World’s Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893

On Chicago Day, October 9, 1893, over 750,000 people visited the World’s Chicago Day posterColumbian Exposition. The Fair still draws a crowd. One hundred and twenty years later, a Google search delivers 921,000 results for Chicago’s World’s Fair.

The Columbian Exposition was Chicago’s grand statement of its international standing. The birthplace of the skyscraper and the fastest growing city in the world, Chicago created the White City, a showcase of architectural splendor, and threw a great party on the Midway.

Daniel Burnham, the Director of Works, brought together the most notable Chicago-Worlds-Columbian-Exposition-1893-Birds-Eye-View-Map_mediumthumbarchitects in the country to design major fair buildings. Most were from New York, to the chagrin of Chicago’s architectural luminaries. Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of Central Park, redesigned Jackson Park for the Fair. The White City was a classical city, a form of architecture familiar to city dwellers on the east coast, but not common in the Midwest. One exception to the classical aesthetic was Louis H. Sullivan’s Transportation Building.

The court of honor

The Court of Honor

transportation building (arnold)

The Transportation Building

 The Fair was a visual, auditory, olfactory and gastronomic experience. One can still ride a scaled down Ferris wheel and eat Cracker Jacks. The Museum of Science and Industry, designed as the Palace of Fine Arts, is the only building that remains. The White City was built of steel framing covered with staff (plaster of Paris and hemp fiber) to speed building, keep down cost, and allow a recovery of materials when the fair ended on October 30, 1893.

Thanks to the work of the UCLA Urban Simulation Lab, we can take a virtual stroll through the Fair. As the Lab notes on its website, Burnham’s chosen “architects created a classical city that would have lasting repercussions on wooded island flowers USLAmerican design ideals and spark the American Renaissance and City Beautiful movements. Our understanding of this important complex has heretofore been based solely on static images and written descriptions. This is no longer the case. Real-time visual simulation technology allows us to reclaim the lost experience of navigating through the White City. Just as in 1893, the completed model will allow users to stroll along the virtual Court of Honor, tour the Wooded Island, and marvel at the fair’s classical structures from a gondola.”

The Lab’s Tour of the World’s Columbian Exhibition takes us on a gondola ride through the Grand Basin that includes some the greatest structures of the Fair: Lagoon and Buildings USLAgriculture, the Peristyle, Manufactures, Electricity, Administration (with its gold dome), and Machinery. We walk through the Fine Arts Building as it looked before it was transformed into the Museum of Science and Industry. We see the Wooded Island and several State buildings. The grandeur of the buildings is evident.  (Use the interactive map to identify the buildings).

One of my favorite clips is the tour of Louis H. Sullivan’s Transportation Building with its Golden Door.  (Be patient, these files may take awhile to load.) Sullivan’s was the only main building of the Trans1_68 Golden DoorWhite City that was multicolor. The Golden Door was considered an architectural marvel of the Fair.  It echoes other Sullivan portals as well as the interior design of the Auditorium theatre. Most of Sullivan’s great Chicago buildings are gone. The Lab, as urban archeologist, used the exterior of Sullivan’s Wainwright Building (St. Louis, 1891) and remnants of the reconstructed trading room of his Chicago Stock Exchange (built in 1893, currently in the Art Institute) to add color to their simulation.

The Lab also provides a tour of the Street of Cairo, one of the most popular attractions on the Midway. At the end of the tour, behind the Temple of Luxor, Cairo8_1130 w ferris wheelwe see a slice of Mr. Ferris’s wheel, Chicago’s answer to the 1889 Paris Exposition’s Eiffel Tower. The Arnold collection (Official Views of the World’s Columbian Exposition) includes pictures of the “exotic” peoples of the world (Penobscot and Alaskan Indians, Samoans, Turks, Dahomeans, Laplanders, and Arabs) who tried to make the Midway home during the Fair.  Buffalo Bill Cody held his Wild West Show off the Midway to save on rent.

The Worlds Columbian Exposition was to be a money making event, but from its opening in May through September 1893 it did not appear that it would pay After-the-Ball2-225x300off its debt.  Special events were planned to draw in crowds including the great Midway Ball held on the night of August 16, 1893. The Ball brought together Chicago dignitaries (Daniel Burnham, Mayor Carter Harrison, Potter Palmer) and the men and some scantily clad women of the Midway. The Chicago Tribune thought it was scandalous and was not amused.  I can find no pictures of the Ball, but Erik Larson (The Devil in the White City) opines that the dignitaries in attendance took their carriages home at four-thirty A.M., perhaps singing After the Ball, a hit song of the day.  Here is a clip of Irene Dunne singing After the Ball in a setting evocative of an 1890s music hall. Consistent with its setting, it’s a little ruckus for the first minute. Then shut your eyes and image you are dancing at the Midway Ball in the White City.

The White City represented a vision of what Chicago could become, not what it was at the end of the 19th century.  William Cronin (Nature’s Metropolis) Admin and Grand Basin at Nightdescribes how visitors to the Fair from the hinterlands were impressed by Chicago’s wealth and appalled by its encircling slums. Labor and capital were at odds after Haymarket and the fight for the eight hour day. The Pullman Strike would erupt after the Fair closed against the background of a depression that lasted until 1897 (the Panic of 1893). The Union Stockyards were a popular tourist stop as well as a source of substantial pollution. Tenement housing surrounded the fair grounds, while the more well-to-do traveled further out on the street cars. At the Fair, electricity lit up the night as entertainment but was not a standard feature of city dwellings. Downtown was congested, dirty and loud. It was surrounded by the railroad tracks and hard up against the Levee vice district. The Lake front was cluttered with squatter’s shacks and mountains of garbage

Fabulous Imperialism: The 1893 Columbian Exposition, posted on YouTube, provides an strong statement of the Fair as a manifestation of Empire.

The White City celebrated the Chicago that had risen like a Phoenix out of the ashes of the Great Fire of 1871 and offered hope that it could be remade in the genteel vision of the Fair’s architects and designers. It would have wide avenues and grand buildings, parks, gardens and ponds. It would be well planned. Prior to the Fair, Daniel Burnham was most highly regarded for his organizational and business acumen. Creating the Fair established Burnham as the supreme planner of his day. His vision and learning would come together in the 1909 Plan of Chicago.

The 1893 World's Fair coverAdditional commentary and views of the Fair are provided in the attached class presentation.

World’s Fair – Overview

World’s Fair – Photographs


In anticipation of visitors with diverse interests, published guides offered information on the range of entertainments the City had to offer. One guide, Chicago by Day and by Night – Pleasure seekers guide to the Paris of America,  has been revised by Chicago historians Paul Durica and Bill Savage.

To celebrate the 120 anniversary of its opening, Roosevelt University Librarian
Michael Gabriel arranged a show at the Auditorium Library, “Rare Books AboutPalmer book cover the Womens building book coverColumbian Exposition of 1893″ and posted links to an Interactive map of the Fair and the Project Gutenberg EBook of Official Views Of The World’s Columbian Exposition, by C. D. Arnold (the Fair’s official photographer) and H.D. Higinbotham (President of the Exposition Board).


He has also posted a guide to contemporary books on the The White City: The World’s Columbian Exposition.

Current books of interest on 19th century Chicago that offer discussion of the Fair and its significance include William Cronon, Nature’s Metropolis: Chicago and the Great West, Donald Miller, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, and Erik Larson, The Devil in the White City.

The Urban Simulation Lab clips of Street of Cairo and the Transportation Building have no sound. Scott Joplin introduced Ragtime to Fair goers – numerous sources credit the World’s Fair with spreading the popularity Ragtime. His Pineapple Rag is good background music for the Transportation Building. For the Street of Cairo, try the music of Hamid El Kasri at the Festival Gnaoua in Essaoira, Morocco


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Marquette Building

“To follow those waters… which will henceforth lead us into strange lands”
Pere Jacques Marquette

To follow bronzeWith 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 marquette on dearbornJoliet, 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.

Marquette rotunda HCBHolabird 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 narrative of the Marquette Building is by Marquette picture from PP
Allison Dussias, Kristin Ramirez and Kaitlin Vens.

Designing and Building the Marquette

Murder at the Marquette

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.

Rolf Achilles talked about A. J. Holzer sourcing the Tiffany mosaics at the Peltier Glass Factory on the first Friends of Downtown’s Jane’s Walk.

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Mr. Selfridge and Chicago – A Backstory

“I am glad to get a breath of the old Lake Michigan ozone. This is the first time I have had it in a year.”
Harry Selfridge on visiting Chicago in 1908

Harry Gordon Selfridge, known as “Mr. Selfridge” on PBS Masterpiece Classics, was a Chicagoan by achievement though not by birth.

Harry Selfridge 1910

Harry Gordon Selfridge 1910

Harry Selfridge was born in Ripon, Wisconsin in 1856. In 1879 he started as a clerk at Field, Leiter & Co., was made a partner in 1891 and received an interest in the store that was now called Marshall Field & Co. In 1904 he sold his interest for $1.5 million. He purchased the Louis Sullivan designed building of Schlesinger & Mayer for $5 million and then sold it to Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. He used the proceeds of these transactions to help finance construction of his London emporium, Selfridge & Co., designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham. Selfridge & Co. opened in 1909. (Mr. Selfridge, to the right, circa 1910).

Miles Berger (author of They Built Chicago) tells the story of the construction and sale of the Schlesinger & Mayer property (now the Sullivan Center), but Harry Selfridge’s name doesn’t appear until the denouement. The man behind the transaction was Otto Young – a merchant prince, land baron and financier who Berger refers to as the Titan of State Street. In 1904 Young was the mastermind behind a complex set of transactions that left him in control of the land and the buildings to be occupied by Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co.

Carson Pirie Scott & Co.

Carson Pirie Scott & Co.

Schlesinger and Mayer had occupied the choice State and Madison location since 1881. To remain competitive with more modern additions to State Street, they demolished their existing store and hired Louis Sullivan to design a nine story Madison Street section of the new building, which was completed in 1899. The corner building, Sullivan’s masterpiece with its geometric forms and botanical motifs above the entrance, was completed in 1903.  Construction cost overruns, high rents to corner land owner Marshall Field, and loss of business during construction placed a substantial burden on Schlesinger and Mayer.

Schlesinger sold his interest to a third-party in 1902 to inject cash into the enterprise, but it was not enough.  Mayer saw expansion as the only means to generate more revenue and save the business.  He turned to Otto Young who owned the parcels on State Street towards Monroe. Young offered a lease at six times the rate Mayer was paying to Field. Mayer was apparently willing to pay, but in the words of the Chicago Tribune, “insurmountable differences arose involving the building to be erected and the deal fell through.”  Mayer and Young than played a high–stakes game to block each other from acquiring frontage on the city block bounded by State, Madison, Wabash and Monroe.  Mayer’s resources were severely strained.  He would even have sold out to Young, when Harry Gordon Selfridge made an offer to buy the business and the buildings.

Selfridge took possession of the property in June 1904 and immediately sold the buildings and leaseholds to Otto Young who leased the buildings back to him. Selfridge then sold the business to the Carson Pirie Scott & Co department store group.  After the fact it became known that Young was the majority, silent player in the transaction. Otto Young got the State and Madison leaseholds and buildings, Mayer got out of retail, and Selfridge eventually used his profit to build his London store.

Miles Berger speculates that the “insurmountable differences” that killed the earlier deal was Young’s insistence that expansion of the Schlesinger and Mayer building toward Monroe be designed by Daniel Burnham and not by Louis Sullivan. For Berger, the most notable snub in the history of Chicago architecture.

fair store stats with Lehmann name

The Fair Store

Mr. Selfridge left for London with millions of dollars in capital and decades of retail experience. He most certainly also took with him knowledge of the property acquisition strategies honed by his first employers Marshall Field and Levi Leiter, Chicago’s biggest property owners, and by his recent silent partner Otto Young. In the mid-1890s, Young had completed a long-term plan to acquire all the parcels on the south half of the block bounded by State, Dearborn, Adams and Monroe. The Fair Store was built on this largest consolidation of downtown property in the city’s history.  Selfridge’s version of this speculative acquisition plan was to slowly buy up (and eventually demolish) a series of Georgian architecture buildings on the then unfashionable western end of Oxford Street to build his department store.


Selfridges Department Store

Harry Selfridge wanted to bring to London the latest selling ideas that he and others had so successfully developed in the United States. He also wanted to execute those ideas in a Chicago style department store with huge window displays to entice the passing public and wide well-lit interior aisles to showcase the best selection of goods. He hired Daniel Burnham who had recently designed Marshall Field’s main store.  Besides being the designer, Burnham’s role was to convince the London County Council that a five-story high steel frame building with wide spans between beams was safe. Burnham had earlier played this role for William Le Baron Jenney. Jenney’s design for the Home Insurance Company (completed in 1891) was one of the first applications of iron and steel frame construction with masonry curtain walls hanging from the metal frame.  In response to fears voiced by skeptics, the Home Insurance Company asked to call in an outside expert to verify that the building would stand.  Daniel Burnham was hired and pronounced that the design was sound.

As reported in early 1908 in the Chicago Daily Tribune, Harry G. Selfridge “won a signal victory in his year-long fight to put a ‘Chicago building’ in Oxford Street in staid old London.” The obstacles were the “uncompromising attitude of certain owners of old buildings that had to be pulled down, and …the medieval building regulations of the London county council.”  With true booster flair, the Tribune noted that “the councilors admitted the soundness of American building methods” and that a bill to permit these methods will be sent to parliament.

The story of Young and Selfridge’s role in the Carson, Pirie, Scott transaction is drawn primarily from Miles L. Berger, They Built Chicago: Entrepreneurs Who Shaped A Great City’s Architecture, Chicago: Bonus Books, 1992, pages 141-147.

Burnham’s assurances to the Home Insurance Company is from Donald L. Miller, City of the Century: The Epic of Chicago and the Making of America, New York: Simon &  Schuster, 1996, page 342.

“Marshall Field’s Career as Merchant and Financier,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Jan 17, 1906, Pro Quest Historical Newspapers, Chicago Tribune (1849-1989), accessed through Chicago Public Library.

“H.G. Selfridge Wins Fight with London County Council,” Chicago Daily Tribune, February 9, 1908, Pro Quest Historical Newspapers, Chicago Tribune (1849-1989), accessed through Chicago Public Library.

“Harry Selfridge Home Again: He Grows Young in London,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 16, 1908, Pro Quest Historical Newspapers, Chicago Tribune (1849-1989), accessed through Chicago Public Library.

“H.G. Selfridge Dies; Conquered London’s Trade,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 9, 1947, Pro Quest Historical Newspapers, Chicago Tribune (1849-1989), accessed through Chicago Public Library.

Nina Metz, “’Mr. Selfridge’: the man who invented retail therapy,” Chicago Tribune, March 28, 2013, downloaded April 19, 2013.

“Harry Gordon Selfridge,” Wikipedia

“Selfridges, Oxford Street,” Wikipedia

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Second Leiter Building

Lake Street was the center of Chicago’s business district in the 1850s. Marshall Field and Levy Z. Leiter purchased Potter Palmer’s Lake Street dry goods emporium in 1865. Three years later, they led the move of Chicago’s great department stores to Palmer’s State Street development district. Field and Levi Leiter imageLeiter would become Chicago’s biggest property owners. Leiter (pictured on the right) sold his share to Field. He commissioned architect William Le Baron Jenney to build the Leiter Building in 1879 and the Second Leiter Building in 1891. With these projects and the Home Insurance Building in 1885, Jenney would become known as the Father of the Skyscraper.

Jenney built the Second Leiter using a Wm Le Baron Jenneysteel frame construction that allowed the fullest use of unobstructed interior space. The exterior granite curtain walls no longer needed to be load bearing and could feature large windows to illuminate the interior retail space with natural light.  It became the model for the modern department store.

The Second Leiter, on State Street between Van Buren and Congress, would eventually house Sears, Roebuck and Company’s flagship store. It anchored a street of great department stores that included Marshall Field, The Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, The Fair Store, Mandel Brothers, and Rothschild’s.  All of these retail emporia would be built or rebuilt using the same innovative technology that Jenney applied in his Second Leiter Building. The Second Leiter was both the anchor and the touchstone of that Great Street.

Today the ghost of Marshall Field resides in Macy’s while the other great Second Leiter Building postcarddepartment stores are gone.  In their place are universities and some 38,000 full-time college students that have helped to restore vitality to the Loop. The education corridor extends south of Madison on State to the School of the Art Institute, DePaul, and Second Leiter’s Robert Marshall University.

The narrative of the Second Leiter Building is by Samantha Benduha, Cara Garvey, April Hill, Eleanor Peck and Elizabeth Staszel. The narrative is edited and material has been added.

The Second Leiter – Technology & Design

The Second Leiter – Jenney & Leiter

The Second Leiter – State Street


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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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Auditorium Building

Chicago experienced extraordinary growth in the 19th century serving as the primary economic link between Eastern capital and Western hinterland resources. Chicago grew as the lake, rivers, canals, and railroads transported grain, livestock, lumber, coal, steel, farm implements, consumer merchandise and people.

Rumors of canal building fueled the city first speculative land bubble in the 1830s. By 1848 Chicago opened the Illinois & Michigan canal, built its first railroad, and established the Board of Trade. Chicago’s post 1848 growth created substantial wealth and capital from commodity trade, manufacturing, and the city’s role as a national entrepôt.

Chicago burnt down in The Great Fire of 1871. While thousands of buildings were lost, the transportation infrastructure that made Chicago the fastest growing city in the world was spared. Rebuilding was slowed by the Panic of 1873 as Chicago and the nation experienced a credit system collapse due to speculation and an over extension of railroad capacity. The central business district was rebuilt in a pre-fire engineering and architectural tradition

By the 1880’s, the economy had rebounded and with it the prospects for real estate investment. Industrial growth had created a new corporate landscape. It was a good time to build company headquarters and facilities (wholesale, retail, storage, back office), to build to lease, and to build for speculation.

In the last quarter of the 19th century, Chicago would emerge as a leading architectural city. Four iconic buildings of the period were executed by firms that define the First Chicago School of Architecture: Auditorium (Adler and Sullivan), Monadnock (Burnham and Root), Second Leiter (William Le Baron Jenney), and Marquette (Holabird and Roche).

sullivan plaque in Auditorium TheatreThe Auditorium Building is now home to Roosevelt University. Developer Ferdinand Peck created a landmark mixed-use structure. He built a theatre and surrounded it with a hotel and rental offices to make it financially viable. The narrative of the Auditorium Building is by Alex Ramsay, Kara Emery, Justyna Johnson, and Brandon Richman.

Auditorium Building exterior hand colored

Auditorium – Adler, Sullivan and Peck

Auditorium – Construction

Auditorium – Building

Auditorium – Highlights

In case you don’t get to the end of the Highlights, here are some video clips from the class presentation: Auditorium Building Video Clips

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Building Chicago tells a story of the growth and transformation of Chicago’s culture and built environment. The blog began as a platform for narratives on iconic Chicago buildings by a Roosevelt University honors class, Building Chicago: Commercial Real Estate and the Urban Core offered through the Heller College of Business Administration. The blog has since expanded to examine the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, Planning Chicago and the Auditorium and Wabash Buildings. The latest addition is a multi part essay Sweet Home Chicago: From the Delta to Bronzeville. 

Taking the class on a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise.

Taking the class on a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise.

 Click on any image to enlarge the picture and enhance the focus

Taking the class on a Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise.

Chicago River cruise.


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