Monday, January 31, 2011

Photo of the Week: The Heyworth

The Heyworth Building (JWB Photo)
My last post concerned the Flatiron Building in New York City, an eye-catching terra cotta gem out of Chicagoan Daniel Burnham's firm with Frederick Dinkelberg serving as the chief designer.  The Flatiron went up in 1902 with all of the ornament that the Beaux Arts tastes of New York could endure.  Two years later, give or take a year, two buildings were finished in Chicago, both from the office of Burnham, both designed under the guidance of Dinkelberg.  One of those was what is now the Santa Fe building at the corner of Jackson and Michigan.  The other was the Heyworth at 29 East Madison.  It's tough to get a good shot of this beauty; the el stands in the way on Wabash, and finding enough distance on Madison to capture the Heyworth in its full glory is a challenge.  But glorious it is.  Otto Young, a wholesale jeweler and real estate investor, commisisoned the building, and he named it after his son-in-law, Lawrence Heyworth.  I hope you appreciated this pretty hefty favor, Larry.  Your namesake is a heck of a building.

In the photo above you can see what's going on here.  There is the Chicago School's three-part organization.  The string cornice four floors above ground level, marking the base of the structure, the vertical rise of the office tower itself with each floor exactly like the one above and below it, the cornice, restored in 2001, that finishes the building's rise.  And look at how deeply those windows are set in the fabric of the Heyworth's exterior.  There is no mistaking the fact that this is a building built around a steel framework . . . the skeleton clearly shows, vertically and horizontally.  Notice, though, the subtlety of the ornamentation, even on the Wabash side, where the fire escapes were placed and the elevated trains clatter by just feet from the office spaces.  Subtlety is the key here.  This is a scheme of decoration farther away from the ornamentation of the Flatiron than just the distance between two great cities. Here Dinkelberg gives us the perfect complement to Louis Sullivan's lavish ornamentation, newly restored, on his Schlesinger and Mayer store, now the Sullivan Center, that sits adjacent to the Heyworth.  

Even in the dark canyon of Wabash Avenue, where the el screams and the electric sparks fly, the play of light and shadow on the surface of the Heyworth shows the building for what it is, an overlooked beauty in a city of beauties and a testament to the versatile genius of Frederick Dinkelberg.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Found Myself Agape (Part Two)

Alfred Stiglitz's Flatiron
Building of 1903
What the Parthenon is to
Athens, Stigligtz said,
the Flatiron is to New York
Think of the top five architectural gems in New York City and the Flatiron Building has to rank right up there with the epic tallness of the Empire State Building, the shimmering symbol of a new era that is the art deco Chrysler Building, or the mid-century modern structure made perfect in the Seagram Building.  The Flatiron's 21 stories serve as a touchstone; it defines the New York City of another era and today gives midtown Manhattan a reason to ease up on the hustle a bit and take a look in wonder.

Yet, the Flatiron Building, this iconic symbol of the city that is the center of the universe, is, literally from top to bottom, a Chicago skyscraper.

In the first blog on the Flatiron I talked about the fact that the George A. Fuller Construction Company, based in Chicago, looked to erect the building as its headquarters. So from the very beginning the Flatiron had a Chicago connection.

Daniel Burnham
Probably more important than Fuller's connection, though, was the connection of the great Daniel Burnham's Chicago architectural firm.  By 1902, Burnham had already led the planning and construction of the greatest exposition the world had ever known, the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  His firm had designed buildings from Buffalo to Baltimore and from Chicago to Columbus.  

By the time planning began for the Flatiron Building, Burnham's firm had designed Chicago buildings that still stand in splendor, among them The Rookery, The Monadnock and the Reliance Building. In January of 1902 the commission that Burnham led presented the McMillan Plan to the Senate Park Commission, a plan that would set a precedent for urban planning in the United States and reinvigorate the center of the nation's capital.

Jules Guerin's rendering of
Frederick Dinkelberg's design for the
Flatiron Building
So it was logical that Fuller, the Chicago construction giant, would choose Burnham, the architectural giant, to plan its new headquarters in Manhattan.  Burnham put Frederick Dinkelberg in charge of the project. Dinkelberg had served as an assistant to another great Burnham designer, Charles Atwood, and had just finished work on the plan for the nation's capital.  Dinkelberg's genius can be found not just in the Flatiron Building's plan but in other great buildings such as 35 East Wacker,the Santa Fe and the Heyworth buildings in Chicago.

Together, Dinkelberg and Burnham brought the Chicago skyscraper to Manhattan.  Although not the tallest skyscraper in New York at the time (the Park Row building of 1899, located in the city's financial district was 30 stories tall), it still was tall enough to be called "Burnham's Folly" by folks who thought the wind would surely topple a building of its height.

Here was the tall commercial office building erected around a metal skeleton composed of 3,800 tons of steel, the metal framed skyscraper that Chicago architects such as William LeBaron Jenney, Daniel Burnham, William Holabird and Martin Roche had created, perfected and given to the world.  Here was the tripartite construction that typified nearly all of Chicago's early tall commercial buildings -- the reference to the column of classicism -- a design that created a base that was wider than the shaft of the Flatiron that rose for 18 stories or so,  topped by the ornate exterior of the upper floors. Here was the engineering expertise that had caused Chicago buildings to rise ever higher.  Corydon Purdy, the engineer on Holabird & Roche's Old Colony building of 1894, the first building to use portal arches to join columns and girders for wind-bracing, was also the engineer on the Flatiron building.

Photo Courtesy of
Here, too, was the Beaux Arts style, the common idiom adopted by the architects Daniel Burnham, as Head of Works for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, had gathered together from Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New York City.  The style took the unities of classicism and, sometimes crudely, sometimes beautifully, hung them on the metal frames of ever higher buildings.  Since classical design was essentially horizontal and these new tall buildings clearly vertical, successfully combining the two was an arduous process.  But the best of the early commercial buildings in Chicago make the cut as does Dinkelberg's and Burnham's Flatiron.

Here, too, was the terra cotta exterior that adorned so many of Chicago's early commercial buildings.  And the bays running up the wide sides of the Flatiron that allowed developers to use the air over the sidewalk to grab additional space for office interiors, while admitting 15 to 20 percent more light to the interiors of those offices.  The Flatiron building's bays have the same subtlety and the same organic unity that John Root's Monadnock building in Chicago were given over a decade earlier.

Flatiron Cornice (JWB photo)
More than anything, though, here was a building, like the best of the early Chicago skyscrapers, that were functional AND beautiful.  Situated on a difficult lot, the Flatiron nevertheless has 183,449 square feet of office space, room for over 600 workers.  But the beauty of the building is what strikes one first.  As author Alice Sparberg Alexiou, whose The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It was published last year, wrote, "The Flatiron has always obsessed people.  And I think it always will . . . Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it's a triangle.  Triangles are magical.  There's something almost religious about them." 

Old Colony Building, Chicago
Holabird & Roche, 1894
(JWB Photo)
So when the cold weather lifts, have some fun.  Walk down to Van Buren and Dearborn and have a look at the cornice at the top of Holabird & Roche's cleaned up Old Colony Building.  Then walk north on Dearborn to Wacker and look east toward Frederick Dinkelberg's 1926 terra cotta extravaganza at 35 East Wacker.  You'll see how easily New York City's Flatiron building could fit into this toddling town on the prairie.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I Found Myself Agape (Part One)

The Flatiron Building from Madison Square Park
(JWB photo)
In his 1906 book, The Future in America: A Search after Realities, H. G. Wells talked of his experiences in a rapidly changing New York City.  At one point he talks about walking down Fifth Avenue as evening began to fall . . .

It grew upon me that the twentieth century which found New York brown stone of the colour of desicated chocolate meant to leave it a city of white and coloured marble.  I found myself agape, admiring a skyscraper -- the Flat-iron building, to be particular, ploughing up through the traffic of Broadway and Fifth Avenue in the afternoon light.  The New York sundown and twilight seemed quite glorious things. [Wells, The Future in America, Chapman and Hall, Ltd. 1906.  pp. 57-8]

Just four years after the Flat-iron building, formerly the Fuller Building, was completed, H. G. Wells recognized it for what it was -- a symbol of what was to come.  Wells looked at the great building, a building designed by Daniel Burnham's Chicago firm and concluded upon seeing it that ". . . this is the way the future must inevitably go . . . of grimy stone and peeling paint giving way everywhere to white marble and spotless surfaces and a shining order, of everything wider, taller, cleaner, better."  [Wells, pp. 60-61]
Structural Steel and Terra Cotta come together at the Flatiron's Cornice,
Frederick Dinkelberg's masterpiece (JWB Photo)
The Flatiron Building, located just off Madison Square Park on a 9,000 square foot triangular lot formed by Fifth Avenue and Broadway, was originally built for the George Fuller Company, a construction company that George Allon Fuller established in 1882, two years after he had moved from New York to the fast growing city of Chicago.  By the time of the 1893 Columbian Exposition in that city, Fuller was rich beyond measure.  

Also by that time Fuller, based on his experiences in Chicago, had concluded that steel was both more flexible and stronger than the conventional cast iron and therefore more suitable to the construction of tall buildings.

Edward Steichen's Flatiron Building (1904)
The year after Chicago's great fair ended, Fuller met a man named Harry St. Francis Black, who married Fuller's daughter, Allon, that same year. Black apparently was one of those young guns in Chicago who would go to any lengths to advance the cause of capitalism -- as long as the capitalism benefitted them personally.  Fuller made his new son-in-law the vice-president of his construction company and upon Fuller's death in 1900, Black took over the company, merged it with another and, with 20 million dollars of walking around money, the George Fuller Construction Company became the largest firm of its kind in the world.

Black, as CEO of the Fuller Company and as the chief investor in a real estate syndicate, the Cumberland Realty Company, bought the triangular plot of land just off Madison Square Park in 1901 for two million dollars.  This is where the Fuller Construction Company was located until 1929 when the company moved into its new art deco skyscraper at 57th Street and Madison Avenue. 

Holabird & Roche's Tacoma Building (1889)
George Fuller's first go at metal cage construction
The Fuller Company, by the way remained, a viable entity until the 1970's, and it has a particular importance to those of us who love Chicago beyond the fact that the company began in the Windy City. Fuller Construction erected Holabird & Roche's Tacoma Building of 1889 at the corner of LaSalle and Madison Streets, arguably the first skyscraper in which the outside walls did not carry the load of the building. According to the Encyclopedia of Chicago, Fuller's firm "was one of the first true general contractors: it completed large structures by coordinating the work of hundreds of men working under several subcontractors."

To say the system worked would be an understatement.  Between 1900 and 1914 the company built over 600 buildings, including the Marquette, Pontiac and Rand McNally Buildings, and department stores for the Fair, Marshall Fields, Carson, Pirie, Scott and Montgomery Ward.  Fuller had its hand in the construction of Tribune Tower, 135 South LaSalle, what is now the Chicago Hilton on Michigan Avenue, Naess and Murphy's Prudential Building of 1955 and as one of its last projects, Joel Hillman's 150 North Wacker Drive, the "swinging building."  You couldn't walk more than a block or two through Chicago's Loop without finding a Fuller-constructed building.

The next installment of the Flatiron blog will return to Madison Square Park and examine the building itself in more detail.