Chicago – June 2017 – Historic Skyscraper Tour

The Chicago Architecture Foundation is a non profit organization that encourages learning about the city’s architecture by volunteer docent lead tours. Compared to the commercial tours, these are always more informative, with the passionate volunteers adding much to the subject.

Our tour started out in their headquarters, the former Railway Exchange Building.

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The Railway Exchange Building was built by Daniel Burnham in 1904 for the Santa Fe Railway. Having previously designed the World’s Columbian Exposition a decade earlier which used the Greek and Roman-inspired, this building featured the same. The glazed white Terra Cotta of the Railway Exchange is similar in use to those used in the ‘White City’ of the Exposition.

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In the impressive two story lobby is a large model of downtown Chicago, along with impressive skylights.

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Marquette Building – Built in 1895 it is also one of the earlier steel frame skyscrapers, and is renown as the example of a ‘Chicago School of Architecture’ building. The reddish terra cotta has darkened over the years due to pollution. When entering the two floor lobby you are greeted by beautiful mosaics of native scenes as well as reliefs.

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Field Building – As the last building finished between a lull in construction between the Great Depression and World War II, the Field Building was completed in 1934. With a fantastic Art Deco interior, including the elevator indicator panel and mailboxes in the lobby, the building was an early adaptor of air conditioning and high speed elevators to take people up the 535’ high skyscraper.

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The Rookery – Name after an old City Hall building that had previously stood on the ground, it was a reference to not only the pigeons and crows that took residence there, it was also a pun towards shady politicians that worked city hall (a rook is known to scavenge things). Designed by Burnham and Root in 1888 it is considered their masterpiece. To add to that Frank Lloyd Wright redesigned the lobby in 1905.

An amazing building both inside and out, Burnham and Root combined a great mix of old materials (for time time) like plate glass, elevators and metal framing, with the traditional brick and ornamentation.

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Chicago Board of Trade – Opened in 1930 in a perpendicular position across the end of LaSalle Street it is striking in it’s 605’ height, copper roof, and limestone exterior. Built with ‘wedding cake’ setbacks to allow some light onto the street surrounded by buildings, a concession to being the first building in the city to crack the 600’ mark, and remained the tallest building until 1965 when it was exceeded by the Daley Center.

The highlight of the interior is the 19,000 trading floor, which at the time was the largest in the world. Also prominent is the black and white polished marble, along with the vertical hallway trim.

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Monondock Building – Boston real estate developers Peter and Shepherd Brooks were building a number of buildings in Chicago when, in 1881, they worked the then young Daniel Burnham and John Root on the Monondock. Of note is the 6’ thick walls at the bottom to support the load of the building.

With the success of the building, they purchased land to the south and built an addition. When completed it was the largest office building in the world, with space for over 6,000 workers. It was also the first building in Chicago wired for electricity.

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Fisher Building – A Neo Gothic, 275’ high building built in 1896 by Daniel Burnham. As only the second building built in the city 18 stories high, it remains the oldest, as the other was torn down in the 1930s.

Old Colony Building – Completed in 1894, at 215’ high it was the tallest building in Chicago at the time.

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Manhattan Building – Completed in 1891 it is the oldest surviving skyscraper in the world to use a purely skeletal supporting structure. With bay windows throughout it is obvious the Wyandotte Building in Columbus was patterned after it. The architect, William Le Baron Jenney was a pioneer in the skyscraper industry.

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Completed in 1929 in classic Art Deco, it too was designed by the Burnham Brothers. It is clad in dark granite, and green terra cotta. The top is said to be a champagne bottle with gold foil. It is now a Hard Rock Hotel.

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