Saturday, December 31, 2011



It is possible to be overwhelmed by Louis Sullivan's ornament at the Schlesinger and Meyer Department Store on Chicago's State Street.  Or to overlook it entirely. Two stories of black metal spanning enormnous sheets of plate glass on a gray day can camouflage Sullivan's highest art. Afternoon sun, in late summer, can make this remarkable Sullivan masterpiece ... unforgettable.

Symmetrical patterns contrasted with pure flights of fancy.  Incised geometries in opposition with three dimensional sculpture.  Heavy geometries. Organic metal ... sprung to life.  Hidden in the consistency of this black facade, Sullivan (etal) has created a highly complex and contradictory fantasy.  One that changes - unpredictably -  with the light and season.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011


Who is George Unger?
George Unger is typically listed among the credits for the bas reliefs at the Medinah Athletic Club. Other credits include Carl Beil and Leon Hermant.  And the Medinah's architect, Walter Ahlschlager.
Having never heard of him, and being familiar with the others, I could never have guessed the significance of his participation.
A quick trip to the Netherland Plaza and Carew Tower in Cincinnati, where Unger is liberally credited will dispell any questions.  Carew Tower and the Medinah Athletic Club were concurrent commissions for  Chicago Architect Walter Ahlschlager.  And both commissions required a lot of "bizazz".  Fresh from New York and his commissions for the Roxy and the Beacon, Ahschlager knew "bizazz" - and set interior/theater designer George Unger to work.  In both locations.  And somehow ... the Medinah's potentates of Chicago .... found themselves inspiring rams, dolphins, and seahorses in Cincinnati. 
A small world indeed.

Link Here for photos of Chicago's Medinah Athletic Club.

Link Here for photos of George Unger, Carl Beil and Leon Hermant's Bas Relief "Contribution."

Link Here for photos of Cincinnati's Netherland Hilton

Link Here and Here for photos of Cincinnati's Carew Tower

George Unger may have died in Los Angeles in 1951. Unconfirmed.  I have been unable to trace his life through the War and Depression that spelled the end to Deco and flights of fancy that make the Medinah Athletic and the Netherland Hilton Landmarks in the 21st Century.



Wednesday, October 5, 2011

C is for Cordwell


I believe it was the early eighties. Late seventies, maybe.  The day, though, I remember clearly.  Brilliant sunshine and hours passed in Harbor Country waiting for the party.
The annual Solomon Cordwell Buenz office get-together was an event.  SCB was up and coming and  a job there was coveted.  I attended that year - in an old but still elegant Lakeside beach resort,  as the guest of their specifications consultant. I was nervous, reticent and would have been glad to pass the evening quietly, seated, on a far corner of the terrace.  Barbara M, though, would have none of that.  She took me by the arm and headed straight for "the boss."  "John."

 John Cordwell was in rare form. THE John Cordwell.  Director of the Chicago Plan Commission in the fifties.  Urban renewal philosopher. Architect of Carl Sandburg Village. RAF fighter pilot. A small crowd had gathered around him.  The English accent was unmistakable.  He wore an ascot.

 " My Grandmother had the perfect remedy for crabs."  He sipped from his wineglass, glanced at his admirers, and then turned away, as though he had crossed a line,  said enough.  But he turned and began again....(the smile was still imperceptible).

 "She was a remarkable woman.  Lived to be 108."  More small talk about her etiquette and fine character and then.... " of course I've never HAD crabs.  No, never.   And why SHE'D need to know a remedy for them is beyond me..."  Everyone's eyes rolled.....  He paused again.  This time at length.  Until someone asked, "well, what is this remedy?"  John shot back "IS THIS SOMETHING YOU NEED TO KNOW?".  Roars of laughter.  And then another carefully manufactured awkward silence followed by, "you simply rub sour cream on your private parts."

By this time, finally, everyone realized that we had been "taken."  And almost simultaneously, as a group, asked how sour cream could possibly work --  John was waiting.  "The little crabs eat the sour cream.  All of it.  And get so FAT that they simply fall off."  He chuckled, exited (stage left) and left us...  laughing and shaking our heads.

 I had forgotten all that. Until I found John's picture while researching SCB for a future post.  And I am reminded that Architecture is a story of buildings AND people  -- 


and that we are losing both.  Far too quickly.


Monday, October 3, 2011


Researching Chicago Architects for upcoming CAITL posts, two online resources recently caught my attention. 

First, AMERICAN BUILDER MAGAZINE, 1921 has an extensive collection of the works of Walter W. Ahlschlager.  (Don't miss Dutch Boy's advertisement for their very best White Lead Paint!)   Among Ahlschlager's credits are the Medinah Athletic Club (now the InterContinental on North Michigan Avenue) and Carew Tower in Cincinnati.  I was pretty proud of this "find" ... until Google told me that it was featured in ARCHITECTURECHICAGO PLUS .... back in 2006.  Still, it is worth the re-post.  

And next, THE WESTERN ARCHITECT, Volume 30, published in May 1921 contains (among other interesting articles) an obituary for the 95 year old Frederick S. Baumann. Bauman (according to JSTOR) is the City's first German immigrant architect.  His office opened in 1850.  With his brother, Edward, Frederick is responsible for the McComick House at 660 North Rush and the Washington Block at Washington and Wells.  Both are CHICAGO LANDMARKS.  He also did the recently restored facade of the Rae Building, with its very nice, but uncredited scultpure.  Baumann's published engineering work, well respected in his lifetime, is largely forgotten. A copy of his Foundations and Foundation Walls is available from GOOGLE EBOOKS - for the hardcore historians.

A is for Ahlschlager, B is for Baumann ...  My photo website is beginning to take shape.  For a look at the work in progress link here:  THE CHICAGO LOOP


Now, if I could just find a picture of Frederick Baumann..... 


Monday, September 12, 2011


I am advised to see "something beautiful each day."  Often a tall order.



But today was easy.  First, another remarkable blog post from Lynn Becker . Then, a first look at a collection of work by artist Dennis Davis.  And then, that little sunset.

And now?  I'm (almost) off on vacation.  For more work by Dennis Davis visit Miller Beach Art  For another post on this site?  We're two weeks away.  In the meantime, visit our work in progress --


Sunday, September 4, 2011


Frederick Dinkelberg
Daniel Burnham hired New York architect Frederick Dinkelberg in 1892 to assist his new design partner Charles Atwood with the World's Columbian Exposition.  In addition to the Fair, Dinkelberg assisted Atwood with the Marshall Field & Company and the Ellicott Square commissions.  Dinkelberg went on to become Burnham's "facade designer" -- and is credited with design for the Heyworth Building, the Railway Exchange, the Conway Building and the Flatiron Building in New York.  Dinkelberg left D.H. Burnham and Company in 1908 when an internal reorganization named Peirce Anderson its lead designer.  Dinkelberg's "last hurrah" was the Jewelers' Building at 35 East Wacker.  (And it was quite a hurrah...) But of all  Frederick Dinkelberg's commissions this little house designed in 1891 may have been among his best memories.

The Villa Margherite. 4 South Battery Street.  Charleston, South Carolina

The opportunities that employment at D.H. Burnham & Company brought to Dinkelberg could not have been gained elsewhere.  But at a price.  DHB was a corporate machine, taking individual contributions and crediting them as its own. For the commission on Battery Street, Dinkelberg was given full credit. For his assistance to the opium addicted Atwood.... not so much.

Link to another photo of this little gem at the Art Institute of Chicago


Friday, July 1, 2011


10 South Dearborn Street
C.F. Murphy Associates and The Perkins and Will Partnership


 It's easy to get wrapped up in the History of Chicago's Buildings and Architects  -- but last Wednesday the light was so perfect that First National Plaza looked as crisp and new as 1969.

DeStefano Keating's 1 South Dearborn and SOM's Inland Steel in the Background

(Only partially obscuring Helmut Jahn's Xerox Center)
I walked the length of Dearborn Street that sunny day of perfect light.  Marina City.  Daley Plaza. The Brunswick Building.  First National Bank.  Inland Steel.  The Marquette.  The Federal Center. The Fisher.  The Monadnock.  The Old Colony.  The Manhattan. The Morton.  Dearborn Street Station..... 
I was reminded of the quote on the Tree Studio -
Ars longa.  Vita Brevis.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011



Lucius Fisher's father visited Chicago in 1837, where he found corn (of the small yellow variety) growing on State Street between Washington Street and Lake Street and decided that the place had little future.  He took his new wife (a distant relative of Marshall Field)  to Beloit Wisconsin to settle, raise a family  and become successful.  In 1866 he changed his mind and returned to Chicago. 


Lucius was born in Beloit on November 27, 1843. He passed the entrance exam to Beloit College, but instead headed west to Colorado during the Pikes Peak Gold Rush.  He returned "across the plains" in a wagon pulled by a six yoke of oxen. (I wonder how often the Grandkids heard THAT story.)  He then headed east to New York City where in 1863 enlisted in the Union Army, fighting in the Shenendoah Valley.  In 1866 he, too, moved to Chicago.

His first job in Chicago was with the Rock River Paper Company.  Shortly after he bought a controlling interest in the Wheeler and Hinman Paper Company which he renamed Union Bag and Paper. In 1870 he married Katherine Louise Eddy.  And from this point on, Lucius' success  was nothing less than meteoric.  Katherine's brother, Alfred D.  became general counsel to the Standard Oil Company.  And Lucius' aquisitions in the "Bag Business" paralleled the acquisitions in  "Oil Business."

Eventually Lucius was worth some $27,000,000.00 (that's in 1900's value) owning 18 paper mills, vast areas of timber, and several pulp mills.  In the mid 1880's he invested heavily in Chicago Real Estate.

This is the man who came to Daniel Burnham in 1895 with the commission for the Fisher Building, which would be the headquarters of Union Bag and Paper Company.

Burnham's life experience was much like his client's (less the Civil War experience): missing college, an adventure out west, an advantageous marriage, and a successful career beyond all expectations.  Fisher's journey of expansion and consolidation had taken him from Rock River to the Union Bag, Burnham's would cover Union Stockyards to Union Station.
Lucius Fisher did enjoy his architecture.  In 1900 he bought the Nickerson Mansion.  And each night, after a day at the Fisher Building, he came home to THIS.

Union Bag and Paper Company merged with Camp Manufacturing in 1956 to form Union Camp.  The Union Camp was acquired by International Paper in 1999.

Although the flat bottomed paper bag was invented by a man, Ms.Margret Knight in 1870 invented the  device to cut, fold and paste paper bag bottoms
The cherub-like sculptures on the south face of the Fisher Building are often referred to as "The Fisher Twins"  Lucius did not have twins, and his son was 18 at the time of construction.  So THAT mystery remains unsolved.


The charming and informed Door Person at the Fisher Building told me that, not so long ago, two cabs filled with "Fishers" arrived unannounced  at the Building, posed for a family portrait, and left.....  Wouldn't I like a copy of THAT photo.



Saturday, May 7, 2011



343 South Dearborn Street
The Chicago Loop

Lucius Fisher

ARCHITECT (Original Structure)  1896   
D.H. Burnham and Company
Charles Atwood, Partner-in-Charge of Design
E.C. Shankland, Engineer

ARCHITECT (Addition)  1907                        
Peter Weber with E.C. and R.M. Shankland Engineers

ARCHITECT (Lobby Renovation) 1920 (unconfirmed) 

Pioneer Fireproof Construction Company
Northwestern Terra Cotta Company
Rittenhouse & Embree Company
Evans Marble Comopany
Frank L. Davis
Winslow Brothers Company
L.H. Prentice Company
Grimshaw Company and General Electric
Alfred Barker
P. F. Corbin

Chicago Landmarks
Historic American Buildings Survey.
Charles Bowler Atwood
Village Green

The Village Green


The credits are just the beginning.  Each has a story.  Over the next few weeks we will be looking at the Fisher's structural innovations, its fireproofing, elevators, and interior finishes.  It's expression of the Chicago School of Architecture.  And its personal stories.  But today, we celebrate the FISH.....


Lucius Fisher, I think,  must have had quite a sense of humor.  Fish... Fisher....  Get it ??


For more photographs of CHARLES ATWOOD's work in Chicago,

Monday, May 2, 2011


Summarizing Daniel Burnham's move toward, and education in Architecture --1) At Chicago's Central High he learns he can draw (thank you Miss Starr for noticing). 2) At the New Church Academy in Waltham, Mass, he is taught by  young Swedenborgian Harvard graduate Joseph Worcester (who, later, becomes central to the Arts and Crafts Movement in San Fransisco. 3) In Cambridge, he is tutored by Hayward Brown Tilley who introduces him to the philosophies of William Morris, John Ruskin and WPP Longfellow. 4) In Chicago, he works for Sanford Loring (terra cotta expert and later, president of Chicago Terra Cotta) and William LeBaron Jenney (structural innovator and classmate at the Ecole Centrale of Gustave Eiffel. 5) He works for John van Osdel (Chicago's first architect) and W.B. Wheelock (Chicago old school architect and sometime partner of W. W. Boyington). 6) He works for Asher Carter (architect of Old St. Pat's) William Drake and Peter B. Wight (inventor of multiple advanced fire proofing systems.)

Art. Inspiration. Philosphy.  Building Materials. Structural Engineering.  A grounding in Chicago's Culture of Architecture.  And a course in advanced Fire Proofing. 

If this is attributable to his luck, Daniel Burnham was a lucky man. And if to his Faith, its time to learn to spell (correctly) Emanuel Swedenborg!  And there was more good fortune to follow:  Margaret Sherman and John Wellborn Root --- and that elusive Harvard Degree.


I've spent some weeks researching Daniel Burnham's early life and education --   Next week I'll begin again with his Architecture -- and a discussion of the FISHER BUILDING. 
Chicago School vs. a Classic renovaton.  Structural Innovations and Fireproofing Systems.  Elevators.  Handcrafted ornament.  The amazing kindness of Daniel Burnham.  Lucius Fisher. Misplaced credits.....and rumors of a Hookah Pipe. 

So, what's not to like?

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Joseph Worcester 1836-1913

Daniel Burnham left Chicago in 1863 to study at Thomas Worcester's Swedenborgian School in Waltham Massachusetts. Here, he met Thomas' son, Joseph, who would become his teacher, mentor and lifelong friend.

Daniel's time with Joseph was short -- less than two years. But when Daniel returned to Chicago (after that little side trip to Nevada) he knew he wanted a career in architecture. But this post is not about Daniel Burnham. It is about "Uncle Joe."

Joseph Worcester was born in 1836 in Waltham Massachussetts. He graduated Harvard studying divinity (and architecture and drawing at Lawrence Scientific School) where he had been strongly influenced by William Morris , John Ruskin, William Wordsworth, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Emanuel Swedenborg.) In 1864 he left Waltham to visit the San Francisco Bay area (traveling via schooner, rounding Cape Horn) . He returned to stay --after a trip to Europe -in 1867.

The Swedenborgian Church under Joseph Worcester's leadership became the center of the Bay Area's arts community. Worcester's own views on architecture significantly advanced the Arts and Crafts movement in California . Names that fall within Worcester's Circle include Bernard Maybeck, A. Page Brown, Willis Polk, Julia Morgan, Phoebe Hearst, William Keith, John Muir, Frederick Law Olmsted.

Worcester sat on Boards that reviewed the architecture and master plans for Berkeley and Stanford. And, with Willis Polk, Worcester encouraged Daniel Burnham to submit a Master Plan for the City of San Fransisco. And if not for that Earthquake.....

In 1888 ideas were afoot to match New York's Statue of Liberty at the mouth of San Francisco Bay. Daniel Burnham REALLY wanted that commission.

In 1892, when Daniel Burnham was nearly buried in Chicago's Columbian Exposition, he still found time to correspond with "Uncle Joe" regarding the architecture of the new Swedenborg Church in San Francisco.

Edward Bennett was from California, educated at the Ecole de Beaux Arts in Paris with a gift from Phoebe Hearst (where he met Peirce Anderson) . Bennett worked with Burnham, Worcester, and Polk on the Plan of San Francisco.  Peirce got Washington DC.

H.H. Richardson left Lawrence Scientific in 1860 -- where he might well have been Worcester's classmate. (Unconfirmed). Worcester's Papers at Berkely include photographs of Richardson's work at Trinity Church in Boston.

Joseph Worcester's major life achievements were still in the future when he taught young Daniel Burnham, fresh from Central High. But a man of this intellect, optimism, confidence and creativity --and Faith -- could certainly have shown him "possibilities." 

Daniel may not have been "educated" in Waltham.  But he knew the way.


Wednesday, April 6, 2011


               When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
               And the great star early droop’d
               in the western sky in the night,
               I mourn’d—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

               O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring;
               Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west,
               And thought of him I love.

               Walt Whitman  1865

Walt Whitman.  Credit Novel House Inn.


Every generation has its War. Mine was Viet Nam, though I never fought. My father's was World War II, though he never spoke of it. It was some years before I found that my parents belonged to the "Greatest Generation." And that there were personal stories in the words "Bataan" and "Corregidor" I only knew that I lived in a very comfortable suburban home with oak trees in the back yard, maples on the street and a sandy beach just over the hill. And that in the basement, in the storage room, on the top shelf, there was a Japanese ceremonial sword in a velvet box.

The lessons of war seem not to pass from generation to generation. They simply and quietly define those who learn them, live with them. And are lost by sons and daughters.


Daniel Burnham volunteered to fight in the Civil War when he was 15 years old. How could he not? Chicago was alive with Union Patriotism and the Underground Railroad. His father's wholesale drug business was booming. (What better wartime business than drugs?) Talk of war was everywhere.   Ten thousand Confederate soldiers were imprisoned at Camp Douglas.  (Three times that amount were rumored at Andersonville.) And Lincoln, after all, was from Illinois.

Edwin Burnham, Daniel's father, "de-enlisted" 15 year old Daniel, by reason of age.   And by the time Daniel was of draftable age, Elizabeth, his mother, had sent him to Thomas Worcester's Swedenborgian School in Waltham Massachusetts.

I don't know if Daniel was in Chicago when Lee surrendered at Appomattox. Or when Abraham Lincoln's draped coffin was carried from the Illinois Central Station on Randolph Street to City Hall.

But whether he saw it, or read of it, these tragedies, doubled by the Great Fire that soon destroyed his home town, would leave scarred memories for a lifetime.

President Grant. The Panic of 1873. Railroads. The election of Rutherford B. Hayes. Western expansion. Reconstruction. For the next twenty years the Civil War and its denouement shaped the country. These are the years when Daniel Burnham honed his craft. And imagined possibilities.

This is when Daniel Burnham "began."  And we should not be surprised, if we look closely, to see echoes from this time past in his  planning, architecture, aspirations and morality.


I've completed the photography for a second look at D.H. Burnham and Company's  Fisher Building -- to be featured in future posts.  But, there is always "one more mystery."  Reviewing the varied work of Charles Atwood, the Burnham design partner credited with Phase I of the Fisher, I am unsure if Atwood was a versatile and prolific architect, in control of his work  -- or if assistants Peter Weber and Fred Dinkelberg repeatedly covered for him.  Right up to the end.  I'd be glad for any of your thoughts.  Contact me HERE with fact or opinion.  Thanks.

Saturday, April 2, 2011


After leaving the Garden City Institute, Daniel Burnham was enrolled in Chicago Public Schools. He attended Jones to finish his elementary education, and went on to Central High, at the corner of Monroe and Halsted. At Central, Burnham made lifelong friends (and business connections) including Nevada prospecting partner Edward Waller. (We'll hear more about him when we blog the Rookery).Link here for the state of the CHICAGO PUBLIC SCHOOLS in 1879 and before. ( It looks like one of the Swedenborgian Snows may followed Daniel from the GCI to Central.) 

CENTRAL HIGHHalsted Street at Monroe. Credit CPS.

While researching Daniel Burnham (while researching anyone, for that matter) I look for things we might have in common -- Chicago, for example. But the Chicago of Daniel Burnham's youth bears little resemblance to my Chicago.  We are separated by 6 Wars and  Fire.  Chicago in the late 1850's was preparing for War with the South.  Stephen A. Douglas (of the Lincoln/Douglas debates) had recently donated a portion of his Oakenwald to the University of Chicago.
OLD UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO. Cottage Grove near 34th
Archival Photographic Files, [apf2-05352], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
Look at those towers!  The Building was done by W. W. Boyington.  John Root couldn't resist a good tower either.... look at Lynn Becker's post describing Burnham and Root's Church of the Covenant. 

CAMP DOUGLAS AND THE OLD UC. 35th  near Lake Shore
Archival Photographic Files, [apf2-05364], Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

By 1860 Camp Douglas had been established to train new Civil War recruits.  By 1861 the Camp had become more a prisoner of war camp for captured confederates.  Link HERE for more on the Lincoln/Douglas debates.,


I highly recommnend the University of Chicago Archival Photographic Files....but only when you've got some time!  Link HERE.


We're in the process of proofing, refining and obtaining permissions for the publication of  our newest project.  Preview the work here.

The Parthenon Frieze

Photography by Gregory H. Jenkins AIA


Tuesday, March 22, 2011


In 1854 eight year old Daniel Burnham was enrolled in the Garden City Institute, a Swedenborgian Academy founded by Jonathan Scammon and administered by H. Orville Snow. Two years later the building burned and Daniel was enrolled in public school.

Burnham's Swedenborgian influence did not end with the Institute. Father, Mother, Uncle, Grandfather, Brother and Sister were signators to the Swedenborgian Church in Chicago. Daniel was further educated in Waltham, Massachusetts by Joseph Worcester, son of Thomas, founder of the Swedenborgs in Boston. And finally he was tutored by Harvard Graduate and Swedenborgian Thomas Brown Tilley.

Central to Swedenborgian belief is Divine Providence and the concept of Usefulness. Plus 17 volumes of far ranging philosophy and science recorded by Emanuel Swedenborg 1668-1772. And while all of this is very interesting stuff -- and especially in tune with nineteenth century transcendentalism -- the connections that Daniel Burnham formed through his Church look to be every bit as important to his Architecture as the religion itself.

Jonathan Scammon, founder the of the Swedenborgian Community in Chicago, became one of the wealthiest men in America and was instrumental in the founding of the Chicago Historical Society. And with William Ogden in building the Galena and Chicago Union Railroad.

Joseph Worcester, in addition to running the Swedenborgian School in Waltham was an amateur architect. Soon after Daniel left Waltham, Joseph moved to San Fransisco founding the Swedeborgian movement on the Bay -- which included Architect Bernard Maybeck, and naturalist John Muir. Worcester was particularly interested in the Arts and Crafts Style and was familiar with the works and writings of John Ruskin, Viollet le duc, and William Morris. Daniel and Joseph remained lifelong friends.

Thomas Brown Tilley introduced Daniel to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's nephew, architect WPP Longfellow -- with Swedenborgian interests and a considerable knowledge of Architecture. And, with a short leap of faith --I will assume that Daniel also met Henry  -- whose use of Swedenborgian philosophy in poetry is well documented.

When Daniel Burnham returned to Chicago in 1871 he had seen what he wanted to be, knew what it looked like, and had picked up enough "Architecture" to know that when he met future partner, John Root, working in Peter Wight's office, that John was "the real deal."   I'd call THAT an education

Swedenborg followed Daniel throughout his life. Steinway Hall. Phoebe Hearst. The Women's Building. The Masonic Temple. The Chicago Plan. Commissions and people entertwined with Daniel Burnham and his uncanny nack for lifelong friendships.  More on this to follow.

The Saloon Building

The early Chicago Swedenborgians shared the Saloon building with the Chicago City Council, the Unitarians, the Chicago Lyceum, the US District Court and the Chicago Daily Journal.  The building was owned by Jonathan Scammaon.


A Special Thanks is due the Swedeborgian Library here in Chicago at 77 West Washington Street.  

Link HERE.  ..... where I have much more to learn.



Photographs by Gregory H. Jenkins AIA

Friday, March 18, 2011


Elizabeth, Daniel Burnham's mother, kept the family in Henderson, New York as long as it took to care for her ailing father, Holland Weeks. But after Reverend Weeks' death, the family was ready to leave the quiet shores of Lake Erie. Edwin, Daniel's father, saw safe opportunity along the Erie Canal in Rome, NY. But Elizabeth insisted on Chicago. Daniel's rich Uncle Dyer had preceded them by two years and had developed a successful law practice. (Note to self. Where was Dyer when Edwin was fleeced in a late 1853 deal to buy a Joliet stone quarry?)

The Burnhams arrived in Chicago in 1854. Just in time for a cholera epidemic. Most of the town still occupied undrainable swamp. But the seemingly impossible task of raising street levels by ten feet (and jacking up the buildings that faced them) had begun. Chicago's population had doubled since 1850. Filth and growth were palpable. The Rock Island Line had just connected Chicago to the Mississippi via railroad. -- making even faster growth possible. And what seemed an impossible turn of events, the Chicago River was closed at Clark Street. A ship had rammed the bridge.

And there were Germans. Speaking German. Everywhere.

It's dangerous territory for a Blogger to guess what might have impressed or affected 8 year old Daniel Burnham most during these years. Although it is safe to assume that the move was not easy. I would look for familiar things. Amid the strangeness and chaos and filth.

The symbol of stability and comfort would be the fine, white clapboard houses. With columns. Greek Revival. Like rich Uncle Dyer's house, left behind in Sackets Harbor. Or the Widow Clarke's house in Chicago and the dozens like it.

The Widow Clarke House

It should be no mystery why, later in life, Daniel would so easily accept the classic columns, (albeit improved, and presented in stone) or why he would so thoroughly understand the need for a City Beautiful.


Both Daniel Burnham and the Widow Clarke House took their place on South Prairie Avenue.  Though, some 100 years apart.


Researching this post, I discovered that it was NOT Horace Greeley who said "Go West, young man....."  It was Hoosier newspaperman John Soule in 1851.  The same John Soule who ended up Pastor of the Highland Park Presbyterian Church.  He died in 1891.


Sunday, March 6, 2011


Daniel Burnham's 1909 Plan of Chicago surrounds us. Defines us. Many of us walk by or into Burnham buildings every day. His presence in Chicago is palpable. He seems quite close. Part of our immediate history. We are fooled. He is not.

Daniel Burnham was born on September 4, 1846.

His grandparents were active in the American Revolution. Saw the Louisiana Purchase. His father and mother were contemporaries of the War of 1812. Daniel's own birth date roughly coincides with the Annexation of Texas and the Mexican War.   In 1846 the United States of America consisted of 29 states. Iowa had just joined the Union.

1846. That was during the Tyler Administration, that took its place after the untimely death of William Henry Harrison (old Tippecanoe -- who saved Indiana from the Indians in 1811.) Before telephones, radio and railroads. Electricity. Rigid frame construction. Elevators. Skyscrapers.

Below is a time line of Daniel Burnham's youth.

1846 Daniel Burnham born in Henderson, New York. the sixth of seven children.

1854 Burnham Family moves to Chicago.

xxxx Daniel is enrolled in Snow's Swedenborg Academy

xxxx Daniel is enrolled in Central High School

1861 Daniel Volunteers to fight in the Civil War. Enlists in the Nineteenth Illinois Infantry.

1861 Edwin Burnham "de-enlists" Daniel.

1863 Daniel sent to the New Church School in Waltham, Massachusetts kept by Reverend  Joseph Worcester

1865 Daniel sent to Bridgewater, Massachusetts to be tutored by Harvard graduate, Tilley Brown Hayward.

1866 Daniel is introduced to architect William P. P. Longfellow.

1867 Daniel "chokes" at the Harvard and Yale entrance exams.

1868 Daniel returns to Chicago and works for William LeBaron Jenney

1868 Daniel prospects for silver in White Pine County, Nevada

1870 Daniel works briefly for John Van Osdel, H. B. Wheelock and Gustave Laurau.

1872 Daniel works for Carter, Wight and Drake

1873 Daniel forms partnership with John Root.

1876 Daniel marries Margaret Sherman

There is an interesting story associated with each of these dates. (And the times in between) (More on this to follow). An even more interesting story is how this 19th Century man moved so easily into our Twentieth.


In Daniel's early years, his mother, Elizabeth seems to be the Burnham family's moving force.  And living well into the 1890's she continued to play an important part of Daniel's life.