Leiter Building I
Life Span: 1877/79-1972
Location: Wells and Monroe Streets
Architect: William Le Baron Jenney
The Leiter Building I
Picture shows the first Leiter building at northwest corner of Wells and Monroe streets as it appeared in early days. Chicago landmark, now called 208 West Monroe building, is forerunner of skeleton steel construction which made modern skyscrapers possible.
The First Leiter Building, designed by Jenney in 1877 at Wells and Monroe Streets, is considered the first skeleton- frame building, in this case supported by cast-iron columns. The sixth and seventh stories were added in 1880.
Chicago Tribune July 4, 1965
BY SUZANNE AVERY
If you have observed the simplicity and strength of the steel skeleton of a skyscaper, you may wish to know its beginnings.
You will find it at the northwest corner of Monroe and Wells streets where the 208 west Monroe building stands. Originally called the Leiter building and later the Morris building, the structure is the forerunner of skeleton steel construction which made possible the modern skyscraper.
Built in 1879
Built in 1879, the 7-story building has been cited by the Commission on Chicago Architectural Landmarks “in recognition of its contribution towards the development of skeleton construction.” It is included in the pictorial guide, “Chicago’s Famous Buildings,” edited by Arthur Siegel and recently published by the University of Chicaco Press.
A visit to the building reveals a simplicity in ornament and expanse of windows that is refreshing. Its architect, William Le Baron Jenney, stressed the admission of natural light. His approach to architecture was functional, as can be observed in this and in other of his buildings, including the Sears, Roebuck and Company building at the southeast corner of Van Buren and State streets. This also was called the Leiter building. Both buildings were owned by Levi Z. Leiter, pioneer Chicago merchant who was associated with Marshall Field and Potter Palmer.
Leiter Building I
Stands Out as Advance
While the Monroe-Wells Leiter building is not of skeleton construction, it approaches and anticipates such construction, and it stands out as an advance over other buildings of the 9-year period up to 1880, following the Chicago fire, when there was feverish activity to rebuild the city.
What was the germ of an idea in the Leiter building was fully developed in Jenney’s Home Insurance building erected in 1885 at the northeast corner of La Salle and Adams streets, which was the first building of skeleton construction. The Field building now partially occupies the site.
Commenting on this architectural milestone, D. H. Burnham, Chicago architect and planner, wrote, “This principle of carrying the entire structure on a carefully balanced and braced metal frame, protected from fire, is precisely what William Jenney worked out. No one anticipated him in it, and he deserves the entire credit belonging to the engineering feat which he was first to accomplish.”
Served in Civil War
Jenney himself was an engineer in the Civil war serving in important engineering posts with Generals Grant and Sherman. When he retired from the army with the rank of major in 1868, he came to Chicago and opened up his office as an architect. Jenney, who died in 1907, is among 25 Chicago pioneers memorialized in the new Pioneer court on Michigan avenue between The Tribune Tower and the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States building.
Among other buildings he designed are the Fair store, recently remodeled and now Montgomery Ward’s, and the Manhattan building, 431 S. Dearborn st., which was the first 16-story building in the world and represents a further development ot skeleton construction.
Leiter Building I
First Floor Plan