Sunday, February 22, 2015

Auditorium Building Tower
 by: chicago designslinger

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

Adler & Sullivan's Auditorium Building is one of those moments etched into history's architectural calendar which made Chicago famous. Heralded as a ground breaker when it was constructed in the late 1880s, the building was slated for demolition in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Then just after the Second World War, Roosevelt College stepped-up to the plate and purchased the unprofitable white elephant. Today, after decades of restorative stewardship under the watchful eyes of  caring custodians, the building proudly bears the title "masterpiece."

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

When Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan moved into their tower offices just before the entire structure was opened to the public in the Spring of 1890, by all appearances the dynamic duo were in for a dazzingly bright, project-packed future. With an unobstructed view of the city from behind a long band of colonnade-fronted windows on the tower's uppermost floor, the partners were sitting on top of the world. Nothing could stop them now, the Auditorium project was a marketer's dream, publications from New York to Berlin featured the architect's cutting-edge design - they were a hot commodity. But just three years later the U.S. economy collapsed, and soon after, the team of Adler & Sullivan was no more.

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

But before the partners went their separate ways, the architects and designers on the 16th floor of the Auditorium tower produced an amazing portfolio of work. While cranking out payroll producing jobs designing a number of factories, the pair also turned-out the Transportation Building for the 1983 World's Fair, the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, the Guaranty in Buffalo, the Schiller Building and Charnley House in 1891, and the Chicago Stock Exchange Building in 1894.
1893 kicked-off the worst economic depression in U.S. history, until the 1930 downturn. From that year on, Adler & Sullivan received fewer and fewer commissions, and Adler left the 12-year partnership in 1895 when he was offered a $25,000-a-year salaried position with the Crane elevator company. He lasted barely 12 months and decided to practice on his own again without Sullivan at his side. Both bore grudges, Sullivan couldn't forgive Adler for leaving, and Adler was upset with Sullivan for taking sole credit for the design of the Guaranty Building. Adler's sons joined him in private practice until his death at age 55 in 1900.
Sullivan soldiered on in his 16th floor aerie, designing the first phase of what grew into the Schlesinger & Mayer Department Store Building at State and Madison Streets, subsequently owned by Carson, Pirie Scott & Co. It was also during this time that he designed his only New York City project, the Bayard Building, completed in 1899. But the jobs were few and far between. In 1906 he got the first of his famous bank commissions, a job that led to 7 more bank projects over the next decade. But the commissions were small in scale and didn't pay the bills. By 1909, Sullivan was in such dire straights that he auctioned off all his household goods and extensive architectural library. And in 1918, with just one part-time employee on the payroll, he could no longer afford to keep the office he had called home for 28 years. When he died in 1924, his former protege Frank Lloyd Wright, along with several other former employees and architects including Adler's son Sidney, paid for the destitute Sullivan's funeral.
Eventually Roosevelt converted the double-height, 16th floor office into two floors of departmental office space. And if you have the opportunity to visit one of the professors up on 16, you'll find a wall plaque in the hallway with a floor plan showing the original two-story drafting room, Sullivan's corner office with the door that connected directly to Wright's adjoining office, and the consultation room that separated Sullivan from Adler's office. A reminder of the magic once produced in that towering space.

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