Historic Structures

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois

Date added: November 22, 2022 Categories: Illinois Commercial Office Retail

A very thorough account of the construction of the Fisher Building and a complete description with photographs are found in the article "The Fisher Building, Chicago--A Building without Walls", Inland Architect, (May, 1896), pp. 41-48. Below is a synopsis of the article:

The writer states: "But here, for what we believe to be the first time in human experience, one of the highest commercial buildings in the world has been erected almost without any bricks. It fronts on three streets, and on the remaining side adjoins other property. The fronts are covered with cellular terra cotta on the outside, not in imitation of a wall, but following upward the steel supporting members, and closing in the transoms between the windows, leaving two-thirds of the exterior to be enclosed by glass..." Thus, the building is covered in a thin skin of terra cotta, a curtain wall: "Only two bricklayers were employed at any time in this part of the work" (The backing of the terra cotta fronts with brick).

Dimensions: 70'6" front on VanBuren Street; 100' fronts on Dearborn Street and Plymouth Place; 235 feet high; 18 stories and an attic; basement 3' below the sewer level of adjoining streets. There is one additional story on the north end to accommodate the elevators. 1,960,000' cubic area; cost approximately $575,000 or 30 cents per square foot.

Plan: short T-shaped corridors; all offices have exterior light. Ground floor is subdivided into shops, corridors from the three surrounding streets leading to elevators. The second floor is devoted to a banking room. "Six swift-running hydraulic passenger elevators of the most modern type, connect the eighteen stories in the shortest possible time."

Construction: The entire building is fireproof--all steel work protected with hollow fireclay tile; floors of similar material, being flat arches. Floors finished in marble mosaic in the halls; white maple in the rooms; inside finish is of polished mahogany; all halls are marble wainscoted 7 feet high with veined Italian marble. Construction was carried out by the Guaranty Construction Company of Chicago.

The writer says this of the building's "style": "A description of such a building cannot be complete without some allusion to the architecture. It would be an injustice to the progressive originality of a designer to attempt to show that a building filling all modern demands for utility is subservient to any of the historical styles. Style cannot dominate the design of any such structure, and the most that an architect can do is to consistently follow a style of decoration most in harmony with the general arrangement of the exterior which the construction itself has dominated. In such a building proportions of doors and windows cannot be considered, any more than the proportions of the whole. The task is therefore the more difficult to combine the necessity for covering the structural parts with some form of artistic expression. This is seen in the details of the first and second stories, where motives taken from the fifteenth century Gothic of Rouen and Burges have been used with good results. All the minute details of the interior in the ornamental iron, mosaics, hardware and gas fixtures have been similarly carried out. The terra cotta of the front tells what it is and does not presume to imitate stone. It is of a pale salmon color and has a spattered surface which adds much to its effect."

The following is a time-table of the actual construction:

1895 June 27 Contract signed July 3 Ground broken August Commenced driving piles and commenced steel foundation over piles and concrete.

Sept. Piling concrete and steel foundation completed.

Oct. 3 First piece of vertical steel skeleton started.

Oct. 12 First floor beams all set.

Nov. 12 Highest piece of steel on building set.

Nov. 25 Roof set and under waterproof cover.

Dec. 10 All hollow tile floor arches set.

Dec. 12 Contract let for interior marble work.

Dec. 25 Contract let for glass mosaic ceilings.

Jan. 2 Complete detail drawing for interior marble work received.

Apr. 23 First tenant moved in.

May 1 Marble and mosaic contracts completed and building ready for all tenants.

It is pointed out that despite the apparent rapidity of the construction work, there were delays: in September, 1895, due to the failure to receive necessary structural steel; October, five days lost to bad weather, making the total time for setting the 19 stories 26 days (in one 14-day period, 13 stories were set).

No overtime or night work was done.

"If asked, 'How could this be done" We can only say that careful attention to details and intelligent division of labor have led to the result. There could be no mistakes under such a system. But there was a second cause of delay, and that was due to the fact that changes made in the first-story corridors by the owner led to the redesigning of the whole of that part of the work, and all of the materials had to be got out after January 1."

Contractors: Pioneer Fireproof Construction Company: "hard-burned fire-clay tile from their own clay beds at Ottawa"; 206 car loads, weighing 3,620 tons.

Northwestern Terra Cotta Company of Chicago: exterior, except 10 stories of north wall which are hollow building tile "The new process of finely spattering the terra cotta before burning in has been used throughout."

Rittenhouse & Embree Company: Hardwood flooring - 120,000' of kiln-dried polished maple.

Evans Marble Company: 40,000 square feet of marble; veined Italian marble wainscoting from Carrara, first floor of Italian Pavonazzo.

Frank L. Davis: Designed and finished the mosaics.

Winslow Brothers Company: Ornamental iron in blue-black finish (Bower-Barff process).

L. H. Prentice Company: Steam-heating work;

Johnson Temperature Controlling Company: heat regulation.

Grimshaw Company and General Electric: Electric mains, electrical fixtures by Chicago Edison Company.

P & F. Corbin: Hardware.

Alfred Barker: Tinting and house painting.

In 1907 a two-bay addition, 20 stories and a basement, was built to the north of the original building. While sharing the original Gothic decorative detailing, the addition has a planar wall, as opposed to the original bay- built on rock caissons; Peter J. Weber was the architect; E. C. and R. M. Shankland were the engineers.

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois EXTERIOR: SOUTH SIDE (1964)
EXTERIOR: SOUTH SIDE (1964)

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois WEST ENTRANCE (1971)
WEST ENTRANCE (1971)

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois SOUTH ENTRANCE (1971)
SOUTH ENTRANCE (1971)

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois WEST ELEVATION (1971)
WEST ELEVATION (1971)

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois VIEW SOUTH IN LOBBY, 1ST FLOOR (1971)
VIEW SOUTH IN LOBBY, 1ST FLOOR (1971)

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois STAIR, 1ST FLOOR LOBBY (1971)
STAIR, 1ST FLOOR LOBBY (1971)

Fisher Building, Chicago Illinois FISH DESIGN ON WEST ENTRANCE DOORS (1971)
FISH DESIGN ON WEST ENTRANCE DOORS (1971)