Illinois National Guard First Regiment Armory II, 131st Infantry Armory
Life Span: 1890/1894-1966
Location: West side of Michigan Avenue at 16th Street
Architect: Burnham & Root
Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1889
The days of thePlantagenets, of bastions, ramparts, and parapets, is suggested by the proposed new First Regiment Armory, the plans and specifications of which have just been completed by Architects Burnham & Root. The site selected by the Armory Building Committee is the west side of Michigan avenue at Sixteenth street. Here, overlooking the boulevard and lake, will stand the grim, solid, military-looking pile—a bit of feudal times transplanted into the peaceful and progressive nineteenth century.
The armory will stand alone in its medieval picturesqueness, a veritable fortress capable of resisting any attack from without unless it be a prolonged siege by heavy artillery. It will have a frontage of 164 feet and a depth of 172 feet. The first thirty-feet of its height will be built of heavy pieces of brown stone, rough and bold. The remainder will be of vitrified brown brick. The walls will be four feet thick and rest on a foundation below the permanent water level. The entire four stone walls are unbroken save by the vast sally-port on Michigan avenue. The stone reveals of this port will be ten feet deep and the arched opening itself forty feet wide. An entire company may march through the door in a charge on an enemy without breaking.
The door is protected by a portcullis made of chains and bars of steel which can be raised out of sight when not in a position of defense. The base of the windows above the stone work are six feet from the floor, and have long narrow slots running downward through which riflemen can fight when its occasion demands. In the brick walls above are several small windows for light and ventilation, protected by heavy basket gratings, as are the rifle slots in the ones below. Four great bastions crown the angles of the fortress from which soldiers may deliver an enfilade fire on any side of the walls. The top of the walls is surmounted by a medieval cornice of parapet. Projecting as it does over the wall proper and penetrated at the base with rifle slots a handful of men could withstand an army and effectually resist an attempt to scale the walls or effect an entrance through the main door.
The only entrance, which is on the street level, opens onto the great drill floor, 150 feet by 168 feet in surface. The sides of this room are inclosed by walls of red brick extending to the second floor. The monotony suggested by this massive masonry is somewhat relieved by a huge baronial fireplace at one end of the room and a band balcony. A smooth-finished black oak floor reflects the light from a 120×70 foot skylight above the third floor. Galleries extending around the second and third floors from an immense court. Grand, stately, and beautiful as is this interior, it is still thoroughly military in expression and in perfect keeping with the purport of the structure proper.
The two stories above, reached by a broad staircase on either side of the main entrance, have rooms disposed about the court, all opening on the galleries. In the centre front of the second story are the Colonel’s and officer’s headquarters, with bathrooms and orderlies’ ante-chamber adjoining. On the same floor in the rear are the rooms for the board of officers of the regiment. This is a large room and is to be used, when the occasion demands, as a banqueting room, kitchen and serving rooms being connected with it. On either side of the Colonel’s room are the rooms of the Lieutenant Colonel, Quartermaster, Chaplain, Inspector of Rifle Practice, Major, and Surgeon. In the northwest corner is the library. Twelve company club-rooms, each 20×40 feet, with fireplace, and the Captains’ private rooms are also on this floor.
On the third floor, immediately over the club-rooms and connected with them by staircases, are the lockers of the companies, each separate from the other. In the front centre of this floor are the locker-rooms of orderlies attached to Colonel, Adjutant Quartermaster, Surgeon, engineer, and the hospital. At the right of the building is the spacious room of the veterans, and in the left the gymnasium, which in cae of war is to serve as a hospital. The rear of this floor is given up to the drum and bugle corps and a shower bath capable of admitting twenty men at a time.
Two rifle ranges with six targets each, are in the basement. The targets are backed with iron so arranged that bullets, after performing their mission, drop into a hole, where they are gathered and remolded. In the centre of the basement are four bowling alleys. On either side are closets, storerooms heating apparatus, and ammunition and armor vaults. A hydraulic elevator provides an easy ascent to the upper stories. From the basement on the Michigan avenue side is the only entrance, except the main one, to the building. This is so amply provided with gates, bolts, and locks that any attempt to force an entrance would be practically an impossibility.
War is clearly embodied in every line and angle of the structure, which combines solidity, dignity, security, and permanence. Yet, withal, the social—which during times of peace is a prominent feature, and commendable part of the militia, has not been overlooked; indeed, it is conspicuous. The First Regiment may well feel proud of its new home, and Chicago herself may, with becoming proprietary, point to this medieval pile as one of the most attractive of her many unsurpassed buildings.
Inland Architect and News Record, June, 1889
Design for First Regiment Armory, Chicago Burnham & Root, architects.
First thirty-five feet above ground to be of large blocks of rock-faced brownstone. The remainder to be of vitrified brown brick. The large sally port is the only opening in the four stone walls, and the reveals of this port are io feet deep, and the opening itself 40 feet wide. The door is protected by a portcullis of chains and bars of steel, which can be raised out of sight. The base of the windows above the stonework are 6 feet, from the floor, and have long narrow slots running downward through which riflemen can fight when the occasion demands. In the brick walls above are several small windows for light and ventilation, protected by heavy basket gratings, as are the rifle slots in the ones below. Four great bastions crown the angles of the fortress from which soldiers may deliver an enfilade fire on any side of the walls. The top of the walls is surmounted by a medieval cornice or parapet. Projecting as it does over the wall proper, and penetrated at the base with rifle slots, a handful of men could withstand an army. The entrance opens onto the drill floor, 150 feet by 168 feet in surface. The sides of this room are inclosed by walls of red brick extending to the second floor. A huge baronial fireplace is at one end of the room and there is a band balcony. A smooth-finished black oak floor reflects the light from a 120 by 70 feet skylight above the third floor. Galleries extending around the second and third floors form an immense court. The two stories above, reached by a broad staircase on either side of the main entrance, have rooms about the court, opening on the galleries. In the second story are the colonel’s and officers’ headquarters, with bathrooms and orderlies’ ante chamber adjoining. On the same floor is a large room for the board of officers of the regiment, which may be used, when the occa- sion demands, as a banqueting room, kitchen and serving rooms being connected with it. On either side of the colonel’s room are the rooms of the lieutenant-colonel, quartermaster, chaplain, inspector of rifle practice, major and surgeon. In the northwest corner is the library. Twelve company club rooms, each 20 by 40 feet, with fireplace, and the captains’ private room are also on this floor. On the third floor, immediately over the club rooms and connected with them by stair- cases, are the lockers of the companies, each separate from the other. In the front center of this floor are locker-rooms of orderlies attached to colonel, adjutant, quartermaster, surgeon, engineer, and the hospital. At the right of the building is the spacious room of the veterans, and in the left the gymnasium, which in case of war is to serve as a hospital. The rear of this floor is given up to the drum and bugle corps and a shower bath capable of admitting twenty men at a time. Two rifle ranges, with six targets each, are in the basement. The targets are backed with iron so arranged that bullets, after performing their mission, drop into a hole, where they are gathered and remolded. In the center of the basement are four bowling alleys. On either side are closets, storerooms, heating apparatus, and ammunition and armor vaults. An hydraulic elevator provides an easy ascent to the upper stories. From the basement is the only entrance, except the main one, to the building. This is so amply provided with gates, bolts and locks that any attempt to force an entrance would be practically an impossibility.
First Regiment Armory
Inter Ocean, April 26, 1893
Ruins of Armory after fire.
Chicago Tribune, September 21, 1894
Tuesday, Oct 9, the anniversary of Chicago day, and the two days succeeding, the First Infantry, I.N.G. (Illinois National Guard), will celebrate. The celebration will be over the reoccupation of the regiment’s splendid armory at Sixteenth street and Michigan avenue, ruined by fire in March, 1893, and rebuilt during this last summer The armory as it stands now is better and more complete than before the fire touched it. Outwardly its walls are about the same, but within there is improvement in every corner. It s now a model regimental armory and drill-hall, an impregnable fortress, and a prettily equipped club-house, where the national guardsman may have a pleasant resort when his duties of drill and riot fighting do not press.
Just now the armory is clamorous with the hammers of many carpenters who are putting the finishing touches on the interior woodwork, but before Oct. 9 all this work will be done and the armory will be ready for the three days’ fête of which it is to be the center. The ceremonies of occupancy will begin the afternoon of that day with a parade through the business streets of the entire regiment, 875 men, gatling section, veteran corps, bicycle corps, and regimental band. It will be a sight worth seeing, for the First will appear as Chicago folks have been wont to know it—in all the glory of the gray full dress, which is the distinguishing mark of the regiment. And the uniforms will be new-worn for the first time. They are packed in boxes in the temporary armory on Wabash avenue now. Everybody knows the style of this equipment: cadet gray swallow tails with white cross belts and white helmets. The present set has been modernized by substituting simple shoulder straps for the old-time epaulets and by the abolition of of the old brass baldrics.
Outwardly the armory looks finished now. The lower part of the old brown stone walls left by the fire still stand, but the upper portion of the structure has been refinished in brick, with bastions at the corners and loopholes and firing slits disposed as in the original building. The old portcullis in the archway of the Michigan avenue entrance has given way to more easily handled sliding gates of heavy oak, in which are cut small doorways for individual use, so if the armory should burn again there will be no repetition of the horror last March. These gates give direct entrance to the great drill-room, 164×170 feet in the clear, its floor topped off with polished hard maple, its walls of red brick, with a monster fireplace on the west side and a narrow platform, whereon will be placed settees for spectators. The whole plan of construction can be seen in a glimpse from the center of this floor. The high roof—its center is one huge skylight—is carried in iron arches exactly similar to the Manufactures Building. All the weight of roof and of the galery floors rests on these arches and of the gallery floors rests on those arches, none of it bears on the walls.
In the Galleries.
Three tiers of galleries partially overhang the drill floor, the lowest arranged into rows of seats for spectators, the next containing the company rooms and administration offices, the uppermost being the company locker rooms. Broad stairways are placed to the right and left of the main entrance. Where they land on the main floor is the Colonel’s gallery, which is equipped with sumptuous leather divans. The wall at the head of the stairway is to display the regimental arms and motto. Opposite this gallery, in the center of the western wall, is the band stand. Up-stairs, directly over the main entrance, regimental headquarters, a public and private office for the Colonel, others for the Lieutenant-Colonel, Majors, quartermaster, and surgeon. All of them properly done in hardwood and quite up to modern office requirements. All the rest of this gallery is taken up by the twelve company rooms, each of them a pleasant reception parlor finished in oak and ornamented with handsome mantels. From each of these there is a private stairway running from the company rooms to the corresponding locker or gun-room above. Here each man has an individual locker and drawer made of hardwood and ventilated to prevent rusting of accouterments, according to a system designed by Col. Turner. All the corner rooms on this and other floors open into the bastions, where half a dozen riflemen, posted at the loop-holes, can butcher a mob as fast as it can come from any direction.
Along the western wall on the floor where the company rooms are there are disposed an officers’ board room, a dining room big enough for a banquet part, and a library. The northeast corner has a fine airy room which will be the quarters of the Veterans’ Association, of which R. S. Buchanan is President, and in the southwest corner is a commodious gymnasium, walled and ceilinged in polished oak. On this floor also are rooms for the non-commissioned staff, the hospital corps, gatling section, cycle and signal corps, and drum and bugle corps. Up-stairs over the topmost gallery and right under the great steel roof trusses is an attic; one long room here is being fitted up as a billiard-room. There will be eight tables in it and the whole affair is intended as a small surprise for the boys, for no billiard-room was contemplated in the original plan. It is being put in with money drawn from the regimental fund and not from that contributed for the building of the armory itself. All that money is used for strictly military purposes. In this attic also there is a fireproof kitchen of modern design, with a dumb waiter running to the dining-room below. This kitchen is a source of large and constant joy toQuartermaster Bell. There are also acres of storage room in this attic for the disposal of Quartermaster’s stores, and a freight elevator is arranged to carry them up and down. A stairway from here leads to the roof, where there is a sunken wooden walk around the parapet-like wall, giving access to seventy-five little cuddy holes, where a sharpshooter can stow himself and rake the streets below through convenient firing slits.
Features of the Building.
But away down in the basement there are some other interesting features of this perfect armory. Here are eight bowling alleys for the men and two target ranges, one arranged for six men to practice at rifle target, one a combination affair for pistol and skirmish practice. These ranges have a stretch of 164 feet, and by a graduation of targets the men are able to practice as if the at any range up to 1,000 yards. The markers for these targets are to be stowed away in iron-clad pits, the ceilings of the ranges are packed with a foot thickness of sand, the bullets all strike sloping steel shields that deflect them into pits, where they can be picked up and run again. Every possibility of accident here has been provided against and the ranges are declared to be the most perfect of the kind in the United States. The magazine and the engine and boiler rooms are stowed away in safe corners of this basement. All through the building careful watch has been kept for safety and health. Two additional stairways have been put in the rear and two small exits, easily defended, have been cut. Wherever fire is in the building none but fireproof material is used.
Altogether it is a gem of an armory. There is no wonder that the men of the First get rabidly enthusiastic when they talk of it. The original armory cost $225,000, the present one, better and more complete, was put up for some $40,000 less, there being a great saving in the old walls. Legally, the building belongs to the First Infantry Armor Association, of which the trustees are J. J. Mitchell, President; Charles L. Hutchinson, Walter L. Peck, H. H. Kohlsaat, Col. Henry Turner, Lieut.-Col. George Lauman, and Capt. A. L. Bell. It costs to maintain the First and its fort $20,000 a year. Of this the State gives only $9,000. The rest comes from the men themselves, from honorary members of the regiment, and from rental of the armory; That is one thing that disturbs Vol. Turner; he thinks it will be necessary to drill not more than two companies, instead of four as he had expected, and that leaves no vacant nights on which the armory can be rented. That, however, is a bridge, says Col. Turner, that he will cross when he comes to it.
There is one thing, though, on which Col. Turner, all his officers, and all his men, have set their hearts; that is they will run the roster of the First up to its full strength—an organization of twelve companies, three battalions, 1,256 men. The regiment is organized now on the modern three battalion plan, the only one in the regular volunteer service regularly as organized. It has on its rolls 875 men, with fifty recruits waiting to be sworn in. It has gained 200 men this summer, for it had only 600 when the first growling of the riots began. Col. Turner says hw will easily get the other 300. It does not look like a hard task when the recruit is offered all the advantages of a first rate club.
When the task is done the First Infantry, I.N.G., will be the biggest, strongest, most modern, best organized regiment in America. It already has the best armory.
Illinois National Guard First Regiment Armory
After the rebuilding. Note the differences in the entrance gate.
1906 Automobile Show
Chicago Tribune, December 16, 1906
Chicago Tribune, September 4, 1966
No taps accompany the crash of falling bricks and stones as wreckers demolish the old 1st infantry national guard armory at 16th street and Michigan avenue.
A Chicago landmark, the fort-like edifice was built in 1894, after an armory which formerly occupied the site burned.
If the three-foot thick walls could speak, they would tell tales of the state’s oldest military unit, the 1st infantry; tales of heroics by the members of the “Daddy 1st” in the malaria-infested swamps of Cuba, the trenches of Europe, or Korean paddies.
About 35 years ago the property was sold by the state to private interests and the armory has since been used to house basketball games, roller derbies, and used cars.
Jack Jacobs, who heads the firm of Jack Jacobs and associates, the building’s present owners, said plans for the site are incomplete.
First Regiment Armory
Sanborn Fire Insurance Map