Chicago is home to the most forward-thinking architecture on the planet—and the best part of all? It’s free.
One of the many things Chicago is famous for is its architecture, not to mention the great variety that exists within! Perhaps this is best illustrated by an eight to 12 block stroll through the heart of Chicago’s Financial District and Loop which peels back the layers of history and time to our architectural founding fathers.
Our journey through form and shape begins at 209 S. LaSalle St. with the iconic Rookery Building. Designed by master architects Daniel Burnham and John Root in 1888, this building is a great example and prototype for what would become skyscraper design. An additional treat is the magical Frank Lloyd Wright-designed lobby, which he renovated in 1905. Trust me; you have to see it to believe it!
Now we head east on Jackson Boulevard two short blocks to Dearborn Street for a double treat. Here you’ll find the Monadnock building, whose northern portion was completed by Burnham and Root in 1891 while the southern half was designed by Holabird and Roche in 1893. This ornate structure has the distinction of being largest commercial office building in the world at the time of its completion. The Root side of the building was built with pre-skyscraper technology; meaning that it’s supported not by an internal skeleton, but by brick walls. For this reason the walls are abnormally thick (six feet!) at the base.
Across the street lies the lovely Marquette Building completed in 1895 and designed by Holabird and Roche. This building was one of the earliest examples of steel frame architecture and is perhaps one of the best examples of the Chicago School of architecture. Don’t miss the beautiful, two-story hexagonal lobby featuring Tiffany Mosaic, mahogany doors and grill work in solid bronze. Over each elevator are bronze portraits of Native Americans and explorers with the mosaics interpreting moments in the life (and death) of Father Jacques Marquette, who paddled down the Chicago River to Lake Michigan with Louis Joliet in 1673.
Inland Steel Building
Heading north one block on Dearborn Street to Monroe Street, we warp through time to 1957 for a glimpse of a commercial high-rise of the Post-War era at the Inland Steel Building. Designed by Bruce Graham and Walter Netsch of Skidmore Owings and Merrill (who also designed the Willis Tower), it’s hard to believe a building that looks so modern could have been built so long ago! It truly follows the timeless words of Louis Sullivan, “form follows function!”
Sadly our journey must come to an end, but not before a stop at my home and the last of Chicago’s grand hotels: the Palmer House! First opening its doors in 1881, this iconic property boasts a spectacular lobby crowned with a massive ceiling mural comprised of 21 Grecian frescos designed by French muralist Louis Pierre Rigal. Other gems include the lobby’s Tiffany 24-karat gold chandeliers and majestic “Winged Angels”—weighing in at 1.25 tons each, these two bronze statues are the largest he ever made. It was also home to one of the liveliest “supper clubs” in America: The Empire Room! A showcase for the world’s biggest names in show business for over four decades, the Empire Room was the favorite Windy City stage of entertainers and is where a young Liberace took his first bow on stage.
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