Life Span: 1874-1881
Location: Between State and Dearborn
Architect: Thomas Tilley
Chicago Tribune, May 5, 1874
THE NEW MUSEUM.
The destruction of the miserable Globe Theatre left a vacancy in the sum of houses of amusement, which will only be shortlived. A new theatre and museum, talked of for some months, is to be commenced immediately. Mr. Thomas Tilley, author of the now famous ‘Eureka’ plan for the Court-House, has submitted designs for the building, which have been adopted, and the work will proceed without delay. The theatre is to be a credit to the city, and will cost $250,000 in all. The projectors of the enterprise are Messrs. E. F. Runyan and R. T. Race, the former of the law-firm of Runyan, Avery & Comstock, the latter of Irving Park. The lessee of the theatre is W. Van Fleet, formerly manager of the Dearborn Street Theatre.
will be situated on the well known Lombard lot, on the west side of the old Post-Office Building. It has a frontage on Monroe street of 102 feet, and a depth of 190 feet. This lot is peculiarly adapted for such a building, being bounded on the front by a main thorough-fare, on its east side by the forty-foot court known as Custom-House place, and on the rear by another forty-foot court leading direct into Dearborn street. The advantages derived from the situation are made manifest in the plans of the building to be erected on it. The ground-plans show that the entire area is to be covered. That portion fronting on Monroe street is devoted to stores on the main story and basement, and on the upper floors this portion is arranged in offices. The rear portion, a little greater than half the lot, is devoted to a museum, art, and promenade purposes, and the lecture-room. A division is made between the front and rear portion of the building, above the main story, a commodious shaft.
The elevation of the principal façade on Monroe street shows a high style of French renaissance. It presents a front divided into four stories above the basement to the main cornice, and a picturesque and artistic Mansard roof surmounting the whole.
The main and second stories are treated in Doric, the third in Ionic, and the fourth in Corinthian, all enriched with ornamentation. Each order carries its own entablature on each story, and the main cornice—in Corinthian—is worked up in detail in the most artistic manner. On the cornice will be lettered “Chicago Museum”—the name of the building.
The treatment of the Mansard is in full accord and unison with the elevation, and with its corner and central domical towers, will be an elegant crown of the whole front of the structure. As a whole, the façade is rich, both in design and decoration, and will be, when erected, second to none of its kind in Chicago. The side, or eastern elevation on Custom-House place, as well as the rear elevation on the court on the north, are treated in a manner becoming the principal front, and are tastefully arranged in brick and stone trimmings.
THE PRINCIPAL ENTRANCE
is on Monroe street, and is of a design unsurpassed for elegance of style in this city. Projecting from the main building on each side of the entrance hall, are clusters of columns fluted and enriched in pure Roman-Corinthian style. The columns carry Persian caryatides which support an ornate entablature on circular pediment. From the entablature of these columns springs an elliptic arch, beautifully lined and molded.
Back some few feet from these columns are similar ones, carrying another elliptic arch chastely enriched. The keystones of these two arches will bear faces in relief representing Tragedy and Comedy. Twenty feet back from the latter columns are placed their like, and the space between is devoted to a grand vestibule. Another entrance will be placed on Custom-House place, leading direct from Dearborn street, which will be of an ornate design.
Entering from Monroe street, and through the magnificent portico and vestibule, a person will find himself in a beautiful decorated hallway, eighteen feet wide and eighteen high, and mounting evenly-dispersed and easily-rising steps, will bring one to the doors of the
This is an entirely new and original conception of Mr. Tilley’s. It will be eight-six feet long and forty-two feet wide, and will run parallel with the Lecture-Room. It will occupy the eastern portion of the rear of the lot. As its name implies, it will be a conservatory. In the centre will be placed a magnificent fountain, sixteen feet in diameter, and twenty feet high. It will be of a rich floral design, exposing to the view half-screened naiads, etc. The basin of the fountain will be circular; but, equi-distant from each other, will be built in it six beautiful urns, placed on tripods and pedestals, bearing fragrant flowers.
itself will be divided up into promenades, floral grottos, parterres, and pyramidal mounts of sweet-scented flowers, tropical plants, vernal shrubs, dwarf trees, and choice ferns. This hall will be on a level with the parquet and dress-circle of the Lecture-Room, and two sets of wide double doors will communicate direct therewith. At each end of this hall will be a grand staircase, wide and easy, the ascent of which will terminate in the Museum proper.
This will be of the same dimensions as the Floral Hall, but will have an opening in the floor in the centre, looking down on the latter through which the waters of the fountain will play. This opening will be guarded by an ornamental iron railing.
THE CONTENTS OF THE MUSEUM
will embrace specimens and curiosities in botany, geology, mineralogy, zoology, etc. These will be collected from all parts of the world, and Mr. Van Fleet will start at once for Europe to obtain specimens for the Museum, while others will search the Southern Continent of America and other climes to bring back objects for this institution.
By like stairways as from the Floral Hall an ascent will be gained to the Art-Gallery above the Museum. This gallery will have a similar opening in the floor, and will be filled with the choicest works of art in painting and sculpture. At one end of this gallery will be erected an elegant stage of moderate proportions, which will be devoted to the use of lectures and other scientific entertainments that are intended to be given.
The Museum floor is on a level with the balcony in the Lecture-Room, and the Art-Gallery floor is on the level with the family circle of the same. As in the Floral Hall, sets of double doors communicate direct with each respectively. In this portion of the building, on each floor, will be placed commodious cloak-rooms, specially set apart for the ladies. They will be furnished in the most recherché style. Among the many things to be contained in the Museum, will be a
“CHAMBER OF HORRORS,”
in which will be collected such instruments of torture and death in different countries of the present and bygone ages. As a complement to this will be added life-size casts of the heads of different noted criminals.
Light to this portion of the building will be abundantly supplied from the windows on the sides and ends of the museum and Art-Gallery; and from the elegant glass dome that will be built in the ceiling of the latter, which will throw a direct flood of light through to the fountain in the Floral Hall. In the latter place this will be added to from windows on the side fronting on Custom-House place. Ventilation will be most ample, as a direct, ever-circulating current will be pervading these different floors.
From the Floral Hall, half screened by flowers and vines, a stairway will lead below into the labyrinths of an Arcadian Grotto, whose openings, twisting, and turnings will exhibit, through their fissures, distant sea and mountainous views of a novel and unprecedented character. At the end of the Grotto will be placed an aquarium divided up into reservoirs, in which will be exposed to view members of the finny tribe foreign to the waters of our lake.
The Lecture-Room will occupy the western portion of the rear of the lot, the stage being at the northern end, and the southern being devoted to the auditorium, which will include parquet, dress-circle, balcony, and family-circle, embraced in three floors.
Two massive columns will be placed on each side of the stage. These will be of an order of a new ‘Tilley’ creation, being molded, fluted, and wreathed, ornamented with bas-reliefs and statuettes in full relief, and capped and corniced in a manner hitherto unknown. There will be two boxes on each side of the stage, one above the other, between these columns, and will be treated in the richness the design affords, and in full accordance with the columns. Above the boxes will be niches in which statues of Terpsichore and Euterpe will be placed. Above the entablature, over the outer two of the four columns, will be two large caryatides, representing the muses Melpomene and Thalia, helping to carry an enriched cornice running around the entire girt of the Lecture-Room. Springing from the entablature of these columns will be the proscenium arch, molded and paneled in an ornate manner.
will be fifty-five feet in depth, and the opening in the proscenium will be thirty-six feet wide and forty-five feet high,—fitted and furnished with all modern appliances and improvements. Communicating direct with the stage will be the scene-room, furniture, property and wardrobe-rooms, and the stage-manager’s office.
The arrangements for emptying the building is unequaled in this city, as it can be cleared in a little more than one minute, all doors opening on open thoroughfares.
Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1874
Last evening the Museum was opened to the public, and entered upon what everybody will unite in hoping will be a career of popularity and prosperity. The building internally wore a holiday appearance, being festooned with conscious pride in a coat of fresh paint. In fact there was every appearance of active enterprise about the place, and of a serious intention of making the best of it. The auditorium and museum were thrown open together, and the gentlemen in the audience at least had an opportunity to inspect the solid curiosities above instead of the liquid below. Hence the Museum may be said to subserve a highly moral purpose.
The dramatic entertainment under the management of Mr. Blaisdell was well patronized. The house, rejuvenated and adorned, was filled beyond its seating capacity at an early hour, and the legend, dear to the Treasurer, “Standing room only,” was hung out without checking the influx. The piece of the evening was John Brougham’s farcical comedy, “Romance and Reality.” The most satisfactory and comment upon it would be that is Broughamesque. It is funny without being by any combination of circumstances possible; and highly enjoyable without for one moment reflecting any phase of human experience. It contains sallies of the brightest sort,—one of the speeches being worthy of long life and universal credit. It is that in which Mr. Swift declares that he does not like to get up until the world has been thoroughly aired; until the chill has been taken off the morning, in fact. There are several of such quaint and pithy bits of humor to commend the piece, and one or two very comical situations, but these savor of the farce rather than comedy in the true sense of the word. The audience, however, came with the kindest intentions.
Chicago Tribune, January 3, 1875.
A Pleasant Pandemonium
The Curiosities at the Museum
The Chicago Museum, like all other such institutions, possesses some features of a highly ludicrous description. It is richer in curiosities than most museums in the country, having a better collection of living and stuffed animals than can be often found. Among the curiosities of such a place are always to be reckoned the wax figures and side-show. Can anybody forget the inane group of wax figures at Wood’s Museum, in which automatic Apostles were represented in the act of taking the Last Summer? Judas Iscariot was an especially objectionable personage. There was something in his manner which recalled Artemus Ward’s show very vividly, on the occasion when, after unkind treatment by gross unbelievers, Judas was found with a clay-pipe in his mouth, looking as drunken and dejected as a “boiled owl.” Lacking the twelve Apostles, whom by the way it was an egregiously disreputable thing to exhibit in a glass-case under such circumstances, the modern Museum contains something choice in the way of a glimpse into Tophet. And it is not in a spirit of irreverence or levity that we remark that hell as there represented is a delightfully absurd institution. It is hardly possible that the brain which emanated this sublime idea of eternal fire intended to show us the whole of that bad place at one glimpse. The designer evidently meant to give us a peep, thinking that hell, like Cayenne pepper, must be partaken of but sparingly. Limited as this lurid corner of the Inferno is, it contains the most interested and interesting person connected with the institution, to wit: the proprietor, who is a bow-legged and sawdusty individual clothed in red tights. Evidently he has been long troubled with rheumatism. His joints bulge out with abnormal angularity, and his trident looks like a worn-out walking-cane, repaired with a toasting fork. He is thin,—lamentably lean, in fact,—and if, as is supposed, he fees upon the souls of departed Aldermen, his supply of provender must have been short indeed. His attitude is shaky. A little jarring would bring him down from his pedestal, and scatter his saw-dust-stuffing ignobly over the floor of Hades. Before this macerated monarch of darkness, whose countenance, claws, and cow-heels express the most determined ferocity, bend in supplication the whitened wax-work spirits of two bad human beings. One is a man, the other a woman. Kneeling, they stretch themselves out toward the bandy-legged Beelzebub, and, doubtless, appeal for mercy. There are traces of indigestion upon their faces, recalling the midnight terrors of toasted cheese or such anti-peptic sustenance to which the wicked are prone. There is similarity in the complexion of the man certainly of convivial habits which are sadly irritating as a recollection of former days. The wall of this compartment is skirted with little devils of grotesque shape and mischievous tendency, without whose kind cooperation the imagination would give way in the effort to believe this is a correct representation of the sombre realms of eternal night and unquenchable anguish. Mr. Peck’s hall is a little more amusing and a trifle less possible even than Col. Wood’s managerie of bald-headed, dusty Apostles.
The building was torn down in 1881 and the Montauk Block was built on the site.