Louis Sullivan: Lost and Found

So on Saturday, I went on another walking tour called “Louis Sullivan: Lost and Found”with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It was a joint tour with the Art Institute of Chicago. It was fantastic. I learned more about his life and we saw amazing buildings and details of Louis Sullivan and other architects in a small radius of Chicago. The saddest thing we learned was that the firm Adler and Sullivan designed 188 building but only about 16 remain. Sullivan did design by himself so there are a few more buildings that survive.

Our first stop was the Auditorium theater. At one point, the building housed the opera, the Chicago Symphony Center, a hotel, and offices. However, the hotel was unpopular since it had a European setup: shared bathrooms. Eventually the opera company and CSO moved elsewhere. There were plans to tear the building down but it was too expensive. Now, the theater is used by a variety of groups like the Joffrey ballet. The old hotel side is now part of Roosevelt College. The interior is an excellent example of Louis Sullivan’s work.There is some speculation that Louis Sullivan is the inspiration for the Art Deco movement; the staircase details make a good case but it’s probably wishful thinking. There are also grates that were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Very cool.

Auditorium Staircase
Auditorium Staircase

We also discovered that there is an incredible library on the 10th floor. If you ask the guard nicely, he may let you go up during library hours. The space was formerly a dining hall. The large room has beautiful wood paneling, decorative ceilings, huge arches, designed by Louis Sullivan. It’s a truly well-kept secret treasure in the Loop.

Roosevelt Library
Roosevelt Library
Next, we went to the Art Institute to check out the walls of architecture details on the second floor. If you take the entrance on Michigan and go up the main staircase, there are pieces taken from long-lost buildings, which are all around the staircase area. There are many beautiful, ornate objects designed by Louis Sullivan. Our guide called it the “Wailing Wall of Architecture.” It was impressive to see how forward thinking the architect was. There were pieces that looked like they were made in the atomic age but  pre-dated it by decades. BUt it was sad to realize how so many buildings were torn down.
We also went to the Chicago Stock Exchange room in the back. It’s an entire room saved from the building when it was torn down in 1972. It has these  vibrant colorful walls, giant chalkboards for stock trades, golden columns, and much more. It’s quite a treasure. However, our guide told us the story of Richard Nickel, a young photographer who was obsessed in historic preservation and  Louis Sullivan in particular. He managed to salvage many pieces from buildings as they were torn down. However, he died tragically in the Chicago Stock Exchange when he fell through the floor on a salvage mission.
Chicago Stock Exchange
Chicago Stock Exchange
We also took some time to look at the Carson Pirie Scott building. I learned that the store had bought up all these little buildings on the same block to add to its space. Only Marshall Field’s (Macy’s) got to be an entire block. I like the idea of one giant store sharing space with smaller buildings. That’s really neat. What was also cool was that one of the buildings was a Louis Sullivan with a white facade. However, when they were doing restoration after the store closed in 2008 or so, they discovered that the building next door was also a Louis Sullivan but with a black facade. It had been covered up in the 1930s and forgotten.
So that’s just a taste of the tour. It was great. Highly recommend it.
That’s all!


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