Museum of Natural History, Museum Campus, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Since none of the Fair structures were built to last, the new collection was housed, temporarily, in the former Palace of Fine Arts Building. The temporary location became more and more permanent as the years went on as the building fell down around the collection, but Daniel Burnham had a plan. When the plan was revealed in 1909, Burnham had put a classical temple housing the new Field Museum smack in the middle of a great park that would rise out of the water at the edge of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. Montgomery Ward, another groundbreaking Chicago merchandiser, thought the new park should be free of such structures and fought a battle all the way to a Supreme Court that agreed with him. By that time Burnham was dead and so was the museum's namesake. But when Field died in 1906, he left his museum an $8 million bequest to build a new building and start an endowment, with the stipulation that construction begin sooner rather than later or there'd be no money. So after Ward put the kibosh on Burnham's notion of a museum in the park, it was back to the drawing board and back to the Fair's old stomping grounds in Jackson Park. By then D.H. Burnham & Co. had become Graham, Burnham & Co., and construction began on the Greek inspired temple of natural history in 1914. Then a portion of Burnham's downtown Chicago park grew when more landfill was created just outside the boundaries of Ward's court battled park. So the structure's stacked slabs of white Georgia marble were moved from Jackson Park in 1915, and the newly named firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White undertook the building project in an expanded Grant Park overseen by lead designer and partner Peirce Anderson. And that's why you see an Acropolian maiden looking over Lake Shore Drive today.