Life Span: 1886-Present
Location: 209 South LaSalle, SE corner of LaSalle and Adams
Architect: Burnham and Root
Peter and Shepard Brooks were developers of a few significant buildings in Chicago. They were;
- Montauk Block 1882
The Rookery 1885
Monadnock Building 1891
Marquette Building 1893
Brooks Building 1910
Chicago Tribune, December4, 1885
The lease by the City of Chicago to E. C. Waller of the lot on the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams streets has been signed by the Mayor and transferred to the Central Safety Deposit company. The certificate of incorporation has been filed with the County Recorder, and the projectors of the huge structure, which is to cost a million dollars or more, are ready to begin work. The building is to be done by May 1, 1887. In order to push
things during the present winter the lot is to be roofed over and fires will be kept burning to prevent the freezing of the soil. It will be remembered that the lot was leased to Mr. Waller for ninety-nine years at $35,000 a year, the land during that period to be free from taxes and the buildings to become the property of the city at the end of the time. These terms reduce the rental as compared with that of other property to about $31,000 a year. By the terms of the lease the company pays all taxes on the building.
The $1,000,000 has all been subscribed and the stockholders are a very strong body of men. About three-quarters of the capital is from Chicago and the rest from Eastern cities. The directors are N. B. Ream, W. E. Hale, E. C. Waller, D. H. Burnham, and Owen F. Aldis. Mr. Aldis represents $588,000 ot the capital, mostly for residents of this city. As a good many people doubt the wisdom of adding to the already large number of office buildings in that part of the city it is proper to say that the investors in this enterprise do not look for a great return on their capital in the near future. They will probably be satisfied if the building pays expenses the first year or two after its completion. Later on they expect good dividends on the stock. There will be about 700 rooms, which, it fully rented at present rates, would afford a gross income of possibly $250,000 a year. The structure would contain ordinarily not far from 2,500 people—a pretty good-sized village. The concern will not be a safety-deposit company in name only. It is proposed to have the best vaults in the Northwest. The value and convenience of vaults nave been pretty fully demonstrated to the tenants of the buildings now in existence.
The lot is 175×178 feet and the structure on it will be ten stories high. The material of the first two stories will be granite with great polished granite columns, and above rich dark brick and terra-cotta will be used. The general shape of the building will of course be quadrangular. Provision is made for light in the centre of the court 65×75 feet, open from the top to a point below the ceiling of the first or principal story, where it is covered by a large skylight. The main entrances will be on Adams and La Salle streets. There will be a vestibule 25×60 feet on the La Salle street side, from which two flights of marble stairs will run to the first story. The passage through the vestibule leads to six elevators, which are in two groups of three each, seventeen feet apart. Between the stairs and the elevators is a wide exit to the covered courtway. There is a similar but smaller entrance on the Adams street side, where three elevators are placed. The basement floor is on a level with the sidewalk. The stairs leading from it to the first story open into wide hallways, which have doorways into the court as below. A wide gallery leading around it gives access to the court from all parts of the first story. This court under the skylight will be finished in white marble and the skylight, which will be filed with enriched glass, will be about five feet below the first-story ceiling, allowing windows into the open air as well as into the court. Thus the portion of the court finished and covered in this manner is in two stories surrounded on four sides by a building averaging about fifty-three feet from the court to the streets. The opportunities for subdivision are such that offices can be obtained with light at both ends. In other words, a great arcade, comprising over sixty stores 18×30 feet, can be thrown into one system. The stores on the line of the streets have entrances from the streets and the court in every case. Above the first story a central hall runs around the building about half way between the street and the court, leaving offices on each side. The hall will be paved with white tile and wainscoted with white tile or marble. The building will be absolutely fire-proof, and the most careful attention will be given to every detail of the construction. It is believed that this structure and the Phenix will be far in advance of any business structure now in existence in Chicago as to its architectural qualities, and fully up to the best in New York
The lot was purchased of P. F. Peck by the city June 2, 1852, for $8,750. It will, therefore, after the 1st of next May yield annually four times its original cost besides the taxes. The “Rookery,” which was for some years occupied as a City-Hall, erected just after the great fire of 1871. When that building had been torn down the water-tank. made of solid masonry, was a conspicuous object, and the workmen had a hard tussle with it before they had it leveled to the ground. The tank was built during 1852 and 1853 at an expense of $40,000 and was used till the erection of the rookery. The building and all the old material on the lot were sold just after the lease was awarded for $5,200. The lot belongs to the water fund, to which all the income from it must go. It cannot be sold unless the proceeds are used for water fund purposes.
Greeley-Carlson’s Atlas of Chicago
Inter Ocean, February 14, 1886
Ed Waller has moved his office in the Home Building so he can overlook the progress of the $2,000,000 Rookery.
Chicago Tribune, February 21, 1886
The Rookery Lot.
The work of erecting on the “Rookery lot” what is intended to be the largest and finest office building in the country has been begun, and the following concise and complete description of the mammoth and costly structure will be of interest to the readers of The Tribune:
The site is the ground on the southeast corner of Adams and LaSalle streets. Quincy street, forty feet broad, lies to the south and “Rookery” court, thirty feet broad, to the east. “Rookery court” was originally an alley twenty feet in width, but the building will stand back ten feet, thus giving the additional width. The land originally belonged belonged to the Water Department, and thirty years ago a water-tower was built on the lot. The foundations of that tower are still in and will come in the centre of the new building. After the fire the city took up temporary quarters on the lot and built what has been known for years—and with good reason—as the “Rockery.” Last spring E. C. Waller obtained from the city a lease of the land at an annual rental of $35,000 for ninety-nine years. A company bearing the title “Central Safety-Deposit Company” was formed to which Mr. Waller transferred his lease. The company at once began to make preparations for building. Burnham & Root being the architects to who the plans were intrusted. The building is to be about 180 feet square and 170 feet high. It is designed entirely for offices above the sidewalk level and below that for a large safety deposit. The material is granite for tyhe first story and high basement, and the columns on Adams and La Salle streets will be of the same material, polished and nearly four feet in diameter. The doorways are very large, showing a reveal of about six feet. Above the first floor the building is of brown brick and brown terra-cotta made according to a special formula already thoroughly tested for the work. All the interior angles of the brick work are rounded, being made of molded brick specially prepared for this building. The ornamentation is quiet in color, which ranges from the dark red of the granite to the simple browns above, but will be exceedingly severe in the lines and details of ornamentation. The structure is built about an open court seventy feet square and offices will open on every story from a corridor both to court and street. The court has a skylight of Hyatt glass—i.e., bull’s-eye sidewalk glass—which is placed on a level with the top of the first story, so as to make all offices above open to the outer air, and also to form a rotunda beneath, having its floor on a level with the street. On the Rookery court and Quincy street fronts there are shed-form roofs of Hyatt glass which run at the level of the basement ceiling and extend out over the ten foot sidewalks, thus protecting the shop entrances from storm and rain. Between each pair of columns on the street fronts, both ion the basement or ground floor and the first floor, will project octagonal iron bays, thus enlarging the rooms and giving a view up and down the street as well as direct. The entrance on Adams street will be only less grand from the one on La Salle street. The ornamentation of the interior court, from top to bottom, is of buff glass-glazed terra-cotta and glazed brick, thus insuring the utmost brilliance of reflection, together with a certainty of cleanliness.
First Floor Plan
The ground floor or basement is on a level with the sidewalk and is arranged for shops on all four sides. The first story has two banking-offices on La Salle street, one on each side of the entrance, and each has been laid out, even to the cages for the tellers and desks for the officers. It is believed that these rooms are the most perfect for banking purposes of any in the West. On the east side of the interior court, Rookery court, and Adams street. This will be approached from the interior court by a very broad granite stairway. The rest of the first story is divided into large offices. On the inside of the court a gallery will extend around the building on a level with the first-story floor, from which all offices on that floor fronting on the court can be entered. The floor of this gallery is of Hyatt glass, which gives added light to the basement.
The grand stairways of the main entrance and also the walls are of solid light-gray granite. There are two stairways from top to bottom of the building, which are entirely of iron treated with the Barr-Barth process. At the La Salle street entrance there are six passenger elevators and at the Adams street entrance two passenger elevators and one very large freight elevator, all running from top to bottom of the building.
The second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth stories are cut up into offices of various sizes, each office or suite having fire-proof vaults and cabinets containing washstands and coat-room. These stories have projecting bays—three on La Salle street and two on Adams street. Throughout the building the corridors have high wainscoting of white statuary marble. The floors throughout the building are of marble tiles, as is that of the court. The seventh, eighth, ninth, and tenth floors are only partially divided into rooms, the intention being to lease them to corporations needing a large amount of room. On the ninth and tenth stories the ceilings are eighteen feet high.
On the seventh floor, towards the east, are located lavatories and a barber-shop designed to accommodate the whole building above the first floor. The walls and floors of these apartments and the divisions between closets, etc., are all of white marble, the lavatories being divided from the barber-shop by rich hangings. All plumbing work that shows is of polished brass. There are also smaller lavatories, two in number, on the La Salle street front near the elevators, and a barber-shop and lavatory under the Adams street sidewalk, designed for the use of tenants in the basement and the first story. The walls of this are of glazed bricks, the roof Hyatt lights, and the floor marble tiles.
Under the interior court is the safety deposit, which, it is intended, will be made the most perfect and secure in this country. It is composed of a very large central apartment made of steel and will be burglar and moth proof. In this apartment are steel boxes of various sizes, ranging from that of a good-sized safe to a small drawer. Clear around this apartment is a row of fire-brick vaults for the storing of books, silverware, pictures, etc. It is so arranged that guards can travel around the entire apartment inside of a burglar-proof fencing. Connected with the safety vaults is an office on the ground floor, next to the La Salle street entrance, which has a granite stairway leading down to the vestibule in front of the burglar-proof gateways. Two of the elevators also descend into this vestibule.
The space beneath the sidewalks on La Salle and Adams streets is devoted to small booths to be occupied by trunkmakers, shoemakers, et al. The partitions are of white glazed tile. Beneath the Quincy street and Rookery court sidewalks will be located the machinery of the building—pumps, engines, dynamos, etc. The building will be lighted throughout by incandescent electric lights. The entire structure from top to bottom is of an entirely fire-proof character. All the floor joists and bearings are of Bessemer steel, filled in and protected with fire-clay tiles.
If the upper floors were divided as is the rest of the building the number of roos would be about 700. The building will be finished about March 1, 1887. Its cost is not yet known, but it is the intention of the owners to spare neither pains nor expense to make it the best as to construction, ornamentation, arrangement, and finish that has ever been known in the history of office buildings. For the first time in the West the proprietors of this building have taken a pride in doing not only a piece of work good enough to pass, but a piece of work that will serve as a model in every respect for buildings to come. Already the Secretary of the deposit company, Mr. Waller, has received a large number of applications, and many of the most desirable offices have been already taken, Several corporations are now negotiating for the upper stories and several banking firms for the first floor, while the demand for the shops more than equals the supply.
209 S. LaSalle
Rand McNally’s Bird’s Eye Views of Chicago, 1893
The Rookery, designed by the late John W. Root, of Burnham & Root, stands at the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams streets. Here, before and after the fire, was a water-tank or reservoir. The city moved on the lot with its own offices, and the Public Library occupied the circular tank. In another room were the tables of the night reporters for the daily press. Somebody in this latter room called the place the rookery because of its dilapidation. The name became popular and was adopted when the handsomest building of the times was erected on its site. The designer of this superb structure, by this triumph, even more than by his outline of the World’s Fair, supported his claim to merit; for, though the box like architecture of the Chicago “tall building” is here discarded, there is not the sacrifice of one foot of valuable spae.
Beautifully rounded lines convey all needed effects of exterior elegance. The Rookery cost $1,500,000, and stands on what is still public domain, under long lease. It is in reality a hollow square, but its lower floor is entirely covered, thus cutting away the upward vista a feature of the Masonic Temple, the Boylan Insurance, the Chamber of Commerce, and the C. B. & Q. Building. But its lower floor, nevertheless, must be inspected, as it offers many suggestions of its author’s originality. On a mosaic pavement, after passing walls of Carrara marble, the visitor stands before a staircase, and around him is a miniature city of shops and booths. Here he has a veritable arcade for bad weather, with news-stand, barber-shop, telegraph-offices, and cafe. All the stores open into this quadrangular court, and three systems of elevators start from this floor, here being first adopted the “through elevator,” which makes no stop at lower stories. Two letter-carriers are constantly employed in attending to the mail of Ihis building, which contains 600 rooms. Burnham & Root established their own offices on the upper floor, and founded their financial reputation on the instant success of the joint-stock company which promoted the construction of the building. In the year 1884, when it was erected, the cyclopean style of architecture was still predominant, and the early stories, in syenilic granite, are examples of enduring solidity. The walls are deep all the way up, eleven stories, for it had not then been learned that steel construction is not only less cumbrous, but perfectly safe.
Chicago Tribune, September 16, 1894
The “Rookery” Building, at the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams streets, stands upon ground the fee of which is owned by the City of Chicago and the City Treasury is replenished ton the extent of some $35,000 annually thereby. Dec. 3, 1885, the City of Chicago executed a lease of the ground at the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams streets to Edward Carson Waller for a term of ninety-nine years from May 1, 1886, to May 1, 1895, at an annual rental of $35,000, payable in monthly installments on the first day of each month at the office of the City Controller or principal financial officer of the City of Chicago. The city fathers who negotiated the lease were either less fearful of the future monetary policy of Uncle Sam or had less concern about the matter because public and private interests were at stake than most lessors in Chicago’s long-term leases. Instead of requiring rent to be paid in gold of a specified weight and fineness, they were satisfied with common, plain, “lawful money of the United States,” and the lease so specific. The fee in this land being in the city is exempt from general taxation, and it os provided in the lease that the lessee shall be called upon to pay no tax except water rates, special assessments, and the like, other than taxes on buildings and improvements. The lease also stipulated that the lessee should erect on the premises a fireproof building in accordance with the city ordinances, to cost not less than $1,000,000. Mr. Waller did not hold this lease long, but the next day assigned it for a consideration of $50,000 to the Central Safety Deposit company, a corporation which had been chartered several days before. Its object is as follows:
- The business of safe deposit, or the safe storage of valuable personal property, and to do all things incidental and proper to the carrying on of such business, including the securing, or purchase, or erection of a building on leased ground suitable or proper for such business.
Its capital stock was $1,000,000, distributed as follows: Owen F. Aldis, 500 shares, $50,000; N. B. Ream, 1,000 shares, $100,000; W. E. Hale & Co., 500 shares, $50,000; Burnham & Root, 500 shares, $50,000; P. C. Brooks, 1,820 shares, $182,000; Shepard Brooks, 500 shares, $50,000; Edward C. Waller, 800 shares, $80,000; and Owen F. Aldis, trustee, 4,380 shares, $438,000. Jan. 1, 1887, the Central Safe Deposit company executed its trust deed to the Illinois Trust and Savings Bank on its leasehold interest and appurtenances to secure 600 bonds of $1,000 each, payable semi-annually. The bonds are redeemable before maturity at the office of the maker “on or after 10 years from the date thereof.” These bonds, like the lease, were drawn payable in “lawful money of the United States.”
Chicago Tribune, August 1, 1905
The “Rookery” capitulated yesterday to the extent of allowing an inspector for the city to examine the space it occupies under the sidewalk in Quincy street between it and the Illinois Trust and Savings. It only did so, however. after the commissioner of public works had threatened to atop the delivery of coal to the underground apace in controversy and force an entrance with police force if necessary.
This threat brought E. C, Walter, manager of the building, to the city hall in a hurry. He laid great stress on the fact the council. by ordinance of 1885, had given the Rookery company the right to occupy the space under Quinny street and asked that action be postponed until the directors of the company could have a meeting. This the commissioner refused, and then Mr. Waller gave the permit for the inspector to enter the space to it for the fixing of the compensation the city will demand,
This ordinance of 1885, the commissioner was Informed by the law department, is invalid because the city council has no power to give away space under, on, or above the streets. The ownership of the streets lies in the people of the state, and the council has no authority to alienate It. The mention of this ordinance, however, brought back many memories to the older people around the city hall.
“Roookery” Site Was Former City Hall
The land on which the “Rookery’; is built belongs to the city. The tumble down, two story building, occupied as a city hall before the present building was built, occupied the site. It was rightly nicknamed the “Rookery,” and the present office building inherited the name.
The leasing of this land to the “Rookery” company, done in 1885, was one of the scandals of the day. The public and press protested against It, but the city councils of those days were differently made up than they are now. This ordinance, along with the one closing Dearborn street and giving the Western Indiana road admission to the city, were denounced at the time as the beginning of the class of ordinances which afterward resulted In the movement which led to the election of a better class of aldermen.
History of “Rookery” Lease.
Mayor Harrison, the elder, vetoed the “Rookery” lease, but the aldermen passed it over his veto, and it stands today. Under it the city gets $35,000 a year for land for which any real estate man in the city would be glad to pay twice that sum. At the time the lease was made the Board of Trade building had just been completed, and it was known to everybody that land values in La Salle street were bound to rise. But the aidermen voted down a proposal to put a revaluation clause in the lease.
Armed with Mr. Waller’s permission inspectors George Powers and John Scanlan measured the space occupied by the building, and found it exceeded the expectations of the city. Under Quipcy street it is 91×40 feet, under the alley to the rear 18×50 feet, and urder La Salle street 178xl2½ feet. A bill will be sent in accordance.
State Street Firms Must Pay for Space.
Marshall Field & Co. until today to pay the $2,250 asked as compensation for the space the firm is using. Supt. Doherty says if it is not paid work on the Wabash avenue extension to the building will be stopped permanently. Carson, Pirle. Scott & Co. also were notified they must pay for their space, or steps will be taken to take down the entrance to their building at Madison and State streets.
E. A. Potter, president of the American Trust and Savings bank, called at the city hail and told the commissioner of public works his bank was willing to pay for the space it wanted to use under sidewalks around its new building at Monroe and, Clark streets. This is the first offer the city has received.
Lobby of the Rookery After Remodeling
Frank Lloyd Wright, Architect for Remodeling
Work Executed by theDavis Marble Co., Chicago
Chicago Tribune, December 20, 1958
Fourth article in a series
Interesting and historic from its nameplate on up, the Rookery at the southeast corner of La Salle and Adams streets comes as close as any other building to being the dean of the financial district. It not only looks the part, but in a large measure acts it.
For one thing, it has the double barreled distinction of being a landmark built on the site of an even older landmark. For another, its massive stone front, marble lobby, and baronial-like rooms give it an unmistakable look of permanence and authority. And it’s been a success at what it set out to be—a financial office building.
The Rookery was built in 1886 from plans by Burnham & Root, one of the great architectural firms of that day, at a cost of more than 1 million dollars. It rests on spread foundations of beams and steel rails and has columns of cast iron. There are 12 floors and a basement.
As recently as last May (1958) it was cited by the Chicago Architectural Landmarks commission for its “pioneering plan in providing shops and offices around a graceful, semi-private square (air-well).” Daniel H. Burnham, of “make no little plans” conviction, and John W. Root were not the only noted architects identified with the Rookery. Frank Lloyd Wright remodeled the elaborate court body in 1905.
The site formerly was occupied by a city water tank, built about 1842 and surrounded, after the great fire of 1871, by a two story structure that served temporarily as City Hall. The Rookery borrowed its name from the water tank, a favorite nesting place for birds. The tank, incidentally, was the first “home” of the Chicago Public library.
Over the years the building directory of the Rookery has read like a page from Who’s Who in Chicago. Burnham himself had an office in the building and worked on his Chicago plan there, according to Louis C. Sudler of Sudler & Co., managing agency.
Judge Elbert H. Gary, who built United States Steel corporation into one of the country’s inductrial giants, was a tenant, and so were John W. (Bet a Million) Gates and Samuel Insull. The Northern Trust company began business there in a room on the second floor in 1889.
The Rookery still is essentially a financial building, with securities and insurance firms among the major tenants, said Sudler. Even the ground floor is occupied largely by financial houses. North American Accident Insurance company has been a Rookery tenant since the building opened.
The setting is old—the towering, spiraling iron stairway, the amazingly high ceilings (some 13 feet), the intricate, lacelike ornamentation, the hardwood floors—but the Rookery has offices and furnishings as modern as any building in the Loop.
Ownership has changed hands relatively few times. Title is still the name of Central Safety Deposit company, the corporation that erected the building. The Sudler firm has an ownership interest in the property. The land is leased from the city.