Historic Structures

Rookery Building, Chicago Illinois

Date added: September 30, 2021 Categories: Illinois Commercial Office

The Rookery building is on the site of a former city water tank built in 1842. When the tank survived the 1871 fire, John Van Osdell designed a temporary city hall, two stories high, which was built around it. The tank was later converted to a reading room and became the first home of the Chicago Public Library.

The building received its name from the fact that many pigeons had made the water tank area their home. The story is as follows: "One day an irate citizen stormed into Mayor Joseph Hedill's office and protested against the pigeon population in the district. 'Why this building is nothing but a rookery', he complained. The name stuck.

Twenty years later, when the skyscraper was erected, it was formally given the name of the Rookery." The building was to have been named the Central Building, but popular opinion caused it to be named "The Rookery."

Many noted persons and corporations have had their headquarters in The Rookery. The Corn Exchange Bank, the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank, and the Chicago Stock Exchange at one time were located there. Burnham and Root had their offices in the building and Frank Lloyd Wright was also associated with The Rookery. "His front office was briefly there in 1898-99. The building was long under the management of his patron, Edward Waller, and it housed the headquarters of William Winslow and the American Luxfer Prism Company."

The building has one basement and eleven stories, a height of l64 feet. It is built on spread foundations employing beam and rail grillages. The foundations were laid during the winter of 1885-86 under a special heated shed, an innovation for that time. The upper floors were constructed of cast-iron columns joined by wrought-iron spandrel beams, which was almost true skeletal construction. Granite columns were added to the structure on the lower floors. The building originally had 550 office rooms and was the quarters for three banking institutions. It contained 4,765,500 cubic feet and cost $1,500,000 in 1886.

The following description was taken from: "The Rookery building," Ornamental Iron , Vol. 1, November 1893, p. 96:

"The building is square in plan, covering the entire lot and eleven stories high, constructed of iron and steel covered with tiling and is fireproof. The exterior walls are of a dark brown brick and terra cotta detailed in East Indian style. The upper stories are lighted from a central court, sixty-two by seventy-one feet in the opening, built of glazed white terra cotta. An iron and glass roof covers the open court on the level of the second floor.

"Access to the upper floors is had by service of ten elevators for passengers and one for freight. An elaborate oriel staircase on the court back of the La Salle street entrance and a staircase from the Adams street entrance also give access to the upper stories . . .

"The corridors are floored and wainscoted in Italian marble. The wood finish throughout is antique oak ..."

The general contractor was the George A. Fuller Company. The Illinois Terra Cotta Lumber Company and the Dearborn Foundry Company supplied part of the building materials. Ornamental iron was by the Hecla Iron Works of Mew York and was the largest contract of its kind up to that time. The Chicago Terra Cotta Company fireproofed the building.

The court lobby was remodeled by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1905. Wright removed most of John Root's original iron ornament and replaced it with simple geometric plans. The staircase was encased in white marble. Rectangular urns, also of marble, and rectangular light fixtures were also designed by Wright. Elaborate gilded arabesques cover many of the remodeled surfaces. Additional remodeling was carried out in 1944. Plans were by Magnus Gunderson, mosaics by the Davis Mosaic Co., and all marble C. F. Italian.