Life Span: 1881-1885
Location: 21-29 N. Dearborn St.
Architect: Burnham and Root
In 1880 Chicago building contractor Amos Grannis erected Burnham & Root’s first office complex, the red-brick Grannis Block at 21-29 N. Dearborn. According to Burnham, it was with this project that the firm’s “originality began to show.”
GRANNIS BLOCK, 1881-1885, at 21-29 N. Dearborn street (Burnham & Root, architects), was seven stories high with one basement, on spread foundations. It had a red brick and red terra cotta front, with wood floor construction. The cast-iron columns were fireproofed with 21 inches of terra cotta. H.M. Kinsley restaurant was in the basement.
The 19 February 1885 Grannis fire dramatized the passing from the realm of commercial building of the carpenter as a builder. The building illustrated many problems that business architecture inherited from the 1870’s. The Grannis had a wooden interior structure, and its columns and roof were protected with fireproofing tile; however, the floors were not protected. But in 1882, a revolutionary building appeared—in the same city by the same architects. The ten-story Montauk Building, at the corner of Monroe and Dearborn streets, was probably the first building ever to be called a skyscraper.
The Union Bank building was then erected on this site, which was later occupied by a one-story building. A two-story portion of the old building remained at the rear on the alley and was used for automobile parking (1949). The Boston Store/1 N. Dearborn Street building occupies this site.
Portland and Grannis Blocks
Andreas’ History of Chicago
Chicago Tribune, May 1, 1881
We have several times had occasion to speak of this latest and finest addition to the office buildings of Chicago, in commenting upon the beauty of its design, the remarkable solidity of its construction, and the perfection of its arrangements for securing the greatest amount of comfort and convenience to its occupants. We propose this morning to give some notice odf the mechanics who have “builded so well.”
Perhaps the most notable characteristic of the Grannis Block is that, discarding almost wholly the more showy materials of marble, carved stone, etc., and adopting the simpler, though more durable, construction of honest brick and terra cotta, the architects have succeeded with the simplest forms in producing a result that is pronounced by all who see it almost without exception “the handsomest building in the city.”
As nearly every office in the building is already rented to the best class of tenants, the entire enterprise may be accepted as successful in the highest degree.
Our thanks are due to the building’s agent, Mr. W. K. Nixon, for many courtesies.
The architectural credit belongs to Messrs. Burnham & Root, who designed the building and also many of the fittings, notably those of the National Bank of Illinois offices.
and the furnishing of all material, brick and stone, was creditably done by Mortimer & Tapper.
The plastering was thoroughly done by John Sutton, and the painting by Morrison Bros.
A. KNISELY & CO.
Thew large skylight over the bank offices and the one over the hall and stairway are of the Hayes patent, and were furnished in place by A. Knisely & Co., 72 and 74 West Monroe street, who also do the slate roofing, tinning, galvanized-iron work, etc.m on the front. This firm have a virtual monopoly of the skylight business in the Northwest, not only on account of the patents under which they work, which have recently been sustained in the United States Circuit Court at New York, but also by reason of their reputation for excellent work, done properly. These skylights are being more used every year, and dark and dreary office buildings are being gradually transformed into light and cheerful ones, as owners find that they can have skylights as free from leaks or condensation as any part of their roofs, and the old fear of a leaky skylight being dispelled, they find it pays to use them and have plenty of light,—plenty of light meaning plenty of tenants. Among the skylights recently erected by this firm are those at Field & Leiter’s retail store, Unity Building, Dearborn street, and & McNally’s new press-rooms, Academy of Music, Grand-Opera House, Central Music Hall, Cook County Court House, Chicago City Hall (unfinished), Chicago & Northwestern Railway passenger depot train shed, King Block, Denver, Colo., Chamber of Commerce, Milwaukee, Detroit Public Library, etc., etc. Among the buildings upon which this firm have done other than skylight work are the United States Custom House at Chicago, Nashville, Tenn., and San Francisco; also San Francisco City Hall, hotel for Henry Lampert at Cimarron, N. M., the new Union Depot, Canal and Adams streets, Chicago, and a large amount of work for the North Chicago Steel Company at South Chicago, Joliet Steel Company, Union Iron & Steel Company, etc., etc.; this list placing the firm A. Knisely & Co. deservedly at the head of the slate and metal roofing and galvanized-iron cornice trade of the West.
The heating and ventilation is upon a new plan, known as
HAWLEY’S FLOOR WARMING AND VENTILATION
and is a great improvement over that of any office building in the city, the prominent feature being the arrangement of floor timbers to allow free circulation of fresh warm air under each floor, warming it to a temperature near that of the human body. This not only gives health and comfort to the occupant, but prevents all stagnation of air in the building, and tends to the preservation of the floor and timbers themselves. Again, the peculiar construction necessary for the use of this method prevents the circulation of air behind the plastering from one story to another, and is an effective fire-stop, making the building much less liable to destruction by fire than most structures of the kind. Each suite of rooms is provided with a separate fresh-air duct and exhaust, has both direct and indirect heat, and every tenant may have much or little of warmth or fresh air without disturbing his neighbor. There are several other points of interest connected with this system for which Mr. B. R. Hawley, the inventor, is deserving of much credit.
ALL THE IRON-WORK
in the building, both inside and outside, wrought or cast, in the way of columns, girders, etc., was placed by Clark, Raffen & Co., who are proprietors of Ætna Iron-Works and extensive manufacturers of cast and wrought iron work for buildings, bridges, railroads, etc., located corner Kingsbury and Ohio streets.
The building is constructed with Wright’s fire-proof columns wherever required. The fire-proofing and plastering of which, also the protection of iron girders, was done by P. B. Wright & Co., 73 Dearborn street.
Of course, such a building would be incomplete without one of Hale’s improved elevators. In this case it is operated by pressure from a tank, the same as at the Custom-House, Court-House, Marshall Field & Co.’s, etc., but a connection is also made with the street mains, so as to be used in case the pump or boiler should be out of order for a short time. It is surprising how these elevators are taking the place of steam in all the best buildings in the country, but experience has proved them to be safer, to run faster and with less noise and friction, and to do a given amount of work at the smallest expense. We understand that Messrs. Hale & Co. have just completed five in the Southern Hotel, St. Louis, have orders for ten in one large apartment house, and six in the Produce Exchange building in New York. Thus it became possible to build almost to any height, and the upper stories are always the best.
THE PLUMBING AND GAS-FITTING
of this building—one of the largest office contracts which has ever been let in Chicago—was done by E. Baggot, of 197 East Madison street. The gas-fixtures of the National Bank of Illinois offices were also placed by Mr. Baggot, who has one of the largest and finest assortments of gas-fixtures west of New York, the recognition of which is shown by the many orders from our prominent citizens who are building and fitting fine residences in and around our city.
TRUE, BRUNKHORST & CO.
The use of terra-cotta in the ornamentation of buildings is coming very much into favor, and its advantages over ornamentations in stone is observable in the construction of the front of this building. It is capable of more delicate formations, and is always in in perfect harmony with the general material used in the construction. All the ornamental facings, as well as the terra-cotta tiling in the fire-proof mansard roof, were furnished and placed by this company.
is composed of refined Trinidad asphaltum, the best material known next to copper, and was placed by M. W. Powell & Co., who make a specialty of this material.
THE STEAM HEATING
of the building, as well as the boilers, pumps, etc., were furnished by John Davis & Co., 75 and 79 Michigan street.
was furnished by the well-known plate-glass house of James H. Rice, 80 and 82 East Adams street.
Portland and Grannis Blocks
THE NATIONAL BANK OF ILLINOIS
have had the spacious hall upon the first door directly opposite the main entrance built for their especial purpose in a style which is entirely new in the West, and upon which the more modern banking-houses in New York and Philadelphia are built.
The main entrance is directly opposite the wide entrance from Dearborn street, and another entrance has also been secured through the Portland Block leading out onto Washington street.
The office is ninety feet long and fifty feet wide, and twenty-six feet high, lighted only by an immense skylight which is fifty-eightfeet long and sixteen feet wide. In the matter of light and ventilation this office challenges anything in the city, and as it is in the rear portion of the building it avoids the noise and bustle incident to an office facing on streets.
The vaults, of which there are three, are built of solid masonry from the foundations upward in the most approved style. The south one of the lower vaults is the money vault, and built with all the modern improvements, and thoroughly lined inside with steel. It is of sufficient size to hold three very large safes. The north vault is very spacious, and in it will be kept the books that are in daily use. Above these a very large vault has been constructed equal in size to both the others combined, and in it will be kept the old books and papers which accumulate so rapidly in a bank doing extensive a business as the National Bank of Illinois.
The office-fittiungs were designed by the architects of the building, and are in harmony with the general finish of the building, many with the general finish of the building. The counters are of cherry, finished in the natural wood. The counter and base outside the inner apartments are of the finest Tennessee marble.
Although this was one of the last National banks to start in this city, yet its career has been one of almost unbroken prosperity, until to-day it has but few equals in the city. All kinds of business is represented among the patrons of this institution, and its business is so widely diversified that its reputation in general, and it does not, as is so frequently the case, cater to any particular line of custom. Its deposits are nearly all made up by business accounts of the city, as for conservative reasons, a large country business has not been sought after.
The constantly increasing direct trade between Chicago and Europe, exporting as well as importing, has compelled this bank to add a foreign exchange department where drafts can be bought upon all the principal cities of Europe; letters of credit are issued to travelers, and a general foreign business is transacted.
The Directors of this bank comprise the following well-known and prominent citizens of Chicago, who need no introduction to the public:
S. B. COBB
B. H. CAMPBELL
H. N. HUBBARD
W. H. BRADLEY
M. N. KIMBELL
WALTER L. PECK
GEO. E. ADAMS
The President, the Hon. George Schneider, has a record in this city as a banker of which any one may well be proud. The Cashier, Mr. W. A. Hammond, has been with the bank since it was started, and is well qualified for the position which he occupies.
In conclusion, we would say that the National Bank of Illinois is deserving of all the confidence reposed in it by the public, and in its new and elegant quarters we wish them the prosperity such careful catering to the public wants and perfect integrity merits. The officers of the bank will be glad at any time to meet and show the new offices to the business public.
Among the handsomely appointed offices in this building above the first floor none are more conveniently heated or adapted to the purpose intended than those engaged by the
Massachusetts Mutual Life-Insurance Company of Springfield, Mass., for their western agency. This suite of rooms, comprising two front and one rear office, Nos. 3, 4 and 5, gives to this agency one of the finest insurance offices in this city of the West. the Massachusetts Mutual Life is a company of thirty years’ standing, and, having over the $2,000,000 of business in this city, is well and favorably known. Working under the famous non-forfeiture laws of Massachusetts (a State in which there has never been a failure of a life-insurance company, where safeguards by law are thrown around the policyholders’ interests, protecting them in a manner not furnished by any other State in the Union), its safety and credible standing is at once assured. The Western Agency is represented by E. P. Roberts and W. E. Poulson as General Agents, and Percy W. Palmer as Financial Agent.
THE PENN MUTIAL LIFE-INS. COMPANY
of Philadelphia will occupy the second story front next to the Portland Block. The Penn is thirty-four years old, and has $7,465,181 of solid assets, or $1,285 with which to pay every $1,000 of liabilities. Its management is characteristically conservative and economical. Its average dividend for the past ten years has been 36.71 per cent,—that for 1881 being a steady advance over previous years. H. S. Vail is the General Agent, and is doing a large line of insurance business and making considerable loans on real estate.
THE NATIONAL LIFE-INSURANCE COMPANY
of Montpelier, Vt., John N. Hills General Agent, will occupy front rooms on the fifth floor. This is one of the oldest and staunchest life-companies in this country, was chartered by the Legislature of Vermont in 1850, is very conservative, and its expenses have always been very low, giving to its policy-holders the full benefit of its profits, is therefore purely mutual, and during its existence of over thirty years has never contested a loss. The ratio of assets to liabilities is greater than any other life-company on the country.
THE VERMONT LIFE
Insurance Company occupies office No. 33. This Company, though comparatively new, is one of the most excellent in the country, doing business both in the Industrial and Old lines. The business the past year has nearly doubled, the interest received has been more than sufficient to meet its death losses, and a large dividend returned to the policy-holders. Mr. W. S. Sattley is the Western Superintendent.
RUST & COOLIDGE,
who occupy Rooms 37, 38, 39, and 40 in this building, are contractors, engineers, and the builders of a large proportion of the bridges and ironwork done and to be done on railroads and large buildings all over the country. Among the late work of this firm is the ironwork and large sheds of the new Northwestern Railroad Depot in this city, which are 410×100 feet, and are as substantial in structure as they are graceful and light in appearance. The firm have just been awarded the contract for building all the bridges on the Northern Pacific Railroad, including the pneumatic foundation for the grand Missouri River bridge at Bismarck; in fact, they are the builders of nearly all the pneumatic work in the country, as they are the leading contractors and builders of all kinds of heavy iron contract work in the West.
G. M. MUNGER & CO.
will occupy the store No. 115 Dearborn as the office of their extensive laundry business. This apartment, like the other basement rooms in this building, is an improvement upon those found under other buildings, being well lighted with large plate-glass windows and not so far below the level of the street as to ease dampness. Messrs. Munger move their office from 126 Dearborn, where for the past eight years it has been heated. The recent fire which destroyed their laundry on the South Side interrupted business, but since then the building has been extended and new and improved machinery has been added. Munger’s laundry, since its establishment in 1868, has won a reputation for good work, and square dealing, and is now doing an immense business, employing about 125 people in the various departments of their work. It might also be mentioned in this connection that Munger & Co., besides their regular laundry business, are manufacturers of dealers in all kinds of laundry machinery and appliances. With their established reputation among our citizens it is a public benefit that the business office of this concern should be so centrally located.
The rear room under the National Bank of Illinois will be occupied by
H. M. KINSLEY
is a gentlemen’s café, in connection with 56 Washington street. There will also be an entrance from Calhoun place, accessing from both State and Dearborn streets. The café will be fitted with furniture made expressly for the place, and with the other complete appointments, will be the most convenient in the city.
life-insurance expert, and actuary, will occupy Room 22. Mr. Tabor is not under contract with any life-company. The office is an independent one, opened in the interest of the insured and the insurable public, and hence unpartisan in all its business transactions. If you want more insurance, you can ascertain at this office the demerits as well as the merits of any company doing business in Chicago. Cash values of policies are given, proofs of death, losses made out, claims adjusted, knotty and vexatious questions answered. Send for circulars.
booksellers and bookbinders, will occupy the store No. 113. They are well known to our citizens, and will bring to their new location a wide experience in furnishing the choicest libraries. Special editions of standard authors, important books of references, and fine binding are the leading features of their business. Their designs for binding illustrated works and finer sets are the standard of taste in that line.
J. H. BIRMINGHAM
will occupy store No. 113, keeping a full line of imported and domestic correspondence stationery, and doing all kinds of fine engraving and printing of wedding cards and invitations, calling cards, programs, etc.
The store No. 117 Dearborn street, is occupied by
R. MELCHER & CO.
successors to J. T. Jewett, who since 1844 has manufactured fine foot-wear in this city, always catering to the best class of trade, and making this brand of trade a specialty.
U. P. Smith, Abner Smith, and J. M. H. Burgett, attorneys-at-law, who have become associated together under the firm name of
SMITH & BURGETT
will remove from the Nixon Building, and hereafter will occupy Rooms 34 and 35 on the third floor.
Messrs. Tenney, Flower & Cratty have removed from 155 LaSalle their law chambers occupying more than one-half of the third floor. The Dillard Creditors’ Agency, a branch of the firm, will have an office adjoining.
Boutell & Waterman and H. S. Boutell, lawyers, will occupy rooms in the building.
E. C. CLEAVER & CO.
will occupy Room 26, fourth floor, as a real estate and loan office.
Chicago Tribune, February 20, 1885
The Grannis Block, one of the finest office buildings in the city, located on the east side of Dearborn street, between Madison and Washington—Nos. 111 to 117 Dearborn—was almost completely destroyed by fire last evening, involving a loss on building and contents of nearly $250,000. About half-past 5 o’clock, while the janitors were sweeping out the offices on the sixth floor, the halls were suddenly filled with a dense volume of smoke. A moment later flames were seen darting down the elevator-shaft, igniting the woodwork on each floor. Allan Hatch, chief janitor, first discovered the fire and gave the alarm to his associates, who rushed for the staircase. They succeeded in making their way through the clouds of suffocating smoke and all reached the street safely. Nearly all of the occupants on the upper floors had left the building before the fire broke out, and the few remaining ones picked up everything they could carry and made their escape. William E. Paulson of the Massachusetts Mutual Life-Insurance Company returned to his office on the second floor in order to save some valuable papers.
A CLOSE CALL.
This act nearly cost him his life. After gathering up his papers, he started for the stairway, but found his egress cut off by the tongues of the flame which darted in every direction. He sprang back into his office and closed the door. Raising the window he called for help, and was assisted down a ladder by two firemen.
As the flames sprang up in the elevator shaft the heat touched the automatic alarm and conveyed the intelligence to the Fire-Insurance Patrol. The box in front of the building registered from the attic. The appearance of the patrol in front of the building was the first intimation the occupants of the lower floor and the basement had of the fire. Engine No. 13 then dashed up, having responded to a still, which was sounded at 5:26. An alarm was turned in from Box No. 36 at 5:27, to which the department responded as rapidly as possible considering that the horses had to drag the ponderous apparatus through the heavy snow.
IT BURNS FAST.
Before a stream had commenced playing flames were darting across the alley from the upper windows, and the rear of the building where the elevator-shaft was located was all ablaze. Realizing that a serious conflagration was threatened, Marshal Pazen caused a second alarm to be sounded at 5:36, and a third alarm was sounded by Marshal Sweenie at 5:50. The firemen worked bravely, fighting the flames on all sides and running several loads of hose to the roof. At 6:30 it was thought that the fire was practically under control, but at about 7 o’clock it obtained a fresh start and the entire upper part of the building became a roaring furnace. A shower of sparks was falling on adjoining buildings and fears were expressed for the safety of the Portland Block, which was only separated from the burning building by a party wall. Marshal Petrie issued a special call for four additional engines, Nos. 12, 16, 18, and 26, at 7:04, and this force worked on the fire from that time until it was well out.
GETTING DOWN TO WORK.
As the evening wore on the character of the conflagration underwent a change. After a few ambitious leaps above the roof about dark the flames retreated within the immense structure and proceeded to do their work wth less obstruction. The engines continued to belch forth red streams of fire and all incidental sounds were swallowed up in the roar and clatter of the steam pumps. A heavy, foggy smoke settled over the surrounding streets, in the midst of which it was difficult to distinguish and engine and its furnace-fires from a fireman and his lantern. Men with frozen whiskers and coats covered with gray sheets of ice rushed back and forth knee-deep in the snow and water of the street. The fire was slowly coming under control. Now and then for long periods, it appeared to have been wholly extinguished, but always before the firemen had time to congratulate themselves on their victory a sullen flash would sweep through the interior to convince them that the fires were still active and only half smoldering. The flames seemed to favor no particular floor or corner, but to be on some sort of general maraud in search of any and everything combustible between the ruined rafters and the foundation stones.
By this time the exterior frame-work was so far consumed as to leave little food for bright flames, and instead of the brilliant illumination of the earlier evening the whole neighborhood was swathed in a dense mass of dark rolling smoke and vapor. The firemen were knee-deep in water, and their hats and coats were so heavy as very seriously to impede their motions, while the ladders in many places were uniform shafts of ice. Kinsley’s establishment was by this time effectually ruined by water and smoke, although many of the most valuable articles appertaining to his restaurant were hurried away in wagons. The engine rooms of the Grannis Block extends underneath Kinsley’s café, and the firemen, dragging their hose in through the rear entrance of the lunch-room, flooded the lower floor and deluged the fires smoldering below. Some of the employes about the restaurant were very much excited, and the entire family of Kinsley’s manager came down from Thirtieth streets or thereabout and were half frantic when they saw the desecration of their old resort. Young men in the billiard-halls across the alleyway were much less mercurial, and kept the balls rolling while the flames raged outside. The fire was so well-confined within the walls by this time that scarcely anything was to be seen. The firemen repeatedly attempted to clamber into the counting-rooms on the first-floor, but were as often driven back by the stifling smoke. The iron door between the Portland and Grannis Blocks had been throw open, and gangs of firemen stood underneath the flames, directing streams of water from the hydrants on Washington street. It was pretty clear that the conflagration was now under control, and the efforts of the department were directed to the preservation of the vaults and other valuables in places of danger.
The building was totally destroyed, causing a loss of $185,000. The occupants lost, in furniture and effects, $50,000, making a total loss of $235,000. Upon this there is an insurance of about $200,000.
In speaking of the destructiveness of the fire, Mr. Burnham, the architect, said:
The walls will be useless; they will have to be torn down to the foundation walls. Experience with a similar fire has taught that lesson. Reconstructed walls of that description are unsafe anyway.
Mr. Burnham’s Opinion.
Mr. D. H. Burnham, the architect, was the first person to discover the fire, and his theory of the origin is undoubtedly the correct one. The stairway that winds around the elevator hatchway led directly to the door of his private office, which was located in the southeast corner of the building. The elevator hatchway was about ten feet distant from his office, and projecting into the room was a sealed shaft running from the basement to the attic. The shaft was oblong in shape with ventilators on each floor, walled on one side with brick and on the other with wood and plaster. Access to it was to be had only in the basement and the attic. In this shaft were the elevator counter-weights and cables. The cables were thick and stout which were well oiled, as the elevator was kept in constant use during the day. Mr. Burnham was sitting in his office at half-past 5 o’clock, occupied with a client. He said:
I thought I detected the odor of smoke and called to the engineer to investigate. I passed into our main rooms to investigate, but no smoke could be found there. I arrived at the conclusion that the flames were under the floor of my private office; and after ordering everything thrown into the vaults, I passed out to talk to the elevator-boy. It was then that positive evidence of fire was revealed. A half-dozen sparks flew out of the shaft-ventilator and were drawn down into the elevator hatchway. It was then that the automatic fire-alarm in the attic sounded and brought the fire patrol to the scene.
A LOST OPPORTUNITY.
The heat could be felt through the walls, but just then, could access have been had to the shaft, I have no doubt the fire could have been easily extinguished. But in a few moments a mass of burning wood fell to the basement, and the flames, which roared and cracked fiercely, were drawn clear across the floor to a big ventilator, with open grating, which was located not far from the northern wall. From that moment the building was doomed. On the north side the flames had a hold in the basement and were making their way upward, while in the hatchway there was a sheet of fire which swept downward with irresistible force. Soon the fire worked across the building by way of the attic, and a complete circuit was formed. This made it very hard for the firemen, who were almost stifled with the smoke. I am convinced that the fire originated in the shaft by friction of the counter-weights and wooden guides. The guides were well oiled, and with oil, wood, and iron, no one can tell when dangerous friction will occur. The conditions were all favorable to combustion. Another fact that convinces me that the fire started in the shaft is the engineer, who is a reliable man, made a thorough investigation of the engine and boiler rooms as soon as he heard that the building was afire. He reported that there was not the slightest vestige of a fire in his department.
I have not felt safe since I learned that the elevator were run in wooden guides. The underwriters should work for the passage of a law abolishing their use. They are dangerous wherever used.
WHAT THE WATCHMAN SAYS.
The cause of the fire is wrapped in mystery, and as a matter of course alleged causes are rife and unreliable. The watchman, Charles Anderson, was interviewed. He said:
No fire was used in the upper part of the building, nor had had there been since it erected, The building was heated by steam, which rendered the use of stoves unnecessary. Some say the fire broke out on the upper floors. This is false. Unless the wood was ignited by electric wires it was out of the question such an event to take place, and electric wires rarely set fire to wood. The boiler-rooms were directly under the rooms of the National Bank of Illinois. Close by was wood of the most inflammable nature. It was oiled, painted, and re-oiled. The elevator is within a few feet of the fireplace, and my theory is that fire in some way communicated to the elevator-shaft and from there had a ready way to destroy the whole place. When I came in at 5:35 o’clock I saw no fire, but I had been in the building but a few minutes when I was told to ‘Look out.’ The upper floors at that time were full of smoke.
Regardless of the observations of those who first discovered the fire, some of the spectators insisted that the flames must have originated in the Sperry electric-illumninating station, which occupied the basement of the block. The manager of the electric-light establishment, Mr. C. H. Verhocy, was considerably exercised in mind when he heard these reports, being confident that the first outburst of the fire was 200 or 300 feet from the electric engine-room. The books and paper in the rooms of the illuminating station were removed, but everything else was consumed. Mr. Verhocy estimates their loss at not less than $10,000, upon which there was no insurance. Mr. Sperry and he have only been in their quarters in the Grannis and Portland Blocks since last November, and their engines have been in operation less than two months.
John Ritchie, chief engineer of the building, was in the engine-room when the fire was first discovered. The elevator-boy gave him the alarm. Looking up he saw almost a solid sheet of flame descending the elevator-shaft. The fire had already communicated with the fourth floor and a shower of sparks was falling down the open court from the ceiling. Returning to the engine-room, he turned the gas-jet under the mercurial alarm and then hurried out of the building.
Fred D. Hertel, the night engineer, had just reported for duty when the elevator-boy cried out that the building was on fire. He saw the flames running down the elevator counterbalance shaft, and thinks that the fire must have originated in the attic.
The occupants of the building were as follows:
BURNHAM & ROOT.
As soon as it was seen that the building was doomed, Messrs. Burnham & Root, the architects, secured Room No. 45 in the Portland, which they will occupy, beginning with this morning. The loss of this firm was very heavy. They will be unable to replace their plans, designs, water-color drawings hung on the walls, furniture, and instruments for less than $15,000. Upon this they have an insurance of $5,000 in the Williamsburg Company. Their contract plans to progress of making were all placed in the vault about the time the fire broke out; only a few were damaged, and these will cause little inconvenience. The firm occupied a suite of five rooms on the sixth floor. All were handsomely furnished, especially the private offices of the firm. The instruments destroyed were of the most costly manufacture.
Something In Detail.
The diagram on the right will give an idea of the shape of the building upon the main floor.
The building on the ground floor is 90 feet on Dearborn street by 120 feet on Calhoun place. There are six stories and a basement 70 feet deep and one story and a basement 50 feet deep in the rear of the main building, occupied by the National Bank of Illinois. The building was erected four years ago in 1881, by Amos Grannis, one of the oldest and most reliable contractors in the city, who built it for himself. About three or four months ago it was sold to Sheppard Brooks of Boston for $185,000. The building was constructed of St. Louis pressed brick, with terra-cotta and stone trimmings. It was not built as a fire-proof building, and, in fact, the immense court in the centre of the building would afford a fire free play when once started. There was a stand-pipe in the building, but it was worthless, as there was no hose attached to it.
The force at work on the fire consisted of Engine No. 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 26, 27, 32, 34; trucks 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 9; Chemicals 1, 2, 4, 5, 6; and Marshals Swenie, Musham, Pewtrie, Conway, Kinney, Greene, Campion, and Pazen.
Twenty Madison street cars were blockaded east of Dearborn street, remaining there for nearly two hours. They were afterward switched to the Randolph street line and around to Madison on the West Side. All Madison cars were subsequently switched at Dearborn. For nearly an hour street-car travel was suspended, and hundreds of working men and girls were subjected to great inconvenience.
A truckman on No. 5 found thime to get furiously drunk, and several policemen were obliged to seize him and carry him home, as he persisted in trying to climb the ladders. He stood in imminent danger of being killed by dropping to the ground.
Grannis Ice Palace
February 20, 1885
Grannis Ice Palace
February 21, 1885
21-29 N. Dearborn St.
Robinson Fire Map 1886
Volume 3, Plate 1
Nancy M Hammons says
I’m currently reading “The Devil in the White City”. I had never heard of the Grannis Block until I read it in this book. Thank you for the informative web site.
Stephen T. Spall says
I too am reading The Devil in The White City”. This article was most helpful and informative as I am also a NYC firefighter and found the historical record informative.