Old Chicago skyscraper of the week–Woman’s Temple

Woman's Temple, Burnham & Root, 1892.  La Salle & Monroe, demolished, 1926.

Woman's Temple, Burnham & Root, 1892. La Salle & Monroe, demolished, 1926.

The Monadnock Building was the tallest bearing wall skyscraper in Chicago, at 17 stories, but it wasn’t the last.  John Root’s design for a headquarters and speculative development for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union was a look backward.  In a year of remarkable advances in steel construction, the twelve-story “Women’s Temple” relied on heavy masonry and stone walls to carry much of its weight.

The Union desired a meeting hall and related offices, but it also sought an investment that would provide it with a constant source of income.  Most of the offices and shops in the building were thus for rent, and this posed an interesting problem.  The Union’s clientele for its meetings were largely recovering alcoholics, whose very presence would have been off-putting to the higher end clients they sought for rental offices.  Thus, Root designed two entrances: a main one for the offices on La Salle, and an almost hidden one on Monroe that connected, via a long corridor, to the “Temperance Hall” in the back corner of the site.

Root’s design was aesthetically conservative, matching the building’s structure and, apparently, the tastes of the Union.  The building was never as popular with office clients as the Union had hoped, and by the 1920s it was functionally obsolete, the thick walls on the interior blocking any efforts at creating larger, open offices that were then becoming popular.  It was demolished in 1926.

The building was somewhat legendary in professional circles for John Root alleged comment at the end of its opening ceremony.  After a long-winded address by the Union’s president on temperance, he supposedly turned to a colleague on the reviewing stand and uttered, loud enough for much of the crowd to hear, “well, that’s done–let’s get a drink.”

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