Old Chicago Skyscraper of the Week–Stock Exchange

October 7, 2010 § Leave a comment

One of Sullivan’s most mythic and discussed buildings, the long-lost Stock Exchange had a unique history aside from its role in Sullivan’s ornamental development and its tragic demise.  The building was designed as a new home for the Exchange itself, although it only served as a home for a few years before stocks were traded alongside commodities at the Board of Trade.  In essence, the building was a typical commercial office building whose second floor replaced the usual banking hall with a trading floor.

The building’s timing and its relationship to the 1893 Building Code gave it a unique position in the city’s skyscraper development.  Commissioned after the new Code went into effect, it was one of the only buildings constructed in the mid-1890s to fall under the 1893 legislation’s provisions.  While the Reliance and Fisher were finished later, they were permitted earlier, under more relaxed fire and height provisions.  Adler and Sullivan were required to meet the more restrictive requirements for height and–crucially–for its exterior envelope.  The city, feeling pressure from fire officials and from competing developers, began cracking down on large bay windows with the 1893 code, restricting their size and composition, and requiring minimum distances between them on a facade.  This made sense from a fire control point of view, since a fire in one bay window could theoretically spread through an adjacent one (though it’s hard to tell whether this ever happened or not), but it also started closing the loophole that allowed developers to steal floor area from outside the lot line; cantilevered bay windows could extend several feet over the sidewalk, giving buildings not only more light, but more rentable space.

Adler and Sullivan’s facade for the Exchange–best known for its ornamental arched entrance–is actually one of the very few distillations of the 1893 code’s effects on bay windows.  The bays–or oriels–are there, and they form a significant pattern across the facade.  But unlike the Reliance or Fisher, they’re relatively solid, reflecting requirements for minimum thicknesses of terra cotta mullions.  And, also unlike the two Atwood buildings, they have very large flat windows between them, enabling them to meet new separation requirements.  In fact, these flat windows are (I think, and I’m sure someone will point this out if I’m wrong) Sullivan’s first use of the tripartite, “Chicago” window pioneered by Holabird and Roche, and they have more glass than the bay windows do.

You can see the slightly different effect of this arrangement in the plan, as well as the elevation.  The bay windows play much less of a role than in other curtain wall buildings; they’re smaller and tighter, and they take up far less of the outside wall than the would have under the earlier code.

Eventually architects and developers just abandoned the bay window in the face of these restrictions–the Stock Exchange, Holabird and Roche’s Chicago Savings Bank (at State and Madison) and the Railway Exchange and Atwood by Burnham and Root were the only buildings that employed extensive bay windows in the face of the new code.  The Chicago window became the standard method for introducing light and air into buildings, as flat windows weren’t limited in size or construction after 1893.

The Stock Exchange was demolished in the 1960s to make way for an aggressively bland office building that still stands.  That event is often credited with jump-starting the city’s preservation movement, and preservationist John Vinci is credited with saving both the entry arch and the interior of the Trading Room, both of which are held by the Art Institute.  Photographer Richard Nickel died while photographing the building’s demolition, making its loss particularly poignant.

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