by: chicago designslinger
[Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1893) Adler & Sullivan, architects (1976) restoration, John Vinci, architect /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
If you ever wander past the entrance to the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute and round the corner at the intersection of Monroe and Columbus streets, you’ll find a beautifully decorated arch sitting at the edge of a garden. It’s an amazing site, kind of unapproachable, a portal that goes nowhere, somehow out-of-place, and one of the most elaborate garden ornaments you’ll ever come across. Visitors always admire the craftsmanship, while many scratch their heads and ask, “what is it, why is it here?” Some of us know the answer but a lot of us don’t. The arch originally framed the entrance of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange Building which was torn down in 1971, became another spark in an igniting preservation movement, and resulted in the death of one of the the city’s notable, building-saving activists.
[Chicago Stock Exchange Building Trading Room, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
If you’re inside the Art Institute, you will find another piece of the old Exchange Building, the Trading Room itself. The large windows now look out into a corridor that connects the museum to the school, but it does offer a little bit of natural light into openings that originally looked out on to La Salle Street. The light was probably brighter in its original location, and the room would have been filled with men shouting out trades for wheat, corn and pork bellies. Today it sits mostly vacant with very few people occupying its exquisitely decorated space - except for those who know it’s there or who stumble upon it on their way to the museum’s cafeteria. The room is often filled with diners sitting down to catered meals or nibbling hors d’œuvres while sipping cocktails for special events, which is the former trading floor’s primary function these days.
[Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
When the room was dismantled in 1971 it didn’t look like this. The Stock Exchange had moved out long before, and by the late 1940s the room had been reconfigured to fit the purposes of Bell Federal Savings. The ceiling was lowered and ornamentation was stripped away and painted over in an extensive “modernization.” It wasn’t the first “updating” that removed pieces of Sullivan’s ornamentation from the building, and wasn’t the last. By 1969 plans were in the works to just demolish the whole thing and construct a new, efficient high-rise building on the property. After the loss of Adler & Sullivan’s Schiller Building/Garrick Theater for a parking garage in 1961, the emerging preservationist movement kicked into high gear to try and stop the loss of another great architectural landmark. But official landmark designation efforts couldn’t overcome the interests of the property owners, so demolition began in the Fall of 1971. An agreement was reached to save pieces and sections of the old building and while photographer and activist Richard Nickel was documenting the building during demolition as well as rescuing fragments, he fell into a sub-basement in April 1972 and was killed. His friend, colleague, and fellow building-saver architect John Vinci, led the search for his friend’s body. Vinci also oversaw the complete restoration and reconstruction of the Trading Room inside the Art Institute which was revealed in 1976.