“To follow those waters… which will henceforth lead us into strange lands”
Pere Jacques Marquette
With the Marquette Building, architects William Holabird and Martin Roche achieved a mastery of steel frame construction that would set them among the most prolific of the Chicago School. After some 120 years the Marquette remains a viable commercial property and a survivor of the economic forces that have replaced much of the old urban core with the architecturally new. Its survival is due in large part to the late 20th century stewardship of John D. MacArthur and, subsequently, to restoration by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It is due also to the Marquette design program, a celebration of Pere Jacques Marquette and Louis Joliet, central figures in the story of Chicago’s origins.
Starting their exploration in 1674, Marquette and Joliet were the first Europeans to traverse the Chicago portage, a muddy stretch of continental divide connecting Lake Michigan and waterways to the east with the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers to the west. In 1848, the Illinois and Michigan Canal cut through the portage and accelerated the growth of Chicago as a mercantile hub linking east coast markets to the resource rich west.
Owen Aldis, agent for investors Peter and Shepherd Brook and a collector of American literary first editions, translated Marquette’s journals in 1891. This was said to be the inspiration to name the building after Marquette. While planning the Marquette in 1893, Aldis developed his fundamental principles for the design and profitable management of a first-class office building. His principle that the parts every person entering sees must make a lasting impression gave rise to the romanticized narratives in bronze and mosaic that draw Chicagoans to the Marquette.
Holabird and Roche saw the electrified Louis Comfort Tiffany lanterns designed by J. A. Holzer at Chicago’s 1893 Columbian Exposition. The lamps are reported to be the ancestors of all Tiffany lamps. Holzer was commissioned to design the three long panels that depict events in the life of Jacques Marquette that are displayed on the balcony walls of the Marquette rotunda. The Tiffany favrile glass that still shines in the mosaic was produced at the Peltier Glass Factory in Ottawa Illinois, located along the Michigan and Illinois Canal. Marquette and Joliet would have passed the factory site on their traverse of the Chicago portage.
The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur foundation, with offices in the Marquette, provides a comprehensive history of the building online and in the west lobby. The online series includes videos on restoration of the Marquette and detailed images of the mosaic and bronze work.