Thursday, February 26, 2015

Ryerson Physical Laboratory - University of Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Ryerson Physical Laboratory (1894) Henry Ives Cobb, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

At a dedication ceremony held on July 4, 1984 Chicago lumber baron and philanthropist Martin A. Ryerson had this to say, "Gentlemen of the Board of Trustees of the University of Chicago, I now tender to you the Ryerson Physical Laboratory to be the property of the University of Chicago and to be used for the purposes which its name identifies. It is my intention to place upon its walls a tablet suitably recording the fact that it is erected in memory of my father Martin Ryerson, a man who in the struggle to overcome the material difficulties of life found time for intellectual growth and for thoughtfulness of the welfare of his fellow man. I hope this laboratory will make a record as a result of his honorable and successful career."

  [Ryerson Physical Laboratory - University of Chicago, 1100 E. 58th Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Martin Ryerson - a Muskegon, Michigan lumber owner and operator - came to Chicago in 1856. By the time he died in 1887, Ryerson had grown his business into one of the largest lumber concerns in the country and had made a fortune doing so. He left his family an estate with an estimated value of $3 million (around $90 million in today's dollars), and his son Martin Antoine took over the reins of the business. When William Rainey Harper and a group of his fellow Baptists decided to revive the recently deactivated University of Chicago in 1890, Martin A. Ryerson was one of the formidable Chicago business tycoons who jumped on the bandwagon. Ryerson agreed to become the president of the Board of Trustees and committed $100,000 to the cause. He headed the board for the next 23 years, and donated another $2,000,000 to the University before his death in 1932.

  [Ryerson Physical Laboratory - University of Chicago, Hyde Park - Kenwood National Historic District /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Another Chicago philanthropist and major money-maker Sidney Kent had beat Ryerson to the building dedication punch by just a few months when he turned over his $230,000 chemical building to the University in January, 1894. Ryerson had to ante-up $250,000 to get the physical library finished, and the pair of Gothic Revival buildings formed the north end of architect Henry Ives Cobb's quickly emerging central quadrangle. The Ryerson building was the 9th structure to rise on the six acre site, which had been completely empty just two years before.

  [Ryerson Physical Laboratory - University of Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Cobb had won this plum commission after beating-out two other Chicago-based architectural firms, setting the tone for the gargoyle-edged, crocket-trimmed, tracery-laced, Collegiate Gothic that the University embraced well into the 20th century. This and other major commissions, kept Cobb busy for the next 20 years, and gave the architect the bragging rights of having the largest architecturally staffed office in the United States.

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