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The Chicago Traveler

Auditorium Building Settles into History

by Matt B on June 23rd, 2008

auditorium buildingauditorium building

The Auditorium Building of Roosevelt University, completed in 1890, is the oldest (surviving) high-rise in Chicago. It is both a Chicago Landmark and a National Historic Landmark.

auditorium buildingSeveral of Chicago's biggest historical and architectural names were involved with the construction of this structure. Ferdinand Peck, a wealthy businessman and philanthropist, was a founding member of the Illinois Humane Society and wanted to build the world's largest, grandest, and most accessible theater to rival the likes of the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Many Chicago business giants helped finance the project, including Marshall Field and George Pullman. Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan were hired to design the building. And finally, a young Frank Lloyd Wright assisted the architectural duo as a draftsman.

At the time of completion, the Auditorium was the tallest building in the city and was designed so that its outer walls would bear most of the weight. Unfortunately, due to changes in the original plans (e.g., using stone rather than lightweight terra cotta on the fa'ade), the innovative foundation could not support the weight properly. Within the first decade, portions of the building settled significantly, and even today, the mosaic floor takes on a noticeable slant near the outer walls.

auditorium buildingThe auditorium theatre itself had over 4,000 seats, all of which had a good view of the stage. Per Peck's wishes, the original design did not feature box seats. Also, the building included over 100 offices and a hotel with 400 rooms, the revenue of which was supposed to keep theater tickets affordable for everyone. Unfortunately, neither of these businesses became very successful, as many businessmen found the offices were too close to the noisy eL tracks and the hotel had only one bathroom for every ten guest rooms.[1]

As can be expected, this historical building has seen several big names and events. In 1887, President Grover Cleveland laid the cornerstone. Benjamin Harrison was nominated as a Presidential candidate here at the 1888 Republican National Convention, before the building was even finished! Once the Auditorium was completed, both of the famous architects opened offices on the top floors. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuted here in 1891. Closed during the Great Depression, the theatre reopened in the late 1960s and was a popular rock venue, hosting performers like Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and The Grateful Dead.

Today, the theatre is the resident home of The Joffrey Ballet (until the company moves later this year) and hosts several Broadway musicals, popular music concerts, and a jazz music series.

auditorium buildingauditorium building
auditorium buildingauditorium building

Photo credit: wyliepoon, puroticorico (c/o Flickr), Wikipedia (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Auditorium Building: 430 S Michigan Ave; 312-922-2110 x0 (theatre)
Public trans: Bus # 1, 3, X3, 4, X4, 6, 7, 14, 26, X28, 126, 127, 145, 147, 148
Orange/Pink/Purple/Brown Line train (Library)

[1] (n.d.). Auditorium Building, Chicago. Retrieved June 23, 2008, from Emporis.com. Web site: http://www.emporis.com/en/wm/bu/?id=auditoriumstreetater-chicago-il-usa

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POSTED IN: Architecture & Attractions, Entertainment

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