Monday, February 16, 2015

Supreme Reprieve
 by: chicago designslinger

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

It stands proudly as one of brightest stars in Chicago’s architectural firmament. For scholars and laymen alike, the Auditorium Building represents the team of Adler & Sullivan at their best and is heralded as a masterpiece.

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

Chicago had never seen anything like it. But by the time the 350-room hotel and commercial office building with one of the most beautifully decorated and detailed auditoriums ever constructed was finished in 1890, the multi-million dollar investment was already on its way to becoming an anachronism. Unfortunately the massive structure was never the financial success its shareholders had dreamed it would be, and from almost the day of its dedication, the hotel portion of the ground breaking multi-purpose building was already considered obsolete. For one thing, it didn’t include private baths which would soon become all the rage in an upscale hostelry, and because of the amount of space eaten-up by the theater, there weren’t enough hotel rooms to help pay the mortgage and there weren’t enough offices to help float the note.

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

As early as 1910 the Chicago Auditorium Association, the consortium that owned the structure, began exploring the idea of demolishing the theater to make room for more hotel rooms, and even turned to Louis Sullivan for ideas. A concept arose in the late 1920s which called for the demolition of the entire building and replacing it with a new modern high-rise. But the Association didn’t own the land on which their building sat, and with a lease that ran until 2085, (yes you read that correctly – 2085) the trusts and hereditary estates that owned the land had the right to say no to the demo. Inevitably law suits were a-flying and the case ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1931 the Court ruled in favor of the property owners, and the building got its first reprieve. The Association went bankrupt, the property owners took possession and came up with their own plan to demolish the structure. But when they found out that the building would cost more to demolish than the land it was sitting on was worth, Sullivan’s design got another reprieve.

  [Auditorium Building – Roosevelt University, National Register of Historic Places, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The Auditorium Building and its acoustically perfect theater finally closed its doors for good in 1941. Ironically not because of sad state of things but because of a loss of power – not political – but heat and electrical. In 1893 the Association had built another hotel across the street designed by architect Clinton J. Warren called the Annex, and in 1898 a state-of-the art power plant was constructed at the southern end of the Annex building which provided power to the Auditorium via a tunnel under Congress Street. By 1941 the folks who owned the Annex were not owned by the Auditorium group and they cut-off the power supply because of long overdue bills. With no heat and electricity, Adler & Sullivan’s long-neglected architectural wonder had no choice but to close-up shop. In 1942 the City of Chicago took over and turned a portion of the hotel into a temporary housing and service center for the military, and the theater was converted into a bowling alley for the servicemen. When the war ended it looked like things were really over for the Auditorium, but a very active and dedicated group of citizens worked hard at trying to preserve the theater, and therefore the building. In 1947, the new, one-year-old Roosevelt College bought the structure along with the remaining leaseholds, and for the first time in its history the building its property owner were one and the same.

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