Thursday, February 26, 2015

Auditorium Building Dining Room
 by: chicago designslinger

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

The grand opening of the Auditorium Building on Chicago's Michigan Avenue in 1890 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 architect Louis 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 were stiff competition for the room's glistening electric-lighted gold leaf and stained glass.

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

Guests of the Studebakers made their way up to the 10th floor through an unfinished hotel. The 350-room, first-class hotel wouldn't be ready for its official debut for another eight weeks, but that 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 in 1879 to work in Adler's firm. Louis Sullivan's innate 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: chicago 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. 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. 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 remainder of the architect's career.

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

The Auditorium Association had provided the funds to create a great piece of architecture, but the investment 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, and in 1941 the doors were locked for good until the City of Chicago took over and used the structure as a Servicemen's Center during World War II. In 1947 Roosevelt College purchased the building, which had been through some rough times. Nearly every surface in the dining room - converted into a library space by the school - had been painted over, and the beautiful art glass ceiling panels that had once filtered light in the room's vast space had simply disappeared. In 1980 Roosevelt - now a university - undertook a restoration of a portion of the room overseen by architect John Vinci. Layers of battleship grey paint were removed from the bronze stair rails and the stained glass windows lining the staircase wall, which had been masked years earlier, were uncovered and 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 there is more work left to be done restoring the entire room back to its former glory.

  [Auditorium Building Dining Room, National Historic Landmark, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

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