Sunday, February 22, 2015

Horatio N. May House
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Horatio N. May House (1891) Joseph L. Silsbee, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Architect Joseph Lyman Silsbee was a busy man in 1890. Residential commissions were piling in, and he and his team were hard at work on a few projects for the big World's Columbian Exposition which was going to open in Chicago in a couple of years. The year before, his client Jenkin Lloyd Jone's nephew Frank Wright, whom Silsbee had brought to Chicago and into his office from the young man's Wisconsin home, had left the firm for the much larger offices of Adler & Sullivan. But that was several years before Frank Wright became the Frank Lloyd Wright we know today.

  [Horatio N. May House, 1443 N. Astor Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

One residential commission on Silsbee's drafting table at the time was the home of Horatio  and Anna May. May had made a lot of money in the wholesale grocery business as well as by investing his ever growing income in real estate. He purchased a large double lot on a sparsely populated but expanding Astor Street in the late 1880s and decided to build a house on one of them at No. 147 Astor. He hired J.L. Silsbee as his architect.

  [Horatio N.  May House, Gold Coast National Historic District, Chicago/Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

While overseeing work on the May house and the designs on a couple of buildings for the World's Fair, Silsbee was also busy working with engineer Max E. Schmidt on what would become one of the Fair's more popular and well traveled attractions, the Movable Sidewalk. Looping its way through the Fair grounds, the "Multiple Dispatch Railway of Endless Moving Platforms" was made-up of a stationary platform which you stepped from and on to a very slowly moving platform. Then it was just an easy step over to a faster moving platform where you could sit on a canopied covered bench until you were ready to disembark at your destination. Never traveling much faster than 3 miles per hour, the conveyance moved approximately 40,000 people an hour through the acres of Fair grounds. It was so popular that in November, 1893 a consortium of businessmen proposed building an elevated movable sidewalk in the downtown commercial district to accompany the new elevated loop railroad. The elevated railroad got built, but not the walkway.
Anna May was also quite the innovative thinker and planner. She lived north of the river in her secluded community and all of her shopping was done south of the river in the central retail district. The bridges crossing the river were ugly and crowded and Anna had an idea that there was a better way to traverse the dividing waterway by building a boulevard that would travel under the river bed. Chicago Mayor DeWitt Cregier had proposed building an expansive bridge at a wide point in the river connecting Michigan Avenue with the north side at a cost of $5,000,000. Anna believed the bridge idea was old school and proposed constructing a 50-foot-wide, 3,200-foot-long, slowly-receding, road and pedestrian boulevard tunnel just east of today's Rush Street, that would burrow under the river and rise again on Michigan Avenue at Randolph Street. She hired Silsbee to work with her on the plan which included Corinthian-capped columns supports, white glazed tile walls and electric lighting, all coming in at a much less costly $1,500,000. Thirty years later the Michigan Avenue Bridge connected the two sides, while Mrs. May's tunnel scheme never saw a shovel put to ground.
When her husband died suddenly in 1898, Anna May hired Silsbee to design the May Chapel in Rosehill Cemetery - the end point of an interesting architectural relationship.

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