Monadnock Building


Wabash Bldg Nov 1 2012 without trainBuilding Chicago met on the 12th floor of Roosevelt
University’s new Wabash Building. The classroom affords a sweeping view of the museum campus and the south loop as it spreads out behind the Auditorium tower where Adler and Sullivan and their employee Frank Lloyd Wright had their offices.

The Wabash Building is a short walk to all of the late 19th century buildings of Chicago School builidngs Plymouth Ctthe Chicago School of Architecture. The class took a walking tour of the neighborhood and visited the four buildings assigned for this class segment.  Each building tells a story about developers and architects, the birth of the commercial building in Chicago, and how a building can remain financially viable after some 120 years.

The Monadnock north building was commissioned by New England investors Peter and Shepherd Brooks through their agent Owen Aldis. It was situated at the “ragged edge” of the business district and would soon add to the value of surrounding land. The firm of Burnham and Root was retained to design the building.  Developer, agent and architects envisioned and constructed a new class of real estate – the commercial building.  The Monadnock was the tallest building in Chicago, one of the last load bearing brick skyscrapers, and the first example of an unadorned (commercial) façade.

An earlier John Wellborn Root design for the Monadnock was stripped of its Egyptian ornament leaving what would be described as an Egyptian pylon. Breaking up the exterior surface and adding to commercial value, the projecting bay (Chicago) windows maximized light and added rentable floor space.

The south Monadnock building was commissioned by Shepherd Brooks, overseen by Aldis and designed by the architecture firm of Holabird and Roche. Their design took the next step in skyscraper development using steel frame construction. The Monadnock embraced the newest technologies – central heating, electric lights, and telephones – and the essential ingredient for a skyscraper – the elevator.

Louis Sullivan said that Owen Aldis was one of the men responsible for the modern office building. Aldis understood that natural light was a desirable rental feature and that the top floor would become prime space.  Before the public overcame their angst about elevators and elevation, Holabird and Roche got a great deal taking a top floor space for their offices in the Montauk Building at a low rent.

Aldis believed that a buildings public space must leave an impression.Monadnock staircase
It would add prestige to the tenant and attract the public to the retail space on the ground floor. But one had to temper impression with economy: the expensive aluminum stairways in the north half of the building gave way to less expansive bronze plated cast iron on the upper floors.  By 1902 Owen Aldis had produced and managed almost one-fifth of all Chicago office space.

The Monadnock has had its financial ups and downs, survived threats of the wrecking ball and recovered from modernization. Its current owner presents the Monadnock as it must have looked in 1893 making it a unique and valuable presence in the loop.

The class narrative on the Monadnock Building is by Lauren Blake, Monadnock from NorthShelbi Harden, Dominika Jedryczka and Kevin Stefanowski. Their presentation is edited and has material added. Monadnock History, Monadnock Technology, Monadnock Contemporary

Also posted is a short presentation on the development of the skyscraper. Both presentations provide source material. Development of the Skyscraper

Finally, Chicago Tonight has just aired a segment on the last custom hat maker in Chicago, Optimo, a tenant in the Monadnock. Watch Optimo on Chicago Tonight

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