by: chicago designslinger
[Auditorium Building (1890) Adler & Sullivan, architects /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
Although heralded today as one of architecture’s great masterpieces, the Auditorium Building barely survived the 20th century. The project never met the financial windfall its investors had hoped for, and by the 1930s the association that had constructed the largest privately constructed building in the nation at the time, filed for bankruptcy. But even after surviving one demolition threat after another, the building underwent an alteration that significantly altered its original design when an “arcade” was cut-through the southern bay of the ground floor in 1952.
[Auditorium Building, 430 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
The pedestrian arcade was carved out of the building because of a street widening plan first proposed by the city in 1941. Congress Street ran along the south side of the massive granite structure which had grown from its original 38-foot-width to an expanded 62-feet. By the time the city jumped on to the federal government’s super-highway building program in the early 50s, the highway connecting artery ran right along the edge of the building’s southern facade. This meant that there was no longer a pedestrian sidewalk between the building and the street so the city created an open pedestrian arcade that cut through the first floor, and paid the building’s new owner Roosevelt College $500,000 for the right-of-way, which helped the school offset the cost of their recent purchase of the property.
[Auditorium Building, National Historic Landmark, Chicago /Images & Artwork: chicago designslinger]
While the building was saved, the Auditorium lost one its more famous interior spaces which ran 65 feet along Congress Street. The long, narrow Oak Bar & Room, packed to the rafters with Louis Sullivan’s exuberant foliage in wood and plaster was removed for the sidewalk overhaul and was hauled away along with a portion of the Auditorium Theatre’s ticket lobby. You can see the line of the theater’s old, cast iron entry canopy in the rust stains and mortar-plugged holes that still remain imbedded in the grey, granite stone blocks.