Thursday, March 5, 2015

Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago
 by: chicago designslinger

 [Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago (1892-1918) Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, architects / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

He was born into money, made even more money, and gave lots of it away. Robert Henry Allerton, born in Chicago in 1873, had, by the time of his death in 1964, become the Art Institute of Chicago's most beneficent, living, benefactor. Between his first term as a trustee in 1918 and his tenure as Honorary President from 1956 to 1964, Allerton had donated over 6,000 objects to the museum and made $1.5 million in donations. It may seem like small potatoes in today's billion-dollar-obsessed world, but his contributions to the museum were held in such high regard that in 1968 the institution honored their benevolent patron by naming their prominent, Michigan Avenue facing structure, the Allerton Building, on the 50th anniversary of Robert Henry Allerton taking his seat on the Board of Trustees.

  [Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Allerton's father Samuel came to Chicago in 1856 to trade cattle. He not only made a fortune doing so, but along the way he helped found the city's Union Stock Yards and became a director of five other yards around the country. He was a founder, director, and one of the largest shareholders of the 1st National Bank of Chicago, and owned tens-of-thousands of acres of farmland in Illinois, Nebraska and Wyoming. Samuel's son was passionate about art, so he sent Robert on a grand tour of Europe where the young man would be able to see some of the great art and architecture of the Western world. When Robert came back to Chicago and his parent's Prairie Avenue mansion, Samuel sent his son to Monticello, Illinois to oversee the management of Allerton's 20,000-acre farm to learn a little bit about the family business. And perhaps it was a good thing that he did, because when Samuel Allerton died in 1914, Robert was the chief beneficiary of his father's multi-million dollar estate. Cattle was his business, but art remained his passion. When he joined the Board of Trustees of the Art Institute in 1918, Allerton was well on his way to accumulating quite an eclectic group of drawings, paintings, sculpture, furniture, earthenware, figurines, and hundreds of pieces of textiles. All of which would one day serve as the basis of the museum's Robert Allerton collection.

  [Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago, Grant Park, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

The building the trustee's chose to name in honor of Allerton's commitment to the institution was the original and the oldest structure in the museum's multi-building complex. It was designed in 1892 by architects Shepley, Rutan & Cooldige for the the World's Columbian Exposition, even though the building was miles from the Exposition site on the south side of the city. That was because this Bueax-Arts marvel was to become the new home of Chicago's Art Institute at the Expo's end. In October 1893 two temporary, 3000-seat assembly halls, built for the fair's World's Auxiliary and tucked into the open courtyard behind the elaborate stone facade were dismantled, and the Art Institute moved in to the still-standing, u-shaped structure.

  [Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue, Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

Over the course of the next three decades, the open end of the "u" would be closed off by additional gallery space, a permanent lecture hall would be constructed on the north side of the open courtyard, a library to the south, with a grand staircase in between. A gallery/bridge that spanned the below-grade Illinois Central rail road tracks connected the Michigan Avenue building to open landfill. On that newly created piece of land more galleries were constructed around an open courtyard, a theater and buildings for the School of the Art Institute. By time time of Allerton's death, two wings flanked the original Michigan Avenue structure, and the Institute's footprint had more than tripled in size. He had been there for all of it.

  [Allerton Building - Art Institute of Chicago / Image & Artwork: chicago designslinger]

In 1942 Allerton gave 6,000 acres of his father's farm to the University of Illinois along with an English-style manor house he had built in 1900 called "The Farms." Two years earlier the art collector had moved to a 125-acre plot of land he had purchased on the island of Kauai with his "son" John Gregg. In 1922, the orphaned 22-year-old had been introduced to the 49-year-old life-long bachelor during a University of Illinois "Father-Son" football weekend. After Gregg's graduation, Allerton got the budding designer a job in the offices of Allerton's friend, the socially prominent architect David Adler. When Adler downsized in 1930 Gregg was out of a job, but by this time he had moved in with his "mentor," and was known around town as Allerton's "son." Then in  1960, after 30 years together, the 87-year-old octogenarian legally adopted his 60-year-old companion. Illinois had passed legislation in 1959 allowing an adult to adopt an adult, and although the two were living primarily in Hawaii, they still maintained their Illinois residency. When Robert Allerton died he didn't forget his beloved museum. He left 2/3 of his estate in perpetual trust to the Art Institute, with 1/3 going to the Honolulu Academy of Art. John was given the house and property in Kauai along with a $3 million income producing trust. And when John Gregg Allerton sat down for an interview in 1985 he summed-up their relationship. "He didn't have a son and I didn't have a father, so we were paired off and lived happily ever after."

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