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The Auditorium, Congress Hotel (Annex)
Life Span: 1889-Present
Location: Northwest corner of South Michigan Avenue and Congress Street
Architect: Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan
Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1889
On Wednesday, the 2d day of October, the copestone of the great Auditorium building is to be laid with Masonic ceremonies, under the auspices of the Grad Lodge of the State of Illinois. This event will mark another important step in the life of a building which has already become historic and which, in its manifold character as containing a hall, theater, hotel, and hundreds of offices, is destined to play an important part in the daily life of Chicago during the next generation. Vastness and solidity are the characteristics of this new landmark of Chicago, which cannot fail to impress every beholder. It is a stupendous monument of western enterprise, creditable alike to its public spirited projectors and to the city of which it forms a prominent feature.
It is not necessary here to dwell at any length upon the genesis and development of the work now so nearly completed. More than three years have elapsed since the project which was to result in giving Chicago the largest and finest hall in the world first took definite shape. It was not until January, 1887, that the work of clearing the ground was begun. Three residences, a large skating rink, and the old Hotel Brunswick had to be demolished. The excavations for the foundations were carried to a uniform depth of twelve feet below the sidewalk, while the trenches extended to a depth of seventeen to twenty feet. It required the removal of over 30,000 cubic yards of loam, sand, and clay before the building operations could be begun. The sand was from three to six feet in depth, and below this lay a bed of soft clay extending over the entire site of the proposed structure. Upon this the foundations were laid at vast expense.
Building operations proper were commenced June 1, 1887. For the foundations of the main building two transverse layers of twelve-inch timber were first put down. Above these was paced a mass of concrete, in which was imbedded railroad bars and T beams.
The Giant Tower.
The tower foundations, covering an area of 69×100 feet, required special treatment. A mass of timber two feet thick was surmounted by a five foot thickness of concrete. In this were imbedded three layers of railroad bars, one of fifteen inch T beams, and one of twelve inch T beams. It was believed by many that the construction of a tower of such dimensions in connection with the building was impracticable, and it was predicted that at the line of junction between the tower and the main building there would be a series of cracks and fissures, resulting from unequal settlement of the foundations. To guard against this the architects, Messrs. Adler and Sullivan, adopted the expedient of loading the foundations of the tower with a weight equal—foot for foot—with that borne by the completed portion. Heavy loads of brick were placed on these foundations, and, as these proved inadequate to sufficiently depress the masonry, 800 tons of pigiron were used. As the tower rose gradually above the line of the main building the superincumbent weight was removed and replaced by masonry. The result of this work was entirely satisfactory and the predicted trouble failed to make itself felt in any way. The settlement was uniform throughout the building, although the tower weighs 15,000 tons in itself. Probably there is no building in the city standing on a more solid basis than the Auditorium. The vast weight is so spread as th bear equally on the solid foundation, and there is not the divergence of a line at the junction with the tower.
The building covers one and five-eighths acres, and has a frontage on Congress street of 362 feet, on Michigan avenue of 187 feet, and on Wabash avenue of 161 feet, making a total street frontage of 710 feet. The walls from the foundations to the street level are of block rubble, laid in Portland cement. Above this the walls are of sewer brick laid in cement and mortar, and to make the walls more homogeneous and capable of resisting possible irregularities of settlement strips of band iron are built in at the levels of the different stories. The exterior walls of the first story are of granite, and those of the second story of brick faced with granite. Thence to the roof, 146 feet above the sidewalk, the walls are of brick, faced with Bedford limestone. The main entrance to the Auditorium proper is on Congress street. A series of arches open upon a spacious hall, on either side of which will be the ticket offices. This entrancehall is finished in marble, with pillars of the same material and a magnificent mosaic floor. The Wabash avenue entrance to the elevators is profusely decorated with marble panels of great beauty.
Unique Points in Construction.
Many Interesting points arose during the construction of this unique and enormous structure. Among the noticeable feats of engineering accomplished were the carrying over the stage of four stories of rooms and two stories of iron rigging lofts. These are supported by four iron trusses, each having a clear span of 110 feet. The banqueting hall is carried over the body of the Auditorium building by the two iron trusses, each of 120 feet span. On the Wabash avenue front and the Congress street corner the first floor is devoted to stores, and all above these are offices. The ninth and part of the eighth story are occupied by the Chicago Art and Music. On the tenth floor are the offices of the architects and other officers of the building. The rooms on the other floors are spacious and fitted with all modern improvements. Many are already occupied by musicians and other professional people, and it is expected that the building will become the art centre of Chicago. Its great height places it above both the smoke and the noise, while the view from the upper floors extends over the whole city.
The tower—240 feet high—is a feature in itself, and its six stories devoted to office purposes will include as many rooms as are to be found in many individual office buildings. There are nine passenger and four freight elevators in the building, all operated by hydraulic power. The tanks for this purpose are on the fifteenth story of the tower. There are eleven of these. Those for the elevators have a capacity of 28,000 gallons, while the house tanks contain 18,000 gallons. An artesian well, which has already been sunk to a depth of 1,200 feet, will furnish 150 gallons of water per minute for the use of the hotel. There are elevators in the tower as well as in the main building, so that access can readily be had to the highest point.
For the Signal Service.
On the flat roof of the tower there is now in constrcution a room 9×18 feet and thirty feet high, built of iron and tile. This is for the accommodation of the signal service corps, and it is designed to show electric signals for the guidance of mariners from the top of this structure. From this observatory the view east, south and north is magnificent. Unfortunately the outlook to the west is ruined by the smoke. The sand dunes at Michigan City are plainly visible on a clear day; and Grosse Point to the north and Sheffield, In., to the south lie in plain view. But on the west all beyond the line of the river is wrapped on sable gloom. Through the smoke the great spire of the Jesuit church on West Twelfth street looms up, and occasionally a glimpse may be had of the county hospital tower and the spire of the Jefferson Park church. Otherwise the great west division is a blank wilderness of houses smothered in Cimmerian darkness. Wabash avenue can be traced its full length, and northern limits of the city can be clearly made out, but nothing can be seen of the Union Depot or of Madison street beyond the river. Possibly on a Sunday or holiday a western view might be obtained, and in that case a magnificent panorama would be spread before the sight-seer.
The Auditorium Hotel.
The Auditorium hotel is to be opened Dec. 2. Messrs. Breslin & Southgate of New York will have charge of it, and they expect to open it, with the exception of the great banquet hall, that day. The hotel aoccupies the Congress street and Michigan avenue fronts. It will have over 400 rooms for guests, besides an entire floor devoted to the use of the help, and another floor over the stage which contains the kitchens. The main office of the hotel, on Michigan avenue, occupies 75×90 feet on the ground floor. The reading room, 30×35 feet, adjoins this. On the Congress street front there is a restaurant 30×96 feet, and a café and bar 30×64 feet. Above the latter is a billiard room of equal dimensions and a barber shop 35×35 feet. There are two elevators at each entrance. The hotel parlors on the second floor over the office open upon a magnificent loggia overlooking the lake front park. The floor of this is of mosaic, the supporting pillars of scagliola. There are 100 rooms with baths, and on all the floors except the tenth the stationary washbowls are placed in closets. From every piece of plumbing work a pipe leads to a ventilating shaft which is supplied with air by means of fans.
The dining room of the hotel is on the tenth floor, and is 45×172 feet. The ceiling is finished as a barrel vault with ornamented arched ribs, divided into cassettes, in the middle of each of which is an incandescent electric light, The whole building, hotel, offices, and auditorium, is lit by electricity. The culinary department of the hotel is over the theater building and entirely apart from the hotel proper. This and the servants’ quarters are reached by bridges extending over the inner court, at a height of 120 feet from the ground. The ventilation of the hall and hotel is provided for by two immense shafts, through which fresh air can be supplied and vitiated air removed at the rate of 10,000,000 cubic feet per hour. The furnishing and fitting up of the hotel, its parlors, reading room, offices, and other adjuncts have been contracted for and will be on a scale worthy of the building. Every convenience and luxury that modern ingenuity can supply will ben incorporated in the rooms. The café, bar, and billiard rooms are to be fitted up regardless of cost.
The electrical department of the Auditorium building is on a scale commensurate with the magnitude of the stricture. The dynamo room of the hall contains six engines and six dynamos, with a capacity of 5,000 sixteen candle lamps, besides furnishing 115 horspower of electric motors fir the ventilating fans. There are five engines and five dynamos for the hotel department, with a capacity of 4,600 sixteen candle lamps and 140 horsepower for motors. The hotel will be run both on the American and European plan, rooms being furnished either with board or without it, as may be desired.
The Great Auditorium.
Public interest in this great building centers in the hall or auditorium, the finest room devoted to public purposes in the world. Even when in its incomplete state it was utilized for the meeting of the National Republican convention last year its magnificent proportions impressed all who saw it. It is still in the hands of the wotkmen, and much yet remains to be done before it can be ready for operatic purposes. The managers believe that the vast amount of work remaining to be done will be completed by the time appointed and that by December it will be ready for use. The hall covers a space 120×266 feet. Its main entrance is on Congress street, the gallery entrance on Wabash avenue and on the alley to the north. The seating capacity of the hall is 5,000, and an by ingenious arrangement of movable ceilings, or more properly irin curtains, the upper galleries can be entirely cut off, and the seating capacity reduced to 4,200 to 3,500, as may be desired. The main floor, including the forty-two boxes, has 1,800 seats. There are no proscenium boxes, the space usually taken up by them being devoted to the great organ. There are about 1,700 seats in the main balcony and 750 in each of the two galleries. The stage, 70 feet deep and 110 feet wide, is larger than that of the Drury Lane and only inferior to the stages of La Scala at Milan and the Grand operahouse in Paris. There aee two iron curtains, by the use of which the stage opening can be reduced to 75 or to 47 feet. The entire place is fireproof and the stage can be completely cut off from the autitorium at a moment’s notice.
Run By Hydraulic Power.
Curtains, stage, and everything else in the theater are operated by hydraulic power, there being sixteen hydraulic jacks, four of which are telescopic, under the stage. Stage in this case should be plural, for there is a double arrangement, by which one stage can be set while the other is in use, and the transfer made instantaneously. This is not after the style of the Madison Square theater, where the one stage is above the other, but is modeled after the leading theater at Buda-Pesth, considered to be the most convenient in existence. All the scenery is hung oover iron sheaves, with iron cables and iron counter-weights, there being over ten miles of cable used. The seats will be opera chairs upholstered in amber plush, and in the galleries every one will have a chair.
A special feature of the hall will be its spacious lobbies. These are four in number—80×120, 60×120, 40×120, and 20×120 feet. In the basement are two smoking-rooms, and there and on the second floor will be the cloakrooms and retiring-rooms for the ladies. The seating arrangements are such that a full view of the stage can be had even from the highest seat in the upper gallery, and the acoustics of the hall are pronounced perfect. The arches of the roof are treated in gold and ivory, and this is the leading feature of the decoration throughout. Over the proscenium arch figure pieces are being painted by Mr. Holloway, while the side panels will be filled in with landscapes by A. Fleury. The paintings so far completed are of a superior kind and will attract much attention.
Symphony of Time
An Immense Organ.
The organ will be situated in the northeast corner and is to be a four-manual, with 175 stops and 7,371 pipes and bells. The largest pipes are thirty-two feet in height. The organ will cost $50,000 and the builder, Frank Roosevelt of New York, has been instructed to furnish the finest and most complete instrument ever made. It will have a complete set of cathedral bells and chimes and will be operated by hydraulic power, the keyboard being located in the orchestra. There will also be an echo organ at the west end, near the ceiling, and a movable organ on the stage. The scenery has been made in Austria, and is said to be of the highest grade of artcistic excellence.
Since the original plans were prepared there has been added provision for a smaller hall. This will be used for purposes of rehearsal. It is situated on the seventh floor, behind the upper gallery of the Auditorium, and will seat comfortably over 500 persons. The seats are arranged in amphitheater form, and the hall will be used for many purposes.
Four Millions Invested.
This great building has cost a large sum of money. The ground upon which it stands was worth $600,000 before a brick was laid upon it, and its present value, owing to the appreciation in real estate caused by the improvements in this location, is given at $1,000,000. The original estimates of the cost of building had to be revised as the plans were altered and improvements suggested. It is estimated the cost of construction will be fully $3,000,000, making a total investment of $4,000,000. The capital stock is held by Chicago people, and the great enterprise is emphatically Chicago’s own. There are 15,000,000 of brick and $350,000 worth of iron in the building, and its construction has furnished employment for thousands of laborers and mechanics. Even yet a small army of men are employed on the hall and the hotel, and a great deal of work still remains to be done. But the architects and contractors express themselves confident that the whole building will be ready for use by December, when the Auditorium will be publicly opened with ceremonies befitting its dignity and usefulness. The much needed street improvement on the Congress street front is to be pushed as rapidly as possible, and it is hoped that by the time of opening an approach worthy of the great structure will be had. The means of exit from the hall are, however, ample as it is. The staircases are broad and the lobbies spacious beyond even the requirements of the building. In the whole structure there is absolutely nothing to burn. Iron laths and hollow tiles compose the floors, and except for doors and minor fittings there is no inflammable matter in the building. Notwithstanding the great height the stairs have been so arranged that a climb even of a dozen stories is scarcely felt. All the stairways are of great width, there are no sbrupt turns, and the different parts of the hall debouch upon separate exits, so that neither fire nor panic can bring about a catastrophe.
The Formal Opening.
It is intended to ave the formal opening of the Auditorium Dec. 9, and the occasion will be made a national one, the President of the United States being expected to preside. Arrangements have been made for (Adelina) Patti, (Ernesto) Nicolini, and other distinguished artists for the initial operatic performances, and the lovers of music are promised a season of opera as has never before been enjoyed on this continent. The grand hall will play a prominent part in the meetings and congresses antecedent to and in connection with the world’s fair, and it affords for national conventions a gathering place unequaled by any other building in existence. By throwing the stage into the hall seats can be provided for 9,000 people, and during the last Republican national convention there were 11,000 persons in the hall at one time. In the official report of that convention the hall was characterized as being in all respects the best ever provided for a national convention.
Interior of The Auditorium, 1890
Interior of The Auditorium, About 1890
How the Mauretania would look if placed next to the Auditorium Hotel and Annex. The ship was used for the British Cunard Line and was the fastest ship upon her first launch. She was used from 1906 to 1934.
Construction of The Auditorium, 1889
Construction of The Auditorium,
October 1, 1888
The great audience room was thrown open to the public on the evening of December 9, 1889. The occasion is not likely to be forgotten by those who were fortunate to secure admission.
The following programme was given:
- Triumphal Fantasie, Theodore Dubois.
Composed for this occasion for grand organ and orchestra.
Clarence Eddy, Organist.
Address, Hon. Dewitt C. Cregier, Mayor of Chicago.
Address, Ferd. W. Peck.
Cantata, Frederick Grant Gleason.
Composed for this occasion and sung; by a chorus of five hundred voices under the direction of William L. Tomlins.
Address, President Harrison.
Address, Hon. John S. Runnells, of Chicago.
Home, Sweet Home, Madame Adelina Patti.
America, Apollo Club.
Concert Fantasie, Op. 33, F. De La Tombelle.
Composed expressly for the dedication of the Auditorium organ, Clarence Eddy.
The Heavens are Telling, Josef Haydn
Address (Dedicatory), Hon. Jos. W. Fifer, Governor of Illinois.
Hallelujah Chorus from The Messiah. Handel
The presence of President Harrison gave a national color to the festivities. Patti received a tremendous ovation when she stepped in front, on the arm of Manager Milward Adams, and as the last note of “Home, Sweet Home” watted through the space the demonstrations were extraordinary. When midnight came the vast audience dispersed and the most brilliant scene ever enacted in an American theatre remained fixed forever in their memory.
A remarkably prosperous season of Italian opera followed, under the management of Henry E. Abbey, which lasted four weeks. Next to the appearances of Patti was, perhaps, the debut of the renowned Tamagno, the tenor in Verdi’s Othello, the first complete performance of which was given in America during this season. A few weeks later the same company returned for a supplementary ssason of two weeks, and the success of the first series was repeated. The Apollo Club gave its first concert on December 25th. A grand charity ball, attended by the wealth and fashion of the city, was held on the 9th of January, 1890.
9 December 1889
The Illini, January 26, 1905
Towering triumphantly as the most massive and picturesque as well as the most impressive dramatic spectacle in the history of the world, Ben Hur will seek new honors at the vast Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, on Monday evening, February 6th , when a limited engagement will be inaugurated . Never before in the history of Chicago amusements has an announcement of a theatrical production created such a sensation, for it means something new to the public to see a dramatic spectacle on such a colossal scale.
It is the intention of the Klaw & Erlanger Co., who directed the management of Gen. Wallace’s great play, to use every inch of space that the big Auditorium stage admits of, in arranging the scenic environment. When it is taken into consideration that the stage of the Auditorium theatre is the largest in the world, there can be no question about the stupendousness of the staging. Over 400 persons are to appear in the interpretation, and in the great race scene, which is the “theatrical” feature of this great religious romance, five chariots drawn by twenty horses will be utilized in the struggle for supremacy between Ben Hur, Messala and the other contestants.
The advance sale of seats for the Ben Hur engagement will open on Thursday morning, February 2nd. Mr. Mllward Adams, manager of the Auditorium, will give prompt attention to orders for seats through the malls, It accompanied with remittance and a self-addressed stamped envelope.
Auditorium Exterior During Republican National Convention
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
Auditorium Interior During Republican National Convention
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper
1888 Republican National Convention
Ticket 1888 Republican National Convention
Cable trains passing on Wabash Avenue in front of the Auditorium Building.
The Inter Ocean, November 24, 1906
Auditorium, the name which has been famous, which for Chicago was as the Waldorf-Astoria, after the first of the year will no longer be associated with a hotel.
“The Congress Hotel and Annex” is the title by which the group of tall hotel buildings on Michigan avenue, to the south of Congress street, will be designated. The name Auditorium and Auditorium Annex will be dropped. It is likely that the huge pile to the north of Congress street, which contains the Auditorium theater and Auditorium hotel, will be turned into an office building, for which it is admirably fitted, although the theater will be retained.
The Congress Hotel company, which now operates the Auditorium and Auditorium Annex in conjunction, leases the Auditorium, but owns the Annex and the new addition to the latter. The lease expires at the end of the year and will not be renewed. Under such conditions the Congress Hotel company is precluded from employing the word Auditorium.
While the main title of the group of three hotel buildings to the south of Congress street will be the Congress hotel, the word Annex will be appended. The word Annex is too valuable to part with, since it was invented by the public in the first instance and has been given in the public mind a special significance. Hence, with the completion of the third structure, popularly known as the Annex, to the Annex, of the Annex, the new name and title in full will read “The Congress Hotel and Annex.”
Inter Ocean, April 28, 1912
A noteworthy transaction in Michigan avenue property, interesting both because of the history attached to the land and the illustration it affords of an enormous increase in values within the last ten years, was closed Thursday. The Congress Hotel company bought from E. Burton Holmes the 26 feet frontage at 520 South Michigan avenue, forming part of the hotel’s site, for $115,000, the purchase being the exercise of an option contained in a long term lease. Simeon Straus attended to all the legal details, represent ing both parties.
The property was bought in 1859 by Stiles Burton and was occupied as a homestead by the family until 1902, when Mrs. Virginia Burton Holmes. a daughter, leased the ground
to the hotel company for ninety-nine years at a net rental of $4,000 a year, with an option to purchase at any time prior to July 1, 1912. for $115.000. Valuing this property on the basis fixed by competent appraisers for the Blair lot adjoining on the south, $11,000 a front foot. would make the Holmes piece worth $286,000, so that Its purchase by the
hotel company at the option price actually adds $171.300 to the assets of that corporation.
An interesting feature of the transaction is the fact that Mrs. Ann W. Burton, widow of the original purchaser of the property, still survives at the age of 93 and joined in the
conveyance Mrs. Burton now lives at the Congress hotel
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra debuted on October 16, 1891, and made its home in the Auditorium Theatre until moving to Orchestra Hall in 1904.
The opera company renting the accommodation moved to the Civic Opera House in 1929, and the Auditorium Theatre closed during the Great Depression. In 1941, it was taken over by the city of Chicago to be used as a World War II servicemen’s center. By 1946, Roosevelt University moved into the Auditorium Building, but the theater was not restored to its former splendor.
In 2001, a major restoration of the Auditorium Theatre was begun to return the theater to its original colors and finishes.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map
Auditorium and Annex
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map