Sunday, February 22, 2015

Schiller Building - Garrick Theater
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Schiller Building - Garrick Theater (1892) Adler & Sullivan, architects; 64 W. Randolph Street, Chicago - Schiller Building - Garrick Theater, Balcony Arcade, Second City Chicago, 1616 N. Wells Street (1961) Seymour Goldstein, architect /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Sometimes the only way you can see a great building is through what's left of it, scattered hither and yon in bits and pieces salvaged during the structure's demolition. Unfortunately, that's the case with Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan's Schiller Building. Built in 1892, the multi-purpose, high-rise building was constructed for the German Opera Company and housed within its 17 stories was one of the city's most acoustically perfect, and beautifully appointed auditoriums. But by the late 1950s the building cost more to heat and maintain than the rental income it could provide.

  [Schiller Building/Garrick Theater, portrait bust, 827 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The German Opera company lasted only a few years and by 1898 the theater building was under new ownership with a new name, the Dearborn. When the Schubert Brothers took over the auditorium space in 1902, the theater, and the building, were renamed the Garrick. In the 1930s, the Chicago-based movie theater chain Balaban & Katz took over the management, and eventually they were the owners who could no longer afford to keep shelling-out money for a building considered a financial liability. Although it was apparent that the old place had seen better days, it was still a first-rate Adler & Sullivan building, and the impending demolition was a call to action for a preservation movement just beginning to emerge in one of the world's great architectural capitals.

  [Schiller Building/Garrick Theater, terra cotta portrait bust, 2421 N. Geneva Terrace, Chicago /Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Even Chicago's political powerhouse Mayor Richard J. Daley advocated for saving the structure, and lost. The courts ruled that the government had no power to compel an owner to save a building since it infringed on the rights of private ownership. The city tried to raise $5 million to purchase the property but couldn't, so in the Spring of 1961 the Garrick started coming down. The Art Institute of Chicago saved a few pieces, so did Beloit College, and Richard Nickel, who would eventually work to protect Chicago's architectural heritage and lose his life doing so, photographed as much of the building as possible for posterity. In addition to museums, colleges and universities, a number of individuals collected bits of terra-cotta from the facade. Architect Seymour Goldstein included a section of the second floor balcony arcade to create an elaborate entryway to the Second City improve troupe's new location on Wells Street. And a couple of enterprising brick layers even worked some of the busts of famous German artists from the building's tower into decorative brick walls.
And what of the location of Adler & Sullivan's gem of a structure? It became a 5-story parking garage designed by architect William Horwitz. In a tribute of sorts to the original, Horwitz created a decorative screen out of poured concrete panels inspired by a remnant of the old building, which itself, was placed into a small opening in the garage's Randolph Street facade. And if you knew where to look, you could find the brown, terra-cotta rectangle sitting alone and forlorn among its concrete cousins. The garage itself is now gone, although no one seemed interested in preserving any pieces for posterity.

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