old chicago skyscraper of the week–civic opera

July 8, 2009 § Leave a comment

Graham, Anderson, Probst, & White, 1929

Graham, Anderson, Probst, & White, 1929

Designed by Graham, Anderson, Probst, and White, the Civic Opera building was finished in 1929 as the stock market collapsed and as real estate in Chicago began to falter.  It stood in a long tradition of buildings, starting with Cobb and Frost’s Opera House of 1885, that supported the arts by both providing a space for performance and providing a steady stream of income in the form of office rentals.  It was also one of the most elaborate Art Deco skyscrapers to take shape, with an attenuated tower and two wings that surrounded the large, open space of the main opera theatre and a smaller adjunct.  Combined, these gave the unfortunate appearance of a large throne, an image that came to symbolize the regal pretensions of the Opera and its subscribers as the economy crashed.

Despite the heroic engineering of the building, there were flaws in the theater’s acoustics (since corrected), and while it was intended as a replacement for the aging Auditorium, a renovation effort re-opened that building’s theater to opera in the 1930s, which many judged a relief from the colder acoustics of the new building.  With the Daily News Building by Holabird & Root. also of 1929 and also a prime example of Beaux-Arts inspired Art Deco, the Opera House forms a unique cross-river composition that was only partially intentional.

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