Sunday, June 20, 2010

DANIEL BURNHAM. Orchestra Hall


Within our lifetimes, dates blur. Facts are forgotten or rewritten Conjecture replaces truth. Men disappear. And so follow these paragraphs of speculation, best guesses from facts available......

Early 1904 may have been one of the happiest times of Daniel Burnham's life. Two young Beaux Arts Diplomes worked briefly together in Burnham's Chicago Office -- Peirce Anderson soon to be on his way to the Plan of Manila and Ed Bennett on his way to San Francisco. (These men were the future.) The MacMillan Plan for Washington DC and the 1903 Plan for Cleveland had been a success. D.H. Burnham & Company was a well-oiled machine, thanks in good part to Ernest Graham and the experienced staff. And Chicago was growing again. The dark years following the Fair were over. His sons , Hubert and Dan Jr.were to be educated as architects.  More good news.
The Chicago Symphony Orchestra's new home was "on the Boards." Bryan Lathrop, President of the Chicago Symphony had requested that the facade of their "new home" be Georgian. Conservative, respectable Georgian. CSO Trustee Burnham was glad to comply.  This was an important commission.

Burnham, true to form, assembled the most effecient team available for the Orchestra Hall project.. He, personally, oversaw the general building layout. Joachim Giaver took responsibility for structural engineering. The Beaux-Arts designers, Ed Bennett and Peirce Anderson, (working together for the first time since graduation from the Ecole), finished in charette, the Grainger Ballroom and the Beaux Arts ornament for the great Concert Hall. Frederick Dinkelberg was given primary responsibility for the facade. But for the Georgian detail, Burnham engaged old friend, Stanford White from New York's McKim, Mead, and White.

White had been in Chicago regularly for his work with Augustus Saint Gaudens (including the Standing and the Seated Lincolns and the Logan Memorial. He also worked with the Lincoln Park Commission and the South Parks Commission at Congress Plaza). Thoroughly trusted by Lathrop ( a good, close second choice to Charles McKim) White (that's Stannie White) had the added credential of being a good guy, a bon vivant, adept at all  the luxiries that Gilded Age had to offer.

Orchestra Hall turned out beautifully, reflecting the varied talents of the team that produced it. (They all dunnit. Obviously!) But life takes turns. And truth is often better than fiction. (Here we return to fact)

The first concert took place in Orchestra Hall in December of 1904. In January of 1905, the Orchestra's conductor, Theodore Thomas was dead. Stanford White, whose architecture so carefully reflected order and reserve, had carried his private life to new extremes: an affair with 17 year old New York chorus girl, Evelyn Nesbitt, became public. (So much for Georgian respectability.) In 1906 (soon after the San Fransico earthquake)  Evelyn's new husband, Harry Thaw, shot Stannie White three times in the face -- on the roof of Madison Square Garden. The sensational trial that followed destroyed McKim, Mead and White. Daniel Burnham had missed Orchestra Hall's opening Concert (and a good thing, too -- the Chicago Tribune panned the Hall's accoustics) , while travelling to Manila with Peirce Anderson. He was certainly beginning to feel the ill health that in 1906 brought him the prognosis of "three years to live." It was that prognosis that began the political machinations, within his office, for control of the Daniel Burnham empire. Dinkelberg lost to Anderson. Giaver and Bennett left. Burnham's sons eventually sold their stakes to Ernest Graham.

And so, for this post at any rate, and to complete the story (and without specific documentation it remains a story) (the happy story of 1904) I post, instead of architecture (we know the building), photographs of some of the characters. Characters we no longer know.






Instead of three years, Burnham lived for six. Plenty of time for what has become his crowning achievement: The Plan of Chicago.

Bryan Lathrop died in 1916. Rating an Obit in the New York Times. And an In Memoriam written by Edgar Lee Masters.

Evelyn Nesbitt died in Santa Monica in 1967.



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