[Auditorium Building (1890) Adler & Sullivan, architects /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
Adler & Sullivan's Auditorium Building is one of those moments in time on history's architectural calendar that made Chicago famous. Heralded as a groundbreaker when it was constructed in the late 1880s, and astonishing as it may sound, the building was slated for demolition in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Then just after the Second World War, Roosevelt University stepped-up to the plate and purchased the unprofitable white elephant. Today, after decades of restorative stewardship under the watchful eyes of caring custodians, the building proudly bears the title masterpiece.
[Auditorium Building, 430 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
When Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan moved into their tower offices just before the structure opened to the public in 1890, it looked like this dynamic duo were in for a dazzingly bright, project packed, future ahead of them. With an unobstructed view of the city from behind a long band of colonnade fronted windows on the tower-topping 16th floor, the partners were sitting on top of the world. Nothing could stop them now, the Auditorium was a marketer's dream, publications from New York to Berlin featured the architect's cutting-edge design, they were hot. But just 3 years later the U.S. economy collapsed, and soon after, the team of Adler & Sullivan would be no more.
[Auditorium Tower, Congress Street, Chicago /Image & Artwork: designslinger]
But before the partners went their separate ways, the architects and designers on the 16th floor of the Auditorium tower produced some wonderful buildings. While cranking out profitable work designing a number of factories, the pair also produced the Transportation Building for the 1983 World's Fair, the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, the Guaranty in Buffalo, N.Y., Chicago's 1891 Schiller Building, and the Chicago Stock Exchange Building in 1894. Sullivan's lead designer and protege Frank Lloyd Wright, designed the Charnley House under his Lieber Meister's supervision in 1891, before being fired by Sullivan for designing a few house projects on the side in 1893.
1893 was also the year that kicked-off the worst economic depression in U.S. history, until the 1930 downturn. From that year on, Adler & Sullivan received fewer and fewer commissions, and Adler left the 12-year partnership in 1895 when he was offered a $25,000-a-year salaried position at the Crane elevator company. He lasted there barely 12 months and decided to pratice on his own, choosing not to start-up again with Sullivan. Both bore grudges, Sullivan couldn't forgive Adler for leaving, and Adler was upset with Sullivan for taking sole credit for the design of the Guaranty Building. Adler's sons joined him in private practice until the his death at age 55 in 1900.
Sullivan soldiered on in his 16th floor aerie, designing the first phase of what later grew into the Schlesinger & Mayer Department Store Building at State and Madison Streets, which was subsequently purchased by Carson, Pirie Scott & Co. It was also during this time that he designed his only New York City project, the Bayard Building, completed in 1899. But the jobs were few and far between. In 1906 he got the first of his famous bank commissions, a job that led to 7 more bank projects over the next decade. But the commissions were small in scale and didn't pay the bills. By 1909, Sullivan was in such dire straights that he auctioned off all his household goods and extensive architectural library. And in 1918, with just one part-time employee on the payroll, he could no longer afford to keep the office he had called home for 28 years. When he died in 1924, Wright, along with several other former employees and architects, including Adler's son Sidney, paid for the destitute Sullivan's funeral.
Eventually Roosevelt converted the double-height, 16th floor office into two floors of departmental office space. And if you have the opportunity to visit one of the professors up on 16, you'll find a wall plaque in the hallway with a floor plan showing the two-story drafting room, Sullivan's corner office with the door that connected directly to Wright's adjoining office, and the consultation room that separated Sullivan from Adler's office. A reminder of the magic once produced in that towering space.
See more of the Auditorium Building at: Supreme Reprieve and Arcaded Away.