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Edward A. Renwick Evanston, Ill

2 April, 2003 These memoirs of Edward A. Renwick were recorded and published privately by, and at the urging of, his son, Ralph Renwick, Sr. The oldest copies I know of are several mimeographed copies in the hands of various Renwick family members. Two or more are in libraries: a search for “Edward A. Renwick” will turn up references to one at the University of Minnesota Library, and another at the Art Institute of Chicago. My brother, Bill Renwick, and I both, while reading our faintly-legible copies, thought of retyping our greatgrandfather’s “Recollections” on electronic media. This is the result. I have made minor corrections in factual content, punctuation and spelling, I have incorporated a few changes indicated in Ralph Renwick Sr.’s hand in my brother’s copy, and I have added chapter titles, a table of contents, an index, footnotes, illustrations taken from sources on the Internet, and a “Picture Credits” section. All footnotes are my additions to the original text. Web links are working as of March 30, 2005, but they might not remain functional over the long run; I suggest a search on to find them if they move. A few years ago, Prof. Robert Bruegmann of the University of Illinois, Chicago, published an excellent book on Holabird and Roche: The Architects and the City: Holabird and Roche of Chicago, 1880-1917 [1997]1 This volume quotes often from “Recollections,” and it represents the fulfillment of Ralph Renwick Sr.’s desire to see the important work of Holabird and Roche recognized and recorded for students of architecture and Chicago history to appreciate. There is a wealth of Internet sources related to H&R’s buldings. Pat Sabin, an Atlanta realtor, collects vintage postcards from Chicago and other cities; her Chicago collection, containing some images of H&R buildings, is at Scott Newman’s “Jazz Age Chicago” web site,, contains information and many images of 1

3 Chicago buildings of the period 1893-1934. His Research Guide, at the same site, is a comprehensive listing of Chicago history resources. The City of Chicago’s “Landmarks” site has a page devoted to Holabird and Roche, with pointers to many of their exant buildings: The Chicago Public Library’s Architecture Bibliography page,, lists books on Holabird & Roche, including Robert Bruegman’s complete catalog of their projects. The Chicago Historical Society has a site remembering the Great Fire at The Library of Congress has a photo archive from the Chicago Daily News, containing some nice photos of buildings under construction, at The National Park Service lists “Historic Places in Chicago” at I offer this republication of E.A.R.’s memoirs for future generations of Renwicks to enjoy. John Renwick

4 July 1932 I wish to express my appreciation of the patience, tact, and sympathetic understanding of Miss Esther Gould of Riverside, Illinois, who has secured this story of my father’s life in almost his own words. Without her efforts the plan to secure this brief autobiography would have failed completely. Ralph Renwick


Contents Origins .............................................. 6 Chicago ............................................. 26 Holabird ............................................ 28 Marriage ............................................ 34 Chicago After the Fire .............................. 42 Advancement ......................................... 50 Skeleton Construction ............................... 53 Expansion ........................................... 64 The Panic of the 1890s .............................. 83 Foundations and Deep Basements ...................... 87 City and County Buildings ........................... 97 The Boston Store ................................... 104 Mandel Brothers Department Store ................... 112 The University Club ................................ 118 Fireproofing ....................................... 126 Transition ......................................... 132 Personal Recollections ............................. 135 The Business of Architecture ....................... 156 The Michigan Avenue Property ....................... 169 Renwick Family Life ................................ 174 The Coleman Lake Club .............................. 182 Retirement ......................................... 194 Picture Credits .................................... 206 Index .............................................. 209


Origins My father and mother were pioneers, people of little education; I suppose they wouldn’t have left their homes to come out into the wilds if they hadn’t been. They were of the generation which did everything for themselves: they broke the ground for their fields, cut the wood from which they made their houses and their furniture, even made the tools with which they did these things. There was no place to buy anything in those days even if they had had the money with which to buy it. When you stop to consider it, I suppose no generation in the world has seen such changes in living and working conditions as ours has. To think that it is within my lifetime that the first train puffed in to Grand Rapids. Of course a few favored cities in the east had had railroads before, but not many. My mother and my wife’s mother with us two, as babies in their arms, climbed the knoll overlooking the new railroad, the Detroit and Milwaukee then, now the Grand Trunk, to watch the first passenger train entering Grand Rapids. I suppose I saw it though I don’t remember it. I can remember the first arc light which was put up in Grand Rapids. It was in the heart of the town where a north and south street and a diagonal street, called Monroe Avenue and Monroe Street, crossed and made a square called Crab Corners. Why it was named that I don’t know. Anyway here it was that they erected the scaffold and brought the dynamo and hung the arc light. Everyone thought it was wonderful, though the light would go out every few minutes and the man had to take a cane pole and rap it to shake the carbon off and it would come on again. distinctly.

I remember that time very

7 I also remember when in 1879 one of Edison’s first phonographs was brought to Grand Rapids. Somehow it happened that my sister2 talked in the thing, and among my mother’s effects still is that sheet of soft lead foil wrapped around a cylinder. If we had any way of reproducing it we could probably recall her voice even now. When you recall all the great changes which have taken place during our lives you feel that everything that can happen has happened. The pioneers came first and did the hard work, and we coming after have had a lot of the fun. Of course we’ve had hard work, too, but it was more headwork than manual labor. We had great opportunities. Now the generation which comes after us is so far removed from those pioneer days they can hardly realize they ever were. Sometimes this younger generation feels that the big opportunities are over, but they aren’t, there are just as big ones today. My father came to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the early forties; my mother, Mary Jane Whitmore, came in 1842. The population of Grand Rapids then was about four Indians to one white. Father went into business, at first as a cooper, then about 1860, about the beginning of the War, he began manufacturing hubs, first gun hubs then wagon hubs. Father and Mother were married in 1852. They had four children, two boys and two girls. One girl died in infancy, the other at the age of twenty-one, leaving my brother, Charles A., born in 1854, and myself the only two remaining children.


Carrie Elizabeth Renwick, 1858-1879.

8 I was born March 24, 1860, just prior to the Civil War. I was the youngest of the children and have survived them all. I was born in a small one-story house on the east side of town, on the brow of a hill overlooking a valley. My name – Edward Anderson – was given me in honor major Edward Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter. Though I had no opinion at the time, my father and mother were ardent abolitionists. With the coming of the War came difficulties, just as they do with any war. One of the difficulties was financial; we had to make economies, therefore we shared a double house with Orris Bonney and his family, and the women, neither of whom kept a servant, helped each other out. There was only one cradle and they each had a baby, so the two babies were kept in the same one. The other occupant of that cradle is the present Mrs. Renwick. My only recollections of the War are three pictures. One is of a troop, which I have since learned was 2000 cavalrymen, parading in two lines, with new accoutrements and fine horses, across a big field. That picture is very vivid. Another is of a recruiting camp – this is a vague one – where my brother and I went with some ripe mandrakes which he and a friend had gathered, to sell them to the soldiers. I know I was elated to have some pennies. The third is, of course, later: it is the decoration of the city in mourning for Lincoln. As I look back on it my childhood was the happiest possible one. I was devoted to my parents, and always very busy about my own concerns. I was interested in all sorts of things – botany and microscopical work – more interested in these than in the things which usually occupy boys. I was always off making investigations, finding out things for myself; in consequence I was a lonesome sort of chap, with very few chums.

9 My chief friends were pets. I had a host of them from my earliest childhood – everything you can think of, coons, woodchucks, squirrels, flying squirrels, toads, frogs, snakes, turtles, birds – all kinds of birds. And few of them were ever caged up. I had a bluejay once, who for some reason took a dislike to our old rooster. When the rooster put in an appearance, the bluejay would yell like a hawk and lighting on his head would start pecking him. The rooster would run for the straw-stack and stick his head into it. The bluejay would wait and as soon as he drew his head out would peck him again. He would sometimes keep this up for an hour. I got more fun out of things like that than out of the ordinary youngsters’ games. One of the best friends I have ever had was my dog “Ponto”. I had him from the time I was five till I was seventeen. Then when I was seventeen I had to do the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life – shoot “Ponto.” We were away from home and Ponto began to have convulsions, which these people I was staying with took to be rabies. Of course I knew it wasn’t, but I had to do something, and I wasn’t so averse to having him killed because I thought probably he was suffering. But it turned out that I was the only person in the neighborhood who knew anything about handling a gun, and I couldn’t trust that job to a novice. So I had to take my gun and call Ponto out and he followed me trustfully around behind the barn and I shot him. I broke down afterward; I wasn’t good for anything for a week. Once when we had been hunting woodchucks, Ponto and I, we found one in a woodpile but I couldn’t get a sight on him. Ponto was wild with delight and kept racing round him. Finally I got my sight and fired, and I got my woodchuck but I got Ponto too. When I went round, there he was peppered with shot. I said, “Ponto, there’s only one thing to do about this, those things have got to come out.” I took my

10 pocketknife and he lay down and let me dig out every one of those shots. Now and then he let out a little yip, but I didn’t have to hold him, he knew as well as I did what was going on. I didn’t shoot any more woodchucks. Another time Ponto chased a porcupine. He had never become acquainted with them before, but this time he did – with the quills. He came back filled with them and I couldn’t pull them out with my fingers, I was afraid of breaking them, so he followed me all the way home and I got a pair of pincers and got them out. He was a wonderful old fellow. I did have one or two very intimate friends, among the boys. Luther Livingston was one of these. He was very much like me, he loved going off and investigating, he was rather quiet, and when we did go off together we had great times. He later went to the upper waters of the Amazon in Peru after orchids. Then he came back and was with Dodd Mead and Company for a long time in their old book department; he compiled the prices current on rare books from all over the world. Once when he was visiting at his home in Grand Rapids he stepped through a wooden sidewalk and broke his leg. Six weeks later the doctors thought he could walk again, but in five or six minutes he had broken his leg again. It developed that he had a disease which does away with the cartilage in the bones and leaves them so brittle that they break at the slightest movement. For three years in a wheeled chair he went on with his work. I went to see him several times after he was sick, and he was just the same as ever, he said to me, “well, I have my doom, it’ll get me sometime, but in the meantime I must do as much as I can.” He died not long after. I worked pretty hard in my childhood, but it never occurred to me to resent it or think anything about it, it was the order of the day in those days. Father worked hard,

11 so did Mother and so did all my friends. I was just enough younger than my brother to be the convenient one to do the work around the place. I was always the fellow to do the job. Father kept a horse and cow, and their care was part of my duties, to say nothing of keeping the house supplied with firewood. We burned the chips from the hub blocks Father made in his factory; they were white oak and made good firewood. We didn’t have any coal in those days, I don’t remember seeing coal until I was well along in years. When I was nine years old I began working to earn money. It was necessary, Father had lost everything except his factory in a deal in which he had expected to get rich. In a little town near Muskegon he had a chance to buy a lot of lumber, white pine, three years old, at a very low price. He found a man willing to pay fifty percent more than he would have to pay for the lumber, so he went up and bought it. Three days later he took the man up to deliver the lumber to him and complete the deal, and found that the night before the whole pile had burned. He hadn’t had it insured, he was only going to own it three days and it hadn’t seemed necessary. He had, of course, paid for it, putting in everything he had to do it, and now it was wiped out. It was a hard blow; it nearly wrecked him. So if I expected to go to school it was up to me to earn the money for my books, clothes and incidental expenses. I worked every Saturday and most of my holidays. My play times were few but when there were any I went fishing. Father was an ardent fisherman too; so on the rare occasions we had, we went off together. On these fishing trips Father was always “Bill,” he might be “Father” at home but when we reached the fishing place he was one of the boys. My first job from the holes in little later when mortising out the

in the factory was poking out the chips the hub where the spokes were to go. A I was old enough I was started at slots that the spokes go in to. This was

12 done partially by an automatic machine which, after the holes were bored with an auger, cut them out with square sided chisels. This particular process took three quarters of a minute and you couldn’t hurry it. All the time you could gain was in putting in the hub, turning it at just the right second when the bit was out, boring the hole the instant the hub was turned, and taking the hub out again. A regular mortiser could do, or would do, two hundred hubs a day, on rare occasions two hundred and fifty. This limited the output of the whole factory as every other process could be speeded up but this was considered fixed. Well, I wanted so much to go fishing that I got so that I could mortise three hundred hubs in a forenoon. I could bore fourteen holes in three and a half inch oak in exactly six seconds. I could keep up a steady output of a hub a minute for five hours; in the forty-five seconds while the machine was mortising I had time to clean up my chips, get my next hub in position, and pile up the hubs already done. No modern engineer ever studied timesaving any more diligently than I did; my output was only possible if I simply allowed no time to elapse between my processes. As I was paid by piecework I earned a day’s wages in half a day. When our old mortiser tried to speed up to keep pace with me he always broke something, an auger by turning the hub before the auger was out of the wood, or something else. My father used to say “never mind, you keep your own pace, Ed is too fast for you.” This experience was valuable to me, not only in teaching me that orderliness is a valuable time-saver, but also that if you are determined to do a thing you can do it, that is if you apply yourself. These things count in after life. In the factory Father made his own tools, all except the mortising machine, we bought that. And they were good tools, too, he should have taken out a patent on a bit he had. He might easily have made enough to support himself in

13 his old age. It was a bit with an uneven twist, getting broader as it went deeper into the wood, thus enabling the shavings to be ejected freely without clogging the action of the bit. It was this bit I used when I bored my fourteen holes in less than six seconds. One day when I was working with it a salesman came into the shop to try to sell Father a machine-made bit. Father said, “let’s see what it will do and if it is better than mine I’ll consider it.” But first I was to show him how Father’s own bit worked. I had a hub of green oak, the shavings when they are green are more likely to swell and clog the hole, so that you have to pull out the drill and clean them out. Well, I began to drill and had completed my fourteen holes in less than six seconds. The salesman was simply floored; he said, “Well, if I hadn’t seen it I wouldn’t have believed it.” He didn’t have anything to say after that about his machine-made tools. Those pioneers from their very intimacy with their problems were able to do things effectively. I feel sure that if Father had realized it was possible to do such a thing he could have taken out some patents and undoubtedly would have had some good things. I was only a boy and didn’t know anything about it. Besides, children were supposed to take care of their parents in those days; that’s what they were there for. I supported my father from the time he was sixty-five until he was eighty-one, and Mother from fifty-five until she was eighty-eight, and I didn’t have much money then either. Sometimes Father got a little something to do and he was awfully pleased to add a few dollars to the income. Once there was a job of remortising some hubs which Father wanted to get. The man was a Mr. Harrison, and I went to him and asked how much he was willing to pay. He said a cent and a half a hub, which was ridiculously low, it was worth

14 normally about four or five cents. I couldn’t get anything more out of him and I knew that Father would refuse the job at such a price, so I did something which neither Father nor Mother ever discovered to the end of their lives. I arranged to pay Mr. Harrison a cent for every hub and he was to offer Father two and a half cents. Father took the job, delighted to be helping out by making this money, never suspecting that it was costing me a not very easily spared thirty-five dollars a month while it was going on. He spent the money which was “extra”, on some things he never would have bought otherwise, which were perhaps a little bit foolish, but it was more than worth it for the pleasure and pride he had. One thing I have always been glad of and am rather proud of, too, it is that Father insisted that I learn a trade. It was the pioneer idea in those days; he wanted me to learn his trade of hub making. But I saw the coming of machine made hubs and knew that his kind was doomed. So I learned the trade of tool fitting. I learned to make from a bar of steel, all the woodworking tools that were needed in the factory, and I also learned to keep them in order. I knew that whether, later on, the tools were machine-made or not, there would always be a need for someone to keep them in order. I think I could make those tools today. It is quite a trick to take a bar of steel and with nothing but a hammer, tongs and a hot fire turn it into a tool. That knowledge has always stood me in good stead; I know that it has helped me in solving some of the unusual problems that we solve around a building, to be able to direct in detail instead of saying “This is what should be done, now you do it”. It has been a great help. My years from eleven to thirteen or fourteen I spent in Pawpaw, Michigan, where I was more or less carefree. I

15 spent my Saturdays at the shop but I didn’t have many other duties. I guess even in those days, though, I bought my own clothes. Maybe if Father had been as anxious for me to have an education as I have been for my children he might have found a way. But that wasn’t the idea in those days; those people were pioneers, they had to work so hard that that seemed to be what people were for. Father lost everything for the second time, in the panic of ’73, and had a hard time of it. Mother had to work and so did Father; I was only too glad I had a way of helping out. My education I obtained in the public schools in Grand Rapids, where I reached the examinations in high school expecting to go to college. Then I met with an accident which left one eye hanging out on my cheek and kept me in a darkened room for a month. This spoiled my chances for college – it took away my earning capacity for a time so I couldn’t afford it, and I hadn’t taken the examinations. It has been one of my life’s regrets that I didn’t go to college. But I went back and took a fifth year in high school. During the last two years in high school botany was a required subject in the curriculum, and I had to take it. But I didn’t want to at all, so I had a bright idea. I suggested to another boy who didn’t want to take it either, that we get the job of collecting plants for the class. We suggested it to the professor and he was delighted. We thought we were in luck because we got out of school half an hour early each day to go out in the woods after the next day’s specimens. The result of my bright idea was that botany became my obsession. I would have liked to carry it on through college.

16 In my last year of high school L. H. Bailey3, who was a young botanist, picked me out to go with him on an expedition to northern Michigan collecting plants. This was in 1881. No timber had been cut up there then; there were almost no settlements. But I had to earn money. Bailey told me I could probably make enough to cover my expenses but he couldn’t promise anything more. I needed to earn $200, so I had to abandon the plan. The boy that took the trip earned $300, which was more than I made at home. I had wanted to go on that trip, too. We had many interesting experiences on our collecting trips. Besides collecting for the class in botany, I was interested in getting specimens for our scientific museum which was in the process of development. One day I was walking across a marsh with the principal of the grammar school and Luther Livingston, when I saw a blue racer dart out ahead of me. It was a huge one, six and a half feet long it proved to be, and as they were rather rare in that vicinity I thought it would be a good specimen for the museum. So I started after it. These snakes were not venomous, though they would bite if they had a chance, more the way a dog would bite. If you didn’t chase them they would sometimes chase you. Well, I started after it and it went up a willow tree. I had a fish pole with me and I made a noose which I managed to get around its body and pulled it out of the tree. The problem then was how to preserve the skin. I suggested that we cut off its head inside its mouth and my two companions volunteered to hold the victim while I did it. I started, but the snake resented it, and the next second I saw my two friends wound up in its coils. I helped to extricate them and the next time I was more sure in my


Liberty Hyde Bailey was an important horticulturist in Michigan and later Ithaca, New

York. A short biography can be found at

17 stroke. I severed the spinal cord and then we had only to deal with the weakened writhings of a dying snake. We mounted it, or rather stuffed it with tow on wire, and for many years it was in the museum. In the Fall, shortly after this, I undertook to collect a complete set of specimens of water spiders. There were two genera and three species of each; they were not really common but to be found around Grand Rapids. These spiders had a spread of five inches when their feet were placed in a normal position. I made my collection, killing them with ether and raising the bodies up with a bit of cotton; I placed the feet and made them fast to a piece of white cardboard with a bit of glue on each one. Then the cotton was removed and they looked very lifelike. Before delivering them to the museum I had them pinned up around the wall of my bedroom. Just at this time my brother who was working in Lowell, twenty miles from Grand Rapids, came home to some gathering, and returned about eleven o’clock, coming in to the room then for the first time. He was furious at the sight of the spiders and wakened me to make me take them off the walls, giving me more or less of a beating up, but first demanding to know if the “darn things were alive”. He never appreciated my collecting activities. I suppose I was a pest; I must have been. One day in January 1878 or ’79 I was on a collecting tramp four or five miles east of Grand Rapids in a hemlock forest. I suggested that under the bark of decayed trees we might find some summer life. In lifting up some of the bark I found two black snakes eighteen to twenty inches long, with a yellow ring around the necks. They were rather rare in that section, I remembered finding only one prior to these. So I took them home and was putting them into bottles filled with alcohol, had just got one safely poured in when my brother came into the room. That distracted my attention just an instant and the second one got away. My

18 brother slammed the door and I recaptured the snake. That night I had been studying algebra after I retired and had laid the book on the sill of the open window and blown out the light. Some half hour afterward my brother who was visiting us came up to bed. When the light was out and he was ensconced beside me I reached over for my cold algebra book and wriggled it down his back. It was like an explosion the way he went out of that bed. Circumstantial evidence – he had seen the snake loose that afternoon – I think I got spanked, and as my brother was six feet four and weighed two hundred and forty or fifty pounds that meant something, but it was worth it. I was something of a practical joker and I was always dealt with properly and instantly. Once I pulled a chair out from under him just as he was going to sit down at the table, and he got up and picking me up by the scruff of the neck and the seat of the trousers opened the door and pitched me head first into a snow drift. He said the next time he would kill me. In 1878 I became a charter member of the Microscopical Society which was organized in the town, and I spent several years at microscopical work. My pal and constant companion was the old family doctor who had brought me into this Vale of Tears. He had what seemed to me a wonderful equipment – I had a small microscope, but he had about $2000 invested in microscopic material. This was at my disposal at any and all times. I spent a great many hours doing his microscopical work. He tried to make a surgeon out of me but I foolishly rebelled. I wanted a little time of my own, I saw how often he had to break our engagements – we usually made three or four appointments before he would be able to keep one of them. So I chose something which took all my evenings. I had an interesting time at my microscopical work and collecting. It did more to make me a lover of nature than anything else could have done. I became well acquainted

19 with the flora and fauna of Michigan. I made some investigations of my own, some of which added something to human knowledge. I found where the housefly comes from; it’s well known now but wasn’t then. It breeds in horse manure, nowhere else. I found how long it took it to mature, investigated it to the third generation. Then I wrote an article and the professor at the high school was going to rewrite it, put it in good English for me. One day I went to school and he was all upset; almost broke into tears. I asked what was the matter and he said, “Here I have delayed rewriting your article and now someone else has published one on the same subject.” It was the first thing published. I made a study of algae and green scums, found one new genus and ten or fifteen species. About 1881 when I was interested in microscopical work I received through Dr. Shephard a translation from a pamphlet by Koch, the German who had just announced that tuberculosis was caused by a germ and that it was contagious. He was not able to identify the germ until a year later. This was, so far as I know the first hint that tuberculosis was contagious just as children’s diseases are contagious. I was much interested in the theory advanced and tried various stains to see if I could find one which the bacteria would take. I did succeed in staining them. Up to the present time it has been necessary to stain bacteria before they were visible under the microscope. Now with the new microscope of nine thousand magnifying powers it will probably be possible to see them without the stain. Such a powerful microscope was never possible before because the microscope was illumined by sunlight or artificial light, both of which can be resolved with the spectroscope into their different rays. When you got up to the high powers, magnifying a thousand times and over, the light separated into rays and you had “broken light”. As you went

20 into the higher powers this naturally became worse and worse, until it was impossible to distinguish the object you were trying to see from these separated light rays. Now someone has devised a new microscope using the violet ray. This by the use of a certain chemical makes a white light and as it is a single ray no separation occurs. About this time I got interested in Darwin, Huxley and Tyndall. It was a great source of distress to my old mother who thought I was an atheist and headed straight for perdition. So that was the trend of my boyhood – toward botany and the natural sciences. In our high school at Grand Rapids we had a remarkable instructor, who had a great influence over me and all my schoolfellows. Professor E. A. Strong4, a man in educational ideas twenty years ahead of his time, he would have been remarkable even in colleges of today. He came to Grand Rapids when he was quite young and lived with my grandmother. In his first class that graduated from the high school was Mrs. Josiah Hammond, my aunt, and there were grandchildren of this first class graduated while he was still there. He was a beautiful character and a great influence on all the pupils – I think he did more to elevate the tone of that school than was done in any other high school I have ever known anything about. He was a mild man, pleasant, very thoughtful. His Monday morning lectures were the highest type of religious talks, though there was little about the Bible; perhaps it would be better to say they were



21 ethical talks, in any case they presented the highest ideals in the most delightful way. Most teachers in those days were for memorizing lessons verbatim from a book. That meant that the glibbest scholars got the highest marks, although often they hadn’t the remotest idea what they were rattling off as they had read it without the least understanding. Professor Strong never tolerated that in his classes, he insisted that we say things in our own words, because then he knew that we knew them. Nor did he confine his influence to the things he actually taught – geometry and trigonometry were his specialties – he had a hand in nearly everything. He was apt to come into any class at any time, and you always felt his presence instantly and were always glad to have him there. I saw a great deal of him. He was a warm friend of my father and mother; it was a red-letter evening when he came up to our house. It was he who gave the other boy and me permission to do the class collecting for botany; he used to go with us, too, whenever he could spare the time. He was a truly cultured man in the sense that he could adapt himself to all types of people. He made a point of calling on the parents of all of his pupils at least once during the year, and sometimes these people were very uneducated. Once when he was at the home of a friend of mine, his host mispronounced a word, mispronounced it very badly. When in a few moments Professor Strong had occasion to use the same word he pronounced it exactly as his host had done, he was too sensitive a man to hurt anyone’s feelings. He left Grand Rapids about five years after I came to Chicago; the school board didn’t half appreciate him. He

22 went to Ypsilanti, Michigan, and stayed there until almost the end of his life, he lived to be about eighty-four. I believe that not one percent in my class but grew up to be respected citizens, and I am quite sure that it was due largely to his influence. As I have already mentioned, fishing was one of my childhood passions. It has been a lifelong one, one which I transmitted to my children. I brought up my son by the adage “Spare the rod and spoil the child” – the fishing rod that was. In my boyish wanderings I never went anywhere without some kind of hook and line in my pocket. One day I was wandering around in a little patch of woods, which was really right in the town, near a creek called Carrier Creek. It was a little spring brook which years before had had a dam near its outlet into Grand River, where there had been a trout hatchery. The dam had been washed out and never rebuilt again. I came to this creek and leaned down to take a drink and saw a fish dart out from under the roots of an elm tree. The stream had washed out under this tree and a cow – this was a cow pasture – had stepped through making a hole. I took my line out of my pocket, and dropped it down through that hole. I caught twenty-six pounds of trout without stirring from that spot. I went over to a general dumping ground and found a paper flour sack and took my catch home. That night we came to the table and Father served the fish without comment, until he took his own on his plate, then “Hello there, what’s this?” I told him it was trout and he asked how big a catch I’d had. “O, about forty fish – twenty-six pounds.” He was wild to know where I’d gotten them but I refused to tell him, I had found the place and I was going to keep it. However when our twentysix pounds were eaten up I went back to my place and spent several hours without getting a bite. I had cleaned up the trout in an afternoon.

23 My brother was six years my senior and the result was that our interests were never very close together. He left home when he was about twenty years old, and I didn’t really know him – his characteristics, his aims and all. He and my sister, who was two years older than I, were more companionable, they enjoyed the social side of life which I cared little for. Girls had no attraction whatever for me. I wouldn’t have been allowed to dance anyway, that would have been treading on the verge of Hell. At school I took some part in the games, football, baseball, etc.; I did my share in those when I had the opportunity, after school and sometimes on Saturdays, but I was always very busy with other things. When I was twenty-two I came to Chicago to work. My coming was not part of a long thought out program; it was the purest chance. I never dreamed that it would lead to my going into an architectural firm which was then the ambition of my life. I had made application to such a firm in Grand Rapids for a position as draftsman, but they didn’t need anyone at the time. I had been making patent drawings for three years, and some drawings of my own, and like every boy I thought I was a draftsman. The opportunity to do the patent drawings came to me 5 through O. C. Simonds , whose family were old and dear friends of ours. He had been making the drawings for an attorney who was in business with his half uncle, and when he left to go to Chicago he turned over the patent drawings to me. I made the drawing for the first carpet sweeper and the first folding table.


See, and

24 This was confining work and added to the number of hours I spent over a microscope it was not the best thing for a growing boy. I was tall and thin, and probably a little anemic and I never went to bed until about one o’clock. When I was nineteen, my sister, who was twentyone, died of what they then called “quick consumption”. It was very sudden; she was coming down the steps of the public library one day and she dared her companions to take a jump of several steps. She came home looking very pale and complaining of feeling queer. We made her sit down in a chair but in a moment she had a hemorrhage. Then it was just one hemorrhage after another until she died. This increased the anxiety felt about my health so much that I decided that summer to go out and work on a farm. I worked for my board, milked a hundred quarts of milk a day – and by the old method that was no joke, so I guess I earned it. The winter of 1881 and ’82 was a very severe one; I spent my time working in the factory and making patent drawings. In the spring O. C. Simonds came back for a visit and he didn’t think I was looking very well. He was working now as a landscape gardener, making some new developments at Graceland Cemetery, so he said, “Look here. Why don’t you come down to Chicago and work with me at Graceland Cemetery this summer? You’ll be out of doors all the time and it will be good for you.” The architectural firm to which I had applied still had no opening so I decided to accept Simonds’ offer. This meant leaving home, breaking for the first time the home ties. Grand Rapids was a small town and my mother had the usual fearful picture of the temptations of the big city. Before I left she called me in to her and gave me two hours of earnest talk, which as she was extremely religious didn’t mean very much to me, and which I have completely forgotten.

25 Then Father called me and dragged me off and I thought I was going to get another one. But Father was a man of few words, loath to give advice and he said only this, which I have never forgotten, “Young man, you are going out into the world. You can’t keep a level line, you must either trend downward or upward; see that you trend upward.”


Chicago Thus in May 1882, at the age of twenty-two, I came to Chicago to work for Mr. Simonds. I boarded that first summer with his father and mother, Mr. and Mrs. Joel A. Simonds who lived not far from the cemetery. Mr. and Mrs. Simonds were unusual people, Seventh Day Adventists, vegetarians, prohibitionists, anti-tobacconists, and at that period greenbackers, “flat money” people. When I was working at the cemetery I rarely went in to the city and frequently a month elapsed when I did not break my vegetarian diet. Mrs. Simonds was an excellent cook, and within the limitations of the diet, prepared excellent meals, but an occasional beefsteak or lamb chop certainly filled, for me, a long felt want. Mr. Joel Simonds had one unpleasant characteristic, which was getting hold of any caller, man or woman, and engaging them on religious subjects, on which his ideas were rather foreign to the average person’s. He believed that those who sought for glory, honor and immortality would rule the lesser lights in the next world, and would some day come back and be rulers here. Five or six minutes later he would tell you that he was going to be a ruler. Mr. O. C. Simonds owned four acres at his residence and one day I was taking some rather special photographs for him there. I had my head under the focusing cloth when I heard a slight noise. Looking up I saw Mr. Joel Simonds just putting back one of my precious twelve by fourteen plates into its case. I asked him what he was doing and he said, “I didn’t hurt anything, I was just looking to see what the picture was like.” It seemed he had just looked at all eight of my plates, and ruined them all. He was just an odd Josy!

27 The work at Graceland was interesting. They were increasing the size of the cemetery about one hundred percent, and Simonds was laying out the grounds and modelling the surface in an effort to copy nature. First I was employed as rodman for his surveying, soon to make calculations to determine the area of the various lots in the subdivision. This involved the use of trigonometry and sufficiently occupied my evenings during the entire summer. We didn’t do it by measurement with a tape but by angles and distances found by surveying instruments; the total areas of the lots and walks had to check within 2% with the total area of the subdivision. This work gave me the impression that a thorough knowledge of mathematics was required, so I took up the study of calculus and solid geometry at home. It was hard work, though I got it finally; but I have never used it to this day. One incident occurred during our excavations. While we were excavating for a lake in the north end we found in a damp slough which covered this spot, a number of oak logs several feet under ground. They were as sound as growing timber. We cut them up into lengths in order to remove them and threw them out on the ground. In a few days they had gone completely into powder. This was my first experience of the effect of air on things which had been preserved in a place free from air.


Holabird In the Fall of ’82 when the work at the Cemetery was over Simonds made me another offer. He was, at the same time that he was carrying on the work at Graceland Cemetery, a partner in the firm of Holabird and Simonds. Since he was not active in the office there was an understanding that he supply a certain amount of money toward office expenses. This year he suggested that in lieu of that payment he put me in the office as his representative, at the munificent salary of $6.00 a week, a proposition to which Mr. Holabird agreed. The forming of the partnership of Holabird and Simonds had come about in this way. In about 1879 William Holabird who had been for some months with W. L. B. Jenney6 and was later with D. H. Burnham as construction engineer, decided to go into business for himself. About this time he was made chief clerk of the Quartermaster Department, which duties gave him some hours early in the morning and late in the afternoon to carry on such a business. Mr. Holabird and Mr. Simonds knew each other through their engineering activities. Simonds was also an engineer, and also with Jenney and they decided to form a partnership. Mr. Simonds was an educated man; he had taken civil engineering at Ann Arbor, graduating in the class of ’78 or ’79. W. L. B. Jenney had been lecturing at Ann Arbor on engineering, being a major of the engineering corps in the Civil War, and through his contact with Mr. Jenney at that time Simonds came to Chicago and entered his office. Mr. Simonds had gotten into landscape gardening through the fact that Maj. Jenney had a contract for the landscaping of the



29 new addition to Graceland Cemetery. He turned this work over to Mr. Simonds who had been devoting all his time to it since 1861. Sometime later the Cemetery Company finding that all questions had to be referred to Mr. Simonds, offered him the position of landscape gardener and dispensed with the services of Mr. Jenney. Somewhat later still Simonds was made superintendent as well as landscape gardener and remained so for a good many years. Thus by January ’83 Mr. Simonds’ time was so taken up with his other duties that he couldn’t give any time to the architectural firm and he resigned and the firm became Holabird and Roche7. In the spring of 1882, Mr. Holabird and Mr. Simonds, both being engineers, had decided that they were “long on engineering and short on architecture,” and that they needed a designer. Mr. Simonds proposed Martin Roche, a naturally gifted though entirely self-educated man, who was a designer for Major W. L. B. Jenney, in whose office both Holabird and Simonds had formerly been. Jenney was one of the first of the enlightened architects and had quite an atelier: most of the good new architects worked for some time in his office – D. H. Burnham, John Root, Louis Sullivan. He was a funny old character, a good teacher, in a day when there was no formal architectural training to be had, at least in this country. He would walk along between the rows of his pupils and when he found them doing something of which he didn’t approve – which was often – he would screw up his face and say, almost crying, “Rub it out, rub it out. Don’t let it stay on paper, rub it out.” He trained most of the good architects of his day. His brother-in-law, Mr. Le Baron, didn’t know very much but he was very polished. One day Roche was designing a Persian room for the President of the



30 St. Paul Railroad at Milwaukee. Naturally he was using a good deal of flower ornamentation. Mr. Le Baron came in the office, Roche was not there, and looking over the designs laid out, he said, “You know I am so tihad of ovah ohnamentation.” Mr. Holabird and Mr. Simonds went to Mr. Roche and asked him how little he could live on per month. Mr. Roche needed forty dollars, he said and this was agreed upon and guaranteed to him, and he was taken into the firm. In spite of having considered myself something of a draftsman, I really had no conception of what were the requirements of architectural drawing. Mr. Roche had had some alterations to do and some furniture designing for some Chicago cabinetmakers, a work at which he was very good and of which he had a good deal during the first months. My first morning in the office, Mr. Roche, although he knew I knew nothing about architectural drawing handed me a tracing and said, “color this. I have an errand and am going out of the office.” I asked in a bewildered manner how he meant to color it and he said, “Why brick, red, stone, blue, wood, yellow” – the method used in those days – and closed the door. That was his way of tutoring. I had to find a tracing which had been colored and attempt to use the information gathered from that in doing my own. When Roche returned he said “This should be yellow, this blue.” It was during the coloring of this tracing that light dawned on me to the effect that a plan is a horizontal section: I had never thought of that before. A day or two afterward I was drawing a monument for Graceland Cemetery. It still exists there: it was an ugly thing, four piers and a hip roof and a ball at the apex of the roof. The owner wanted to have something “no one else would copy,” and I think he succeeded.

31 Well, Roche handed me this drawing and said, “Make a perspective of that.” I didn’t even know the meaning of the word. After a moment’s explanation of that when I asked for information how to go about the drawing he said, “There’s Brown on perspective8 on the shelf.” Then, as usual, he went out. I got Brown out and began studying it and got some of the basic ideas; then I started to work. When I reached the apex of the roof, being under the impression that a sphere from any angle would be round I drew a perfect circle. When Roche came in he said it was all right, except for the sphere at the top. I, being of an argumentative disposition, started to argue with him. Now Mr. Roche was a poor logician, and sometimes, I think, as he had had no technical education – he stopped school when he was twelve – he didn’t even know the reasons for things. Anyway, he wouldn’t tell me. I thought he was merely being stubborn. I was living with O. C. Simonds’ parents at the time, and I went home saying that Mr. Roche was all wrong. “No,” said Mr. Simonds, “You’re wrong.” Then he explained that a sphere seen from an angle becomes a conic section and therefore an ellipse. So I began to grasp the rudiments of perspective drawing. Shortly after this Mr. Roche designed a table for the Chicago Literary Society, a fourteen-sided polygon with thirty-two legs. When he gave it to me to make a perspective I suggested we do it so that the two sides would be just alike and we could copy one from the other, but he


Perhaps Richard Brown, The Principles of Practical Perspective; or scenographic

projection: containing universal rules for delineating designs on various surfaces, and taking views from which are added rules for shadowing and the elements of painting, Leigh & Son, London, 1835

32 said that wouldn’t be artistic. We must have all thirty-two legs show. As before, he left the office and me to struggle alone. When I had finished with that table I had learned the absolute principles of perspective. After the pencil drawing was complete I was furnished with sepia ink and told to make a drawing showing the proper shading. Again Mr. Roche went out. I was pretty proud of that effort – it probably wouldn’t look like much now, but it looked pretty good to me at the time. Mr. Simonds not being active in the office and Mr. Holabird being busy eking out his living with his duties as chief clerk in the Quartermaster Department, work which took him from ten to four, meant that most of my early contact was with Mr. Roche. We were alone in the office most of the day. The first real job the company had was with a Jew, Isaac Wolf, for a store and flat building. Roche always said that when he started business the “wolf came to the door” and he took him in. Then we did a few flat buildings and residences, managing to make a precarious living, up to 1885. It was then we got our first good sized building, from Owen Aldis, one of the foremost real estate men of that time, an addition to what was known as the Merchants Building on the southeast corner of Washington St. and the River, occupied for many years by the Arc Light and Power Company as a generating station for certain downtown light. This was very early in the public use of electric lights. As this particular piece of property was the dock for the Lake Michigan and Lake Superior Transport Company, a steamship line, we could not get possession until November 15, and had to have it ready by April 15 following – a complete winter job. As luck would have it, it was the most severe winter in years, all the time the foundations were being put in and the work brought up to grade it was fifteen degrees below zero in the middle of the day. As I was the

33 superintendent on the job I have some recollection of the severity of the winter. Although everyone said we couldn’t do it we managed to finish on time. About this time commissions for a few new buildings were obtained. The President of Graceland, Bryan Lathrop, through his acquaintance with Simonds, had given us some alteration work and some new work in connection with the service stables, etc., at Graceland. Through Lathrop we also obtained some other work of a simple character among his friends.



About the time that I started work in the office of Holabird and Roche I decided to move to Ravenswood. The Simonds’ home was a mile and a quarter from the nearest transportation, and as the cold weather came on I didn’t particularly relish the idea of that long cold walk. One evening just at this time when I was coming out on the train, I sat next to a stranger who, when he got up, left a waterproof cloak on the seat. I picked it up and followed him but he got away so fast in the crowd that I had to go all the way to his door. He was very grateful to me and the next night when I saw him again asked me to sit down with him. He introduced himself as A. P. Brink9, of Brink’s Express. Coming from a small town and thinking an expressman ought to know all about the place, I asked him if he knew any place in Ravenswood where I could board. He said he didn’t but would look one up. I demurred at his taking so much trouble, but the next night he said he had found that his sister had a room I could have. However as she wouldn’t serve me any meals I thought that wouldn’t do. Then Mr. Brink said, “Come live with me, I have a room.” I did, and stayed there for almost three years, ’83, ’84, and most of ’85. In October of ’85 I was to be married. I had gotten a start in business and it has seemed to me that if it didn’t cost any more for two to live than one I would like to get married. As I have said before, Mrs. Renwick and I had occupied the same cradle, in our first six months, and we had seen a good deal of one another until high school age. Then her father died leaving quite a large


Arthur Perry Brink, son of Washington Perry Brink, founder of Brink’s, Inc.

35 family and it was necessary for her to leave school and go to work. Her father had been a manufacturer of spokes part of the time I knew him and he then became a carpenter. He was a master carpenter; that is he took the job and hired men to work with him on it. The only difference between him and a contractor today is that he himself worked as a carpenter. Mrs. Renwick was fourteen when her father died and she became the support of a family of three boys and a girl besides herself. The youngest boy was only a baby, born after the father’s death. Giving up her education, she entered Mrs. Cook’s Dressmaking Establishment in Grand Rapids. Thus she entered very early into the severities of life. Later on, when she was nineteen or twenty years of age, she went to Denver with this same woman, just when the gold fields were booming. I had gone over to Chicago meanwhile and gotten started in business. When I felt it was possible to marry, I thought of her; I knew she was a fine character, always helping someone. I wrote to her, but one could hardly say that our courtship started until we both happened to be at home at the same time. Her health had been unfavorably affected by the climate out in Denver; she was thin and run down. I had had acute bronchitis and as my sister had died at the age of twenty-one of tuberculosis, everyone set me down for the same fate. I came home thoroughly emaciated and found Harriet there. I have always called her Harriet; her real name is “Hattie” but I never liked that. She has always been “Harriet” to me. In October 1885 we were married. We were both twentyfive years old; she weighed ninety-five pounds and I a hundred and thirty. She had been terribly car sick all the

36 way from Denver to Grand Rapids, so she was not in favor of a honeymoon. She wanted to get to Chicago and off the train at the first possible opportunity. So we came to the Brink’s home in Ravenswood. I had jokingly talked over my plans with the Brinks, they knowing that I was planning to bring Mrs. Renwick to their home, but when it came near the time I found that Mrs. Brink, after several unfortunate experiences, had laid down an ultimatum that there were to be no more women boarders in her house. However we finally made an agreement that Mrs. Renwick should come and if after two weeks everything was not satisfactory there should be a friendly separation. A week after Mrs. Renwick arrived Mrs. Brink met with an accident, cutting her eyeball, and causing her to remain in bed in a dark room for a month during which time the management of the house and the nursing fell on Mrs. Renwick’s shoulders. The cook and coachman had left because of the increased household, so that the breaking in of a new pair also fell to Mrs. Renwick’s lot. When Mrs. Brink recovered there was no discussion about our leaving. Along in December Mr. O. C. Simonds suggested that if I would build a four-room house on his land I could live in it for three or four years until I saved money enough to buy a lot, and he would take the house off my hands at cost. Simonds fixed the location on a lot not very satisfactory to Mrs. Renwick, but Mr. and Mrs. Simonds said it was there or nowhere on their property. Secretly I was delighted with the location. So along in November of that year we started a fourroom house on Mr. Simonds’ place. I made arrangements to borrow some money from R. J. Bennett, of Hoyt & Company, wholesale grocers, but he couldn’t let me have it till March. So Mr. Simonds loaned me the money to build the house with the understanding that I should repay him in

37 March. But when March came Mr. Bennett found that a mortgage which was due him had to be extended and so he could not make the loan. I soon found, for my part, that you couldn’t borrow money on a house on some one else’s land. Simonds didn’t think it advisable to endorse my note and it left me in a position where the only thing to be done was to buy the property. Our cottage was on the side of a sand hill, the front door facing the street at nearly ground level, on the west side, the basement cut into the ridge at ground level on the east. On the rear of the lot was an old slough which was dried up but where there was good rich earth so that we could have a nice vegetable garden as well as a few flowers. After the purchase of the property was made I entered into arrangements for payment of the note with Mr. Simonds. Before closing up the deal I asked him what the taxes were likely to be. He was confident they would not be more than twenty-five dollars a year. Then I could see my way clear to make payments. The reason I had been delighted with the location of the lot was that it faced on Broadway, which was then Evanston Avenue; and as there were only two streets, Clark and Broadway, which led downtown, I felt sure of the future value of this location. There was at this time no intimation of Sheridan Road, but our property also faced what was then Sheffield Avenue, and is now Sheridan Road. I thought that if we held on to the property for twenty-five or thirty years it ought to be worth two hundred and fifty dollars a front foot; that was my wildest guess. It turned out that Mr. Simonds had chosen wrong and before long our half acre lot was worth more than his entire three and a half acres, facing on Montrose Avenue. That year on April first came a notice of an assessment of a little over a thousand dollars for paving Sheffield,

38 Evanston and Montrose Avenues. In those days there was no funding such an assessment over a period of ten years; it must be paid on the spot, and as a little over a thousand was the amount of my salary, I walked the floor for three nights. At the end of three nights’ study I made up my mind I would go into a building and loan association. I knew some of the officers of such an association, so I went down and talked it over. I found I would be able to borrow enough money to pay one half on the lot, pay for the house and take care of the taxes, Mr. Simonds taking a second mortgage on the property, which was very decent of him. This necessitated monthly payments of capital and interest, which let us for the next three and a half years between three and a half and four dollars a week for living expenses. We lived on it, although a child was born during the interval. But we were awfully poor. I went to town with a commutation ticket and a nickel; I carried my lunch. Our house had been furnished and we did the decorating ourselves; I thought I knew something about art and I did quite a lot of stencilling. We intensified the gardening, raising our own vegetables and trying to put up enough in the fall to carry us through the winter. Harriet baked nine loaves of bread a week; bread was literally the staff of life to us in those days and I think accounts for some of our added avoirdupois. Harriet was a first class cook – I am still quite delighted when I get my old cook back. We lived principally on vegetables and bread, with meat about once a week. Harriet knew the value of a dollar much better than I did; she had had to support a family, so she did most of the budgeting of our income. At the end of that time I sold fifty feet on the north end of the lot for what I had paid for the entire place,

39 including the house. I was out of debt – temporarily. was soon in again for a larger house, which we needed. sold the little house and moved it off.

I We

We were pioneers in Buena Park; we had really only one neighbor whom you could call a neighbor. The man who owned the land, a big farm, to the west and south of us, was James B. Waller10. One morning I was walking to the station with one of his sons-in-law, who had never been able to earn any money but who lived well because his wife had some, when he said, “Do you know who is building that miserable little hovel over on Simonds’ place?” I said that I was. Broadway, when we bought our lot, was known as the Hundred Foot Road. It was gravel, with ditches on each side – no sewers, no water, no lights. What is now Sheridan Road south of Montrose was not cut through. It was a farm, which had not been opened up. North of Montrose was a tract extending from Montrose to Lawrence Avenue and from Sheridan to the lake. This land, with the exception of the location of one plot – the Lake View Water Works – under the will of the Hale estate couldn’t be sold, subdivided or mortgaged, until the youngest grandchild was twenty-one. It tied it up for years until later on it was eating itself up with taxes so disastrously that the court finally broke the will. A few hundred yards north and west of the water works there was a good-sized slough with standing water. In spring and fall I used to go duck shooting there in the early morning and bring home a mallard duck or two to eke out our very meager meat supply. The next development north was Edgewater, which was just being built, and there were a very few farmhouses between Edgewater and Evanston, no town development. There 10

This James B. Waller?

40 was no transportation except the Northwestern Railway from Ravenswood, or a dummy line which ran approximately once an hour from Clark down Irving Park Boulevard and Broadway to Diversey Avenue. Then you took horse cars the rest of the way. This was a cold method in winter and took over an hour. Besides, though the dummy was supposed to start on the hour, if the engineer had the steam up it was no uncommon thing for it to start ten minutes earlier. So I went to Ravenswood and took the Northwestern. There were great real estate opportunities on the north side in those days, some of which I longed to take advantage of. For example, shortly before the north side elevated was finished, when it was known that it would end at Wilson Avenue, I thought there was a good chance of there being a shopping center there, so I obtained a three or four day option on the southeast corner of Wilson and Broadway, 100 by 125 feet, at $10,000. But in order to raise $5000, the necessary amount of money, I would have had to mortgage my house, and Mrs. Renwick, whose father’s house had been lost through a mortgage and who had therefore a terror of mortgages, persuaded me not to do that. I saw no other way of raising $5,000, so when I knew it was hopeless I went to a friend of mine, Gordon Strong11, and told him I thought it was a good buy. He went out, when my option expired, and bought the lot for $625, the owners taking a mortgage on the


This Gordon Strong? From the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club web site: “The diaries

of Interior Secretary Harold Ickes describe his failure in the early 1930's to obtain SugarLoaf as a Presidential retreat from Gordon Strong, a Chicago Republican political rival who fell in love with the mountain after coming upon it during a bicycle trip at the turn of the century. As a second choice, Strong directed Franklin Delano Roosevelt's car towards "Shangri-La" (now known as Camp David) in the Catoctin Mountains at Thurmont.” Strong talked to Frank Lloyd Wright about a building (the “Automobile Objective,” never built) on Sugarloaf Mountain; see

41 balance. I could have raised $625, but I suppose I didn’t have the necessary training to make the deal, or perhaps it was because I didn’t have a rich father. That property a few years ago was valued at a million and a half.


Chicago After the Fire

In looking back on those early years it might be interesting to give some sort of a general picture of Chicago at the time. My first sight of the city was in 1872 when I came up to visit an aunt. It was immediately after the fire; things 12 were in bad shape . Of course I was here only a few days, and was only a boy of twelve, so my impressions were not very comprehensive. I do remember that what sidewalks there were, were made of planks, and as they had decided to raise the level of the sidewalks several feet after the fire, you were constantly having to go up and down steps from the old to the new level13. The new grade they decided upon was fourteen feet above the average water level. The wooden pavements of the streets had been burned out and the streets were in a hopeless condition. Rubbish being taken out of burned buildings pretty well filled them up so that they were almost impassable. At that time, State Street was not the main street of the city, Lake Street still had the retail trade; there was 14 of course no elevated on it then . Prior to the War, Lake Street had been “the� street. Later, when Fields moved to State Street, the retail business followed. The Palmer House in those days was the southern limit of active


There are many fine old photos at


Raising of the street level began in 1855: 14

See map:

43 business; it was very ragged when you reached Adams Street, though the Post Office retrieved some little decency. South of Jackson was like West Madison Street in its worst days; in fact it was thoroughly disreputable. It was hardly a safe district after midnight. My aunt, whom I came to visit, was associated with the Relief Association which had offices on LaSalle, just north of Madison; on the site, I think, on which we later built the Tacoma Building, and where Number One North LaSalle now stands. In 1882, when I moved to Chicago, I think the population of the city was about six hundred to six hundred and fifty thousand. As I look back on it now, I see that in the early ‘80s and even the early ‘90s there was very little of present Chicago. A great many of the buildings built immediately after the fire were of the so-called “English basement type,” a style much in favor with business houses at that time. It meant that the first story was raised five to seven feet above sidewalk level, with shops two or three steps below the sidewalk, having no chance for window display. The buildings were three or four stories high, the first story usually offices or banks, sometimes mercantile houses. The streets were still very bad, most of them dirt roads, with macadam in some of the main streets, and in the downtown district largely cobblestones. There were few buildings between the south branch of the river and State Street, though Farwell’s was there and one or two others. LaSalle had nothing but old buildings on it, nothing of any value; the financial interests, what there were of them, centered around the First National Bank, which occupied about 100 by 100 feet at the Northwest corner of Dearborn and Monroe.

44 Field’s Store, a building of the French Mansard type, was on State and Washington Streets; it did not extend through to Randolph. The wholesale district was restricted, centering around Field’s wholesale. Field has always been one of the prime directors of growth in Chicago, the retail trade to State Street, the wholesale district to Adams and Wells, and now the wholesale district across the river to the Merchandise Mart. This latter change has left the old wholesale district nearly deserted, dead. It will grow up in office buildings some day, with the normal growth of the city; that is probably the logical way for districts to change and grow. The old Field Wholesale was a building of the old warehouse type, then it was rebuilt, a beautiful building, of which H. H. Richardson15 was the architect; now it has been torn down and become an automobile parking space. Michigan Avenue was nothing – livery stables, storage houses, etc. It was thought to be a piece of pioneering when the library was build; it was criticized as being too far from the center. I believed in Michigan Avenue early and tried to get Mr. Holabird interested. When later we built three buildings for the McCormicks on that property just north of the University Club, between that and the Athletic Club, it was difficult to get a valuation of $1500 a front foot for that property. It is worth easily $20,000 now. There are still some of the old after-fire buildings on State Street between Monroe and Madison, on the west side of the street.


Henry Hobson Richardson:

45 The Montauk Building on the north side of Monroe where in 1884 we moved our offices about 100 or 115 feet west of Dearborn was rather alone; all other buildings in that half block from Dearborn to Clark were poor two to three story affairs. Back of us was a big paper warehouse, which later burned. Practically the whole length of State Street was built just after the fire and so remained for a long time. Mandel Brothers were the first to put up a new building. At that time the French Mansard style was much in vogue; you can still see some of the Mansard roofs on the old buildings. We have now in our office a picture of a fine old Colonial house, which stood before the fire on the southeast corner of Monroe and Wabash surrounded by a picket fence and with all the attractions of a suburban home. The Nixon Building was one of the few buildings to go through the fire; everything inflammable in it was burned out but the walls and floors remained. In ’85 it was the general opinion that State Street south of Van Buren was a great investment; Wabash was the same way, it was thought that they would be great streets. The wealthy men of that period are the owners of that property now. The outstanding figure at that time in the rebuilding of Chicago I should say was Owen Aldis. He was a lawyer in the firm of Patten and Aldis. He was one of the most broadminded real estate operators I have ever known. He had a great advantage in being sole agent for one of the wealthiest estates in Boston, the Brooks estate, which gave him control of some eastern capital. It was a great thing in those days to have control of eastern capital for Chicago had so little capital of its own. It had plenty of energy and plenty of energetic men like Phil Armour and the McCormicks, but they were busy building up their own businesses which required every bit of capital they could muster. I don’t know just how Aldis came to get control of

46 the Brooks estate funds, but probably through Bryan Lathrop, who was a Bostonian and who was Mr. Aldis’ brother-in-law. As I think over the buildings of that time it seems as if from ’83 to ’93 most of the larger buildings were built by Mr. Aldis. There were a few others, the Rookery was one of them. The name of that building has a rather amusing history. In 1883 the City Hall was housed in what had been the gas plant of the city and a jumble of nearby buildings. It consisted of the brick enclosure of the gas tank from which the tank had been removed and the other dilapidated buildings. No remodeling had been done after the fire except for putting in floors and cutting windows. It would be difficult to conceive a worse jumble or one harder to find your way around in. This mess had the name of “the Rookery.” Later the land was leased for one hundred and sixty-nine years, I think it (Pat Sabin) was, and a syndicate tore down the old buildings and put up a new one. When the new building was finished various names were suggested for it, the “Central Building,” among others, but do what they would, they couldn’t shake off “The Rookery.” Finally they had to give in and let it be called that. Figure 1: The Rookery Building

47 About 1886 the Home Insurance was put up on LaSalle Street, but it was quite alone amid low old buildings. Between ’85 and 1900 there were many buildings put up which are still standing. The town began to be prosperous. Mr. Aldis was one of the pioneers in moving south, when he put up the Monadnock on Jackson there was nothing on the south side of Jackson Boulevard between State Street and the river but cheap one story shacks, mere hovels. Everyone thought Mr. Aldis was insane to build way out there on the ragged edge of the city. Later when he carried it on through to Van Buren Street they were sure he was. Dearborn was not cut through beyond Jackson; it was carried through just prior to the building of the north end of the Monadnock Block. Land just south of the Monadnock was selling for $400 a front foot. Most buildings at this time were poorly equipped with toilet and lavatory facilities. I remember one building on the southwest corner of Madison and LaSalle and another on the southwest corner of Madison and State in which the water supply consisted of one sink on a floor. Each office was supposed to have its washbowl and pitcher. Most buildings had one or two toilets, and they had no elevators. Of course all this was not the hardship which it seems today, it was not so very different from what people were used to at home. There was so much to do in the city at that time, so many ways to spend money. All the utilities were sadly inadequate: sewers, lighting facilities, everything to be done and no funds to do it. The planners didn’t have the necessary imagination, either, to see that it would one day be a city of three million. So the sewer system which was put in was very inadequate; these old sewers are still in existence and for a radius of two miles in the heart of the

48 city are not at all sufficient. At no time have we had the funds to replace them. The sewers at that time emptied into the river which was a black bubbly stream with an odor which could be detected miles away. It was years before the drainage district was formed and the reversal of the river’s current from the lake was effected16, and we could marvel at the clear blue water flowing in our river. A deep sewer, north and south, was also put in and the sewage taken through this by means of pumping stations into the Illinois River. Probably we are still using that, though now we are building sewage disposal plants. Probably Mr. Daniel H. Burnham had more to do with the plan for Chicago as it now is than anyone else, due to his directorate of the World’s Fair17. South Water Street, in those days of course the vegetable market, was an almost impassable street, but the plan was already made to turn it into Wacker Drive. At about that time Mr. Holabird had the idea, on which he expended considerable of his own money, of building fixed bridges from the loop to the north and west sides. He suggested that they use lighters18 on the river and have no movable bridges. From ’83 on, all harbor and shipping facilities were at Chicago, with docks way up the river. There were many sailing vessels – probably three quarters of all the shipping was by sailing vessel – which made the river a sea of masts and which necessitated the bridges


There is an interesting description of this project at 17

See the Chicago Public Library’s web site, 18

A large usually flat-bottomed barge used especially in unloading or loading ships.

49 being open for long periods of time. One of the greatest annoyances was trying to get across the river; the bridges were sometimes open just at rush hour for an hour at a time. Mr. Holabird’s idea was to have fixed bridges with shops on each side of them like the Ponte Vecchio, at Florence, with business carried across the river without a break to the north and west sides. His idea did not meet with approval, though now they are discussing lighters more than they did at that time when Mr. Holabird wanted them. As the sailing vessels were replaced by steamers, the bridge annoyance was gradually relieved. There were also fixed times set for the opening of the bridges. It was about ’82 or ’83 that Charles T. Yerkes obtained the franchise for the street railways. There was much scandal about the Yerkes franchises; he probably did buy them from the aldermen. The streetcars were all horse cars with jingling bells on the horses, and they clattered along over their flat rails. In summer the cars were open with seats arranged across the car and a running board along the side. In winter they were closed but with no head, there was two inches of straw in the bottom, supposedly for warming purposes but this was liberally sprinkled with salt to melt the snow tracked in by the passengers, and this rather effectually cancelled the warming qualities of the straw. This was popularly known as the “Yerkes sunshine.” A little later the main lines changed to the cable system, a shallow tunnel under the street and the cable kept moving by cable houses, and a grip on the car to take hold of the cable. This was a great step forward, increasing the speed materially over horse cars. Of course the cables broke with some degree of regularity and all cars stopped, but that was taken rather calmly in those days. Some years passed before heat was put in the cars and you could travel in winter with some degree of comfort.



In May 1884, a year and a half after I joined the organization, Holabird and Roche moved its offices from the Major to the Montauk Block on Monroe Street between Clark and Dearborn, a site now occupied by the First National Bank Building. This was a striking building for its day, nine stories high, it was known as a skyscraper. It was the highest office building in the city, certainly, and was equipped with water balance elevators. We occupied the top floor, at the back. Our offices consisted of a drafting room, 20 by 30 or 35 feet, and a private office. At this time we had no work which required an extensive organization. We had a few apartment buildings and a few stores, and in 1885 our first big building, the Merchants Building. While we were in the Major Block and the first year in the Montauk I was the only draftsman. In fact, I was a sort of handy man around the place; I had no experience, I know they thought of me as a sort of office boy. Shortly after we finished the Merchants Building came a new contact, with Wirt Walker, which led eventually to our building the Tacoma Building. It was while we were still in the Montauk Block that all the drawings for the Tacoma were made. We had to employ a few more draftsmen besides myself at this time. The first one that we took on was Richard Wood, an Englishman; the next was a man named Brickley, and these two and I did most of the preliminary drawings for the Tacoma. I think it was in ’85, when Wood had been with us for some time, that Holabird called me in to his office and said, “What do you think of discharging Wood?” As a matter of fact I was not particularly impressed with Wood’s draftsmanship; I thought he didn’t use his head very much,

51 but I told Holabird that that was no question for one draftsman to answer about another. Holabird replied, “Well, from now on you are foreman of the drafting room. What do you think of discharging Wood?” I said, “I am in favor of dispensing with his services.” That was how I acquired my position as foreman of the drafting room. Brickley was a better draftsman than Wood, though he was only mediocre. It was at about been a draftsman for added to the force. us until his death a

this time that F. S. Sutherland who had Jenney when Roche was there, was also He was almost continually employed by year and a half ago.

At about this time I was also made bookkeeper of the firm. This came about rather naturally. I was running around collecting the money so it was only a small step to keeping track of it. I never was much of a bookkeeper, but I kept some kind of a record anyway. Thus as bookkeeper I came into intimate contact with financial matters, and as foreman of the drafting room I cam into intimate contact with the heads of the firm – their hopes and aspirations. But I was turning over in my mind some way that I could become indispensable; I knew the fluctuations in businesses such as ours, and I wanted to be doing something which could not easily be replaced. I thought of the writing of specifications. There is usually only one man in an office doing that and no matter how much the force is reduced it is unlikely that the firm would let that man go. So, shortly after I was made foreman of the drafting room, I began to collect all the specifications I could lay hands on. I borrowed some from Jenney, from Adler and Sullivan, and I obtained books on the subject and began studying at nights and any odd moments I could find. Up to this point Holabird had been writing the specifications and I knew he hated it; it was the sort of

52 detail he detested. Well, one time we were working on a small building and Holabird groaned, “Well, I suppose I’ll have to get at those specifications.” I spoke up and said, “I tell you, Mr. Holabird, suppose you let me write them, then you can correct them and tell me where I am wrong.” Holabird was surprised, but delighted to hand them over to me. When I had finished I gave them to him and pretty soon he called me in to his office and demanded where in the particularly warm climate I had learned to write specifications. I told him I had been studying up a little. He said, “You’ve done them better than I can,” and from that time on that was another of my jobs. That did definitely make me valuable to the firm. In all my years with Holabird and Roche I never asked for a raise, I never had to, though once or twice when I thought I might be entitled to one in January it came in April, but always it was made effective from January. Those little extras of back pay came in very handy; we always needed them.


Skeleton Construction

In the latter part of 1885 or early in ’86, a Mr. Wirt Walker came to us for a competition on a building which stood on the northeast corner of LaSalle and Madison Streets. His father’s estate owned twenty-five feet on LaSalle and a hundred and ten on Madison, on which was one of the English basement buildings. It was a typical old building, stairs running seven feet up from the ground, the basement half under ground; the competition was among five architects to develop the building into the best paying condition. It had thick walls – everything wrong about it. He felt that something could be done to make the property more valuable. Improvements were going on in the city at this time; quite a number of new buildings were going up. The Rookery, ten or eleven stories high, had been built, and there was a good deal of activity in the loop district at that period in the alteration of old buildings and the erection of new. Chicago had been overbuilt immediately after the fire, and that fact and the panic which resulted had caused a lull of about ten years. Then things began to start up again. When Mr. Walker came into our office I had previously known nothing of him. He was a little below the average height, dark complexioned, rather heavy set. He was about twenty-seven years of age. His father, a wealthy man, had recently died and he was the executor of the estate. I was impressed by his business grasp which seemed remarkable at twenty-seven, only a year older than I. Some months before, a man named Sam Loring, a terra cotta manufacturer, had come into our office with a scheme for utilizing terra cotta. It was really a skeleton

54 construction plan, by which a skeleton was run up and the terra cotta attached without the use of masonry. When we came to draw the plans for Mr. Walker, Mr. Holabird, who was always quick to see the value of a new idea, after looking over the old building, said, “Why not use Sam Loring’s scheme?” We did. In the plans we drew, we stripped off the front of the building to do away with the thick walls and used the scheme of iron and terra cotta. It was a skeleton front, all the loads being carried on metal, one step toward skeleton construction. We gained renting space by this means, which was the feature taking Mr. Walker’s eye, and which won us the competition. We saved a strip 130 feet by 1 foot on each floor. However, when the drawings were in, nothing was done with the old building; it looked like a lot of money to put in when you would only have an old building in the end. It was then Mr. Walker had the idea of acquiring the adjoining lot. Mr. Walker had now decided to put up a building twelve stories and attic on the 25 by 110’ lot. We made a set of drawings entirely skeleton. These drawings were sent to Professor John B. Johnson, dean of Engineering in Washington University for his criticism. He reported adversely on the wind bracing, conclusions which were found later to be incorrect, as he had not estimated correctly the force of wind against a building.

55 The contract was let for the foundation and party wall. We supposed the building was to be built, but when the foundations were half built Walker called a halt. It was only a bluff to get possession of the adjoining 55-foot lot at a reasonable figure. Walker wanted to show the owner, who was holding it for a big price, that he didn’t have a corner lot after all. The possession of this lot gave Mr. Walker a plot 80 by 110, on which was later built the Tacoma Building. “Tacoma” in Indian meaning “the highest.” We had possession of the lot, 80 by 110. In our first drawings we went back to masonry construction; we didn’t think the larger lot required the space saving. Then I studied the plans using skeleton construction and found that by thinning up the walls, the space of one entire floor was gained. Naturally that induced us to make another set of drawings with skeleton construction. We took figures on the two sets; the lowest bids were $10,000 more for the skeleton (Pat Sabin) than for the masonry construction. But we showed Mr. Walker that from the added space gained by skeleton construction he could net an income of $4500 a year. He decided on the skeleton construction. Figure 2: The Tacoma Building

Mr. Roche designed the building; the engineering was done by Karl Seifert, a German of considerable ability. The

56 construction consisted of cast iron columns with brackets to receive cast iron lintels. It was fireproof; terra cotta floor arches with terra cotta partitions. We were given possession of the premises May 1, 1887, and a superintendent was selected. We discovered after a few weeks that this superintendent was untrustworthy and, at the suggestion of Mr. Holabird, was dismissed. In consultation with Mr. Walker as to who should be chosen in his place the latter specified that it should be a man “familiar with the drawings and specifications, loyal to the firm and working in the interests of the owner.” I was in the room at the time. I heard Mr. Holabird say, “Yes, but it’s difficult to find such a man,” and Mr. Walker’s reply, “Why, Renwick here.” So I became the superintendent on the job. I delegated my work in the office and went to my new place. Mr. Walker felt that it was imperative that the building be finished by April 1, 1888. An extensive investigation was made to see if this was possible, and he was advised by every other prominent architect and all the old time builders that it positively was not. So he made the proposition that if we would finish it within that time he would add a bonus of $8000 to the regular fee. Naturally I felt that the responsibility of earning this bonus for my firm lay on my shoulders alone. In looking around for a contractor Mr. Holabird and I were impressed by a young man, Mr. George A. Fuller. Mr. Fuller had recently come out from Boston where he had been general superintendent of an architect’s office, and had been allied for a time with C. Everett Clark. He was just now starting out for himself. Clark and Fuller made estimates on the new building. Fuller was the low bidder on both masonry and skeleton construction.

57 Generally at this time subordinate contracts were awarded independently for the various trades used on the general structure, but instead of this we awarded a contract to Mr. Fuller which covered heating, plastering, painting, cabinet making, everything except the elevators, contract for which was awarded independently. The element of time was fully discussed with the contractor and the work was undertaken under penalty to deliver it by April 1st. This was the first building George Fuller built in Chicago, one of the first to be undertaken independently, certainly the largest. During the building of this building and during the following years I had a constant and active contact with Mr. Fuller. He was a man of sterling honesty, and had a grasp of building construction which made him one of the outstanding figures among contractors of that period. He was close mouthed, had not many friends, attentive to business, constantly using methods unknown to the older builders. He was particularly keen on the assembling of materials. Right at the start he made a record for speed better than anything that had been done. Fuller also made a strenuous effort to operate under cost and percentage. He hoped to show that by careful buying, painstaking guidance of the work and securing the intelligent cooperation of subordinate contractors, he could put up a building on a cost plus basis cheaper than at a fixed price. He did. He had a great faculty of making men work with him, be loyal to him. He was so zealous to save money and used such rare intelligence in the spending of what was spent, that he soon convinced people he could put up buildings on a cost plus basis cheaper than at a fixed price. He used to tell how, on his fixed price contracts, if gains were made, materials bought at a lower rate than he had figured on, he would transfer that gain to one of his cost plus contracts. Then when owners compared prices they would find that he had actually given better prices to those

58 for whom he was working on the cost plus plan. millions of dollars of work on this plan.

He did

Work on the Tacoma was carried forward till the main structure was up and we had started plastering. Then Mr. Walker was taken ill and died, leaving his estate without any direct responsible head. The completion of the building was carried on through the renting agent who had no financial responsibility. As time went on it became clear that there was no one to sign the orders for changes for tenants. Under the firm’s contract for the bonus it had been decided to make no changes for tenants until the building was completed. Before the first of April we turned it over to the renting agent as a completed structure. Then if tenants were to be secured certain changes must be made, but there was no one to sign the orders. Mr. Holabird and Mr. Roche refused to take the responsibility; a complete deadlock seemed to have been reached. Then I, at twentyeight, made what might have turned out to be a serious and fatal error. I took all the responsibility, signed the orders for changes to the extent of $60,000. I had no business to do it, but I did it. I knew it would have to go through the court, but when it did the court complimented me on my action. I had taken a chance but I had done what I knew was the right thing. To get tenants into that building and make it become an earning property these changes had to be made. The New York Audit Company went over my books a year later and had all my prices investigated. Of course I had feared that they would think I had been extravagant. Every order, no matter how trivial, had been made out in duplicate with every price detailed, one copy going to the renting agent, the other to our office. They found the prices were fair and the only error in bookkeeping was one of fifty cents in favor of the estate.

59 Now prior to the actual building of the Tacoma, but subsequent to our drawings made for the 25 by 110 building, the Home Insurance Building was built. Maj. Jenney was the architect. In this building there was made a partial development toward the skeleton. Each pier had a column in the approximate center which carried the floor loads and a part of the masonry construction. Spandrels were carried partially on iron construction and partially on the masonry of the piers. Skeleton construction, which has made possible the modern skyscraper, was really a Figure 3: Home Insurance Building growth in engineering. But we (WGBH, Boston; Public Broadcasting System) give the credit to the terra cotta manufacturer Loring. He had made a set of drawings with the iron going down into the foundations, the terra cotta attached, doing away with heavy masonry. Skeleton building walls are sixteen inches thick, but they don’t need to be, it is only custom to make them that way. They need only be thick enough to give protection to the steel frame. As an illustration of the difference between that and masonry construction, the World Building in New York, approximately a sixteen or seventeen story building, had, under ordinance, basement and first and second stories eleven feet thick, a few inches less so as they went on up. So it is obvious not only the impossibility of building real skyscrapers without skeleton construction, but also the space saving of this method even in buildings of only moderate height. The Home Insurance Building did not thin

60 up the walls by its method. It was a masonry building with steel in the piers to take the floor load. Prior to any other skeleton buildings we started the Pontiac and Caxton Buildings, also of skeleton construction. About that same time Cass Gilbert, the architect of the New York Woolworth building, used skeleton construction and it was called “Chicago construction.” Due to the rivalry between New York and Chicago this name didn’t meet with any favor in New York so it was changed to “skeleton construction.” Perhaps the greatest distinction between the Home Insurance and the Tacoma (Prof. Jeffrey Howe, Boston College) Buildings was in the method of construction. Nothing about the way the Home Insurance Building was being erected created any comment among engineers, architects, or the public. It was carried up floor by floor to the top. With the Tacoma we erected a metal structure, cast iron columns, partly iron beams, party Bessemer steel – the rolling of Bessemer steel into architectural shape occurred while the Tacoma was being built so that it was used first in Chicago in Figure 5: Hotel LaSalle Construction, 1909 (Library of Congress) that building. Then with our metal structure completed we began laying masonry construction at the second, sixth and tenth floors. Figure 4: New York World Building

61 It is hard to realize now the sensation that made. Yet when you think that we were revolutionizing a method that had been used since 3000 B.C., coming along calmly after 5000 years and saying, “Here, we know this is the way we are going to put this one up,” perhaps you can appreciate what the innovation meant. New York papers sent representatives on to see it and report on it. A corps of policemen was needed on Madison Street to clear away the crowd. Not for a day or two only, but week after week. That seems to me the most conclusive evidence of which of the two buildings influenced the adoption of skeleton construction. Of course Maj. Jenney did make a step forward in construction; we simply made another step. We claim no inventive priority; Sam Loring brought us the drawings on which we worked, but we did bring the discovery to the public notice. A tremendous furor was created and the impetus was given to the new development. Many important things have been done in this world quietly, which because the public never knew about them have had very little effect on the world’s development. For instance Fulton made a steamboat but it wasn’t the first steamboat. Someone else had made one before but it had never reached the eyes of the world. The same way with the steam engine, someone made one before Watts ever did, in fact the Vikings were coming to America for two hundred years, remains of their camps are still being found. They took back the burls of trees, which are so much stronger than ordinary wood, because of the interweaving of their fibres, to make wooden dishes. So the Vikings discovered a new world and took away from it wooden dishes, while Columbus came along afterward and by giving his discovery to the world changed the course of all history, all thought, all progress. The world honors the man who with a new discovery changes the course of its life, opens up new possibilities for its development.

62 The Tacoma Building was finished three or four years after the Home Insurance Building. During the building of the Home Insurance I was very much interested and as I knew Whitney, the superintendent well, I went over the building with him a number of times. I knew substantially what the construction was. A number of years afterward the Carnegie Steel Co. – the forerunner of the U. S. Steel Co. – were building an ore vessel and they proposed to name it for the originator of skeleton construction. Jenney claimed to be the originator. They sent men out there to study the two buildings, but after a thorough study they came to the conclusion that skeleton construction was the result of a development in engineering, and the ore vessel was not named after anyone. We did not claim any creative originality of the idea and never considered trying to patent it. But a man named Buffington did take out a patent on steel construction and threatened suit against us on one of our buildings. However it never came to anything. Such a patent would be very easy to evade, since it is impossible to patent an idea, only a device, and there would be a thousand ways to vary the device enough so as not to be callable under the patent. He could never find a place where we followed his device exactly. Howe, by the way, the inventor of the sewing machine, was the only man to patent an idea: the eye in the point of the needle, which was after all an idea as well as a device. When the Home Insurance Building was torn down there was a good deal of interest shown in its construction, and it was investigated carefully by the Institute of American Architects and the Western Society of Engineers. The tearing down of the Tacoma also roused great interest, and was also investigated. Then a committee was formed – a small committee of five members, which I never felt was

63 entirely disinterested since as I was informed Mr. Mundy of the firm of Jenney and Mundy was the most influential man on it – to decide which was the first skeleton construction19. I didn’t know anything about this committee; I was away at the time or I should certainly have given them a report earlier. By the time I heard of it they had had a meeting, but they hadn’t published their findings. I got a hearing, but I felt sure they had practically come to a decision before I got there. Their findings were that the Home Insurance was the first skeleton construction, although their masonry was only partially supported by the skeleton construction, the spandrels resting on brackets set into the columns, but also on eight inches of masonry. It would have been impossible for them to have started construction at the second, sixth and tenth floors as we did in the Tacoma. They had to carry the masonry floor by floor up to the top. The committee found that we had two masonry walls in the Tacoma; they did not realize that these had no real significance in the structure but were purely for extra wind bracing. Actually the Home Insurance was partly skeleton and the Tacoma, prima facie, by its method of construction, was entirely supported by the skeleton.


See the Chicago Public Library web site,



After drawings for the Tacoma were finished and we began to have some other work Louis Broadhay was added to the drafting force; he was continually with the firm until January ’32. Shortly after this Frank B. Long was also added; he is still in our employ. Roche, during all this period, was the sole designer. He made not only the sketches but the smaller scale sketches in design and supervised the large scale ones. Holabird was obtaining the business, and gradually I was taking over the bidding, contract awarding and supervising of erection. We had a well-organized office, each having his particular part to do. We each had the part that we were best fitted for. I had had no schooling in architecture and not much preparation as a businessman; I learned, you might say, by the abrasive method, having it rubbed in. “If you make a mistake this time, don’t make it again.” In the year following the building of the Tacoma we did considerable work, all for Owen Aldis or Bryan Lathrop. George Fuller was our contractor on all of these buildings. I didn’t come in contact much with the old time contractors, they were mostly men who had grown up from trades and while they were good in their way I suppose, they struck me as “dumb” – they didn’t have either imagination or genius, both of which Fuller had to a great degree. In the period beginning with 1883 or ’84 there was a distinct advance in plumbing in buildings. Lead pipes for water supply and cast iron pipes for waste had been universally used. At this time lead was abandoned and brass and galvanized iron pipe took its place. For waste pipes cast iron was abandoned with the advent of the higher

65 buildings because of the higher pressures, and wrought iron pipe with special sanitary fittings was introduced. About this time concealed plumbing was also done away with and open plumbing took its place; marble slabs in connection with lavatories were also being replaced by porcelain enamel earthenware. After the erection of the Tacoma Building there was a marked advance also in the use of Bessemer Steel in beams; the steel companies also began developing shapes from which steel columns could be made. The Tacoma was the last building of twelve or more stories in which cast iron was used in columns. Following the erection of the Tacoma, the Pontiac, a twelve story, and the Caxton, an eight story building, were erected on south Dearborn near Harrison. These buildings were started in 1889, finished in 1890. Bessemer steel and steel columns were used, so far as I know the first use, at least in Chicago, of structural steel columns. Some time after the erection of the Pontiac Building the Masonic Temple, now the Capitol Building, was erected on the corner of State and Randolph Streets, Burnham and Root being the architects. This was a skeleton building with steel columns and beams. There was, up to this time, no limit by ordinance to the height of buildings. But following the erection of this building and without any publicity the City Council considered the reduction of the legal height of buildings in the city. The first intimation of this move came to our office one Thursday morning at eleven o’clock. A friend of mine called and told me that the Council would pass an ordinance Monday night limiting the height to 130 feet, the ordinance would be signed the next morning by the mayor and would go into immediate effect. I advised Mr. Holabird of this

66 information, which was naturally of prime importance to us. We decided to make an offer to some of our clients to make the necessary permit drawings at our own expense for several sixteen-story buildings, providing the owners would pay for the taking out of the permits. If our clients could be persuaded to act quickly enough we could get the permits out before Monday night and insure to them and to us the erection of several more buildings in excess of the proposed 130 feet. Mr. Holabird went to one set of clients; I went to another. He came back with orders for two buildings, I with orders for three. When we got back and faced each other Mr. Holabird said, “How many did you get?” I answered I had three. “I have two,” he said, “and now we’ve got ‘em, what in Hell are we going to do with ‘em?” We had eight draftsmen in the office; the problem was how to get the drawings made and the permits taken out for these five buildings before Monday night. Mr. Roche started making the designs, working at top speed. The entire force was put on the development of the designs, but still we didn’t have enough men. It was my job that afternoon to increase the force to the point where we could handle the work. I got enough men by night so we could make a relay organization, twelve hours through the day and twelve through the night, time out for meals of course. By Friday morning I had forty draftsmen at work. Inasmuch as we had such a large proportion of new men, close supervision was necessary; so I decided to stay down at the office both shifts. I never left the office from Thursday noon until Monday forenoon, working continuously without sleep. I wasn’t even sleepy after Friday afternoon. Monday at ten o’clock the sets of drawings, basement, first and second stories, typical floor plan, roof plan, elevation, sections, steel diagram, plumbing diagram, for all five buildings were complete. I took them to the City

67 Hall to take out the permits. Requirements for permits were not as rigid in those days as now; there was no engineering checking, and if the drawings expressed the necessary construction and adequate plumbing they were all right. By four o’clock the permits were obtained and paid for, and I left for home and bed. When I got there I slept the clock right around, woke up at five the next afternoon, thinking it was morning. I never felt any ill effects, but even if I shortened my life a bit it was worth it; things like that are. I never liked the word “can’t”; if a man thinks he can’t do a thing, he can’t do it, but if he thinks he can, he can. I’ve always fought that “can’t” spirit in my organization. I never believe in pushing men to extremities where it isn’t necessary, but when it is I like to have them respond with that fine spirit. I’ve never seen better spirit than we had in our office during those few days; no soldiering, every man took what was given him to do and went to work with a will. I’d like to run an office for a year sometime where that spirit prevailed. It was good for us; any fellow is more worthwhile after doing the impossible once. During those days, plans for the south end of the Monadnock Block, the Marquette Building, the Old Colony and the Champlaine Buildings, and a building designed for a lot on the southwest corner of Madison and Michigan were drawn. All were erected except the last. We were pretty busy in 1893 building these buildings for which we had taken out the permits in such a hurry. We were busy and quite flush at that time. But having these buildings and being under architectural contract by which we received no fee until the contracts were let we were temporarily short of funds. We needed $25,000. I went over to the Northern Trust Company to try to borrow it. I went to Byron L. Smith, the president, and he asked if we had any

68 collateral. I had to admit we had not, and he gave me the worst berating I have ever had. What were we thinking of, trying to borrow money with no collateral, etc., etc., etc. He was very disagreeable and I was most uncomfortable as well as being in despair. I didn’t see what we could do. Mr. Smith went on and on with his lecture, but in the middle of it he slipped a note to a man he had called into his office and the man went out. Pretty soon the man came back and laid a package on Mr. Smith’s desk. I had no idea what was in it, but I was just about getting up my courage to slink away when Mr. Smith said, “You understand that you have to have collateral to borrow money, do you?” I admitted I thought I did. He went on “Well, in order that you can borrow it I will loan you the collateral.” That was what was in the package. You can see why I have always banked with the Northern Trust Company. When the four buildings were finished and the firm had received its fees, Holabird called me in to the office and said, “Renwick, you’ve worked pretty hard this year and you’ve been useful” -- and he handed me some bills rolled up. I glanced at them and thought they were two fiftydollar bills; they turned out to be two five hundreds. That was more to me than an increase in salary; it was an acknowledgement of my services and their appreciation of them. It meant a lot to me. We needed the money, too, at that time; we needed it badly. There is no question but that this move of ours in rushing through permits for higher buildings influenced the subsequent change in the ordinance back to a height of 260 feet, and therefore influenced greatly the future development of the city. The ordinance had been passed, undoubtedly due to pressure brought to bear, though the reason given to the public was that we were following in the footsteps of London, and also Boston, which had recently

69 passed such an ordinance. But when our four new buildings went up, owners of adjacent property naturally felt that undue restriction was being put upon them when they were not allowed to erect buildings of similar height. The same information of the passing of the ordinance which was given to us was also given, either prior to Thursday at eleven o’clock, or sometime immediately following, to five or six firms of prominent architects, but we were the only ones who acted on the knowledge. Perhaps we were the only ones who believed we could get the drawings done in time. Whether or not the limitation of buildings to 130 feet was a wise move I cannot say. It was argued that the city would spread out in every direction, yet the heart of Chicago is circumscribed – on the east the lake, on the north the main branch of the river, on the west the south branch of the river, on the south the railway yards. All lines of transportation lead to this center. Whatever growth the city makes must be north, west and south, and still this center must remain. It is inconceivable to me – or nearly inconceivable – that the active business center should move to an entirely different locality than that in which it is. Yet that is what has happened in practically every large city that I know. In New York it moved from the st rd nd district bounded by 21 and 23 Sts. up to 42 St., leaving the 21st St. district abandoned by retail trade. In St. Louis it moved from the river front many blocks west; in Kansas City from the river front ten or twelve blocks back, New Orleans, Omaha, Minneapolis, St. Paul, Philadelphia, Detroit – all of them moved their centers. Yet I can’t conceive of Chicago’s center moving. A few years ago there was a big fight against the present ordinance, 260 feet, now existing. There was agitation to cut it down to 165 feet, or various other

70 heights suggested. The serious congestion was discussed, and light and air and all the rest of it. I was sitting next to Dan Kelly, who was at Mandel’s then; we had been called in to one of the meetings and I said to him, “Do you know what would cure the congestion in Chicago?” He said “No.” “Why, to move all the retail stores out of the loop.” His face expressed what he felt! But actually what makes the congestion is advertising – the continuous advertising of the big stores to draw people downtown; it isn’t the people who are regularly going down to the big buildings to their work. The south end of the Monadnock Block proved to be a great stepping-stone to business for our firm. Owen F. Aldis, the financial agent for a good many buildings representing Boston capital, was agent for this block. The north Figure 6: The Monadnock Block (Pat Sabin) half of the block had been done by Burnham and Root: a 68 by 200 foot building, masonry piers, steel inner columns, steel beams, regular tile arch fireproof construction. The south end was exactly the same size as the lot, to be carried up to the same height with the same number of stories. We had the advantage of the study of the north half in designing the south. The south half was a skeleton building; the arrangement of the

71 elevators was materially changed, also the location of staircases. When it was finished Mr. Aldis stated, in our office, that the new building cost 15% less than the north, contained 15 to 16% more available renting space and that space 15% lighter than the space of the north half. “This makes me decide,” he said, “that I can no longer afford to employ another architect.” From that day we had Mr. Aldis’ work. This was a great step, because of Mr. Aldis’ control of some eastern capital, and there was very little Chicago capital in those days, most of it came from the east. Owen F. Aldis, who was one of the broadest minded real estate operators that I have known during my entire experience, had formerly been attorney connected with the Brooks estate of Boston. The Brooks, of which Mr. Aldis was sole agent, was one of the wealthiest estates of Boston, and the Brooks family was interested in and willing to back building projects in Chicago. Holabird and Roche were now employed by Mr. Aldis and have had practically all the work of Owen F. Aldis, Owen F. Aldis and Company, and Aldis and Company, the new name of the firm since the death of Mr. Aldis. Across the corridor in the Montauk Block was the office of Graceland Cemetery whose president was Bryan Lathrop, brother-in-law of Aldis, who also represented Boston capital, the Bartlett family, principally Francis Bartlett. Lathrop was a gentleman, highly regarded by the entire community. His standards were extremely high, above reproach in all his dealings. He carried a certain amount of real estate brokerage, though he was not particularly active at that time, but he became afterward one of the foremost brokers in Chicago. To a large degree his particular field is carried on by Hall and Ellis, who were formerly members of his firm.

72 Partly through Mr. Aldis, and partly through Mr. Simonds, known to Lathrop through his connection with Graceland, and of whom he was very fond, we obtained Mr. Lathrop’s business. He was a valuable client; we built many buildings for him. Of course the proximity of our offices was a fortunate circumstance. If you have anything to be done and there is a man across the hall doing such work you are likely to give it to him. In all our experience we got very little work through solicitations; we found it much better to induce the owner to send for us. Then we went in on a different footing – you can go in then prepared to help, as someone called in on a consulting basis, rather than going in to try to convince. It was while we were still in the Montauk Block that the change of ordinance took place and we did the rushing work. With our limited sized drafting room, the place was pretty crowded, taking care of forty draftsmen, though they weren’t all working at one time but in shifts. However, the business was growing rather rapidly, as our name became better known, and we also realized that if we got several of the buildings for which the permits had been taken out, it would be necessary for us to have more space. So we moved to the Monadnock Block. Our new offices were on the east side of the Monadnock just back of the Jackson Boulevard corner. We felt that by going over on Jackson we were moving almost out of the city. Instead of having the drafting room on the sixteenth floor with our offices we made an arrangement to have it on the roof, where an “L” shaped penthouse was built for it along the front and across one side, the east. It was extremely light and a perfect drafting room, the only drawback being that to get there from our offices you had to go up through the attic and onto the roof. This made, necessarily, some lost motion, and resulted in the fact that we didn’t get up there as often as we should have. Therefore it depended pretty much on the

73 superintendent of the drafting room whether or not the work was efficiently and speedily done. We made several changes in superintendents, trying to find one who could accomplish this. It was at this time that we started in to build up an organization. Up to the time of our moving into these new offices, I had been supposed to be the structural engineer, though I had draftsmen doing the actual drawing of the mechanical work. But when we moved we entered into an arrangement with Purdy and Henderson to do our structural engineering. The electrical work was advancing so rapidly that we felt we must have someone there and we added an electrical department. That was our only new department. The mechanical work got beyond me so we took on Blake, who was far better than anyone we’ve had since. After a while we took on our own construction engineer, Henry J. Burt, who stayed with us till he died and was succeeded by one of his assistants, Fred E. Brown. Then Brown went into business for himself and McClurg, his assistant, carried it on. Emil Ritter, an old structural engineer, was retained as consulting engineer. In this way gradually we built up a very efficient organization. We also finally employed a bookkeeper, and we even put on airs and hired a stenographer. Up to this time all our specifications and our correspondence had been done in long hand, first I did them myself, then later got a copyist so that when I scribbled them off they could be copied in a good flowing hand. While we were in the Montauk Block we had acquired a telephone. Holabird thought it was perfectly useless, that it was much better to send a boy. We had a swarm of office boys waiting for errands, but when we installed the telephone we found we could do without several of the boys. Then, it was a time saver; that was what appealed to me, though you were necessarily handicapped by

74 the fact that so few people had them. The telephone book in those days was a little thing, like a suburban book now. In later years I spent most of my time at the telephone – with eighty or more incoming calls a day to say nothing of outgoing. That was a case of the slave becoming the master. It was about the World’s Fair time that I found there were too many interruptions in the office for me to have the necessary time and quiet for writing specifications and I purchased a phonograph, the precursor of the dictaphone, and used to take home a box of cylinders with me at night and early in the evening would grind them off and get them ready for use. Then I would go to bed about eight and get up at two, and from two to six I would have absolute quiet in which to dictate the specifications. I worked right up to breakfast time. Office hours in those days were from eight to five for everybody, so I always took a 7:17 train, getting to the office about a quarter to eight. That hour from quarter of eight to quarter of nine I considered the most valuable hour in the day when I wasn’t disturbed by the telephone. When we moved into the Monadnock we installed a switchboard. The layout of our offices in the Monadnock was, at the south end Roche’s private office, then a large library, on the north side of the library Holabird’s office, then the bookkeeper’s office with a space where drawings could be spread out for contractors’ figuring, then at the north end my office, with the switchboard in the lobby between. We had a good time in the firm in those days; we were all young and business was, part of the time at least, going well. In those days Roche and I were continually together. We went to the

Figure 7: Theodore Thomas (WGBH, Boston; Public Broadcasting System)

75 opera and to Thomas concerts20, which were held then in the Exhibition Building on the lakefront opposite Monroe Street. Incidentally I have never heard the orchestra so full of volume and richness as it was in that old building; the hall was entirely lined with wood, and there was a big sounding board back of the orchestra. From this building they went to the Auditorium then to Orchestra Hall, but I always missed the richness of sound when they got into a building lined with plaster. Little was known about the theory of acoustics in those days; once when we were figuring on a project, which, however, didn’t go through, we called Mr. Theodore Thomas over to our office to see if he could give us suggestions on how the acoustics should be handled. He said, “You build it and I’ll tell you whether it’s any good.” That wasn’t much help. He did tell us an interesting thing about acoustics though, which perhaps the ordinary layman doesn’t know, and that was that when he went into a new hall for rehearsal, he had a walk built out over the seats from the stage to the back of the hall. Then while the orchestra was playing he walked back and forth on this in order to arrange the timing of the different instruments, those in the last row having to start a few fractions of a beat before those in the next row, and so on to the front, in order that the volume of sound starting at different distances should reach the audience at the same instant. The amount of time variation is dependent on the size of the hall, and the director must control this by the smallest fluctuations of his baton. This is one of the reasons why a good director can get better music out of an orchestra than a poor one.


The Chicago Orchestra, later the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. See

76 When the Marquette Building was under way we were about to take figures on the separate elevator contract, I had written the specifications, when William E. Hale, head of the Hale Elevator Company, called on Mr. Owen Aldis and made a proposition – not having seen the specifications – which Mr. Aldis accepted subject to my approval. Hale was so eager to get the contract that he signed up for eleven elevators without knowing what we required of him. He came over and jubilantly told me about it and I said, “But you haven’t seen the specifications!” O, he thought that was all right. Then I gave them to him. They called for hydraulic elevators and in order that they should not at any time be out of order, the whole system was to be in duplicate: pumps, piping, and everything. Hale was stunned; he hadn’t figured on any such thing. He tried his best to make me change it, in fact pressure was brought to bear from every possible quarter to make me change, but I stood firm. One morning Hale walked in to my office and said, “Now stop your nonsense because I’ve got to sign this contract by twelve o’clock, I’ve sold my business to the Crane Elevator Company.” He signed it as I had written it, though he called it absurd and unnecessary. Figure 8: The Marquette Building (City of Chicago)

After the sale of his business Hale secured the southwest corner of State and Washington Streets and put up

77 the Reliance Building. In his circulars to his tenants he stressed the point that the elevators had a duplicate system so there was no chance of their ever being out of commission. The earliest elevators in the more modern buildings were what is known as balanced elevators. They consisted in a cable passing over a wheel or sheave at the top of the building, with on one side the elevator and on the other a steel bucket. This bucket was filled with water from a large tank on the roof when the elevator wished to ascend, and emptied when it wished to descend. There was a scheme of brakes which clamped the guides on which the elevator descended, but this did not keep the descent from being rapid. Once in a while the brakes failed to function and the descent was still more rapid. Following this came the hydraulic elevator, which consisted in a vertical or horizontal cylinder into which water was pumped under pressure, converting it into vertical motion of the elevator. At first there were large cylinders and low pressure, but the pressure became greater and greater until there were some seven hundred to eight hundred pounds pressure to the square inch. These have nearly all been replaced by electric elevators. The Tacoma Building had one of the early vertical cylinder elevators. William E. Hale was responsible for the 21 rather rapid development of these hydraulic elevators . With the advent of the electric elevator we passed through a period of experimentation. Some of the first electric elevators were far inferior to some present day electric freight elevators.


See “Elevator History Timeline� at

78 At the time that the Old Colony and south end of the Monadnock Buildings were being built a man named Sprague, an inventor who had done much to develop electric streetcars, decided to go into the electric elevator business. He was a high-pressure salesman and induced Mr. Aldis and Mr. Lathrop to give consideration to his type of elevator for these two buildings. But before they signed a contract with him I persuaded them to let me go down to New York to investigate the only installation of his elevators, in the Victoria Hotel in New York. His elevator consisted in a large screw six inches in diameter on which traveled a rotating nut, rotated by electricity, and to which cables were attached, drawing up the elevator as it went. When the car descended it just wound itself back. It had, according to Sprague, six electric safety devices, any one of which would stop the car if anything were to go wrong. It was finally agreed with Mr. Aldis and Mr. Lathrop that I go to New York and investigate his installation. I arrived there about ten o’clock in the morning and went directly to the Victoria Hotel. Just as I opened the door there was a rush of wind, a terrible racket and an impenetrable cloud of dust: one of the elevators had fallen six stories. I went down in the basement where I was to meet Mr. Sprague and found him there; he was certainly a good salesman, he was not even perturbed. All six of the safety devices had gone out at once. I was interested in the matter and stayed there a couple of days studying it. One of the mechanical safety devices was a piece of rubber surrounding the screw at a point where the nut would reach it in descending. The rubber was six or seven inches thick, probably extending three or four inches outside the shaft. This had probably taken up part of the shock when the elevator fell. Another device was that the rotating nut was cut vertically into two halves, one rotating on the other. By the rotation of that

79 nut you could pinch the screw that fitted onto the shaft and it would act as a brake. The interesting thing was that when the elevator went down and struck the rubber it turned that nut and the pressure was so great and the motion so fast that it generated enough heat to weld together the two surfaces of the nut. Well, of course we didn’t buy the elevator. We showed good judgment, for there was only one other installation, in the Postal Savings Building in New York. We had a lot of fun in the elevator game. It is hard to realize to what an extent the elevator is the heart of a building. If the elevators were out of commission it paralyzed the building, and even if one was not working it created a bad impression: made people think the building was out of repair. For instance, some years later, when we were adding five stories to the Tribune Building at Madison and Dearborn, we did all the construction work from the alley; the materials being carried up by scaffolding and the tenants were not disturbed at all. They were scarcely conscious that the building was going on. But when we came to extend the elevator service to these additional floors it was necessary to shut down one elevator at a time. I got into one of the elevators one day and a man getting in after me grumbled, “There’s always one elevator in this building out of commission.” Even this much interference with the elevator service was hurting the building. I said to him, “Perhaps you have realized that we are adding five stories to the building and we must of course extend the elevator service up to the top, and I don’t know of any way of doing this without stopping one elevator at a time, do you?” He had never thought of that. But it is clear how much thought and care had to be given to the elevator system.

80 A rather amusing thing happened in connection with the building of the Marquette Building. It was the idea of Mr. Aldis for whom we were putting it up, that it be a memorial to Marquette. The glass mosaics and the bronze work were to give the main incidents of his life, and he asked us to find out Figure 9: Entry Door Detail, Marquette everything we could about him and he Building would do the same. Roche and I went at (City of Chicago) it: we read every book we could lay hands on, though when we were through we found that everything had been contained in the thirty eight pages of Marquette’s own journal. But there was no authentic picture of Marquette. We corresponded with Paris and Quebec and none could be unearthed, so we finally abandoned the idea and decided that we must use an imaginary portrait. From all that we could learn we judged him to have been a thin, spiritual looking man, and that is the representation that is in the principal bas-relief in the lobby. Five or six years afterward in one of the villages near Quebec an authentic portrait was found; it showed him as a man large, round and rosy. There is an incident in connection with the Old Colony Building which is of interest for the period. Several years before we built the Old Colony Building we built a little one-story tax payer on the lot, as economically as possible. It stood for three or four years. A building had been built immediately to the south and a party wall agreement entered into. Mr. Lathrop was anxious that the party wall should be adequate for any future building. Over the signature of Adler and Sullivan it was stated that the wall and foundation would be adequate for any future building that would be built in Chicago. Subsequent developments only proved how far they were from having any conception of what

81 skeleton construction might lead to. They illustrated again a favorite saying of Mr. Lathrop’s that “We could not be as wise as the future.” When we planned the Old Colony Building we found that the foundations were absolutely inadequate. In order not to have to pay for part of the party wall which would be of no use to the Old Colony and there being no agreement by which we could enter on the property adjoining, we had to build entirely on our own property. This necessitated some structural gymnastics which, (City of Chicago) however, were performed successfully. As a matter of fact we found that the party wall had settled so much out of plumb that two or three stories up it was beyond our line entirely, so that even if it had not been inadequate, in any case we could not have used it. Figure 10: Old Colony Building

The building was to be put on floating or spread foundations, and our problem was to carry the load on a cantilever so that it wouldn’t break through the hard clay which formed a three and a half foot to four foot layer at about fourteen feet under sidewalk level, and under which was about 60 feet of soft clay, about the consistency of modelling clay. Later the south end began to settle more rapidly than the north end so that several years afterward we were

Figure 11: Old Colony Building (Carroll Westfall; National Park Service)

82 compelled to put caissons there. This was as difficult as anything we had ever attempted, but it too was accomplished successfully.


The Panic of the 1890s

The period immediately before and immediately following the Columbus Exposition showed a boom in building in the loop district as well as some of the outlying districts. Some of the large buildings developed rapidly. Then came the depression of ’93, ’94, ’95 and ’96, when practically all building ceased in Chicago. It was not revived until the late 90s and early 1900s. Owing to the volume of work we had, we didn’t appreciate the first years of the panic. It started in New York in ’92, but due to the building for the World’s Fair and the amount of money coming into Chicago in ’93 it was not very much felt that year. In 1894 we were finishing the four buildings and were not much impressed by it that year. But in 1895 its pressure began to be felt. In that year Rogers Peet financed a building for F. M. Atwood on the northwest corner of Clark and Madison Streets and that was about the only building we had at that time. At about this time we came in contact with John M. Williams, who owned some property on the southwest corner of Wells and Monroe. A few years before this, Mr. Williams was approached by a man who wished to purchase some cut over timberland he owned in northeastern Minnesota. Williams valued the land at $1200 for the tract, as it was rather unfit for agriculture. The man offered $5000, which was so high that Williams hesitated. In the afternoon he offered $10,000 and the next morning $15,000. Williams was becoming more and more suspicious. He told him that he had to go out of town but he would see him in a week. That night he packed up his tent and cooking outfit and went up to Minnesota and camped on the land. He hadn’t been there long when he heard that iron had been discovered on his property. He naturally

84 refused to sell. Some time afterward he made a contract with the Carnegie Steel Company, forerunner of the United States Steel, for thirty-five cents a ton for all the iron taken out. This was the first opening of the surface mines, ore which could be handled by steam shovel. He received on an average of $50,000 a year from the steel company; the contract is still in force and he is still getting it. Knowing that Williams had come into the possession of all this money, we approached him and tried to induce him to put up a building on his property. Prices were very low; we showed him that he could put it up for ten cents a cubic foot, one half what it would have been before 1892. He agreed, and at that price we put up the Williams Building; it is a good building yet. During this panic there was a great deal of unemployment. Coxey led his army22 of unemployed to Washington to try to get something done about it. There were no buildings being put up, no repairs; our organization was reduced to a skeleton organization. As there was so little business to be had, Roche and Holabird decided to go to Europe; that left Charles E. Fox, Frank B. Long, and myself to carry on the office. We sat round with nothing to do, trying to kill time. Sometimes the mailman wouldn’t even come. One day, some time before Holabird and Roche returned, one of Mr. Holabird’s old friends, a Mr. Louis Webster, a well-to-do ex-naval officer, came in and talked about a building on the corner of Ogden and Madison. He had consulted Holabird about it in ’93, and Holabird had made an estimate of $54,000. He asked me what it could be built for now, and I told him $28,000. He thought I was wrong. 22

85 Knowing he was a sportsman, I made him a proposition that we make the drawings and take the bids, and if it was more than $28,000, he needn’t pay us fees or proceed with the building. If they were less, he must build the building and we get 5%. The low bid, with our fees, was $27,500. He began to crawfish, but I insisted that he pay his debt. We had been willing to take a chance and perhaps lose, but he didn’t intend to be the loser. He finally did build, but it was not until after Holabird’s return. In December 1896, I made a proposition to Mr. Holabird and Mr. Roche to take me in as a partner. After some discussion, this was agreed to. I paid two thousand dollars for a one-fifth interest, each of them having two fifths. In 1897 the turn in the depression had come and business began slowly to revive. But January first 1897, my share of the firm’s loss was $12,000. It took all I had, but I stuck. Fortunately, in ’94 or ’95 when the Hale tract of land was released, I had induced Holabird and Roche, who had some money to invest, to buy five corner lots, paying down as little as possible on them, actually $10,000. In ’96 we borrowed $12,000 on them, which paid the balance on the lots and left quite a little cash. Toward the end of ’97 we sold those lots and cleared twelve or thirteen thousand additional, which helped a good deal in tiding us over that disastrous year. Well, I was taken into the firm; I was business manager, wrote the specifications for all branches except the electrical, had charge of taking bids, closing contracts, and was general superintendent of all the work done. I worked sixteen hours a day in those years. Probably all that saved me was that I always took a vacation. Holabird was a thorough believer in ample vacations, so that even before I entered the firm I always

86 took a month’s vacation in the summer. I would go off camping, get hard, and come back fit for another year. I did have one nervous breakdown. My physician said what I needed was a good dose of “dorsal incumbitus.” Mr. Holabird, who was an imperious man, an army officer to whom you couldn’t talk back, said “Go away, to the seashore or anywhere, stay as long as you want to – your salary goes on, your position is waiting for you and all your work will be done while you are gone.” Mr. Roche, who was a different temperament, said, “It’s going to be hard to get along without you; come back as soon as you can.” When after six weeks’ rest I returned, I opened my roll-top desk and all the mail for the time I had been away was stacked up there, most of it not even opened.


Foundations and Deep Basements

Prior to 1890 the foundations of nearly all buildings in Chicago were floating foundations; that is, spread foundations in which the area of the foundation under the piers and columns was spread over a hard stratum of clay with an equal pressure, depending on the weight of the various piers or columns, so that the load on the clay was balanced as nearly as possible and settlement was anticipated. In a building of twelve stories or more, three or four inches’ settlement was allowed for. By balancing foundations so that the pressure was equal, the whole building settled evenly. The use of piles had not then been attempted in the loop district for the simple reason that no satisfactory method of driving the piles had been discovered. The method then in use was to lift a four or five ton weight up to the head of a derrick, release it, letting it strike from a distance of twenty-five feet. The resulting vibration was so excessive that adjoining property owners objected and even enjoined the contractor from further driving. A little later a steam hammer for pile driving was devised and put into operation; this gave a light blow with great rapidity, causing the piles to penetrate. At about this time, therefore, piles began to be used in some places. In connection with supporting a party wall of the Stock Exchange on the southwest corner of Washington and LaSalle Streets, General Sooy-Smith put in several caissons; I believe they were the first to be used. They were wells sunk down to the underlying stratum of rock, 100 feet below the sidewalk, and filled with concrete.

88 The next caissons were under the Old Colony building two or three years later, to support the south end of the building, which was sinking more rapidly than the general structure. Sooy-Smith put down these caissons also. The importance of this step became manifest at once. From that date no sixteen-story building was erected without foundations being carried down 60 to 65 feet to “hard pan,� a clay and gravel stratum extending from the limestone which is the bedrock under Chicago up to this point. The larger buildings were generally carried down to bedrock. In sinking these early caissons, it was found that the open wells had to be supported against enormous pressure; a pressure that constantly increased as you went down through the clay. The clay under Chicago is of a peculiar nature. There is first bedrock, then hardpan, 12 to 35 feet thick and fairly firm, which in order to be excavated must be loosened with a pick, can’t be shoveled out. Then extending to 18 feet below sidewalk level is a soft clay, almost the consistency of modelling clay, so non-resistant that a pole can easily be pushed down through it. This clay is fluid, of somewhat the character of bread dough. If you were to dig out a hole, the walls would stand up and the hole would show no visible change, but the clay would gradually flow in until it had closed up the entire opening: precisely as bread dough would act if you cut a hole in it. It became increasingly important that while sinking the caisson, the clay be held against all possible movement until the hole was filled with concrete. In 1901 we entered into a contract for architectural services for the Tribune Building, to be erected at Dearborn and Madison Streets. Mr. Robert Patterson, manager of the Tribune, was anxious that the presses be placed in the basement in order that the vibration from them need not be felt in the rest of the building. It was necessary

89 therefore, for headroom for the presses, that the basement be approximately 33 feet below sidewalk level. This had never been done in Chicago. Everyone was sure that if it was done, the surrounding buildings, resting on floating foundations, would automatically fall into the excavation. Surrounding property owners were advised in writing by such architectural firms as Burnham and Root, Adler and Sullivan, and W. L. B. Jenney, that this would be the case. We were notified that the work would not be permitted; that we would be enjoined from cutting through the firm stratum of clay. Well, our drawings were made, the scheme of construction evolved, and specifications drawn. The contract was awarded to George A. Fuller. Purdy and Henderson, engineers, were awarded the contract for the designing of the structural steel and the foundations, working under our direction. Prior to entering on the work, Mr. Holabird decided that instead of specifying the methods to be used, he would specify the results only, leaving the methods to the ingenuity and experience of the contractor. Therefore our specifications had outlined that walls surrounding the lot be built, in substantially the following manner. A trench be dug down to the first hard stratum of clay, and the sides be lined with planks with vertical walings, with jackscrews placed at about three feet centers vertically, four feet centers horizontally, and screwed up till they were tight. Then the excavation be continued about three feet more and the lagging be set, walings inserted with the jackscrews, continuing by this method, and maintaining constantly sufficient pressure to keep the sides set, with no movement of the clay. We then specified that concrete be immediately put into the bottom to keep the clay from coming up. As soon as there was any excavation of clay behind these walls, braces with jackscrews were to be set up, holding the walls

90 without any movement until the excavations were complete and the floors of concrete laid. Across the building it was designed to put concrete struts going both directions, thus holding the bottom of the wall against any movement. The danger point of the Tribune Building was a ten-foot alley across which stood McVickers Theater. Our work had to be carried out to the center of the alley. The Fuller Company started ahead with their work, not following the methods previously specified by us and then later omitted from the specifications, and almost immediately McVickers Theater began to settle. We immediately stopped the work and demanded that he proceed as per the destroyed specifications for the method. He did, and the work progressed, leaving McVickers undisturbed. In the Dearborn Street wall under the sidewalk, Purdy and Henderson thought a gravity wall sufficient to carry the pressure of the street was all right. It was put down to a depth of about twelve or fourteen feet. Engineers were confident that without carrying it down to the depth of the rest of the basement the wall would be of sufficient size to resist this pressure. This was the first deep basement work to be used in Chicago; out of it has grown the use of the basement, subbasement and sub-sub-basement in the loop district, giving of course much additional space in that crowded area. They have since been carried down 75, 78 feet below sidewalk level; the idea was considered impossible prior to the Tribune basement. All successful deep basements have followed the method we laid down. Two attempts were made to change it, with serious results: damage to the inside of the building as well as to streets and surrounding property. One case was

91 that of the Marshall Field Men’s building, of which Ernest P. Graham was the architect. He proposed to make a change in method, really because he couldn’t bear to follow us so closely. But when I heard what he intended to do I went to him and told him he could do it any place except next to the Venetian building, which was old and which was one of our buildings. He agreed not to try his new method there, but he did try it on the Washington and Wabash Avenue wall. The consequence was it let go in the night, and dropped the Washington Street pavement eight feet. There was a nineinch bow in the columns supporting the whole structure; why they didn’t give way and let the whole building down, nobody will ever know. In connection with the County Building, which was erected right alongside the foundation of the City Hall, we further perfected our method by putting the jackscrews inside metal cylinders and leaving them in place until the concrete walls were thoroughly set. Then they were removed and the holes filled up with concrete grout. This maintained constant pressure and avoided any movement till the concrete was set; no settlement took place in the City Hall. On practically the same day that the erection of the Tribune Building was begun, work was started on the State Street Marshall Field Building. One day, after the Tribune basement was finished, Mr. Marshall Field and his architect, Mr. Ernest R. Graham, visited it. Mr. Graham was with the firm of D. H. Burnham and Company, the name of the company after the death of Mr. Root in 1902. Mr. Field looked over the basement, then turning to Mr. Graham, said, “Mr. Graham, you made a mistake; you should have done this under my building. This would have been of great value to me. Why didn’t you think of it?” Mr. Graham was a schoolmate of mine, a good friend who had come down to

92 Chicago at my instigation, so it was pretty hard on him to have this said before me. A year later, at several times what would have been the original expense, a deep basement was put under the Field Building. There used to be an ordinance that you couldn’t sell goods in a sub-sub-basement. This came up in connection with Mandel’s, of which we were the architects and for which we were responsible. I had chemists bag the air in that sub-basement, and the city’s chemists bag it right alongside of ours, and then compare it with air bagged on the corner of Madison and State Streets five feet above the sidewalk. The air outside was found to have double the noxious qualities. We were pretty sure that would be true; the air in the sub-basement was brought down in a duct from the top of the building, washed with an air filter and changed ten times an hour. To show how far wrong a man with a hobby can go – we had a hotel with a basement kitchen. This was against the ordinance, but we simply had to do it; there was no place else for the kitchen to go. They hadn’t intended to have a restaurant in the hotel at first, and then wanted to put it in. Well, the hotel was finished, all ready to open in a few days, rooms were booked at the time of the opening, a convention was coming. The authorities got wind of our basement kitchen and threatened to close the hotel. Dr. Evans and Dr. Ball came over to inspect it and there seemed little hope. Then they spied a window about twenty inches high and five feet long directly over the ranges and giving on a ten-foot alley. There that was the solution; if we would open that window we could operate the kitchen after all. We opened it, and all the filth from the alley – the suction in a building like that is terrific – blew directly in. The window being right over the range, there wasn’t any of the food which would have escaped. “Now that’s sanitary,” said the experts, and left us. We never opened

93 that window again. Our air was brought down from the roof of the building as in the case of Mandel’s sub-basement, and changed ten times an hour. Shortly after the completion of the Tribune Building, John M. Ewen, brother-in-law of Robert Patterson, publisher of the Tribune, returned from London where he had been for many months, and expressed great interest in the deep basement problem. He discussed it with Holabird and myself, also with William Merriman, Chicago manager for George A. Fuller Company, the contractors, and with Charles E. Fox, the superintendent of the Tribune Building. He finally borrowed two draftsmen to lay out the diagrams showing the methods of construction, all ostensibly for the purpose of writing an article for publication. A few weeks later we learned from outside sources that Mr. Ewen had obtained a patent on the process. He came into our office and showed the papers to Mr. Holabird and myself, but we didn’t take him very seriously. It struck us as rather a joke that we should do all the work and he should take out the patent. But the matter threatened to be something more than a joke when a little later he proposed to bring suit on a building we were erecting on the southwest corner of State and Madison Streets, saying that we were infringing on his patent. Yet nothing came of it; the suit was never filed. However, after the deep basement was put in the Boston Store on the northeast corner of Madison and Dearborn, a suit was filed by Ewen against Mrs. Mollie Netcher, owner, John Griffith, contractor, and Holabird and Roche. Some year and a half prior to the filing of this suit, Mr. Ewen had come to me very anxious that his brother Malcolm have a chance to study under J. B. Blake, our electrical engineer. We took him in at a modest salary

94 commensurate with his inexperience, and he remained with us some sixteen months. During this period the work on the Boston Store was carried through from its inception to a point somewhat above the sidewalk level. Just previous to the completing of the basement work, Malcolm Ewen resigned. When the suit started, Malcolm Ewen was the first witness put on the stand. He testified that he had been in the employ of Holabird and Roche for sixteen months, and that in this position there had had access to all drawings and specifications, and permission to thoroughly examine the work in progress. He submitted a sheaf of drawings showing the methods we had used, and showing where they infringed on his brother’s patents. John Ewen, in his testimony, claimed that he had been developing his idea in London for a matter of two years or more. Under the patent laws, in order to prove priority of use, it is necessary that you show a use of the device two years previous to the taking out of the patent. Now as the patent was taken out shortly after the Tribune Building was competed, this did not comprise priority of use. In searching for a use of this method, both in the larger cities of the east and in Chicago, we found great difficulty in locating any building where methods similar to ours had been used two years prior to the taking out of the patent. Testimony furnished by the Ewens and their associates, while largely questionable, if not false, was ingenious enough to read very well, and we were alarmed at the apparent defeat of our defense. It fell to my lot to read the transcription of the testimony after the court adjourned in the morning and before it assembled in the afternoon, and again after closing hour in the afternoon. Mr. Charles Linthicum, our attorney, in his cross-examination of Ewen, asked him when

95 he first thought of the idea of deep basement construction. He answered, “When my brother-in-law, Mr. Patterson, publisher of the Tribune, wrote me of the difficulty he was having with his basement.” Evidently Mr. Linthicum didn’t realize the importance of this answer. The south wall of the Tribune Building had been put in by our method before the movement of the Dearborn Street wall, which was undoubtedly the “trouble” Mr. Patterson’s letter referred to. This proved to be a valuable point in our defense; it entered the Tribune as a priority use of the device. The case was won in the lower court, but Ewen appealed to the Appellate Court. In the trial of that case, briefs were submitted. Mr. Parker, patent attorney for Mr. Ewen, had the opening argument. He was very short and rather general; we knew he was saving his final important arguments for the conclusion, which would be his due after our attorney had made his argument. During his argument our attorney, in a sort of careless way, kept turning over the pages of the Ewen brief, which was on the reading desk in front of him. He did it casually, as a man might play with his glasses or his notes while he was talking. The adjournment was taken for the noon hour, and our attorney stated that he would need ten or fifteen minutes after the adjournment to finish up his case. When we returned to the court in the afternoon, he again had the Ewen brief on the reading desk, and again he flipped over the pages casually. Suddenly, in the middle of a sentence, he stopped, and pointing to one of the drawings in the brief, said, “Here’s a drawing I don’t recall seeing. This drawing looks as if it had been inserted in the brief; show where it occurred in the original record.” A period of several minutes elapsed, in which Ewen and his attorney fingered over the pages of the original record, searching for the drawing. Our attorney kept up a running fire of comment, such as “fraudulent,” “false,” “If this had been

96 validated it would have destroyed every bit of our evidence.� Ewen’s and Parker’s faces became redder and redder as they made their vain search. It became more and more plain that the drawing was fraudulent, fraudulently inserted. Then Mr. Linthicum finished his argument with a few words and sat down. Parker rose to make his closing argument, but the incident of the drawing had obviously disturbed him so that he was unable to make any statement at all. After a moment of rambling talk, in which one of his quotations of a statement by our attorney was challenged and proved to be wrong, he sat down. We won the case, though it cost us $35,000 to do so. Thirty-five thousand dollars to win the right to use our own method.


City and County Buildings

Shortly after we built the Tribune Building, we secured the contract for the County Building. It was rather interesting the way it happened. The County Commissioners announced a competition for a new county building on the site between Washington and Randolph Streets on the west side of Clark, covering a half a block. It was to be a paid competition, and a citizen’s committee had it in charge, but with a provision that they could make a recommendation, but the Board of County Commissioners would reserve the right of awarding a contract.

Figure 12: City and County Building (Pat Sabin)

Immediately after this competition was announced, we decided to enter it, and representatives from our office made it their duty to become acquainted with the heads of departments in the county and discuss with them their requirements in the new building. Some were not interested, but some were very much so, and sent in suggestions. With this mass of information before us, we started the drawings for the competition. When the awards were made, we won the second prize only, the first going to a St. Louis firm of architects. After the awarding of the prizes, the question then came up with the Board of County Commissioners as to the selection of the architects. Through one of the county commissioners, we induced the County Board to call in the

98 heads of departments and have them examine the competition drawings, which were still hanging in the Boardroom and not marked in any way to identify the competitors. We suggested that the heads of departments examine them to see which set of drawings most nearly met their requirements. Inasmuch as we had made a personal study of the question with these heads of departments, they picked our drawings as being those most nearly complying. A meeting of the County Board was held, and two or three competing architects were called in to explain their drawings. With this meeting in mind, we had taken off in our office answers to all the questions which we thought likely to be asked: tonnage of steel, cubic yards of concrete, cubic feet of stone, number of thousands of brick, number of yards of plastering, and a good many other items on which we thought they might be disposed to ask questions. Holabird, before going to the meting, memorized all these items. The first architect to be called was the first prize winner. Some of these questions were asked, and his answer invariably was, “I’ll look it up and let you know.” Holabird was called in next. As there were several contractors on the County Board, the questions were rather explicit. The first was “What is the cubic content of the building?” Immediately Holabird gave his answer. A number of other questions on which Holabird had prepared himself followed. At the end of the examination, one of the commissioners arose and made a motion that the County Board employ Holabird and Roche as architects. The result was a vote of twelve for Holabird and Roche, and three scattering. The actual voting was in Star Chamber, without Mr. Holabird or any other outside person being present. The next day Mr. Holabird was called back to the Board meeting. We had had some intimation of the success of the previous interview and vote, but nothing definite. But after the

99 County commissioners had discussed the terms of a contract broadly and Mr. Holabird had answered all questions put to him, he rose and said that on the part of the firm he wished to say that this building would be undertaken only as a private enterprise. It would be built within the appropriation, and within the time limit, and there would be the same resistance to anything approaching favoritism. The building was built within the appropriation and within the time limit and without a scintilla of graft or favoritism, with less than $500 worth of extras. It was one of the marked cases of a public building built in this way. Certain of the County commissioners did in a few cases try to show favoritism, but by the staunch attitude of the firm, all such attempts were immediately squelched. The sad ending was that when these same commissioners came up for reelection, using this record as a basis for their worthiness, only one was reelected: William Busse. It looked as if the people didn’t want honesty in politics. One case of attempted favoritism was that of Bedford stone versus granite. We went about quietly to get some figures on granite, taking care that they should be well under those for the stone. Then when the question came up, we indicated that we already had some figures on granite and that they were reasonable. With the help of the President of the Board of Commissioners, Edward Brundage, we secured Mr. John Shedd of Marshall Field and Company to testify that granite was satisfactory and granite was decided upon. It was in such quiet ways, without the mention of the word graft, that we circumvented any attempt at it. Afterward, due to our success in handling the County Building, we obtained the contract for the City Hall. The city portion was erected at about the same cost, in about the same time, and within the appropriation.

100 The contract for this building was obtained from the City Council, a contract the wording of which was substantially similar to that for the County Building. I was called over to the City Hall and told by Mayor Fred Busse that the city had only about a million dollars legally appropriated for the five million dollar structure. The contract was to be so worded that payment would be made only if funds were available and the appropriation made. Mayor Busse said, “If we can get it up to sidewalk level for a million we’ll go ahead.” I assured him that we could. The Noel Construction Company of Baltimore were the low bidders on the building. The contract was drafted by the legal department in the city, and I was kept busy for several days while this was being done, to see that all points were covered. Paragraph fourteen had to do with this clause in regard to payment. The state law forbade making a contract beyond a certain income, but the question was covered substantially by the city agreeing to pay if funds were legally available and legally appropriated up to the amount of blank dollars for the completion of the work. A meeting was held one Sunday afternoon at Mr. Holabird’s home, with Mr. Bartlett of Baltimore and Martin Gridley of Chicago, attorneys for Noel, Mr. Otis representing the city, Mr. Holabird and myself. Prior to the meeting, Mr. Holabird read over the contract and when he reached article fourteen, he said, “They’ll never sign it.” The contract was taken up paragraph by paragraph, and some minor points were objected to. When we reached paragraph fourteen Mr. Gridley snapped “You never can sign a thing of that sort.” Mr. Bartlett said little, but he read it over several times, then he said, “I’d rather have a legal contract and trust the city of Chicago to meet its requirements when it can, than have an illegal contract. He recommended signing.

101 We were very proud of the character of the workmanship of the Noel Construction Company on the City Hall. We found them very tractable, intentionally honest, and we were quite delighted with the progress of the building. But shortly before it was finished an unfortunate thing occurred. Sometime prior to the plastering being applied, the local representative of the Noel Company who had an office in the Stock Exchange Building on the southwest corner of LaSalle and Washington Streets, saw a workman in blue jeans sitting on a pile of lumber reading a newspaper. He watched the man off and on for two hours, and he still sat reading his paper. So he called up the superintendent and said, “Go to such and such a room on such and such a floor and you’ll find a workman in blue jeans; discharge him no matter what he says.” He was discharged. Two weeks later this workman called Mr. Noel in Baltimore on the telephone and told him there had been skimping practiced in the building and unless he “came across” he, the workman, would give the information to the newspapers. Noel came on to Chicago and called the man in to his office. He had arranged two Dictaphones prior to his coming in. When he arrived Mr. Noel asked him to go with him and point out the defective work. No, he wouldn’t, but unless Mr. Noel “came across” – Mr. Noel asked what he meant by coming across, and the man said having the superintendent of the building discharged and other vaguer demands. The man left the office, leaving an unintentional record of the conversation behind him, and this was the last heard from him until the building was completed. Then Alderman Merriam asked Mayor Busse that a committee be appointed to investigate the building; there were rumors of fraud. Such a committee was appointed, Julius Rosenwald was one of the members, Alderman Merriam was chairman. It seems that the blackmailer had submitted a list of twenty-nine defects in the building and Mr. Noel and

102 ourselves agreed to see that spaces were opened up for a proper investigation of these places. The charge was that the concrete around the steel columns had been omitted. We explained that the steel columns were amply protected by the four-inch brickwork, that the concrete was merely an added insurance against rusting or any other corrosion, so that even if concrete had been omitted in some places it was not of great importance. But the twenty-nine places were opened up. Out of them all one space was found where a few inches of concrete – a space as big as my two fists perhaps – was missing. We explained to Alderman Merriam and particularly I explained in person to Mr. Rosenwald, just exactly what this man was; we tried to shame them into stopping the investigation. I said to Mr. Rosenwald, “You have a fine mahogany table in your home; I could name twenty-nine defects which might be in that table, and go out and find one of them.” He asked what I knew about his table. I told him that no workmanship was absolutely perfect and that out of twenty-nine possible defects surely one of them would be present. But in spite of all we could do or say, they decided to go ahead with the investigation. I have never quite understood this on the part of a man like Rosenwald. I could understand it with Merriam. So a committee of three experts was appointed; they were Colonel West, an architect, of Boston, Professor Talbot of the University of Illinois, and an engineer who had some political position in Jackson, Michigan; this last appointed by Merriam. The agreement was that the findings of these experts were to be published without comment. The findings were that on the five million dollar building the amount of skimping which they were able to locate amounted to just $129. They made the further comment that the building was the most perfect of any building they had ever examined. In spite of this favorable report, Alderman Merriam influenced them to modify it to the extent of saying the

103 investigation – which had cost the city more than $8,000 and the contractor several thousand in repairing damage done – had been worthwhile. No mention was made of the $129. It was really too bad the public couldn’t have been told what a fine building they had. During the investigation it developed that this blackmailer, who had been employed as a mason, was actually in the pay of a politically opposed Chicago newspaper for the purpose of finding something in this building from which to make political capital. He had even attempted, being a mason, to so lay the bricks surrounding the columns that the concrete, which was rather thin and was according to the specifications poured in every three feet, would not be able to go through. The only trouble was, the poor fellow had no memory and out of twenty-nine places he had fixed he could only find one of them. After this misleading report was published in the Tribune, a friend of mine on the paper, who knew the whole story from me, put it in his Sunday column so that it did actually reach the public.


The Boston Store

We have done some other good jobs, and some unusual ones. As a matter of fact, I think we are the only ones who have ever attempted to replace floating foundations with caissons. That is a difficult undertaking, holding a building up while you dig a hole under it. We did that in connection with the building of the Boston Store23. We had some small repairs to make in the Boston Store while it still occupied the old buildings, and I took charge of the job. I met then for the first time Charles Netcher, Sr., the owner, who had worked his way up from a clerk, who slept on a counter, and who was a perfect slave driver. However, he was not very well, so most of his slave driving was confined to the first floor. One day he did get up to the third floor, so the story goes, and he said to the woman who became Mrs. Mollie Netcher, and was then the head of the millinery department, “You’ve a good business head and you’re a good-looking woman; will you marry me?” He added “You needn’t give me an answer now; I’ll be back this afternoon.” They always said he got her out of stock. Though he gave her time to make her decision, he himself never needed any time. He was a man of instant decisions. One day he went in to Owen Aldis’ office and demanded, “Mr. Aldis, how much do you want for the Champlain?” Mr. Aldis, after figuring a little, gave him the figure $834,000. “Is that the best price you’ll make?” Mr. Aldis said it was. “Alright, I’ll take it.” The contract was drawn up; Mr. Netcher paid $50,000 with a


The Boston Store Building at 22 West Madison now houses Sears. See Walk.asp.

105 certified check, and the deal was completed all while he sat there in the office. During the repairs on this building he told me that he had had Mundy and Jensen make some drawings for a new building for which he had paid them $3,000, but he hadn’t liked the drawings so he had dropped the whole thing. I made him a proposition that if he would employ us to build the building we would refund the three thousand to him. Some months after this Charles Netcher dropped dead. Mrs. Mollie Netcher took over the management of the store and though she didn’t increase the sales on the first floor, she increased them on the second and third way beyond anything old Netcher had been able to do. Mrs. Netcher was a wonderful businesswoman. She was one of those people, rare among men or women, who can talk for two hours on a subject and never get off the point, never shift and never forget a thing that is said. She was a pleasure to do business with. One time while Holabird and Roche were out of the city she told me she was ready to develop the property. She had control of the entire half block from State Street to Dearborn north of Madison. Most of the property was under lease; she owned one fee, forty-five feet adjoining the Champlain Building. But she wouldn’t discuss it with me herself, told me to see her attorney Moritz Rosenthal. When I went into his office he closed the windows, transom and door. After some hours when we had agreed on the commission and had closed up the contract on terms satisfactory to both, I told him there was one more point but that I would write him a note on the subject when I got back to my office. It was about the three thousand dollars; I wrote telling him that we had agreed to refund it and would keep our agreement. This had a wonderful influence on Mrs. Netcher. It settled for her the fact that we were honest.

106 We built the building in sections, Mrs. Netcher stating that she wished eventually to cover the entire block. She wanted seven stories mercantile building, and up to the limit of the ordinance height, office building. I told her I didn’t think an office building would pay over a department store. She insisted that you couldn’t merchandise above the fifth floor; she then wanted two floors for stock. I thought she was mistaken in this, but she was firm. I also couldn’t convince her about the offices, but she decided not to add those at once. When it came to giving out the contracts, for once in my life I was deceitful. I went to the engineer and told him to design the caissons and columns for a sixteen story mercantile building, and to tell no one, not even Mr. Holabird, about it. That is the way they were designed. The Figure 13: The Boston Store (Scott A. Newman) initial building was seven stories high. We had hardly completed the first section, on State Street, before Mrs. Netcher wanted to carry it up twelve stories. She asked what we could do about it and I told her of my practiced deceit. She looked at me with her poker face and said, “Mr. Renwick, you had no right to do any such thing without my orders, but – I am very glad you did.” Henry Hart, her brother-in-law, was not as keen as she was, but he was our active contact. Just before we wrecked the first section Hart called me over to his office and

107 said, sotto voce, “Do you believe in signs?” I said yes, properly placed, I thought they were a very good advertisement – but he interrupted me, “That’s not the kind of sign I mean.” He went on to tell that two of the girls on the third floor had been to two different clairvoyants and one had been told that she was going to be injured in the wrecking of a building and the other that she was going to be killed. Mr. Hart himself had gone to a third and had been told that serious trouble was to come to him through the wrecking of a building. He was doubtful whether we ought to go ahead. Well, we went ahead and no one was injured or killed. It was in the building of this first section that we had to support the north party wall of the Champlain Building, and do what was considered impossible: cut a hole through the floating foundation and sink caissons underneath, maintaining the level of the building with jackscrews. This was the first time it was attempted, and it was very difficult, holding the sixteen-story building and digging under the columns which supported it. The entire property was finally built up with the exception of the Champlain building. Mrs. Netcher’s idea was that that could be remodeled for a department store. But the columns were so light and it was so badly arranged that I could see no way for working out a proper development. The floor levels were not even the same as the Boston Store. So I called on Mrs. Netcher and told her there was only one thing to do, and that was tear down the Champlain. She asked if I knew how much they had paid for that building, and I told her I did: $834,000. But I showed her that she was paying $55,000 ground rent for the 45 feet adjoining the alley on State Street, and $32,000 ground rent for the 66 feet on the corner of Madison. This $32,000 ground rent plus $33,000, which was 4% on the $834,000, meant that she was paying only $65,000 for that corner.

108 Looked at in those terms it meant that even tearing down the building and erecting a new one, she would still have a good deal. In the ground lease, however, there was no provision for the Champlain Building being torn down. We went to see the owner’s agent, and he said we must see Samuel Crozier, the owner of the fee, a man of ninety-three. When Rosenthal and I went to Philadelphia to see him and after we had presented all our arguments, showing him the advantages, he quavered, I can hear him yet, “The Champlain Building is a pretty good security for the lease and I don’t think I want to tear it down.” A year and a half later he died, but his heirs wouldn’t allow it either. So I told Mrs. Netcher there was nothing for it but to buy the fee. She asked me what I thought she would have to pay for it and I said, “You are at a disadvantage; they know how much you need it, so I think they will figure it on a 3% basis instead of a 4%. I believe you can get it for a million dollars, but not much less.” They bought it for a million. That purchase, when it was consummated, increased the value of the property a million; it immediately became worth two million. It was a good deal for Mrs. Netcher. John Griffith, an old time contractor, had been low bidder on the first section and was the contractor throughout. John Griffith was a character in many ways. He was as hard as nails, difficult to do business with, but his work stood very high in quality and speed of erection. When we were about to proceed with the contracts for the Dearborn Street section, we found that because of some loans Mrs. Netcher had with the New York Life Insurance Company, she was not allowed to make any contract, even verbally, until they were cleared up. We had access to the lot May first and we must be through, for the good of the store, by November first. On three occasions we thought we were in a position to enter into the contract, and each time Griffith

109 increased his bid. Several days elapsed trying to get him to come down to moderate terms, and finally we reached an agreement late one Thursday night. Friday morning at nine o’clock I arrived with the contract at Hart’s office and saw Mr. Griffith in the inner room. I heard him say to Mr. Hart he “wouldn’t sign the contract if I was there.” He came to the door, white as a sheet and visibly angry and refused to sign. I finally made him do it and he did sign, driving the pen through the paper two or three times in his agitation. I learned afterward that his agitation came from the fact that it was Friday and he was superstitious about signing anything on Friday. We were occupied all day signing contracts and specifications, but by four o’clock they were all signed and we, Mr. Griffith and I, went out of the office together. When we got to the corner of Madison and Dearborn he was going one way and I the other and I said to him, “Mr. Griffith, do you know why I made you sign that contract today?” He said no. “Because tonight I’m going up fishing for a couple of weeks and I wasn’t going to let you spoil my vacation.” Suddenly the tears came into his eyes and he burst out, “My God, what wouldn’t I give if I could go away and take a vacation and leave my business. I can’t do it. I never have and I don’t know how.” That softened me. I felt intensely sorry for the man. One day some time later I called Mr. Griffith on the phone and asked him to come over to my office. When he got there I asked, “Will you do me a favor?” He said he would if he could, what was it? I told him I wouldn’t tell him what it was until I had his promise. He asked how much it involved, and I said not more than five hundred dollars. Rather grudgingly he consented. So I said, “Have you got any money in your pocket?” “Yes, a hundred dollars.” I got up, put on my hat and started to drag him out of the office. “Where are you going?” I wouldn’t tell him, but I took him

110 over to Thomas Cook and Son and said, “Now buy a ticket for Naples.” I explained to him that he had a full grown son who had never had a chance to do anything in the building because his father had always been there, and I further said that I would keep an eye on the Boston Store job and see that nothing went wrong. He went off to Naples, but he only got off the boat for a couple of days and came back on the same boat. However the next year he went over and stayed a month and he’s taken a vacation every year since. We became fast friends. To this day if any dispute arises on a job they always call me and get Mr. Griffith and we go into a room and settle it. That’s the sort of thing that eases the troubles of getting along with people. One day during the wrecking of the Boston Store Mr. Griffith and I were looking at a wall which, instead of wrecking, I wanted to save as a fire wall. Mr. Griffith said no, it ought to come down. But I insisted; I said it had been carrying a load but we weren’t expecting it to carry any load, we only wanted it for fire protection. Mr. Griffith said no, it was a rotten wall and must come down. I still insisted until he burst out “Damn it, I know it’s rotten, I built it.” In the building of the first section of the Boston Store I made a terrible mistake, one which is a source of deep regret to me and always will be. From the time I came into the office in ’82 till that time, about 1905, I had been a very close friend of Mr. Roche. We had camped together, traveled together, lunched every day together with almost no exceptions. Roche selected a granite for the Boston Store, a characterless gray granite which everyone in the organization, including Mr. Holabird, thought was a mistake. We did everything we could to make him change, but he was a stubborn man and we couldn’t make any impression on him. As I had brought the job into the office I was particularly anxious to have it right. Mr. Holabird was

111 going to Europe and as he went out the door he said, “Renwick, don’t let Roche use that granite, no matter what you have to do.” So, in desperation I attempted a subterfuge. I got hold of the granite contractor and told him our troubles, and had him write me a letter saying it would be impossible to furnish this granite on time but he could furnish another kind which Roche had used before and liked very much. I wrote Mrs. Netcher and told her that the majority of the firm liked this granite better than the type previously selected. Hart showed the letter to Roche, who called the contractor and asked why he couldn’t furnish the granite on time. He said he could. Mr. Roche, realizing what I had done, never spoke to me for six months, not even to say good morning. He never forgave me, really. My only satisfaction was that when we built the second section of the Boston Store Roche wanted to know how much it would cost to replace the granite of the first section with the other granite.


Mandel Brothers Department Store

24 Ultimately we built Mandel’s store , first the section on the corner of Wabash and Madison. Mr. Mandel was very hard to deal with, suspicious and always bickering over the cost of everything. He thought prices were given him only to be lowered. He was a hard trader. In building this first section it was necessary to make a connection under the alley to the old store, as a connection to a future store on State Street. We discovered a prefire sewer, of which the records had been burned at the time of the fire, which was too high and must be lowered. But there was some trouble about doing it for fear of Figure 14: The Mandel Brothers Store (Scott A. Newman) trapping the sewer, which the city would not allow. I took bids on the work from the plumber who was the sub-contractor and finally arrived at the figure of $79, lowered from $140. I called Mr. Mandel and told him that I would be right over with the order to be signed. He said that as it was Saturday noon he was just leaving for home and he couldn’t wait to sign it then, but to go ahead with the work and he would sign it Monday morning. I said that was all right and Monday morning appeared with the order to be signed. Mr. Mandel said, “Is the work all done?” I said it was. “Everything done, no more to do?” I answered no.


113 “Then I won’t sign it.” I was amazed, and I didn’t mince matters in telling him just what I thought of him. I said, among other things, “Why, Mr. Mandel, $79 is cheap to find out what kind of a man you are. I’ll see that not an extra nail is driven in this building without having a signed order first.” About a month later Mr. Mandel called up and said a building of his, which was filled with automobiles on the second floor, was in danger of collapsing. The beams had dry rotted and it was liable to fall. Would we send house raisers over to jack it up? I said yes, when we had his written order. O, but he said it was Saturday and he was just leaving for home and didn’t have time to wait to sign the order. I said, “Mr. Mandel, you’ll send a written order over here over your signature or I won’t lift a hand. You may remember a little item of seventy nine dollars some time back—.” The signed order came right over. I said terrible things to Mr. Mandel and yet I couldn’t offend him. He was the kind of bully that if you call his bluff he is always your friend. Up to the day of his death he was one of the best friends I had. The next incident with him was when he left sprinklers out of his building, though they are definitely ordered by the insurance companies. Then later he decided to put them in. These should be under the general contract because as I explained to him “You can’t afford to let that contract separately for then you have a divided responsibility on finishing the building.” He awarded the separate contract. One day he asked me to come over to his office at ten o’clock. The general contractor was there also. Mr. Mandel came out of his office, bowing and smiling, rubbing his hands together, “Good morning, good morning, gentlemen.” Then turning to Wells, “Mr. Renwick and I have given a good deal of thought to this thing and we are going to make this

114 contract a subsidiary contract.” That ended all strife with Mr. Mandel. He was a hard man but not hard to me. One time a department store man from Peoria came up to Chicago to investigate architects for a store he proposed building. He intended to see several architects but he happened to come to us first. I suggested to him that he go over and see Leon Mandel for whom we had done the same kind of work, saying that though Mr. Mandel had never said a good thing to us he might about us. He went over and was shown into Mr. Mandel’s office. When he told him what he wanted, Mr. Mandel walked over to the door, locked it, and put the key in his pocket. Then he said, “I don’t care a thing about Holabird and Roche, but you agree to sign a contract with them or I won’t let you out of this office. Do whatever Renwick tells you to do; it will be the best thing for yourself.” Many jobs came to us from Mandel. Before we got hold of Mandel we did a job for Mr. Henry Foreman. Mr. Foreman said to me, “We will make our decisions verbally, and if they affect your interests in any way, write me a letter when we get through as to your understanding of it; if they affect mine I will do the same.” I found this very good advice, and acted on it for many years. With two different points of view it is so easy to have a misunderstanding, and when it gets down in writing you can see where it is at once and iron it out. Foreman, incidentally, got us the Mandel job. I had somewhat the same experience on contracts with J. 25 W. Stevens, for whom we built the LaSalle Hotel . He was a hard trader, wouldn’t let me enter into the awarding of the


There are several fine photographs of the construction of the LaSalle Hotel at this site:

115 subcontracts. Holabird said to him, “Renwick is an honest man.” Stevens answered, “I know he is, I’ve had him shadowed for the past month.” Mr. Stevens went ahead and let the contract for hardware to Yale and Towne for $32,000, subject to my approval. The Yale and Towne salesman came to me and said he had just closed the contract, showing it to me. I said, “No, you haven’t. It’s subject to my approval and I don’t approve. At three o’clock this afternoon I am going to buy that hardware for $25,000. You may use our phone and you had better get busy doing some calling.” At five minutes of three we closed the contract for $25,000 without any change in specifications or time schedule. When I called Mr. Stevens and told him he merely grunted. It didn’t bear fruit till two or three years later when we built the Illinois Life, of which Mr. Stevens was the president. We Figure 15: Hotel LaSalle (Scott A. Newman) had charge of the awarding of contracts on that, and also on the Stevens Hotel; all trading was left to me. We had beaten him at his own game, the sort of thing which would necessarily impress him. In awarding the contracts for the LaSalle, Mr. Stevens was very fortunate. Bids were in and we were ready to close the contract with Fuller, October 27, 1907, when I called Mr. Stevens and told him we were ready to close that day. He said, “Don’t do anything more about it; I have a private wire from New York, and there’s a run on the Knickerbocker

116 Trust – we are in the midst of a panic.” He thought by the fifteenth of January he would be ready to go ahead. When we did close, the contract was for $400,000 less than in the previous October. I feel certain that the subcontracts, if they hadn’t bee let then, but had been held even two months, would have cost a good deal more money, for prices came back rather promptly after January. We were not as fortunate some years later in closing the contracts for the Stevens. The first indication I had that Mr. Stevens contemplated another hotel building was when, one morning, he called me over to his office and showed me a photostat of a check for $100,000 he had just paid as earnest money on the site of what is now the Stevens Hotel. The project was then (this was two years before the actual work began) absolutely secret. For some three months I worked at home on plans, trying to arrive at some general decision such as to the number of rooms, etc. For our conferences Mr. Stevens and I had a room set aside on the fourth floor of the LaSalle. When we met, we always went in separately – Mr. Stevens going to the fifth floor and walking down – and when we left, he always waked to the third floor before getting into the elevator. When the work had reached a point where it was impossible for me to go further alone, I asked Mr. Stevens for permission to allow John Holabird to act for me. The contract had been sealed and in a strong box in our office, not to be opened until I gave permission. In March of the next year (I had begun my work in September) the deed became a record and all secrecy was abandoned. Mrs. Renwick and I had been planning a trip abroad for some time, and after the bids were in and I thought the contracts would be immediately awarded, I felt that it would be all right to go. In fact, it had been my idea for some time to withdraw from active work in the firm, and I had been arranging this, training a man whom I thought could

117 carry on my work. When I returned from my six months’ absence I found that the contract had, for some reason, been held up for three months and had consequently cost a good deal more than it should have cost.


The University Club

Up to the time when Thomas Jones, the head of the University Club building committee, walked into our office one morning and told us we had been selected as architects for their new building, we had had no intimation that they intended putting up a building. They had been occupying rented space, but when they decided it was time for them to build a building of their own, they appointed a committee of fifteen, of which Thomas Jones was the chairman and Arthur Aldis and Howard Shaw were two of the members, and decided to choose the architects without any competition or before any public announcement had been made, to avoid undue pressure being brought to bear. They chose us perhaps because we were building more buildings than anybody else at that time, and I think the design of the Venetian Building had some influence. They felt they couldn’t afford an elaborate building, and MR. Roche’s first design, which was Gothic, was objected to by Mr. Aldis and several others on the ground that a brick front couldn’t be used with the Gothic. It took many sessions before it was decided to make it of stone. The Figure 16: University Club Building (University Club of Chicago)

there were weeks of it!

sketches were changed two or three times to try to use brick; we tried everything else – O

119 At the start we urged the University Club to take on more property; they should have had it – it belonged to the McCormicks and they could have gotten it. But they were limited as to finances, and didn’t feel like taking on the extra obligation. That is the only criticism that could be made of the club: the space was too limited to get the best results. It was my duty in the firm to make the estimates. When I went before the committee with my estimate, it was one million fifty thousand. The whole office had been at sea about it; we hadn’t much idea what it would cost. Mr. Aldis said, “We’ll call it a million.” But I said no, we couldn’t; I had made a careful estimate, and that was my figure: one million, fifty thousand. There was a good deal of amusement when the bids were in and Fuller’s, the low bid, was exactly one million, and I told the committee that that was what the fifty thousand was for – our fee of five percent. We built the building on a guarantee contract that it wouldn’t cost over a million, and 90% of any saving was to go to the club and 10% to the contractor. Even with the addition of some racket courts in the roof space and quite a number of additional improvements in the lower part of the club, the entire building, with fees, came to the exact figure of one million fifty thousand. That didn’t hurt us with that committee at all. Mr. Roche designed the building. The main Figure 17: University Club, Michigan Room (University Club of Chicago) dining room was largely suggested by the Albert Hall, I believe it was, in London,

120 which has since been torn down. The drawings were published in English journals and they appealed to Roche as a motive for the room. The cartoons for the stained glass were made by Frederick Bartlett after months of study and each window tells a story: everything in it means something. I think they should be given more attention; I don’t believe they are ordinarily appreciated. The rivalry between Chicago and New York has always been amazingly evident; it was evident to me in an incident which occurred during the planning of the Club. We had the plans almost made, a fine watercolor perspective was finished, when Mr. Ralph Adams Cram, the greatest expert on Gothic architecture in this country, happened to be in Chicago. The committee of the University Club thought it would be a good idea for him to criticize the drawings, and offered to pay him, of course, for his services. Mr. Holabird was in Europe at the time, and Mr. Roche was in New York, so it was left for me to meet Mr. Cram and show him the drawings. I can see him now as he came in; the expression on his face said as plainly as day, “O, do I have to see what these barbarians have been trying to do? It will be wild and woolly stuff, a painful job, etc.” Well, I asked him to come into the library, and as we approached it I opened the door. The watercolor perspective was on an easel against the opposite wall. As he reached the door Mr. Cram, looking at the perspective and stopping stock still, fairly breathed out “O – beautiful!” I told him it was a little early to be reaching a decision, but he said, “If I studied it a thousand years, I could not say otherwise.” After he had examined all the drawings, he said, “There is just one criticism I’ll make, a trivial one and I hate to even say that. I think there should be a couple of pilasters on the gable: it is a little too plain.” I called for the sketch Roche had made of the gable, on which there

121 were two pilasters exactly as he had described them. He said, “Just the very thing. I should have known that the man that had designed this building would see that too.” His final verdict to the committee was more than generous. He said, “Gentlemen, you’re going to have one of the notable buildings of the United States when that is done. If the commission had been given to me, I couldn’t have done better or as well.” After the contract for the club was let, one of the McCormicks donated the squash and racket courts to be placed in the top of the building, and, as these had not been provided for, a strengthening of the columns was necessary. As we had had no experience in making courts like these, we had an Englishman come over with his workmen to apply the finish to the walls. The walls were 8-inch brick, but he refused to apply the finish on walls of less than 12 inches. We thickened the walls; then before he started work he wanted to be assured that there were no union workmen in the building, and that there was to be no supervision of his work. The playing walls and floor were to be of concrete and it was with a great deal of interest that I watched the application of the material. They used the most refined workmanship that has ever come under my notice. When these walls were finished, they were like a piece of black steel. I felt that I had never seen any cement work before. I believe they haven’t even suffered any deterioration since they were applied. It was a perfectly incredible job. We had an interesting time, too, in the building of the Union League swimming tank. It was to be on one of the upper floors of the old club, in the rear part of the building, which was fireproof and was to be retained as part of the new building. We had awarded the contracts and the water supply system consisted of pumps in the basement and two large filters, and we expected to have the tank drained and refilled once a week. This meant loss of time in

122 draining and refilling and was one of our difficult problems. Some six or eight months prior to awarding the contract on the tank, my old friend, Dr. Herman Spoehr, who had grown up in boyhood as a next-door neighbor, and who was then connected with the Rockefeller Foundation and had a laboratory located at Tucson, Arizona, called on me at my home, and was talking about some experiences he had had in plant growth. In the course of the conversation he told of an experiment in which he had left a pan of water exposed to the violet ray and had noticed after a day or so that the water didn’t seem to go stale. He filled a bottle and exposed it to the violet ray, corked only with a loose pad of cotton and apparently in six weeks time there was no change. We were about to install the filters, etc., at the Union League tank when the representative of an eastern firm called on me with a scheme for sterilizing water with the violet ray. The fact that Dr. Spoehr had nothing to sell and had told me about his experiments in a purely scientific spirit, made me willing to listen to this salesman. We made the change; we put in the violet ray, though the building committee was doubtful. The understanding was that we would have forty-five tests made of the water at any time we specified, and no payments were to be made till the water was proved to be really sterilized. After the tank was opened the first test was made while men were swimming around in the tank. It showed six bacteria to the cubic centimeter. In order to have something to compare it with, I took a sample of water from the carafe on the table; it showed two hundred and sixteen bacteria to the cubic centimeter. A number of tests were made, ranging from none to six or eight bacteria; still the committee was not convinced: they said the absence of bacteria was due to the filters. So we cut off the ray for twenty-four hours and at the end of twelve hours made a test; it showed fourteen

123 hundred bacteria to the cubic centimeter. At the end of twenty-four hours, there were twenty-six hundred bacteria. The violet ray was turned on, and after twenty-four hours there were again only six bacteria to the cubic centimeter. Since that time they have used the same water in the tank for eighteen months, the only replacement being for evaporation, and the small amount lost in spilling over the sides. The tank never has to be scrubbed as otherwise would be necessary, no slime forms as it is bacteria which are responsible for the slime. The installation cost $1200 less than the one originally planned and the running expense, due to the fact that the same water is used over and over, is almost nothing. There is something in this violet ray which even the people who handle it don’t understand, for example in that tank, a four-inch stream is passed through a twelveinch basin where, for only the fraction of a second, it is exposed to the light; but it is charged with something which makes it possible for it to kill bacteria even after it flows out in the tank. It seems strange that this really remarkable discovery hasn’t bee exploited far more thoroughly. The water has to be clear for the ray to be effective; otherwise the bacteria hide behind grains of sand or something. But it does seem as if the city drinking water, which is clear enough, might be purified in this way rather than by the injection of chlorine. One rather unusual job we did was the moving of a church on the south side, at Twenty-third and Michigan, the Immanuel Baptist Church. I was called in by the board of trustees of this church and asked to look the church over – we went from the basement to the tower – without being given any idea what they had in mind. I thought it was some alterations. Then when we had completed our tour, they asked whether it could be moved fifty feet south, and how much it would cost? I told them it could be moved, but as

124 to cost I could not say. They authorized me to make the necessary drawings and get the bids. As soon as we began to make the drawings and estimates at the church, we learned that it had burned three times, leaving only the walls standing, and that in the tower there was no backing to the stone facing, the upper part of the tower being carried on slabs of Joliet limestone on end. The whole thing looked rather insecure. We endeavored to get bids from house raisers, but they wouldn’t undertake the job. Then I was able to interest Harvey Schiller in the project, and after a number of consultations we finally agreed on a price for the moving. He made the stipulation that he was to have no superintending or orders from us, but was to have an entirely free hand. As long as he was the only one we could interest in the work, we signed the contract with the agreement that there would be no supervision. Almost before the preliminaries were started, Mr. Schiller was in trouble. Back he came to our office and asked for help. We devised a method by which twenty-four-inch steel beams were run through from one end of the building to the other, putting through tie rods to stay the walls, the steel beams resting on another set of steel beams with rollers between. Cribbing and jackscrews were so arranged as to keep the building perfectly level. Then to the upper set of twenty-four-inch beams, we bolted brackets and set hydraulic jacks bearing against the earth and against the end of these twenty-four-inch beams. Our preparations were fully completed for starting the movement. The hydraulic jacks were all pumped up together and with a good deal of anxiety we watched the old building vibrate for some time, then begin to move. The arrangement

125 of by it of

jacks was such that we could keep it moving continuously replacing one with another. It took us ten days to move that fifty feet; it went about as fast as the hour hand a clock, but we kept it constantly going day and night.

When we got it in place, we jacked it up about seven feet and put a new foundation under it. Not one crack developed in the plastering from the moving, and the janitor occupied his living quarters in the building during the entire time. We were glad to get it there; I hadn’t slept much during the ten days, going down there at all hours of the day and night. I did have the comfort of being pretty certain that if it was going to fall down, it would probably have done it at the start – it was the constant motion after it started that kept it together.



One of our jobs as architects was to study the effect of fire on fireproof construction. The subject had always interested me. I remember that way back in the time that we were in the Montauk Block26 I had a chance to make such a study, when Bradner Smith’s paper warehouse, which was directly behind our building, burned one afternoon. It was a terrifically hot fire, and I wanted to see how the Montauk, which was one of the early fireproof buildings, would stand such heat. Most of the buildings in the neighborhood were shoddily built, of wooden joists, among those put up hastily just after the Chicago Fire. We closed all the shutters in our office and everybody left the building, but curiosity compelled me to go down to the stair landing, where there was no shutter on the window, and watch what was going on. The stair landing window was stained glass; I can remember watching the lead in the leading melt and run down. I stayed until all the interior of the warehouse had burned out and the roof had fallen in, then I went down. I suppose I was foolish, for if our building had caught I might have been suffocated. But I was young then, and if the fire had broken through my window it wouldn’t have taken long for me to be on the first floor. At the time of the earthquake and fire in San Francisco it was decided that I should go out and study the effect of fire on skeleton buildings. Lightner Henderson, of Purdy and Henderson, and William Merriman, the local manager of George A. Fuller Company, were also going and we picked up John Dagnan, a plumber, a friend of Mr. Merriman, to fill up a poker hand. I had never played poker, and they undertook 26

The Montauk Block was torn down in 1902.

127 my education in that line for a consideration. When we got out there and accounts were settled, I was a dollar and thirty-five cents ahead. It was cheap instruction. We got out there about ten days after the fire, and stayed over in Oakland. San Francisco was under military rule; it had no water supply, there was no liquid to be had except at a few pop stands, which had no ice. The streets were filled with rubbish, twisted car rails, and rubbish was being shovelled out of the high buildings. The air was filled with clouds of lime dust. There was no transportation, scarcely any taxies. We examined all the skeleton buildings, some of which showed grave negligence in the way the fireproofing was applied to the steel columns. Sometimes it had not been applied at all. There had been three sources of damage: first earthquake, second fire, and third, something which was not anticipated, dynamite, used in trying to stop the fire. About 5% of the damage was due to earthquake, 25 to 30% to fire, and an equal or greater amount to dynamite. Our policy while we were out there was for each to make his own estimates and observations, keeping them until night, when matters were discussed and if we couldn’t easily agree, we visited the place the next morning and checked up on ourselves. By this means we built up in the end an estimate which was fairly uniform and yet was independent in its makeup. The San Francisco Call Building was one of the few which withstood all three items of destruction very well. The St. Francis Hotel withstood the fire well, though the fireproofing, from our point of view, was not adequate. The method was wrapping the columns with a wire lath and plastering with cinder concrete, then repeating the process

128 again. The columns were afterward paneled with wood, but they resisted the fierce heat. In the upper stories cinder concrete was used throughout. The Fairmont Hotel, which was under construction at the time of the fire, seemed from the outside to have stood up very well. I had a letter of introduction to Mr. Hicks, the general contractor. One morning we walked up the hill to the hotel and on to Mr. Hick’s office, which was on the downhill side of the building, two stories below the main floor. I gave him my letter but he said, “I’m very sorry, but Mr. Law, the owner, ordered us not to allow anyone to enter the building under any circumstances.” We went back to the main entrance where there was a guard at the door and I said to him, “Is Mr. Hicks here?” He said no, Mr. Hicks was down at his office, just below. I told him we were awfully hot and tired from our walk up the hill, and wondered if he would deliver this letter to Mr. Hicks for us. I slipped him a dollar and he said he would, if we would be sure not to go into the building while he was gone. He went off and we dashed through the doorway. There were 125 columns, all of which had collapsed, and they had all collapsed up near the ceiling. The wire lath around the columns was joined by lacings of wire at the angles. When the fire struck it this curved outward, exposing the top of the column. In one corner room a column had shut down eighteen inches, accordion fashion. The woodwork had burned out and the floor had burned one quarter of the way across the room, the doors and door jambs too, had burned, but in the unburned portion of the room were two large tables loaded with plumbing accessories all of which were in cartons and tissue paper, with tissue paper lying around. None of this had caught. It proved that the heat could not have been very excessive.

129 While we were in the building we heard the guard running around and calling us but every time he approached we skipped down to another floor. When we were ready to go out he met us reproachfully at the door. He asked if we hadn’t understood what he said about not entering the building and we said, why surely not, we had thought he had said that we could go along in while we were waiting. It was curious all three of us misunderstanding. We had heard someone calling but of course we hadn’t dreamed they were calling us. I gave him five dollars and told him that it would never leak out for it would have cost him his job. We had gone a long way to get facts such as were there and we weren’t going to be kept from getting them. It was of course shame that made the owner want to keep us out of the place. Twenty-five thousand spent in fireproofing there would have saved a million. It was while we were in that building and standing beside a column the north side of which had moved over so that it was directly over the south side a little further down, that Henderson, who hadn’t spoken since w entered the building, looked up and said gravely, “It isn’t so damned important that we stay here.” There were five stories on top of that column and why they didn’t tumble in, nobody knows. In the Mills Building, which was put up by a Chicago architect, everything was intact except one column in the basement. There, one side of the tile fireproofing had been knocked off the column to make room for water pipes running up to the upper floors. This left only the terra cotta for protection. Across from this column was a carpenter shop about 16 by 24 feet where everything had been burned – there was only a bucket full of ashes on the floor. The door from this shop to the furnace room, where the column was, had been burned on the inside not on the outside, and the transom was burned out. The flames must have rushed through

130 the transom and by breaking out the glass from an outside window, must have played on the column directly opposite like a blowtorch, just where the tile had been removed. The column settled down 18 or 20 inches in typical accordion fashion. Alongside the column was an electric generator the armature of which was varnished but which was not even blistered. This was the kind of fireproofing we didn’t believe in; it had been condemned out here. It was shown up as so poor that it was a marvel to me that any of the buildings stood up at all. It was just such things as this that I had gone out to see. Holabird and Roche were very advanced in their ideas on fire protection. Immediately after the San Francisco fire, every fireproof building in all the cities of the United States was examined, the work being done by a strong committee with local committees under it, making intimate studies. Chicago had the highest standing of any city, and Mr. Glidden, the chairman of the committee here told me, unofficially, that the reason was that all our buildings were considered to be perfect fireproofing. At the present time according to ordinance, every column is boxed in with lumber and filled with concrete four inches thick over the outermost member. That month I spent in San Francisco was one of the hardest months I ever spent. There were no elevators; we climbed to the tops of the buildings, and that was after waking all over the city, up hill and down. Many a time when we were up in very shaky buildings we felt slight “tremblers,� which added a good deal to the excitement of the thing. The case of the Telephone Building out there was a sad one. They had just built a new main exchange of reinforced

131 concrete, equipped with iron doors, fireproof glass, metal wind frames, rolling steel shutters and outside ordinary plate shutters of steel. All the stairways were shut off with iron doors. It seemed as if the building could withstand anything. Well, as the fire progressed in the city, they moved all the exchange equipment they could get out of the old building over into the new one, closed every door and shutter, and believed it to be safe from the conflagration. What happened was due to one oversight. The cable came into the building at the first floor. The fire approached the building at this point from an alley. It burned the insulation from the cable, and the copper, which is of course such an excellent conveyor of heat, conveyed the heat inside through the sixteen-inch wall, and caught the rubber and parafin insulation inside. The fire started raging; the heat in the room sprung the doors, and it reached every floor burning everything combustible in the building. If the cable had come into the building underground the whole building would probably have been saved. It was sad to come so near perfection and then fail. I also visited Baltimore immediately after a serious conflagration there prior to the San Francisco fire. Things happened in Baltimore which indicated that the temperature of the flames was much higher than in Frisco. In office buildings I saw many cases where typewriters had melted; in one building the main staircase, which was of metal, had fused and melted. Nowhere in Frisco did I see anything like that. In Baltimore in dental offices, instruments were fused together, while in Frisco though the outside of the nickel plating might have melted, the instruments were not fused. Before Baltimore I had been to Pittsburgh, too, after a fire in the largest department store there. This business of fireproofing was something which you could learn about only by the actual cruel test of fire.



In about 1914 we moved our offices from the Monadnock Building to the Monroe Building on Michigan Avenue and Monroe. I had never been satisfied with the arrangement of our office in the Monadnock, divided as it was, with private offices on one floor and the working room two floors above. So at the expiration of our lease we moved to the Monroe Building, where we had everything on one floor; very fine offices, with a Michigan Avenue front. We had a ten-year lease and had been there four years when the War came. In 1918 the Government passed a new law that there should be no buildings put up in excess of $2500 for private use; all energies were to be turned to public business. Naturally our work stopped; we did get some war work, but not a great deal. This made our rent harder to pay, and we had much more space than we needed; some of it was entirely vacant. Holabird wanted me to lease some of it; we had 11,000 square feet and we needed about 5500. I put it in the hands of Walter Ross of Ross and Browne, who first suggested the Carnation Milk Company as tenants, but they wouldn’t pay the rental. About the same time he had an inquiry from the Inland Wire and Iron Works, of which Silas Lewellyn was president; he was a Welshman with the qualities, a little accentuated, of a Scotchman and a Welshman. As Mr. Ross and I were talking it over I had a bright idea; I said, “Where are the iron companies located?” We went to the telephone book and found that 85% of them were on Michigan Avenue. I said that was a good lead for Mr. Lewellyn, we must secure him as a tenant. Mr. Ross went over to see him, and he used our little discovery to the best advantage. When he and Lewellyn looked through the telephone book for iron companies Mr. Ross didn’t find any but those who were on Michigan Avenue.

133 Lewellyn called me up and asked the rental I wanted and I suggested that he come over first and see the space. Our front offices were done in English oak; they were really very fine, and I showed them off to him, then I quoted a price. He thought it was exorbitant, but that 85% was still doing its work. I told him I would give him till Saturday at five P.M. to decide; that was Friday. On Saturday at five minutes of five he called up and said, “Now let’s get down to business about the price.” I told him I had given him my price, but he said, “Look here, I never bought anything in my life and paid what was asked for it.” I said I thought that statement was a little exaggerated; I was sure that if he went into a store and saw a necktie he liked, he didn’t try to bargain for it but he paid whatever price was asked. “I have a necktie, if you want it you can have it at my price.” He kept on arguing and I said, “It’s three minutes of five,” then “Mr. Lewellyn, it’s one minute of five,” and then he burst out “Oh, alright, I’ll take it.” The result was that he took the private offices and our furniture for which he paid a good price. The remaining space, about 5000 square feet, cost us seventeen dollars a month for the rest of the six years. He took a little less space than I wanted him to, or he would have paid it all. But he was happy afterward, because I negotiated the lease for him for an additional four years at the same figure, so we were both left satisfied, as should be the case in all good deals. At the end of our lease there, we moved to “333” North Michigan Avenue. I don’t know whether it was a good move or not. We have more than half our space vacant and the lease going merrily on. In 1918 before we moved from the Monroe Building, John Holabird and John Root came into the office. They had been there before the War for a short time as draftsmen, and Holabird before he went to the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. For a year before they came into the firm they took

134 over the designing with Mr. Roche as critic, then in 1921 they were taken in as junior partners27. After Holabird’s death there was a readjustment in partnership; a certain amount of Holabird’s and a certain amount of Roche’s was given up to increase the two younger men’s interests. The amount of Roche’s interest that he had given up had the result that at his death, which occurred soon after, I had a third interest instead of a half as I would otherwise have had. This made a good deal of difference to me in prestige: now there is always a twothirds vote against me, so I have no influence at all. I have ceased to try to have. At the time of their coming into the firm, I wanted Holabird and Root to pay Roche and me each a salary of $15,000 a year for the rest of our lives and we would leave the profits of the company to them, but they wouldn’t agree. It would have worked out much better for them if they had.


A good web site covering much of the extant and historical buildings of Holabird &

Roche, Holabird & Root, and Holabird, Root & Burgee is


Personal Recollections

Since so much of my life was spent in intimate contact with the members of the firm of Holabird and Roche, I would like to make some record of my recollections of them. William Holabird, who was, as was also Mr. Roche, five years my senior, was a man six feet three or four inches tall, decidedly military in bearing, educated at West Point, a man who could be very charming, and could also be very much the other way. His father, General Samuel B. Holabird, was a classmate of Sherman and Sheridan, later Quartermaster General of the U.S.A. Mr. Holabird didn’t graduate from West Point owing to a dispute which occurred during his third year. He married Maria Augur, daughter of General Colon C. Augur, who was, I believe, a classmate of General Grant at West Point. His son, Wheaton Augur, found in General Augur’s papers after his death, a letter from Phil Sheridan giving him, General Augur, all the credit for turning back the enemy and winning the battle of Winchester. So in spite of what the song says about Sheridan perhaps he didn’t deserve the credit after all. Credit often goes to the wrong man in battle as in life. Holabird’s training, military engineering, had decided him to go on later with civil engineering. When he came to Chicago he was married, and it was necessary for him to find something to do, so he called on an old military engineering friend, an interesting old fellow who was connected with the railroads, and he suggested that Mr. Holabird go to see Maj. Jenney. He told him Jenney was an engineer, but said nothing about his being an architect. Holabird called and finding that it was an architectural office he said he had evidently made a mistake, but Jenney, when he found he was a son of General Holabird, immediately insisted on his

136 staying. This chance employment was what finally led him to architectural work instead of engineering. Holabird was a man of quick decisions; he was apt to decide almost instantly whether or not a thing interested him. He was very forceful. He was a great reader, and had the gift which his father and grandfather before him had, of being able to grasp the whole contents of a page at a glance, and also the memory to retain it for years. He could take a book, a complicated work on engineering, home in the evening, and bring it back the next morning. Five years later a dispute might come up and Holabird would say, “Here, give me that book,” and turning almost instantly to the page he would point out the quotation which he had remembered. As I have said, he inherited this gift. I recall many a visit to his father’s library when, an argument starting, old General Holabird would say, “Renwick, you’re younger than I am; get up and get that fifth volume on the top shelf.” Then with unerring touch he would open at almost the exact page. He used to say, “What you have on your tongue’s end is valuable knowledge, that which you know where to find is invaluable.” The General was a broadly educated man, could converse on any subject – engineering, architecture, mechanics, religion, anything. Shortly after we moved into the Montauk Block he gave his son his architectural library, some five thousand volumes. His whole library composed some ten or twelve thousand volumes; when William Holabird died he had probably some eighteen thousand. One of Holabird’s charms was that, like his father, he was well informed and could converse intelligently on almost any possible subject. In the office, Holabird never made any drawings; he was not a designer. He never did much in engineering either. He was an excellent critic; he knew the styles, and he had

137 good taste. He could make remarks which would completely spoil a design for you; for instance, one time Roche had a design made and Holabird, looking at it, said, “It looks just like a Saratoga trunk.” From that time on that was all you could see in it. Holabird, the very opposite of Roche, was a good mixer and had a great many friends. He was a good talker, though he was a little inclined to tell you how much he knew about the subject. He didn’t like a joke on himself, though he did on others. Early in his career he lost a client by the name of O’Neil, for whom we had remodeled a building. When the cold weather came there was a lot of condensation on the window and some merchandise was injured. Our client wrote that the window was leaking and he thought we should put a tin eave along the top, but he spelled it “eve.” Holabird wrote back explaining that it was condensation and not a leak, and the “tin Eve wouldn’t be worth ‘A-dam’.” Martin Roche, the designer of the firm, was a man very different in temperament and in background from Holabird. When he was twelve years old, Roche left school and went to work in a bottle factory, later he went into Jenney’s office as office boy. He studied design, as everyone else did in those days, by working with someone who was experienced. When you consider Roche’s lack of opportunity you think that he had genius to get as far as he did. His work was always above the average of contemporary work. Roche was a sufferer from curvature of the spine, making him rather below medium height, though his big frame, large head, hands and feet, indicated that he should have been a very tall man. He was very retiring and modest, unassertive. He was a great student in his particular field, but didn’t reach much beyond it.

138 In all the years that I knew Mr. Roche intimately, going to the opera, theatre, lunching and camping with him, I never heard him mention his deformity but once. One evening we were waiting for our sketching class, which met in the office, and I read an item about a young bully who had kicked a younger boy in the back and the boy would suffer permanent injury. Roche said, with a look of the greatest bitterness I ever saw on his face, “He ought to be hung,” in a moment he added, “That’s what happened to me: a boy kicked me.” I think this deformity changed his nature a good deal, instead of being self-assertive as he would naturally have been, he became retiring, shy. It was in that that one of the greatest differences between Roche and Holabird lay. This difference was recognized rather amusingly once in Naples where they had gone together. It was in ’96 and Naples was considered rather rough; it was even thought there was some danger in foreigners going around the city alone. Roche and Holabird arrived and went to their hotel, and as soon as they were settled, wanted to go out and walk around the city. As soon as they started out a cabby hailed them but Holabird told him they wanted to walk. Roche, in walking along the street as if he was looking at anything, would always lag behind you, perhaps twenty or thirty feet. This was particularly true when he was with Holabird, whose mind took in sights simultaneously and instantly; he could glance at a window and know everything that was in it, while Roche, whose mind worked much more slowly, would stand in front of it for some time. Well, they were dragging along in this way up the street when suddenly Holabird heard Roche’s voice rip out; the cabby had jumped out and bundled Roche bodily into his cab. Holabird had to rush back and rescue him. It was impossible to imagine anyone treating Holabird thus unceremoniously.

139 There was a strange thing about Roche: he would be extremely intimate with someone for a period of time, but if that person, as invariably must happen, ever once fell below what was his very high and inflexible standard of conduct, Roche would never have anything more to do with him. It was so with me after the granite episode; it was so with many others, Herman McNeil the sculptor, O’Connor the designer of the Lincoln Memorial down at Springfield. They were more than brothers for a long time, but suddenly Roche would announce, “I’m through with so and so, never want to see him again.” And he never would. Or perhaps he wouldn’t announce it at all, but the friend who up to that time had been in the office every day would just never come again. The same thing happened with his own nephew, who said to me once, “I don’t know what is the matter with Uncle Martin, he won’t even let me in his office. I don’t know of anything I have done.” It didn’t matter whether he knew of it or not, Roche did and that was enough. Knowing that trait of his, I would never have risked our friendship by the granite case. But I was desperate; Holabird had gone off to Europe without persuading him that he was wrong – that was Holabird’s way, if there were any chestnuts to be plucked out of the fire he would just as soon it was someone else who got his fingers burned. We had a system in the office of meeting every morning to discuss the problems of the day. We could each have as long as he wanted to wrangle, and discussions used to get very caustic sometimes, especially between Holabird and myself; then a vote was taken and all was forgotten and we were perfectly amiable the rest of the day. One trouble with Roche was, he never had a wife. He was a bachelor; he lived with his sister, Mrs. John Tait. (It was his niece about whom B.L.T. made the squib that he had seen a very lovely young lady on the street car,

140 carrying a pocket book marked “Em-Tee” – M.T., which were her initials.) He got in the habit of walking out on unpleasant situations; at this sister’s if anything happened which didn’t suit him, he simply went up to his room. He couldn’t have done that if he had had a wife. That habit of fleeing from unpleasant things pursued him always. It made it difficult for us because you can’t thrash things out and settle them with a man who puts on his hat and goes out and closes the door. Yet he was a truly lovable man. He was thoroughly honest, intentionally so, as was also Holabird. Anything which had the suspicion of being able even to be interpreted wrongly they wouldn’t touch. It was a great thing for me to be employed by such a firm. Such honesty was as rare then as now. One little thing shows something of the kind of honesty Roche had. When he was down at Martha’s Vineyard one time, he got to talking with an old sea captain who told him that his last voyage was to China forty years ago. He said he brought back from that voyage a brass bound box which he got out to show to Roche. It was a camphor wood box; brass trimmed, and in it was a black crepe shawl, embroidered on both sides with equal beauty. There were also several trinkets. The old captain said the box and its contents had cost him forty dollars but he would sell them for twenty. Roche said he’d take them and handed the old fellow some money. He was about to put the bills in his pocket when his Yankee instinct prompted him to count them; there was forty dollars. He said, “But I said twenty.” “You keep the forty,” said Roche. He brought the box back; it opened out as a desk; Roche had it refinished and set on a table. We got some bids on copying it and the lowest bid was one hundred and fifty dollars. Then Roche said, “There’s that shawl, what shall I

141 do with that?” I suggested that since he had no wife and he didn’t think his sister would care for it, we take it over to Marshall Field’s and see if they would sell it for him. They would, and a check came later for one hundred and twenty-five dollars. Roche sent seventy-five dollars of that to the old sea captain. That gives, I think, a fair picture of Roche: he was kindly, thoughtful and generous, particularly to those who were not the most fortunate. I would never have known anything about it if I hadn’t had to draw the check for him. That money was probably the ready cash of the rest of the old sea captain’s life. Roche was a man without guile, trusting almost anyone but if he once thought the one he had trusted deviated from absolute sincerity, he would have nothing more to do with him. That made him at times seem terribly stubborn. He could never be friends with anyone who put his hand on his shoulder; let a man do that once or twice and Roche never wanted to see him again. Roche and Holabird were so completely different that they got on exceedingly well, except that Holabird dominated. Though if Roche thought he was right he would stand out. He did defer to Holabird in business matters, and rightly for he was no businessman. They were very fond of one another; Holabird would sometimes lose patience with Roche and cuss him out around the office, yet behind it all he thought the world of him. It was that affection that made Holabird hesitate to cross Roche in disputes like that over the Boston Store granite, and leave the difficult work for me. The only satisfaction I ever had in that matter was, as I have said, that when we were doing the next section of the Boston Store, Roche asked how much it would cost to replace the other granite with what we were using on the new. I don’t know, but I think that he had an idea of doing it at his own expense, if it hadn’t been so entirely beyond his means I think he might have; it was the sort of

142 thing that, if he thought he had made a mistake, he would do. I admired both of these men, and up to 1922 I think we were as congenial as it was possible for three men to be. Holabird was often imperious. He had a touch of superiority complex; much as he admired Roche, he felt a little superior to him and he also did to me. Mr. Holabird died in 1923 or 1924, and Mr. Roche in 1927. I had a number of other intimate contacts with members in the organization of Holabird and Roche. It must have been about 1890 when a young fellow came in to our office and applied for a job. I liked him and employed him. His name was Frank B. Long, but as he matured in the office he acquired the name of “Pop Long,� because out of his rather small salary he sent his brother and sister through college. He had a fine head of black hair when he came to us; now he has a few straggling grey hairs. He has literally lost his hair in the service. He is a capable fellow, capable of thinking things through, a valuable man, though a little anxious to get into minute detail instead of looking at things in the large. His first job with us was an alterations job; I noticed he was a little displeased with the assignment, but he did it. Then I thought it would be good for him to be sent out as superintendent, so I sent him to Fort Sheridan where we were putting up the buildings. The only fault I had to find with him was that he was a little soft-hearted and that is one of the seven sins of architecture. He was a little inclined to agree with the contractor that he was being abused. When he got back from that job we had a big office building which was to be completely overhauled, a hard job, and I assigned it to him. This was evidently a little too much: he exploded. He said I was jealous of him, I didn’t

143 want him around the office and had sent him to Fort Sheridan to get rid of him and now I was giving him another alterations job and he was ready to quit. This outburst came as a complete surprise to me. So I said to him, “An alterations job requires more thorough thinking than a new job. It must have steady and perfect thinking clear through. I gave it to you because I knew you could handle it capably.” The next morning Long came back an altered man; he had accepted my explanation as sincere and from that day to this he would stand by me through thick and thin; he thinks a great deal of me. We are intimate friends still. Mr. Long was pretty well along in years before he married. One time he was going on a vacation and when I asked him where he was going to be, because we might have to wire him about something, he told me with considerable hesitation that he would be at Mackinac Island. A day or so later one of the boys in the office found in the morning’s marriage license column the names of Frank B. Long and Jenny Terbush. We decided that they would be taking the boat up to Mackinac so we arranged matters for them. We buried them in rice as they got onto the boat and before they could run to their cabin. On the door of their cabin we hung a card “We’re just newly married.” Then we saw the dining room steward and arranged to have a similar card put at their table. When the boat was pulling into port they saw a boy running alongside with a bouquet, and Mrs. Long wondered if that was for them. “No” said Long, “they’ve had their fun and they wouldn’t reach way up here.” I’m afraid we disillusioned him. We had the hotel similarly set up with a card in the dining room. But Mr. Long was a good sport; he was irritated but not mad. A long while ago, it must be about twenty-five years ago, we needed a telephone operator. We had had only one line up to this time but we needed to put in a switchboard. I was in an attorney’s office one day where there was a very

144 good operator whom I had noticed before; she was quick and gave good service and never became impatient. So I asked her if she knew of a good operator that we could hire, I knew we couldn’t employ her but perhaps she knew of someone else as good as she was. She answered promptly “I have a sister who is much better than I am.” I asked her age and she said sixteen. She was in Rockford but would come to Chicago and her wage was not exorbitant. So we hired her unsight and unseen and she is still at the telephone board. And she is just invaluable. We try to lighten her burden a little by giving her help at the board and letting her do other things but she is in constant demand. She has always been “Miss Longwell” to every man in the place. Once Mr. Holabird picked up his phone and said, “Lilian, get me such and such a number.” She got the number, then when he was through talking she walked into his office and said, “Mr. Holabird, my name is Miss Longwell and I’ll not permit anyone in this office to use any other name.” Holabird was an imperious man, one that you didn’t talk back to easily, but she wasn’t awed. Another old employee who was with us until he died was Frank Sutherland. He came with the firm about 1885, he had been a draftsman for ten years before that time; he had worked for Jenney. He wore a very dense bushy beard, and was a little careless in his dress and somewhat deficient in the use of soap and water. But he was a very efficient draftsman, though not a designer. He would always leave room for all the utilities that had to go in; he saw that everything was in the right place and adequate for the purpose, a very valuable adjunct in a draftsman. He was also the kind that you could give a job to and then leave the office and know he was working just as hard, even harder, when you weren’t there. He was usually the butt of the office jokes. Once I took the entire office force up to St. Paul to see the State

145 Capitol; we had two sleepers. On the way back the men got to playing cards and about midnight when the train stopped at a station, they went out on the platform for a little air. There was some ice on the platform and they took a piece and when they got back into the car, placed it carefully on the sleeping Sutherland’s stomach. They expected him, of course, to wake up at once and so scurried away to their berths. They waited a while and there was no disturbance, so they went to sleep. When Sutherland woke up in the morning there was still a lump of ice left, and his clothes – he had neglected to bring any nightclothes – were soaking wet, trousers, coat, vest, everything. He was naturally quite wroth. I was afraid he would get pneumonia; it was bitter cold, so I called a taxi and gave him the money to get home and change his things right away. Of course the men wouldn’t have done it if they hadn’t thought he would wake up at once. About the time Mr. Long came into the office another man appeared on the scene, Fred J. Thieldbar, a graduate of Illinois and a friend of Long. We needed a superintendent and when I put him through the ordinary routine of questioning it appealed to me because he said “I have had only a little experience but I’ll do my best to learn and do it in the way you want it done.” And he did. Nearly every day for six or eight months he would come into my office and discuss the work, just what our specifications meant in quality, etc., where he could go to find the best quality of workmanship which could be done in each line. He became an excellent superintendent; probably no other in the city knew better where to obtain the finest workmanship. He was later general superintendent for us and finally left us about the time the new firm was formed to go into partnership with John Fugard, the firm of Thieldbar and Fugard is still practicing. I always held Thieldbar in high regard, if a man attempted to slight the work he soon found that he would

146 be held to the very letter of the law, relentlessly. consequently cordially hated by any such slackers.

He was

He received what was a unique distinction for anyone in architecture, an engrossed and framed memorial from the Plasterers’ Union, as being the most thorough and best informed superintendent, and as having done more to raise the standards of plastering than anyone in the field. He was an ardent Methodist and a bit of a Puritan; he didn’t drink or swear, and there was just a tinge of smugness about him. Inasmuch as we had Long and Thieldbar from the University of Illinois in the office it became quite the thing for graduates of the University to drift in. We needed a mechanical engineer, and Mr. Long suggested that we get in touch with a John B. Blake. I sent for him but got word that he was seriously ill, two weeks later he came in but he still looked very badly. I asked him what was the matter and he said that he had been operated on for appendicitis and had had the wound dressed every day for three weeks, but it was getting worse instead of better. He said he was paying an interne a dollar a day to attend to him promptly. I asked how long he had been doing that and he said ten days. I insisted that he go back to the surgeon and he found, as I had suspected, that the interne, seeing a soft thing for himself, had neglected to remove the stitches of the wound, thus keeping it open. When he got out of his hands he became well at once. I told him that it wouldn’t do any good to complain of the interne, but that when he felt fit, to go back and give him the worst thrashing he had ever experienced. Mr. Blake was a thorough student of mechanical engineering and did wonderful work. There was no problem which could be solved by study which he wouldn’t solve. One

147 time Hart Schaffner and Marx came to me and said they were using three floors, 160 by 180 feet, for sponging and drying their woolens. They had been to a number of mechanical engineers but they had not been able to work out any device taking less space which would be satisfactory. I told them I had a man who would solve it if it could be solved. The cloth has to be sponged in order to shrink it and it must be dried in such a way that when it is laid on the counter it will lie flat. They had found that the only way to accomplish this was to hang it in loops around the room, occupying an immense amount of space. Blake undertook the problem and in three or four weeks he was ready with a device which took 8 by 40 feet of floor space, or with the necessary passageway around it, about 20 by 50. In starting it up on test it sponged, dried and delivered folded in the bolt 35,000 yards of material a day. It released three floors, each 160 by 180 less a matter of 1000 feet on one floor. He had been in competition with engineers from all over the country and he had outwitted them. He would never say anything while he was working; if you asked how he was getting on he’d just tell you to go away and let him alone. But you knew that when he was ready he would come to you with the answer. Some few years before we built the Tribune, while we were putting up the buildings at Fort Sheridan, Captain Macaulay, who was in charge of the buildings at Fort Sheridan, as Acting Quartermaster in Charge of Construction, brought in to us Charles E. Fox. Our only previous connection with Captain Macaulay had been when he had had occasion to write a business letter from the West coast to General Holabird, Quartermaster General of the U.S., in which he enclosed some Alpine flowers from Mt. Ranier, which he had pressed. General Holabird answered his letter saying that when he had occasion to write to him on business, do so

148 but “Please not to enclose any more hay.” the romance out of it.

That rather took

Capt. Macaulay brought in Mr. Fox, who was a graduate of the Massachusetts School of Technology, a man very ambitious and alert. He was initially put in the position of superintendent; he was superintendent on the Tribune Building where we made the first deep basement, and he later became my right hand man. He was in our employ fourteen years at which time he left to go into partnership with Benjamin Marshall, a partnership which lasted among some storms, until Mr. Fox’s death. He was a man of immense energy, very aggressive and with an inordinate desire to make money; that was the mainspring of his life. He accomplished it. He died with a couple of million. The bookkeeping of the firm passed through a period of development characteristic of a small, but growing, concern. In the beginning it was little more than a record of receipts and disbursements, but gradually there were added a journal and ledger, which were kept by me for several years. Then Mr. Charles Ayars, a son of an old friend of Mr. Holabird, was installed as bookkeeper. Later he was replaced by a more experienced man, Mr. Charles Cotton, who although a trained accountant, had too little control of his appetite for liquor. After a few years he was replaced by Mr. Donald Fraser, in 1900. Mr. Fraser had been in the accounting department of Marshall Field and Company. I remember him as a sandy haired Scotch youth, accustomed to mercantile accounting. The difficulties that were encountered in connection with our business soon became evident to him. There were the accounts of each client’s building, the development of a system of records for variations from the contract price, the drawing of

149 contracts, issuance of credit and extra orders, monthly reports to clients, showing the condition of each contract, all of which necessitated the development of systems, etc., new to Mr. Fraser. He very soon mastered these problems. Mr. Fraser immediately inspired the members of the firm with this innate honesty, his keenness and watchfulness of the firm’s and also the client’s interests. His loyalty has grown year by year. Practically he cared not only for the firm’s interests and investments but also for those of the individuals of the firm, and all of this with the same fidelity and care he would have given if they had been his own affairs. We all owe him a debt of gratitude. I am sure he has added much to the firm’s reputation for safeguarding the interests of its clients. Mr. Roche, in drawing his will, appointed Mr. Fraser his executor. Mr. Fraser’s sterling qualities have gained for him the highest respect of many owners, contractors, and business acquaintances. As I look back on my early business years, I realize that my acquaintance was not wide; Holabird was making the outside contacts, I was working within narrow limits. It has made me a hermit ever since – I see now how foolish it was. Lots of amusing things happened, though. Byron L. Smith was a practical joker as anyone who knew him will remember. We were building his residence in Lake Forest and he walked into the office one morning when there were two or three contracts ready to be let, and Mr. Roche asked him if Renwick was to be allowed to do the trading.

150 “No,” said Mr. Smith. “I don’t want him to do any trading for me, he’s too soft-hearted.” It had been showering that morning, but the sun had come out and as Mr. Smith turned to go he said, “Here I’ve got my umbrella with me and I have several errands to do and I’ll have to lug it around. Renwick, how much will you give me for it?” I answered promptly, “A quarter.” “Sold.” I started to open it but Mr. Smith said, “No, you bought it without opening so you must pay for it first.” I paid and when I did open it I found it was the most terrible wreck I have ever seen. So I walked over to our cashier and said, “Mr. Cotton, I have just bought an umbrella from Mr. Smith which I’ll sell to you for fifty cents.” He thought that was a good bargain, as I wouldn’t let him open it either, and it was quite a fine looking umbrella as to handle and everything. He gave me the fifty cents and I walked to the phone as soon as I figured Mr. Smith could be back in his office and said, “Good morning Mr. Smith, got any more umbrellas? I just made one hundred percent on that one you sold me.” The end of that was that I did the trading for Mr. Smith’s house. But that wasn’t the end of the umbrella. Later in the day it had started to shower and a Mr. N. A. Williams, the U.S. Subtreasurer and president of the Art and Marble Company, was in the office drawing a certificate. He looked out and said, “There, I have several more errands to do and I haven’t any umbrella.” Mr. Cotton spoke up and said he had one he didn’t need and he would sell it to him for seventy-five cents. He got it out and Williams paid the money and left the office. Ten days later I met Williams on the street and asked him how he liked his umbrella. “That man Cotton is a thief and a sneak and I won’t have anything more to do with him.” Then I explained the history of the case and he forgave Cotton. One day Mr. Smith came into Rector’s to have lunch and sat down at the table with Henry Blair. He said to Blair,

151 “I only have thirty-five cents in my pocket and I’m going to have an oyster stew which is twenty-five cents and tip the waiter ten and I’ll come out alright.” A few minutes later Blair leaned over and shoving his paper across the table said, “Here, Byron, here’s an article you ought to read,” and quietly changed their checks. His was for something over a dollar. In a minute he got up and as he went out he said to the cashier, “That fellow who came in and sat down at my table is a deadbeat, you want to watch out for him.” When Smith came to pay his check he found of course that it was a lot more than he had money to pay for. He tried to explain to the cashier that someone else had switched checks with him and he went on “I’m Byron L. Smith, president of the Northern Trust, and I’ll send you a check the minute I get back to my office.” “No, you don’t,” said the cashier, remembering his warning. Well, it ended by Smith’s having to leave his watch. Mr. Smith was a man of medium height, rather thick set, and he had red hair with the quick temper which goes with it. When A. M. Rothschild was getting the property together for the Rothschild Stores, where the Davis Store now is, he succeeded in getting leases or purchases on all the property except one piece held by the Northern Trust as trustee. When finally he did get that piece he came over raving to me, “That little read-headed good-for-nothing fellow held me up. Forty thousand a year and I am erecting a building and then it is only for fifteen years. But if I die I leave my money for him to take care of.” Owen Aldis was a large man, tall and heavy with a kindly face and a brilliant mind. In our connection I found he resented an extra more than any client we ever had. When the north end of the Monadnock Block was built there were a lot of extras and it took more than a year to get a settlement because of his feeling on the subject. So when we were building the south end he warned me, over and over

152 again, not to have any extras. When the final order was ready to go to Fuller I went to Mr. Aldis and said, “Mr. Aldis, now if you’ll just sign this one order.” “How much is it for?” I said forty thousand dollars. He began stamping up and down the room calling me every name in the dictionary. I kept trying to break in with, “But just one word Mr. Aldis—“ but he kept right on ranting. Finally when he had run down a little I said, “But Mr. Aldis, it’s a credit.” There had been more partitions shown on the drawings than we needed. He was a little sheepish and admitted he had gone off a little too soon on that. That was early in my career with him and I never had any trouble afterward in getting extra orders signed. His wife died a few years afterward and he went to live in Paris. Afterward he married a very charming French girl and went to Taormina in Sicily where he lived very happily. He came back once when we were working on some building the plans of which he was interested in and he came into the office about ten and stayed till one-thirty. I was getting pretty hungry by that time and finally he asked me if it was past my hour for lunch. I admitted it was and he said, “You know, Renwick, I’m getting so I hate like Sam Hill to work between meals.” About the time of the Fair we had a call one day from Theodore Roosevelt. We had received a commission to build a log house at the Fair for the Boone and Crocket Club, an association of writers on wild life. We had had some correspondence with Roosevelt on the subject; he was at this time commissioner of the police in New York. One day I was sitting in my office trying to concentrate on writing specifications hen I was disturbed by a voice in the outer office which had all the musical qualities of a buzz saw. It was a terrible voice; I never heard anything like it. I looked out and there, talking to Roche, was an individual with a red bandana around his head, dressed in a red

153 flowered smoking jacket with a pattern like an ingrained carpet of the ‘80s, in red Turkish slippers, the toes of which coiled up, and hanging from his mouth a long German pipe with a spark arrester on top. I wondered who this apparition could be, but as his voice was disturbing me I got up and quietly closed my office door. Pretty soon Roche came in and said, “What do you go slamming doors in people’s faces for?” I said I hadn’t slammed the door but I was trying to get some work done and had to close it to get some quiet. I added, “Who was the crank anyway?” Mr. Roche answered, “A man whom you greatly admire – Theodore Roosevelt.” He had walked from the Beau Rivage Hotel, which was on Michigan and Adams, over to our office, about five blocks, in that get-up. From that day to the end of his career I have seen, among his very fine sterling qualities, that same desire not to be unnoticed. Gordon Strong is a man I have always admired for his fine judgment and honesty. He thinks problems through and through and you can count on him to see the humorous side of even the most trying circumstances. He was the owner of the Republic building on State and Adams and a number of other buildings, some of which we built for him. About the time the Tribune was built, William Merriman became the business head of George A. Fuller in Chicago, the firm selected as the contractor for the Tribune. I was very fond of Mr. Merriman; he was energetic, absolutely honest, a clear thinker and an excellent builder. He was a high type of man, the son of a minister, which didn’t reduce the amount of profanity he used. Still, he had his father’s art of telling a story to gain his point. At one time we had rejected some $45,000 worth of marble for the McCormick Building on Jackson and Michigan because it was not up to specifications. Merriman, who was the general contractor, was in no way responsible for a change we made in the specifications of the marble, and Roche’s description of the

154 new kind to be used was not as clear as it should have been. In lieu of specifications, I had called in the marble firm and asked if the sample we had was a sample of the grade to be furnished. They said it was, so I said they could have no objections to signing such a statement, and we put it on the back of the marble sample, which was then placed in our sample room. That night they came back and asked Long, who knew nothing about this signed agreement, for the sample of marble. He knew that nothing could be taken from our sample room but agreed that they might break off a corner, and gave him a hammer. They broke off the corner on which was the signed agreement. Well, later there was a lawsuit impending on account of the subsequent rejection of the marble. We were having a conference with the owners, endeavoring to make the Fuller Company, Merriman, take the responsibility of defending the suit; McCormick was sitting by, letting us defend his interests. Merriman was very nervous, taking a puff of a cigaret, throwing it away and lighting another one. Suddenly he blurted out, “------------------ somebody’s put a ------- baby on my lap, and -------- -------- it’s beginning to call me Papa.” McCormick tipped back in his chair and roared; you have no idea how tense the atmosphere had been and how Merriman’s words suddenly broke the tension. McCormick said, “Well, Merriman, go ahead with the suit and I’ll take the responsibility. I remember one story, which had to do with a man named Wells B. Sizer, the proprietor of a little second hand bookstore on the northwest corner of Monroe and Dearborn where I frequently dropped in for newspapers and magazines. Sizer was about forty-five years old, tall and slender and sandy-haired, a rather pert individual, his head always cocked a little on one side, like a bluejay. He was the kind that is always just a little too smart. Mr. Walter Maddox, who had his office in the Montauk Building, our

155 building, came in to Sizer’s store one day and said in his heavy bass voice, which rumbled out in a very imperative manner, “Sizer, send one copy of each of your Christmas numbers of the various magazines to this address in Duluth.” Sizer said to the clerk, “Jim, did you get that?” “I’ll repeat it so that he’ll be sure to hear correctly,” said Maddox. A day or two later Sizer handed Maddox a bill for some thirteen dollars and a half. “Have you Christmas numbers of these magazines?” asked Maddox. Sizer brought out “Figaro,” the first item on the bill, a dollar twenty. “Show me,” says Maddox, “where it says Christmas number.” Sizer thumbed over the pages from front to back and couldn’t find any such announcement, so Maddox thundered, “Strike it off.” They went on down the list and the upshot was that Maddox had some three dollars and a half to pay. Well, Sizer told me that of course, he had to get even with him, “but it must be in a joking way,” he added. A short time afterward, Scribner was going to have the story of the rebellion told by the various generals. Sizer received a card with the facsimiles of the signatures of all the generals; it proved to be what he was looking for. Maddox was a collector of autographs, and had bought some from Sizer, so he was an easy mark. Sizer took the card and cut it up, then he tinted the signatures with sepia to give them an appearance of age, and pasted them on another card and hung it up. When Maddox came in it caught his eye and he asked how much it was. “Ten dollars,” says Sizer. Maddox pulled out the bill and Sizer handed him the card. Just as he slammed shut the drawer of the old fashioned till and the bell rang to prove that it was locked, Sizer called out “Jim, hang up another one of those facsimiles.”


The Business of Architecture

I was proud of the firm of Holabird and Roche, and the work it did in helping to build up Chicago. Mr. Holabird and Mr. Roche and I all had the same idea of the usefulness of an architectural firm, the all-round functions that it must perform, in sound business, as well as good design and workmanship, and it was this idea, supported by all three of us, which led to our success. There comes a time in every building when you have to forget the aesthetic side entirely and look at it purely from the commercial standpoint, which after all is the fundamental one. No matter how beautiful a building may be to the observer, unless it is paying dividends on the investment, the owner is not apt to recommend you to others. I had to be the commercial one in the office; Mr. Roche used to call me the “general grouch” – I would go into the drafting room and look over the drawings and say, “Look here, you can’t do that, that costs too much money.” A draftsman only knows the line; he doesn’t know the price. Mr. Roche said I had no taste. But whether I cut them off or not, often in the end the artistic flourishes had to go because of lack of money to carry them out. I think that part of our success was due to the fact that we were fairly well balanced. Holabird made the business contacts with clients, and had much to do with bringing in the business; from there on his part was more that of critic than active participator. Roche took up the designing and followed that through. Then it was up to me to write the specifications, take bids, award the contracts, and erect the building. We had an excellent engineering firm doing most of our work at this time, and competent men for the details. It made a good, strong team.

157 Holabird had a brilliant mind, exceptional in its grasp of the problems which came up, and there were many of them. It was a period when architecture was changing – it had been in the hands of builders up to this time – it was just entering a new era. Holabird’s judgment was excellent, and he had ideas on all subjects, but the details had to be worked out by someone else. I don’t know whether he could have worked them out, but I know he wouldn’t. For instance, in the matter of skeleton construction, he had seen Sam Loring’s scheme, but it meant far more to him than a means of attaching terra cotta to iron work. So when the opportunity came, it was Holabird who said, “Why not use Sam Loring’s method?” The materials of skeleton construction were in an embryonic state. In the Tacoma we used the cast iron columns and lintels and wrought iron beams of the old time construction. There were no steel verticals in the Tacoma. When, shortly after, we built the Pontiac, they were rolling Bessemer steel in the form of columns. I know that though there was nothing written, Holabird had had great influence in this development. In conversations with steel men, representatives of the steel companies in Chicago, he had explained what was needed and influenced them toward experimentation and further development. When Carnegie Steel Company were going to name the ore boat for the inventor of skeleton construction I knew that they had given us credit for it, though we made no claims. It was only after they had sent their men out here and Jenney had made claims that they decided it was impossible to give the credit to any one man or firm, and gave up their project. There were a lot of other features of skeleton construction – connections of beams to columns, fireproofing, etc., which opened up new engineering problems and it was there that Holabird shone. In discussion in our

158 office he had a great influence on this development. A new type of engineer was being developed; there had been few structural engineers except bridge engineers, there was now a need for the architectural construction engineer. It was all in a way experimental. In our years of business we built up a very definite idea of what an architect’s position ought to be. This was well expressed in a letter Joseph Byfield, President of the Hotel Sherman Company, wrote to a man considering hiring an architect. “Most any architect can make a good elevation and attractive public rooms, but I don’t know of any who can make every square foot earn its maximum and whose knowledge of arrangement of operation of a hotel is so broad and so effective as that of Holabird and Roche.” From the time that I went into the business up to the end of my active participation in it, we had no building which lost money in which I had had any chance to advise or control the financing. There were one or two cases where I had no control which did lose money. One was the case of a man building a hotel in Milwaukee. He had a lot 100 by 150 and we had planned the building for this lot, when one day after the steel was erected he called up to tell us he had acquired 50 feet more, making his investment half again as large. I said, “But wait a minute, why don’t you take the train and come down here and we’ll talk this thing over?” He said no, it was all signed up. I asked him how he was going to finance it, and he said oh, that was all right, it could be financed. But it couldn’t, and he finally lost the hotel. That was the first loss to an owner we had had up to that time. There were no other architects who didn’t have several serious failures. It was known that you could absolutely depend on what our firm did and said; we were advisers that everyone looked up to.

159 There were two buildings in Chicago on almost identically the same area, where it was a question of plan more than anything else; they were the same height, etc., but in our building there was 15% more renting area in a single floor than in that put up by the other architect. Also every square foot of that was permanently lighted; no building put up alongside could affect it. In the other building, 15% of the space obtained light only from an eighteen foot alley, so that when, as would necessarily happen in the course of time, a high building was erected across the alley, this space would be worth not more than half as much as it should be. Also, that other building cost 20% more to build than ours. Our idea and our practice was to plan a building so that it couldn’t be improved in its earning capacity. Roche never would sacrifice any of the commercial value of a building for design. After all, a building is put up as an investment and the owner has a right to expect it to pay. For instance, in the Railway Exchange Building, that areaway or court was built to give a certain impression of spaciousness, but the space could have been turned to much more commercial profit by having store fronts on Michigan Avenue. In the Rookery Building, too, you go into a big lobby, which is pleasant and does create a certain impression, but it is only an impression, and the interests of the owner in making the building pay are more tangible and important. We were on the point of losing the Hotel LaSalle; we had had no contact with Mr. Stevens, when a friend of his, and fortunately of ours, went in to see him. He had a very attractive elevation by a young unknown architect spread out before him. He asked my friend what he thought of it and my friend said it looked all right; then, more forceful than elegant, added, “Mr. Stevens, there’s a Hell of a lot of

160 intestines in a hotel; better get someone who understands the anatomy.” Mr. Stevens looked surprised and said, “Does that make much difference?” “Only the difference between success and failure. I haven’t a particle of interest in Holabird and Roche, but you go over and make a deal with them.” We had a client through Owen F. Aldis, Peter C. Brooks of Boston, who had a corner on Monroe and Michigan south of the University Club. He took us across into Grant Park and, looking back at the University Club, said, “Mr. Roche and Mr. Renwick, I consider the University Club a beautiful building; you build a building on my lot which shall be harmonious with it. The height and the character shall be left to you.” That was, I think, almost a unique commission. We have had several unique commissions. One was in Columbus, Ohio, where an owner, Mr. John Deshler, left a trust fund several years before a building was to be built; a trust fund and a vacant lot to build a hotel to be named after him, which was to cost no more and no less than the accumulated trust fund at the time the building was built. It was successfully done. The only thing was that we were given the value of the trust fund at the time the contract was let, and forgot that interest was accumulating all the time. When we finished the building, we had to spend $6,000 additional in decorations, to expend the full value of the trust fund. Many firms were good on design perhaps, but weak on the business end. Take Adler and Sullivan, for example. There is no doubt that Sullivan was a genius; everybody that employed him recognized that. I have seen Sullivan many a time, just while he was talking, draw the most exquisite designs on a pad of paper, the sort of designs which are now

161 known as “Sullivanesque.” But he let this love of design overbalance practical needs. He was a brilliant man; I liked him, but neither he nor Adler had any idea of adapting themselves and their ideas to the needs and the wishes of their client. For instance, one of our clients wanted Sullivan to design the façade of a building, but wanted us to do the inside and erect the building. It was for a millinery business, and when artificial light was poor, as it was in those days, it was important that there be as much daylight as possible. Now, we would have run the windows up just as far as they could go, for the light at the top carries farther. But against our judgment, Sullivan insisted on putting four feet of ornamentation at the top of the windows. He said to the owner, “If I came to you for a hat, I’d use your judgment.” The owner let him go ahead and the store was ruined for a good many years – until artificial light approximating daylight had been developed. That spirit of non-cooperation with the owner was common to a great many architects. On the other hand, we realized clearly that you could learn a lot from the owner; in fact Owen Aldis taught us more about the requirements of an office building and the way to satisfy tenants than anyone else. That was, I should say, the chief difference between Holabird and Roche and other architectural firms: that we realized the owner could contribute to the success of the building. That led in the end to satisfied clients. Another thing which led to our success was the fact that we were very careful in our estimates of the cost of buildings. When a client approached us we were able to tell him with considerable accuracy the amount of money he would have to spend. That made it possible to study the returns of his investment, and if it could not show a satisfactory return, we always advised against building. Over a period

162 of the first twenty-five years of our association as a firm, we never built a building that failed, or that got the owner into trouble. We never would start without being assured that it would be a paying venture. Those things are very important; a building may be brilliantly designed, but if it is to remain a satisfactory investment, it must be a paying one. We were sometimes accused of being “commercial” by the more artistic of our competitors, but the fact that our buildings often, among many that were failing, kept up a good return, naturally appealed to the owners. In this matter our firm became marked as outstanding. Mr. Holabird was adamant about this necessity of a building being a sound investment, though time and time again it lost us a client – temporarily, at least; probably in the end it gained us their influence. Many a person whom we had advised against putting up a building which, after it was put up by another architect, has failed to pay, has said to someone else contemplating some project, “Don’t do anything until you’ve seen Holabird and Roche.” That was the kind of thing which brought us business. At one time we had the job of making some alterations on the old Leland Hotel, which was in the hands of the Guaranty Trust Company of New York. We made an estimate of what the alterations would involve, but as the building was old and had been neglected a good many years, we specified that we might find other things which must be done and they must be prepared for additional expenditures. But when we finished, our expenditures were within the estimate. The Guaranty Trust was very much pleased, and was good enough to tell us that we “were the first firm of businessmen they had ever found who were architects.” A number of years afterward I went down to New York to find out the standing of a Russian who had a scheme for a building. I found the man who had written the letter to us,

163 and when I recalled myself to him he remembered the circumstance and gave me all the cooperation he could. To my questions as to the Russian’s standing, his answer was, “Personally I can’t answer that; the only thing I can say is, he carries a large balance here – in fact, I might say a Hell-of-a-large balance.” I knew that with the Guaranty Trust that meant a very large balance. It was after the Revolution, and this Russian, a bona fide member of the nobility, had evidently been entrusted with a great deal of the funds that other members of the nobility had been able to save from Russia. However we didn’t go ahead with his scheme, for I was convinced, and finally convinced him, that it was not practicable. It was a wild scheme for a combination amusement house and restaurant, etc., based not on American but on Russian ideas of entertainment. My job being to make the estimates, I was always extremely careful not to underestimate costs. Many architects did this constantly; either they didn’t know or they were knaves. For instance, in the case of the Michael Reese Hospital, three hundred and fifty thousand had been contributed for the erection of the building and two architects were asked to draw plans. We did so, and our estimate on our drawings was $650,000; the other competitor estimated $325,000. We lost the job. Now, the other architect knew the building couldn’t be put up for that. The contracts were let serially, first for the foundations, then the steel work, then the masonry. Work was started and had gone too far to make it possible to turn back, when the committee, composed of seven wealthy Jews, realized what they were in for. They had already spent $350,000 and they weren’t more than started on the building itself. They came to us and asked what they should do about it; I estimated that it would cost them another $350,000. At the end of our conference Roche said, “Probably you won’t go out and admit that you have underestimated the cost of

164 your building. Now there are seven of you, and it will probably cost $350,000 more; if you each gave $50,000, you would be saved the embarrassment of going back to your contributors for more money –.” And that was what they did. Leon Mandel, who was one of the committee, said to me afterward, “Why didn’t you estimate that at $350,000?” I merely said, “Do you want me to lie to you?” “But you would have gotten the job and I wanted you to have it.” I repeated again, “Do you want me to lie to you?” You can imagine that those seven men were our clients after that. It isn’t design or any one thing in a firm which makes for success; it is the general character and policy. Of course, you have got to have good work, but honesty is worth a great deal in the permanent building of a business. With the other policy an architect can have flashes, but he doesn’t last. A man who is going to put up a building places his funds in your hands; he must trust you and you must be worthy of that trust. The north end of the Congress Hotel was built with an estimate half what it should have been; the contracts were let serially and the extras amounted to a million dollars. We built all the south part with no extras, and for very much less per cubic foot because everything was covered and properly handled. It is this habit of underestimating which has given the public such a terrible distrust of building. Many times I have heard people warn one another, “O if you start to build it will cost you twice what they say it will.” I had the case of a neighbor who wanted a house. We estimated it at $5,000; it actually cost $4,995. Several times during the drawing of the plans he said to me, “But these rooms seem very small,” and I answered, “Yes, perhaps they are, but that is all you can get for $5,000. If you want to put more

165 in it, you can have larger rooms.” When it was finished and we were standing in one of the rooms together, he said, “I’m sorry I didn’t have this room larger.” I reminded him that he could have done so only with the expenditure of more money. The he confessed, “You know, I really had $7500 put aside for this house but everyone had warned me so much that it would cost a lot more than the estimate that I didn’t dare to tell you to put in any more.” We always insisted on knowing how a building was going to be financed before we started, then if it was financed on our estimate the owner couldn’t go wrong. My most serious mistake was in the spire of the Temple Building; there, three estimates were necessary: one for the office building without the tower, one for the tower without the spire, and one for the complete building with tower and spire. My first two estimates were correct, but I overestimated the cost of the spire: $5,000.

Figure 18: Chicago Temple Building (

I don’t actually know how I arrive at an estimate; it is more like an intuition than anything else. Of course I have kept extremely accurate costs through all these years, and I suppose all that knowledge is in the back of my head. They say intuition is just the conclusions drawn from subconscious knowledge, and I suppose that is true. I think, too, it is partly inheritance. My father could stick his hand into a load of hay, pull out a handful of it, and tell you within a few pounds what the load weighed. It cost ten cents to weigh a load in those days, and after Father’s estimate, if anyone went on and had it weighed the ten cents was wasted.

166 I have had many buildings which came out exactly to my figure; people used to say to me, “What’s the use of those fellows (the contractors) figuring? Why don’t they come over and ask you what it will cost?” As the estimate had to be made just from an outline plan and outline elevation, it was sketchy material to say the least, and I never attempted to take off any quantities. Now after five years of being more or less out of touch with it, my judgment is very much poorer. One amusing incident happened which had to do with this accuracy. I met Gordon Strong one day in the Republic Building, and he told me he was going to put in marble in the hall of the building and a marble staircase, and asked me how much I thought it would cost. I named a figure. He said, “I bet you a hat it will cost $10,000 less than that.” “Alright, how good a hat shall it be?” He named a fivedollar hat, which was a good one in those days. He named the bidders, and when the contract was closed it was just three dollars from my estimate. In connection with my job of making estimates, I have kept in the office a record in graph form since 1888 of all buildings we have built, showing the construction costs. It is still the basis on which we do all figuring of depreciation of buildings. I used it recently in my estimate of the replacement of the forty telephone buildings in Chicago, in which I had to make a valuation for each year for the past eleven years. I also used it in the case of the Auditorium Building. The Auditorium is on a one hundred and ninety-eight year lease and it was built as a semi-public building which was not expected to be very profitable. The lease was made at a low valuation on that account; there being no provision by which the building could be torn down and replaced by another. The stock for the building was all gathered in by

167 one man who organized the Auditorium Company and thought he had something he could make money on; he expected to replace it by another, better paying, building. But the owner of the larger portion of the land advised him that he couldn’t tear the building down without his consent. And if the building was replaced by one of another character, he wanted more rent. I represented the owner of the land. After my experience with the Champlain Building I was on familiar ground. The claim of the Auditorium Company was that the building was unsafe; it had settled in some places, my testimony was as to how it could be made safe. Also, I showed that under the terms of the lease they were to keep the building in a safe condition; therefore their claim that they couldn’t repair it was destroyed. Walter Fisher, the attorney for the Auditorium Company, was a hard crossexaminer; I was on the stand more than half a day. But his cross-examination made my contention clear. The case was decided against the Auditorium Company, the joke being that the property reverted to the owner of the land, with the result that he had tied the millstone around his own neck. I met Walter Fisher some time later in Rome and he laughed and said, “Well, you spoiled all our plans.” I had formulas which I had worked out myself, which would give the value of property in any city; for you often have to advise out of town clients. For example, I had never been in Omaha except to pass through it on the train, and one day a committee of five came down from there to see about putting up a building; they had four or five architects in mind, and were going to see all of them. They gave me the size of the lot and I asked Mr. George, a prominent Omaha real estate man, to tell me what they paid for it – the actual price, not what they thought it would be worth with a big building on it. Then I told them that the next day at three I would have some tentative plans with a synopsis of the specifications so that they could know what

168 kind of a building it would be, an estimated cost of the building, and the return as well as the expenditures from the operation of the building. The next day they came in. When I gave my estimate of the rentals that could be expected, Mr. George said, “You’re very familiar with Omaha, aren’t you?” I said I had never been there. He was amazed; he said “I’ve spent two years studying this problem and your figure is just $200 less than what I figured in rentals from the first floor.” My formula, which I didn’t tell him, is very simple. A store must earn 5% on the land and 6% on the building after paying the taxes on the land and the building, and insurance on the building and its operating expenses. I have two large volumes of figures which I have used to arrive at that formula. Gordon Strong and I worked out another one, as simple, to use for office buildings. The result was the Omaha committee never went anywhere else. Mr. George said, “We like your buildings, but that’s not what is determining us: anyone who can sit down and out-figure me without knowing anything of the town is the man we’ve got to have.” If such an estimate happens to be in a man’s own line it makes a great impression. It always had more or less influence with our clients.


The Michigan Avenue Property

There is one thing which, before I leave the business part of my story I would like to put down, and that is the history of the Michigan Avenue property acquired by our firm in 1912. This might be of particular interest to my heirs, as they will be, I hope, getting the interest on the investment for a good many years. As I have said before, I was a believer in Michigan Avenue property at a very early period in Chicago’s development. I had tried to interest Mr. Holabird in it, but without success. However, along in 1912 I had managed to build up a surplus in the firm of something over $50,000, and was looking for an opportunity to invest it. I had built up this surplus by something of an artifice, which was the setting aside very quietly of ten percent of our fees. I drew a check for the amount and put it away uncancelled. I resorted to this method because Holabird was not inclined to be saving, and as he had a good many demands upon him, if he saw a large balance he was likely to draw out a good portion of it. Some time before July 15, 1912, Mr. Albert Ellinger and I called on A. Montgomery Ward, who owned 44 feet of frontage in the middle of the block between Madison and Washington on the wet side of Michigan Avenue, a site occupied by an old warehouse of Montgomery Ward and Company, with a view to buying this property. During the negotiations, it was agreed by Mr. Ward to sell it to a syndicate for $1,150,000: $150,000 in cash and taking back a mortgage for one million on or before twenty years at 4%. This looked very favorable to me and I suggested that Holabird and Roche take a one-third interest.

170 After the negotiations with Mr. Ward, I went back to the office and laid the proposition before Holabird. He said it was impossible, that no sane man would sell the property on those terms. I told him that all he had to do was to call on Montgomery Ward and find out. He did so, and Mr. Ward demanded $75,000 more, or $1,225,000; why, I have never exactly understood. We accepted the proposition and paid $150,000 down, taking back the mortgage on $1,075,000 at 4%. We remodeled the building, making storefronts on the first floor and dividing the upper stories into large renting spaces, also installing elevators. We were soon ready for tenants. This section was at that time practically dead for shopping. The Tower building at Madison and Michigan was empty, and there was a vacant lot north of our building. Next came the library, and all merchandising was south of Madison Street. There was, of course, no Boulevard Link or Link Bridge then. To increase the value of the property, I insisted that we get a financially strong tenant who would agree to daily and conspicuously advertise. The value of the property is in direct proportion to the number of people who pass it daily with intent to buy. We secured Tebbets and Garland, a good firm which had been in business in Hyde Park, and which had been recently taken over by A. Yonkers, who, we privately learned, was well off. Therefore we offered him a lease in which the first demand was that he do daily and conspicuous advertising. We made a great concession in the rental, $7500 a year for ten years. He lived up to his part of the bargain, adopting the slogan “Stop and Shop: and advertising extensively. The result was a material increase in the value of the property. When the lease was made, our taxes

171 were $13,000; at the expiration of the lease in 1923 they were $55,000. Two years before the expiration of the lease I saw that we would have to put in from our own resources approximately $30,000 a year in order to make up the deficit in rentals. It occurred to me that something might be done inasmuch as all the leases were expiring at the same time two years hence. At my suggestion, Mr. Frank Slawson of Robert White and Company negotiated a 35% increase in rental for the remaining two years on the condition of the tenants getting the space for five years more at another increase. All the tenants agreed, though not without some persuasion. Mr. Yonkers’ rent, which had been extremely low in the first lease ($7500), was increased to $50,000. He resisted, I might say he screamed; he said that he had been responsible for making the property worth that money, but I insisted that I had been more responsible, inasmuch as I had made his advertising a condition of the lease. We were advised through a mutual friend that he was making so much money that he couldn’t afford to move. I was told to be firm, so I was firm and he paid. During the term of the last five years of the leases, we had some opportunities of leasing the property as a whole for ninety-nine years. Harry Farnum, of Farnum and Kuhn, approached me, suggesting F. W. Woolworth as lessees, offering $155,000 rental. I refused this, saying that we did not want them as tenants; did not want them on the street at all. Two or three months passed, with them coming back frequently, and always with a better offer. Finally they offered $175,000 a year for the property. I still refused to consider it until I had consulted some of the owners of neighbouring property. I went to see F. A. Hardy and his son, K. K. Hardy, owners of the Tower Building. Mr. F. A. Hardy remarked that if our positions were reversed, he would not even have consulted us, and that he had no

172 objections. So we entered into a ninety-nine year lease with the Woolworth Company. The property cost one and a half million, including repairs, and some twelve years after we were getting 5% on three and a half millions, a profit of two millions in twelve years. In July 1932 the purchase mortgage comes due; I have been negotiating for a new loan. Conditions are very unfavorable at this time; the insurance companies and the banks are not interested. I have finally obtained a commitment from Northwestern University of $1,265,000 to retire the first mortgage of $1,075,000 and the second mortgage of $182,500. Since the inception of the syndicate up to this time, all the labor has been on my shoulders. Feeling that the obtaining of this mortgage ended the necessity for active work in connection with the property, I called on the shareholders and discussed the matter of some compensation to me for twenty years of service. It was a source of considerable gratification to me that Mrs. Ellinger, when I mentioned the matter very tentatively, said cordially, “I certainly agree with you Mr. Renwick; I have been discussing the matter with my attorneys and they feel, too, that you are certainly entitled to something. What do you think would be fair?” She agreed very cheerfully to my figure of $25,000. Of course I have done a great deal of work on the proposition, and in the changing of the leases alone I saved the syndicate $60,000. Our principle of insisting that a tenant do “daily and conspicuous advertising” could, I am convinced, be used to advantage in other parts of the city. There are State Street and Wabash Avenue, south of Van Buren. The wealthy men of Chicago of 1885 are the owners of that property. I have talked to some of them, urging them to get a good tenant down there, who would advertise and have the goods to

173 sell when the customer got there, even if they had to give him the property rent-free. But it is always “going to be something in five years from now.� It has been that way for twenty-five years.


Renwick Family Life

I don’t know what to say about our life, Mrs. Renwick’s and mine, except that it has been a happy, quiet one and there has never been a moment when I wished I had married somebody else. We have had some good and dear friends, very loyal, though not many of them. Neither Mrs. Renwick nor I are mixers; we’ve never had the tendency to make a host of acquaintances. Mrs. Renwick has always been busy with her housework; she has always considered that her first duty, and any time which was left over she could give to others. She has always done a great deal of sewing, too; she kept the children in clothes and made most of her own. She is a beautiful seamstress; she does lovely smocking and embroidery. For a great many years of my business life, I worked so many hours a day that I didn’t have much time for social contacts. I thought it was necessary to work that way; of course it wasn’t. It was foolishness. We have gone to the theatre and opera some, but most of our lives has been a very quiet home life. Mrs. Renwick is very even-tempered; she doesn’t lose her head and she never sees anything very bad in what I’ve done. In the early years of our married life we had no neighbors except the Simonds, who would have made congenial friends. Therefore all our friendships were formed in Ravenswood a mile away. And there was no other transportation in those days but our feet; it was walk, walk, walk. We joined a club of fourteen couples, a study club which we dignified by the name of the “Ravenswood Home College.” That was good while we were young; we did a lot of studying. Later it degenerated into a mere social club. Those friendships have lasted; the members are our warm and

175 dear friends. Only two of the men are alive: Judge DuPuy and myself. Both of our wives are alive, so it leaves the four of us, at least, intact. This club gave us a celebration on our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. There was a regular meeting of the club just the night before our anniversary, and we went unsuspectingly; Mrs. Renwick was dressed all in black. When we arrived, they were playing “O Promise Me,” which sounded a little sentimental, but we didn’t suspect anything. Pretty soon the women lured Mrs. Renwick upstairs and I heard a lot of giggling. I asked what was up but no one would tell me. Then someone struck up the wedding march and down the stairs came, first, a flower girl carrying one artificial lily of the valley, then the ring bearer with a curtain ring on a sofa cushion, then Mrs. Renwick, still all in black, but with a white lace curtain over her head. Then Judge DuPuy proceeded to marry the sixty-odd pounds we had each gained. It was a unique wedding ceremony. Then they had a wedding supper and in another room were laid out the gifts – some beautiful silver. Very early in our career Harriet became active in club and church work. She was president of the Ravenswood Woman’s Club two years in succession, and then was elected again later on. We were both Baptists, but there being no Baptist Church within a Sabbath day’s journey from Ravenswood, we joined the Presbyterian Church at Addison and Broadway, which was as near as anything, and we attended there for a number of years. Later a Congregational Church was formed and erected at Sheridan and Wilson, and we attended there until we came to Evanston. Throughout our entire married life Harriet has done more for someone else than she ever did for herself. If you were to look through her checkbook, I’m sure you would find that more than half of what she has expended has been for

176 others. Immediately after we were married I set aside what I thought I could as an allowance for her; she has always had an allowance, as liberal as circumstances would allow, and I have never had anything to do with her money, and never questioned how she spent it. I think it takes away a lot of friction to do it that way. We have been extremely happy all the way through. In March 1887 Ralph was born. We were quite by ourselves living in our little house, two rooms upstairs and two down. I didn’t know anything about doctors, so on Mrs. Brink’s advice I got a Dr. Keaton. He was not an expert by any means; in fact I fear he was a “dub” doctor. A day after the baby was born, a great swelling appeared on his head. The doctor promptly pronounced it hydrocephalus, or water on the brain, and said the baby wouldn’t live more than a couple of weeks. This was said in the presence of his mother, which naturally was not the best thing for her. I was pretty angry with him. When, after a couple of days, we said we thought the baby was brighter – I think now he had been loading him with sleeping powders – the doctor said it was a “false impression,” he wouldn’t live more than a couple of weeks, or if he did he would be an idiot. I couldn’t stand any more; I threw his bag out of the door and grabbed him by the collar and kicked him off the steps. No, perhaps the kicking off the steps, though I felt like it several times, came after this other incident. When we said we thought there was some hope for the baby he said, “I’ll convince you.” He brought a rather new and stiff medical book and told us to read the symptoms of hydrocephalus for ourselves. My mother, who had come down by that time, and I, were holding the book and it slipped from our hands and closed. When we opened it again it happened to open at cephalatoma, which means swelling of the head. The symptoms seemed so much the same that I was convinced the doctor didn’t know as much as he thought he

177 did, and asked for a consultation. Any doctor I wanted, Dr. Keaton wouldn’t have. I didn’t know what to do. I decided to take the baby down to the clinic of Rush Medical College, to see Dr. Lyman, a celebrated doctor of children’s diseases at that time. Mother and I bundled him up and went down, going in a room and sitting with all the – proletariat, you might call them. When Dr. Lyman came in he saw that we were not quite the same as the rest and came immediately to us. He took one look at the baby and said, “Rather interesting case, case of cephalatoma.” He told us it was something which came with forced labor, and asked if the doctor had used instruments. I told him he certainly had. He said in a few weeks it would be absorbed and be all right, and he advised that we get him onto a bottle, as he wasn’t being properly nourished. When we left there, we couldn’t get home fast enough; there was poor Harriet, waiting at home all alone, and there weren’t any telephones in those days. It was after this that I threw the doctor out. A couple of years later a fine child was born, the most sturdy child we had28. But when he was two years old, he came down with influenza, “grippe,” it was in those days, and that was followed by inflammatory rheumatism. We prayed for warm weather; we couldn’t take him away from home, and the doctor said, “One week of good weather and I could pull that boy through.” The very next day we had a violent snowstorm, one of those late spring storms, and we lost him. It was very hard for all of us; I don’t think that Harriet has ever really recovered.


Claude Whitmore Renwick, May 23rd, 1890 – May 20th, 1892. Buried in Graceland

Cemetery, Chicago.

178 Right after the World’s Fair Margaret appeared on the scene. She was a pretty good youngster until she was twenty months old, then the child of a neighbor of ours – they were nice neighbors, too, but they were Christian Scientists – came over to play one day. When we asked where the brother of this child was, he said, “He’s in bed.” We asked what was the matter with him and he said, “He’s got the measles, but he’s alright.” When we remonstrated with our neighbor for letting her child come over when they had measles in the house, she said that we wouldn’t get them unless we thought we were going to. Well, we thought we were going to, and we did. It started with Margaret and Ralph, then Mrs. Renwick and the maid all being down at once. Father had to do the housework and the nursing and everything else. All the rest pulled through all right, but Margaret’s measles didn’t “come out.” She always was distinctive, different from everyone else. Her temperature ran from a hundred and four and a half to a hundred and six and a half for a week. We had an excellent doctor at that time; he came out from the city and charged ten dollars a call. That seemed a lot in those days when a visit to a doctor’s office would be seventy-five cents or a dollar at most. But he was actually the cheapest doctor we ever had. He would go out into the kitchen and show Mrs. Renwick how to make Margaret’s food; the care was mainly a matter of feeding, and he’d show her just how it looked if it wasn’t right and just what to do to it. I called him up every day, too, and made a report and he would do almost as much by telephone as when he came out, and he only charged for the visits. He pulled her through it, but she wasn’t well; her alimentary canal wasn’t in working condition, nothing agreed with her. So I decided to take her over to Michigan; I’ve always been a great believer in sunshine for ailing children.

179 We went over on a fruit boat, which was light, and there had been a storm the day before, so there was a heavy swell. Our boat was sitting up on the waves like a peanut shell; everybody was sick, including a large part of the crew. Of course Mrs. Renwick was sick. Margaret wanted a cracker, which was one of the things she wasn’t supposed to have. But I gave her one, then I noticed that she was getting pale and her eyes were rolling back in her head. I didn’t know whether she was having a convulsion or not, but I thought maybe it was seasickness so I tipped her up and she lost the cracker. Pretty soon she came to and wanted a cracker. I gave her another – in the end I found she had had twenty-four, enough to kill her! We landed near Saugatuck; we were going to the Simonds’ summer home. There was an apple tree in the yard; the apples, which were sweet ones, were ripe on the tree. Margaret wanted an apple, so I began scraping apples for her. The next morning she was more active than she had been for months. In a few days of sun she was baked an Indian brown, and was beginning to function properly. We brought her back at the end of three weeks and I took her in to see the doctor. He had been just a little skeptical of our going, and had warned me that if she didn’t seem to improve, to bring her back at once. He saw me in his office and said, “Well, Mr. Renwick, what can I do for you?” I answered, “I just came in to show you my wares,” and I pointed to Margaret sitting beside me. “That isn’t Margaret!” He couldn’t believe that such a change had taken place in so short a time. When Margaret was about eighteen, we had word from Dana Hall, where she was at school, that she had had a cold and was still running a little fever, and they were afraid to let her leave the hospital. Mrs. Renwick was very much distressed and wanted me to go down. In worrying, Mrs. Renwick and I differ a little; I may have worries, but I

180 don’t show them, while she is always full of anticipation of trouble which mostly doesn’t happen. So I jumped on the train and went down to Dana Hall. I asked the name of the best throat and lung man in Boston and took her in to see him. Right before her he announced, “She has tuberculosis; you will have to take her home and be very careful if you even save her life.” We got on the New York Central train and it was a terrible ride home. I have never known the rails to be so bumpy; they must have been frozen, and the cars were cold, beside which we were four hours late. I thought it would be the end of poor Margaret. When I got her here I took her to Dr. Frank Billings, who said she probably didn’t have tuberculosis at all, but that she did have some glands which would have to come out. Margaret popped into the room just as he was finishing his sentence and heard what he said, and jumping up on the examination table she said, “Well, can I have them out this afternoon?” When we were leaving the office Dr. Billings said, “Renwick, I don’t want any money for this examination; you just give me that girl.” After the operation Margaret and Mrs. Renwick went to Asheville29 and stayed there about thirteen months. I have remarked on Margaret’s originality. I might put in a little incident which was amusing and which grew out of that. One fourth of July I was up north with Margaret, who was about five years old then, staying at a club where they wouldn’t allow any fireworks. Mrs. Renwick had gone down to the city for a few days, and on Fourth of July morning I said to Margaret, “How can we celebrate the Fourth when they won’t allow any fireworks?” She was never at a loss for a


Asheville, NC, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It was a resort town, and George

Vanderbilt had a mansion there, dating to around the turn of the century.

181 suggestion, so she said, “I tell you, Daddy, shave off your mustache – or one side of it, anyway.” I did, but I shaved off both. When Mrs. Renwick came back, I met her at the station and she said, “What are you grinning at?” It was several minutes before she realized what had happened. I got more of a reception when I got home. I was talking to one of my neighbors, a German named Spoehr, and he said, “Do you know who you look like without your mustache?” I said, “Well, Holabird says I look like Hell and Roche says I look like the devil, so go ahead.” He said, “You look like Judge Moore, the one who just bought the Rock Island Railroad.” I swelled visibly, and thought I was awfully glad I had taken it off. In a moment another neighbor came out and Spoehr asked him if I didn’t look like Moore? He said he didn’t know Moore, but Spoehr reminded him of the man who had driven his own horse in the horseshow the other night. Light breaking over him, the man said, “O, I know, the frog-faced fellah?” I had been more willing to part with my mustache as within a week I had been taken for a hotel tout and an alderman. We all wore mustaches in those days; I think we’ll have to go back to them again – it will be the only way to differentiate ourselves from the other sex.


The Coleman Lake Club

One of my great pleasures has always been fishing and camping. About thirty-eight years ago I joined a fishing club known as the Gaylord Club. It was located on Coleman Lake, through which the south branch of the Pike River runs. A year or two later the name was changed to the Coleman Lake Club, so I think it is not incorrect to say that I am a charter member of the Coleman Lake Club. Wheaton Augur, a brother-in-law of Holabird, who died many years ago, was secretary of the club, and had the supervision of it to a large degree. He was a fine gentleman, and an ardent fisherman, one of the finest fly casters the club has known. He was one of the children about whom Abe Lincoln said, when General Augur brought them out to show to him, that they “were quite fine gimlets.” In the early days, 6000 acres of cutover land was leased by the club, the total requirement being that we pay the taxes. The opportunity of contracting for such a large tract came through Fred M. Stevenson, perennial president of the club, who, with his uncle Isaac Stevenson of Menomonie, was connected with the Kirby Carpenter Lumber Company, owners of the land. Before being taken over by the Gaylord Club, the north branch of the Pike River had the reputation for being the finest trout stream in Wisconsin. About 1883, when that section was unbroken forest, a tornado passed over it, cutting a swath three quarters to a mile and a half in width and forty miles long. The fallen timber was so dense that deer couldn’t get through. The owners of the down timber hoped to salvage it by cutting, but it was summer and it was necessary that it be put in water. So a series of dams were

183 made in the North Branch, rather close together, the North Dam, Middle Dam, Railroad Dam, burned Dam, all on the property of the club and probably not more than a mile and a half from the lowest to the highest. Ponds formed, which were naturally stocked with large trout. When the club was formed, all of these with the exception of the lowest dam, which had burned out, were excellently stocked. Among the early members of the club, all of whom were ardent stream fishermen and thorough sportsmen, were Mr. Stevenson, Mr. Holabird, Mr. Harry Dale, Mr. Shaler, and Mr. William Whitehead. About a year and a half or two years after I had become a member of the club, Mrs. Renwick and I decided to build a cottage there, which we did the next winter. The following winter the clubhouse, just below our cottage on the shore of the lake, burned. The directors selected a site a third of a mile away for the new clubhouse, and turned the building of it over to me. There were practically no carpenters up there; it was a matter of picking up local men to do the work. The club consisted of a building containing kitchen, dining room, and stewards’ quarters, and another with bedrooms, living room, and porch. Our greatest problem, and the one with which we had the most fun, was putting in a water supply, which the old clubhouse lacked. It had been the idea of Stevenson and the other directors that “If you must bathe, there is the lake before you.” It was against their policy to show signs of culture and softness. We had no method of heating the building but a stove. But it was finally decided to make the concession of a water supply, and we planned on a 5000-gallon tank behind the kitchen and dining quarters, with a steam pump down at the lake and a three-inch pipeline running 400 feet out into the lake for a supply pipe. I undertook to do this, and the fun came in running the 400-foot suction pipe into the lake.

184 We gathered boom logs from around the lake and strapped them together in pairs with two by fours, then we screwed the lengths of pipe together and kept pushing it, supported by the logs, out into the lake. We had a saw horse pinned together with wood, on which the pipe was to rest so that it would be raised five or six feet off the bottom. I had one of the boys, a plumber and his helper working with me. We undertook to keep the boom logs right until we got the pipe out the necessary 400 feet. Just as we were almost ready to let the pipe down, one of those yellow green squalls came up over the hill. All hands were in rowboats and we had a terrible time trying to keep ourselves and the logs and the pipe in the right place. But finally the plumber cut away the two by fours and dove in and found the pipe resting on the sawhorse where it belonged. So far, so good. The tank was up; the directors, backed by Holabird, having used Milwaukee rather than Portland cement which I had wanted. Now that we had decided on a water supply, everyone was urging speed. Whitehead, the secretary of the club, was nervous, and we were working our hardest. I tried to start the steam pump, but with the five or six feet lift for the water, it wouldn’t start. Two or three members of the club were standing on the bank above me, offering plentiful advice and a good many unfavorable remarks, until I finally fired the whole crowd and told them to go fishing. At last I got the pump started and had eighty pounds of steam on; it was going merrily, when suddenly I looked up at the tank, which was forty feet high, and saw it coming toward me. The concrete had set on the surface, but not below. I asked the country carpenter if he dared climb up and let the water out of the tank; he said he did. But the water came out with such force that he was pinned against the rail – fortunately we had a rail around it – and we had to go up and rescue him. Then I sent a gang into the woods for timbers and another for blocks and we jacked it up,

185 putting in diagonal braces, and got it in place. After working from half past two until five, we got the thing in place and filled, and everybody was happy. In the early days the south branch of the Pike, which flows into and out of Coleman Lake, was one of the favorite streams for fishing. Today it is not particularly good. There was one place below the entrance of Harvey Brook into the South Branch where an immense stump was stuck in a hole; it was called Shaler’s Hole. There, by a careful approach, you could get a creel filled with large trout any time. The average trout is ten or eleven inches long, weighing one half to three quarters of a pound; in that hole they were one and three quarters to two pounders. Now that place is all done away with. Above Shaler’s Hole where the Little South Branch came into the South Branch, there was an approach known as “Fred’s Boulevard.” It was the favorite place to initiate tenderfeet. On a warm, muggy, drizzly day, when the deerflies, gnats and mosquitoes were swarming, Holabird took me out to initiate me. There was six to twelve inches of water over the ground and the grass was head high and more. Holabird led the way and said he was going to find a pool; I could follow his tracks. The first thing I knew, I stepped into a slough above my waist; I pulled myself out and thought it must have been carelessness on my part. I went on farther and stepped into another where I went in black mud up to my chin. Holabird, farther on, was so amused he couldn’t stand up. On the way back I discovered how it was done; Holabird had walked up to the slough, then stepped aside, carefully replacing the grass to cover his tracks as he went around it, and continued on the other side. Needless to say, our way back was quite dry. This was a more or less typical initiation of a new member. I might admit that I initiated a good many others in the same way; I got so I could work it pretty easily.

186 Another favorite fishing place was Railroad Pond, just above the Soo Road, where there was a stump in the stream familiarly known as “the Octopus,” because of its many long roots. Here you could easily fill a creel with large trout; in fact, if you kept out of sight in the weeds and immediately drew the hooked trout toward the weeds, there was no end to the number you could get. At Brock’s Dam on the South Branch, three and a half miles downstream, Fred Stevenson and his brother George were fishing one day; fishing separately as we usually did. Fred, who was ahead, had been gone about twenty-five minutes when George saw a big trout rise, and he walked out on a log to get it. As he did so the log broke; when he felt it going he stepped on another one, but that broke too, and he fell some twelve feet into the pool, which was fifteen or sixteen feet deep. The worst of it was that as he fell, a piece of the log caught him under the arm, dislocating his shoulder. He managed to hook onto a log, however, and finally floated to where he could wade ashore, but he said there were moments when he never expected to get out of there alive. Then he had to wait two hours for Fred to come back and there was a steep hill, with a hard and slippery trail to be climbed up to the place where the team was waiting. Fred carried him up on his back, and when they got back to the club they were able to get a doctor. He had to give him an anaesthetic to relax the muscles before he could set his shoulder. Across the South Branch was an extent of hardwood, known as Windsor Woods, approached on a dam known as Windsor Dam. Some miles back of this, on an Indian trail, was an Indian village of about three hundred. On the trail leading to the village was Spring Lake, boiling up through a marl bottom which appeared from the surface snow white. One day Ralph and I built a raft and poled out on it. The fish were so light they appeared like albinos, due to the fact that

187 they assumed the color of the bottom. We got pretty interested in our fishing and didn’t notice the deficiencies of our raft until it parted suddenly and Ralph plunged into the water. I saw him go head and shoulders into the bottom. He came up and I think rather put the blame for this accident on me; anyway, we argued it somewhat. In the early days we had a guard, which patrolled the best part of the waters to keep poachers off. You could arrest people for trespassing, but you couldn’t convict. After considerable annoyance from trespassers, we hired an Irishman named Smith, so dumb that he was courageous, and he loved a fight. No explanation could stop him if he thought there was a chance of a scrap; he would pick a poacher up and dump him into the pond and bump his head under water a few times until he yelled for mercy. On the North Pond we had a shack where Smith used to get our midday luncheon for us, frying the trout and potatoes and cutting the bread. One noon he handed Roche a cup of some unidentifiable liquid and Roche, who liked cream in his coffee with no sugar and sugar in his tea with no cream, asked mildly whether this was tea or coffee. “My God, it’s coffee,” yelled Smith, and started at Roche like a bull; Stevenson fortunately caught him around the waist, but that was all that saved Roche from a beating. The club was also a hunt club; there were deer on the tract. Holabird usually went up for most of the season, but I only got up for the last day or two. However I never failed to get my deer when I got there. One time the men started playing cards at night and kept it up till very late. Stevenson, who was tenderhearted and was the real hunter, used to “play dog,” as he said, for the others, driving the deer up a runway along which he had placed the inexperienced hunters behind rocks. One morning he started a deer up past a rock where he had stationed a man named

188 Mudge, but there was no shot fired. He went up and found Mudge asleep beside his rock. Stevenson went back and shot another deer; then he cut off his forefeet and, going back near where Mudge was sleeping, he made tracks with the feet as if the deer had come up within six feet of Mudge and fairly stamped around. Then he went back quietly, and came up again, halooing and making a lot of racket. Mudge woke up, and of course Stevenson reproached him for having missed this wonderful shot, showing him the tracks all around him. He said that he wasn’t going to play dog any more for a lot of sleepy hunters, and they would have to, from now on, stop their cards at ten o’clock. He didn’t tell anyone the joke that he had played, for a year, and of course that sharp pointed rock is still known as “Mudge’s Rock.” Stevenson was a great joker. When we built our cottage, we had a housewarming and that night there was a steady gentle downpour of rain. The air was muggy and close, and Stevenson would ask the girls, who were all dressed up in their best, if they weren’t awfully hot, and wouldn’t they like to come out to the cool spot he had found. Then he’d take them outside and sit them on the railing of the porch where the drippings from the eaves ran down their back, and ask them if they didn’t feel lots cooler. He would let them go only if they would promise not to tell anyone else, and he would go in and get his next victim. Holabird liked a joke too, but better if it was not on himself. One time he came up to the Club with a suit which F. M. Atwood, a clothier with a store at Madison and Clark Streets, wanted him to try out; it was a crash30 suit. He


According to Webster, “a coarse fabric used for draperies, toweling, and clothing and

for strengthening joints of cased-in books.”

189 had been fishing one afternoon and then after his swim he decided to put on the new suit. He got it on with his white shoes and walked down to where a group of members were standing near the lake. Fred Stevenson, a man six feet five and a half inches tall, weighing about two hundred and thirty pounds, saw him coming, and said, “Why, how mighty nice you look; let me shake hands with you.” Holabird held out his hand and Stevenson, grasping it, dragged him down and dumped him in three feet of water. As he came out, we all pelted him with mud. “Don’t let us see you around here with any frills again,” said Stevenson. When Holabird got back to town, Atwood asked him what he thought of the suit. “From my experience I don’t think they’ll be popular,” he said, but he didn’t enlarge on it further. Once at the Coleman Lake Club someone was telling a story about shooting duck within the city limits and Richard I. Stearns, who had a way of bettering anyone’s story, said, “Why, I used to live on the corner of Adams and State Streets, and I used to shoot quail out of my windows with a bow and arrer.” Another of Mr. Stearns’ stories – he was always telling stories about his brother – was of a yachting party on which his brother was a guest of Edward VII when he was Prince of Wales. The water was calm, and so to amuse the guests they had a little target practice. His brother didn’t offer to enter in with the others, so the Prince said, “Aren’t you interested in shooting?” “No,” said he, “not that kind of shooting; I always do mine with a revolver.” The Prince asked if he had a revolver, and when he said he had, urged him to take a shot with that. The brother said all right, if he would throw a sovereign he would hit it. The Prince got out his sovereign and said, “Are you ready?” “Sure,” said the brother. “Where’s your revolver?” “In my pocket.” The Prince tossed up the sovereign. At this point Mr. Stearns always paused. When his auditors asked breathlessly

190 if he hit it, he would say, “Once on the flat and once on the edge, by God!” One day Mr. Stearns and De Forest Hulburd were going fishing. They said they were going to Moon Lake about two miles away, and off they started in their great heavy boots, lugging a pail of minnows and their rods. About two hours later, Ralph and I started off for Harvey Brook, which was in a diametrically opposite direction. When we came up on a little rise of ground, here were Stearns and Hulburd, coming toward us. We called, “We thought you were going to Moon Lake.” “We are,” they shouted back. As they came up beside us, and Coleman Lake and the clubhouse came in full view, “There it is,” they said cheerfully. They had made a circuit of some five miles and come back, without knowing it, to just where they started from. We turned them round and started them off in the right direction and they went off with all their paraphernalia, determined to reach Moon Lake somehow. They did, but they didn’t catch any fish, so it was a bad day all around. Roche, having been city-raised, never knew anything about the woods until he was grown; and though he enjoyed them, it was not an ardent love. But I was a fisherman, and I dragged him along. We took several trips up in Wisconsin together. One time we were gone about a month and went up to Tenderfoot Lake, to a place known as the Divide, as streams from there ran into Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and the Mississippi. We camped at Tenderfoot Island and fished some of the large number of lakes in the neighborhood. I think we fished about twenty lakes on that trip, carrying our canoe and fly-fishing for bass. One day we went down into Sanborn Lake, which can be reached from Tenderfoot. We fished until we were tired, saving a couple of fish for lunch and throwing back the rest. After lunch it was Roche’s habit to take a nap, but I

191 am rather restless, and I decided to go out and see if I could get a partridge. The guide said he would come too, and Roche, rather than be left here alone, said he would come along. We came to a little lake one hundred by two hundred yards, a “puddle,” where there was a cranberry marsh. We saw a young Mallard duck and I potted him, shot him on the set. On the opposite side of this lake we found an otter slide, a track where they slide through from one lake to another. We knew there must be a lake at the end of it, so we followed it on and found one, and leading from that was another otter slide. We went up over a narrow ridge and there was a beautiful lake of clear water, one which the guide who had been there seven or eight years, trapping in winter and guiding in summer, said had never been discovered before. It was the only clear water lake in that region. We decided to explore this lake, and went back for the canoe, I cutting the brush to get it through. When we got out on it the guide said, “There’s no use fishing here.” But I cast out my fly and as it struck the water a dozen fish went for it. Roche cast a frog out and immediately got a bass. We fished a little while and caught forty-seven bass as fast as we could pull them in. We turned them all back. Then we decided to paddle around the lake, and as we came into a little bay where the water was glassy calm, I, who was sitting in the bow looking down, said, “It’s curious to find a black bottom with such clear water.” The guide said it wasn’t black: it was sand and gravel. Roche, who was amidships, said it was black there. I put my head out over the bow and discovered that the black bottom was the backs of bass, moving out because they had been scared. They had moved away from the stern where the guide was. There was simply an incredible number of fish in that lake. We went ashore and I cut the bark off a tree and carved

192 “Roche’s Lake.” It became on the map “Roach’s Lake.” I have never been back, but it is probably all fished out. I’ve had some wonderful canoe trips with Ralph, on the Manitowish River and the Pike. In Manitowish Lake, Ralph and I fished for muskellunge several years. I tried flyfishing for muskies; something that up to that time no one had tried. I used a fly of my own design. It is exciting work, a bass rushes up against a fly and so does a trout usually, but a muskie jumps clear out of the water and comes down on it. Take one that weighs twenty or thirty pounds, and when you see it leap out it gives you what is known as heart failure. They have mouths like gutta-percha, so they’re very hard to land, but even if you lose your fish, you’ve had all the excitement. One year Ralph and I went down to Mobile Bay on a trip with Wm. D. Gates31 and Joe Marshall. We chartered an oyster schooner for a month; it took a good deal of time and sulphur getting it cleaned out. The captain and a cook were our crew, and they and the boat, exclusive of the food, which we furnished, cost us $5.00 a day. It was one of the most delightful trips I ever had. We arrived in Mobile, having missed breakfast on the train, and Ralph ordered some oysters. He asked for half a dozen raw, but when they came they were so huge, and the meat is four inches across, that he tried one or two and then said, “I can’t do it.” We went down to the schooner and there were ten bushels of oysters on board. We got oyster knives and sat down and opened


William D. Gates (the same?) was President of the American Terracotta and Ceramic

Company, a Chicago-area manufacturer of pottery and and tiles for architectural use. See, and

193 oysters. Ralph began gingerly picking out the little fellows, but by night he was looking for the big ones. You eat them without any other seasoning than that of the salt water. We ate oysters on that trip from morning till night. One day Gates said, “Eat as many oysters as you like, Renwick, when we’re sailing, but when we’re at anchor don’t eat so many – the shells will ground the boat.” We had one accident, which was a sad one. The cooking was done in a brazier with a charcoal fire and a grill laid across the top. We had one dish, “jumbulier,” which was a sort of soup, and which was delicious: you put in salt pork and fried it in the bottom of the kettle with some onions, then you added water and rice and cooked this mixture, then a can of tomatoes and a can of corn, and the last minute just before serving you added a couple dozen oysters. It took forty-five minutes to prepare it, and all the time your appetite was getting keener and keener with the delicious odors. One day just as the dish was about done, we came up into the wind a little too close and the mainsail jibed and over went the kettle, into the sea. That was pretty hard, as we were awfully hungry and we had to start all over again.



About 1921 I had indicated to the members of the firm, including Holabird, Senior, and Roche, that as soon as possible I would like to sever my active connection with the firm. I had worked awfully hard for a good many years, and I thought I would like to have some leisure to take up some of the other interests which I had not had time to pursue. The understanding was that they were to employ a man to take over my work as rapidly as possible, which they did; the man employed being Colonel Horatio B. Hackett. I shifted my duties to him as rapidly as he could take them, and when in 1925 Mrs. Renwick and I went abroad for six months, it was to be a trial to see whether he could handle them satisfactorily without me. The event proved that he could, so I have steadily reduced my hours in the office until I am not there regularly at all at the present time. I have not regretted my decision; I have found plenty to occupy my leisure. One of the pleasantest things has been the trips we have taken. Mrs. Renwick loves to travel and we have gone in an interesting way, leaving the beaten paths and seeing things that perhaps escape the ordinary tourist. Perhaps we had been cured of “conducted tours” and guides in our first trip abroad, which was to Naples in 1907. Mr. and Mrs. W. D. Gates were with us and when we got there, as we had been advised that Naples wasn’t all that it should be and we had better employ a guide, we engaged one to take us to Pompeii. He had a working knowledge of English; that was about all. He took us into the museum and began, “Ladies,” – he always called us all “ladies” – “Ladies, this bread was baked 79 years after B.C.” That amused Mr. Gates, who loved a joke. All the rest of the day everything was “79 years after B.C.”

195 One thing which contributed a great deal toward making our trips interesting and which led us off the ordinary ways was my interest in photography. I had always been interested in art; way back in my early days at the office I had, in company with Roche, studied freehand drawing. As we lunched and usually spent our evenings together when Roche decided that we should both go to the Art Institute, we did, for the better part of two years. We also had a class a week in figure drawing in our office under the personal instruction of John Vanderpool. Mr. Vanderpool was a consummate draftsman; he left a book, “The Human Figure,” which is a masterpiece of drawing. He drew the whole figure, both male and female, then detailed them. He had a perfect accord between eye and hand; he could draw what he saw. He was so thorough a draftsman and so hard a tutor that he has spoiled me for pictures which are out of drawing. Incidentally, his training made me see that the Greeks understood drawing and perspective much better than we do. I don’t think we even have the eyes to see the refinements of Greek architecture. Some time ago they duplicated the Parthenon very exactly at Nashville. They used concrete in which the crushed stone was colored marble, so that the resultant color is an almost exact duplication of that of the Parthenon. They copied it very accurately as to size as well as detail, so that you can see there some of the little niceties the Greeks practiced. For instance, the base has a slight curve in it so that it appears to be flat. The entasis of the columns is so accurate that it looks like an even tapering from top to bottom; a column, as it get away from the base, would look hollowed without this slight thickening. Also the columns were not regularly spaced; if they were, those near the corners would look nearer together, because the eye would have other things with which to compare them. Then too, the columns aren’t plumb; they

196 lean in one inch, because as a column diminishes, it appears to lean toward your eye. The problem of entasis is a difficult one; we had some trouble with it in the columns of the Marquette Building. They roused a storm of criticism as being fat, cigarshaped32. Actually Mr. Roche had designed them as fluted columns, and the concave surface, polished, must have a little more than a double entasis. But George Fuller, the contractor, who was a one-third owner of the Marquette Building, when he found that fluting the columns was going to cost $6,000, ordered them turned. They were smooth and polished, so that you got the curves two ways and they impressed your eye a being much bigger than they were; just the opposite effect of a concave surface. If Mr. Fuller had told Roche what he was going to do, Roche would have reduced the entasis and avoided this unfortunate result. Shortly before I retired I had taken up autochrome photography, under the tutelage of Harry Wells, who had been doing this sort of photography for twelve or fifteen years. So in 1925 when Mrs. Renwick and I were going abroad, I decided to make photography one of the chief objects of the trip. Although I had not had the experience to warrant my undertaking such a task, I went off equipped with fifty boxes of plates and acquired two hundred boxes as I went along. This gave me one thousand plates in all. Although I found that the taking of the pictures and the developing them myself every night in extemporized darkrooms was really arduous work, yet I was fully repaid. I came out with seven hundred and fifty fairly perfect


The original portico of the Marquette building has been removed, and these columns

have been replaced with squared-off features with flat faces and no entasis. R. Bruegmann, Holabird and Roche of Chicago, 1880-1918, has a good photo of the original portico on page 128.

197 plates. Taking them certainly gave a greater zest to our trip; it was the pleasantest we have ever had, and I believe they have given pleasure to a number of people since. Before leaving this country I had arranged for a motor to take us around France, but when I reached Paris I found that that company had gone out of business. I had a letter of introduction to a Mr. Roy Cunningham of the FrancoBelgique Tours and so I went over to see Mr. Cunningham. I saw a man sitting there in the office who looked rather familiar to me, and when I handed in my letter the office boy took it to this man. He looked up with a start of obvious recognition and came toward me. He said, “Mr. Renwick, aren’t you with Holabird and Roche?” I said I was and he went on, “I was the agent for a terra cotta fireproofing and called at your office very often.” It was like meeting a friend, and particularly opportune as I was negotiating for something I knew very little about. He asked me what I wanted and when I wanted to start; I told him I had been hoping to get away by Friday. He told me he had a chauffeur who he thought was just the man, but he wouldn’t be back in town until Friday morning. Friday morning I went down to the office and there was a short thickset Frenchman, whom I thought might be my man. Mr. Cunningham had told me that his name would be “Marcel,” so I asked if this was Marcel, and he said it was. I asked him if he had any instructions as to what he was to do and he said, “I was told to go where you wanted to go, drive any way you wanted to drive, and do anything you wanted me to do.” I thought those were comprehensive enough. He spoke very good English and I soon learned the reason. His mother was a designer for the firm of Revillon Frères, and she came to the United States every year for six months to re-design furs for American trade, and she had brought her children with her. Marcel had been first in an automobile factory, then through his brother-in-law he was taken on as a

198 mechanic for the International Races. He rode the races for three or four years till he had a smash-up in which, though he was not seriously injured, he might easily have been, and his wife persuaded him to give up racing. He said then what had never occurred to me before: that it takes a lot more nerve to ride along as a mechanic in those races than to be at the wheel. He turned out to be a wonderful driver; I have never driven with anyone who had his car so completely under control. I said to him in the beginning, “I am going to take pictures, and I may catch sight of something on the road which I would like to take and I’ll signal you to stop. I want you to stop at once, not go on half a kilometre beyond it; I don’t want to have to back the car or to walk back carrying my cameras.” The first time I pressed the button as a signal to stop, I nearly went through the glass partition and Mrs. Renwick nearly landed on the floor. He had stopped in a car’s length. I took the picture and he asked if he had stopped soon enough; I told him, “Quite.” Marcel had little interest in that first picture, but later when we reached Fontainebleu, he parked the car and came with me. From that time on he became extremely interested in the subject, and was on the watch for anything he thought would please me, frequently seeing it before I did. I changed my seat and began sitting in front so that I could see better. We went first through the chateau district rather hurriedly, spending only a week there, staying at Blois and Tours and driving around from there. Then we went on through Bourges and LePuy and from there we took a mountain road, a secondary road, across to L’Argenterre. I wouldn’t have missed that trip for anything. There were points on the road that Mrs. Renwick didn’t like, it was very narrow and frequently on the edge of a cliff, and she would get out and walk, but I had complete

199 confidence in Marcel. We went down through Arles, Nimes and Avignon, staying at Avignon for a time. Our first flat tire occurred at the beginning of the Simplon Pass, just as we were starting to climb. I saw a picture in a mountain village and out over a valley to the mountains beyond, so I took my camera and went off to get it. I set up my camera with ordinary promptness, but before I got through I heard the motor going. When I came back I said, “You were lucky not to have to change a tire.” Marcel answered, “O, I did change one.” I thought it was incredible that I had been away long enough for that, but the next time we had a puncture I held the stop watch on him: from the time that he swung himself out of the seat till he swung back it was just four and a half minutes. When I told him I thought it was remarkable, he said, “O, but in the races I changed wheels and you had just sixteen seconds without being penalized and I never took all of that.” It was amazing to watch him. As he stepped on the running board he had the tool box open, and with one grab he had out the tools he needed. From that instant on he never made one false or unnecessary move. It was really worth while! It was almost essential to develop pictures every night; we had to have a private bath for a darkroom and this wasn’t easy to achieve as we rarely stayed in the larger cities. We traveled on unfrequented roads in an effort to see the country as it really is and not as it is usually dressed up for tourists. Sometimes the only bath in the hotel was an old room turned into a bath, with sometimes two windows on the front, and if they wanted to be very dressy with glass down from the ceiling to about seven feet above the floor. I took with me yards of black sateen and some rubber sheeting and thumb tacks, but sometimes even all this was not sufficient. The manager would be awfully disappointed if this wonderful room didn’t suit me and I

200 would ask for a smaller one with fewer windows. Sometimes I had to take a storage closet, dirty and stuffy, and the length of time it took to do my developing every night became more or less of a burden. I found by careful timing that the development of each plate took thirty minutes, all working in a perfectly dark room; that meant that if I took ten plates, as on an average day, there was five hours work to be done when the day was over. If I happened to take fourteen plates there was a good night’s work ahead. We figured up in the end that I had fitted up fortyeight bathrooms; Mrs. Renwick said I never looked at the room we were going to sleep in, only at the possibilities for my darkroom. After all it was fun and I felt repaid when I saw my final collection of plates. A good many of them were as beautiful as it is possible for plates to be. Some were underexposed and some overexposed, of course, and sometimes I took one picture on top of another, a thing which it is quite easy to do, but on the whole I thought I came out very well. I have a good many I am not ashamed to show, anyway, though some I never put on the screen for the public at all; they aren’t quite good enough to suit me. Some of the most interesting things I took were interiors; I traveled with a permit to photograph national monuments in France, which allowed me, if I made arrangements with the custodian by the Saturday before, to go in on Monday when the place is closed to the public. This was a wonderful opportunity, to have these galleries, etc., entirely to oneself; some of the exposures took an hour, so there was plenty of time to wander around. Marcel, with his fluent knowledge of French, was an invaluable help to me. One day I was shopping in Paris and I wanted to get some thumb tacks. As usually happened,

201 Marcel couldn’t park the car right before the shop, but had to let me out, going on to find a place and coming back just in time to disentangle me in my French. This time I went into the shop, having looked up the word for “thumbtack” in my dictionary, and asked in my best French if they had some “pinais.” I noticed a quizzical smile on the saleslady’s face and she hesitated, so I repeated it again. This time she almost laughed out loud. Just then Marcel came in and I heard him say “No, not what you think he means, but some—“ and he gave a graphic illustration of putting a thumbtack in a board. I found finally that what I had been asking – the words were spelled identically the same – was, “Have you any bedbugs33?” Our next trip, I took about eight hundred plates and got about five hundred good ones. I had far more difficulty on this trip; for one thing the initial plates were not as good. I also learned something I had never known before: that in towns the size of Tunbridge Wells, Warwick, Leamington, Plymouth, getting a private bath was like looking for a needle in a haystack. In Gloucester, a town of 55,000, there were one hundred and fifty hotel rooms, and not one with running water, and not a single private bath. In five or six cases I rented the public bathroom and had it under lock and key for some days, and I don’t think I disturbed a guest. It was a surprise to me that the English deny themselves the ordinary comforts, even necessities of life; and they have certainly not tried to cater to the tourist as they have to some extent at least in France and Italy. At Tunbridge Wells we stayed at a hotel which was the old palace of the Duke of York, where Victoria spent her girlhood. As I was not well there, the doctor finally secured me a bath but with it we had to take the ducal suite


The French word is la punaise, and it means both: bedbug, or thumbtack.

202 – three bedrooms, a large sitting room in which we had our meals served, and a butler or valet who went with it. And for all this grandeur and our meals, we paid fifteen dollars a day, while we had paid fourteen a day in New York for a stuffy little room without meals. One of the pleasantest happenings of the trip was the discovery of the artist Hugh Wilkinson. Just after we landed in England I saw a picture in Salisbury I liked very much, but I thought the price pretty high. The shopkeeper told me that the artist lived not far away, and suggested that I look him up and see if he had anything else that I liked as well. When I came back to Salisbury I still liked the picture, so I decided to take the shopkeeper’s advice. We went over and found Mr. Wilkinson; he is more or less of a hermit, living and painting very much cut off from the world and without any real recognition or financial success. I picked out a picture for Ralph, and when I told him I wanted that picture, Wilkinson said, “You mean you will buy it?” I said yes, and all at once the tears streamed down his face. You can’t simulate feeling like that. I picked out another one for my daughter, then I was looking very hard at this one of mine. Mrs. Renwick asked if I liked it and I said I thought it was about the most satisfying landscape I had ever seen. She said, “You really like it, do you?” I said I certainly did; I thought it was a picture you could live with and like better all the time. So she said, “Then I would like to buy it for you.” We had tea with Mr. Wilkinson and his wife, who was a most charming English woman, a semi-invalid. When we were ready to go and waiting for the pictures to be boxed, Mr. Wilkinson insisted that we take another picture in gratitude for those we had bought. I didn’t want to, of course, but he absolutely insisted. We sent back to Salisbury and bought the picture we had originally seen.

203 When I got back home I wrote Wilkinson, telling him that if he would send over some of his pictures I thought I could sell them for him. I got a letter from him, very much crushed, telling me that his wife had died just two weeks after our being there, and that he was unable to paint or do anything. He didn’t even want to think of pictures. So I sat right down and wrote him a long letter, telling him his wife would surely not want him to give up to his grief in that way, that he had much to live for in his work and in his son, and that if he would go back to his painting he would at least be free of sorrow for that length of time. He wrote again, very gratefully, and said he had taken my advice and that it was true, while he was working, he was free of his troubles. He sent over some pictures, too, and I have sold a number of them: counting what we paid for our own, I think I have sent him anyway thirty-five hundred dollars. Photographing in this country, too, has led me into some interesting experiences. Once I was out in San Francisco and I wanted to take some pictures in the gardens around there. There was one garden in particular, that of a Mr. Saint Cyr, which was famous thereabouts. But everyone discouraged me in my expectations of getting into the place; even a professor in the University told me that he wasn’t allowed to go in to take pictures to show to his students. Of course all this piqued my curiosity. So one day I went out there and leaving my car a half a mile or so away, I walked up to the place. There was a crossroads with three different estates on the three corners and a filling station on the fourth. I went over to ask at the filling station which was the Saint Cyr estate, and they said “You’d better leave your cameras here; they won’t allow you in there with them.” “Oh, I guess I’ll take them along,” I said. At the gate was a sign, “Keep out, there are vicious dogs on the place.”

204 Now I have always loved dogs, and I think they know perfectly well who their friends are. So I went through the gate and started up the path. A few steps and a great police dog came bounding toward me, growling that low growl down in his throat. I said, “What’s the matter old fellow, I’m not going to do you any harm,” and held out my hand. He made a wide circle around me and came up beside me, wagging his tail. We walked on together toward the house. Farther on I met a Chinese gardener who looked at me suspiciously, but when I asked where Mr. Saint Cyr was, he volunteered the information that he was at the garage; he was expecting to start right away for Los Angeles, but he was having trouble starting his car. I went on and a second gardener appeared. To his questions I said, “I’m just going down to the garage to see Mr. Saint Cyr before he gets away to Los Angeles.” That worked all right. Well, the end of it was that when I found Saint Cyr he demanded to know who I was and when I said I was an architect from Chicago, he shot out, “Do you know Ernest F. Graham”? I said, “Rather; I brought him to Chicago.” When the car finally started, Mr. Saint Cyr, having given me his card with permission to take any pictures I cared to, said he was terribly sorry I was leaving for Chicago in a day or two, as he was going to be away a week and he would have liked to have me come out and spend a couple of days with him. I got some interesting pictures; one thing on the place was a bay tree with a trunk eight or ten feet in one direction and seventy-five in the other. The strangest thing I ever saw. I could only account for it by the fact that a limb just have been borne down to the ground and taken root. Then as the soil built up around it and shoots went up from it, it grew to look like the trunk. Along about March 1927 Mrs. Renwick, after some discussion, persuaded me to see what I could do with oil paints, in the way of landscapes. I got a beginner’s outfit

205 and after trying one or two still lifes I tried landscapes. I had done a little watercolor back in the ‘80s, but I had not followed it up in my later years; the field of oil painting was quite new to me. I’ve had a lot of fun with it. But there are always some things which you can’t express with your brush. I wish I could make mine express what I want it to; I would have no trouble then. Once down in Rochester, New York, I started out to do a beautiful expanse of azaleas, which spread out from my feet into the distance down the valley; it was a wonderful study in color. But I found that I couldn’t, with washes of color, get them to look like azaleas. I finally had to paint those in the foreground with an infinite number of dabs of color, as if I were painting the individual flowers. When I got back home I asked some artists who ought to have known, how they would have done such a thing, how it could be done, and the most illuminating answer I could get out of them was, “I wouldn’t have tried such a subject.” But whether I can express just what I want to or not, my painting has given me a great deal of pleasure. Upstairs in the sun-parlor, Mrs. Renwick sits in one corner sewing, and I in the other with my painting and we call it the “Sweat Shop.”


Picture Credits All of the images used to illustrate this document were downloaded from the Internet. The URLs below were functioning as of April, 2003. Figure 1:

Sabin, Pat, “The Rookery,” [], in Old

Chicago -- The History and Architecture of Chicago, Illinois, A Tour Of The City in Vintage Postcards, Pat Sabin, ed., []. Figure 2:

Sabin, Pat, “Tacoma Building,” [], in

Old Chicago -- The History and Architecture of Chicago, Illinois, A Tour Of The City in Vintage Postcards, Pat Sabin, ed., []. Figure 3:

WGBH Boston and PBS, “Home Insurance Building,”

[], in “Building Big,” []. Figure 4:

Howe, Prof. Jeffrey, “New York World building, New York City,”

[], in “A Digital Archive of American Architecture,” Jeffrey Howe, ed., [] Figure 5:

Library of Congress, from the archives of the Chicago Daily News

[], in American Memory: Historical Collections for the National Digital Library, [] (linked from Scott Newman’s site; see Figure 15 credit). Figure 6:

Sabin, Pat, “Monadnock Block,”

[], in Old Chicago -- The History and Architecture of Chicago, Illinois, A Tour Of The City in Vintage Postcards, Pat Sabin, ed., []. Figure 7:

WGBH Boston and PBS, “People & Events: Theodore Thomas (1835-

1904) and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra,” [], in

207 “American Experience: Chicago, City of the Century,” []. Figure 8:

City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Landmarks

Division, “Marquette Building,” [], in “Chicago Landmarks,” []. Figure 9:

City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Landmarks

Division, “Marquette Building,” [], in “Chicago Landmarks,” []. Figure 10:

City of Chicago Department of Planning and Development, Landmarks

Division, “Old Colony Building,” [], in “Chicago Landmarks,” []. Figure 11:

National Park Service, “Old Colony Building,”

[], in “Chicago: a National Register of Historic Places Travel Itinerary,” []. Figure 12:

Sabin, Pat, “City Hall and Cook County Courthouse,”

[], in Old Chicago -- The History and Architecture of Chicago, Illinois, A Tour Of The City in Vintage Postcards, Pat Sabin, ed., []. Figure 13:

Newman, Scott A. "Jazz Age Chicago – The Boston Store"

[], in Scott A. Newman, ed., Jazz Age Chicago [].

208 Figure 14:

Newman, Scott A. "Jazz Age Chicago – Mandel Brothers"

[], in Scott A. Newman, ed., Jazz Age Chicago []. Figure 15:

Newman, Scott A. "Jazz Age Chicago – Hotel LaSalle"

[], in Scott A. Newman, ed., Jazz Age Chicago []. Figure 16:

“Club Information,” [], in

“University Club of Chicago,” Elizabeth A. Vogel, ed, []. Figure 17:

“Michigan Room,” [], in

“University Club of Chicago,” Elizabeth A. Vogel, ed, []. Figure 18:

Van Ermengem, Kristiaan, “Chicago Temple Building,”

[], from “A View on Cities,” Kristiaan Van Ermengem, ed., [].


Index Adler and Sullivan, 163 Aldis, Owen, 32, 45, 65, 71, 77, 81, 105, 154, 163

Fuller, George A., 57, 65, 90, 94, 116, 120, 127, 154, 199 Gates, William D., 195, 197

arc light, 6

Grand Rapids, 6, 7

Auditorium Building, 169

Hale, William, 77, 79

Bailey, L. H., 16

Holabird, William, 28

Bonney, Orris, 8

Home Insurance, 47, 60, 61, 63

Burnham, Daniel H., 28, 48

Jenney, W. L. B., 28

Byfield, Joseph, 161

Livingston, Luther, 10, 16

Capitol Building, 66

Long, Frank B., 65, 85, 144, 145

Champlain Building, 106, 108, 109,

Loring, Sam, 54, 60, 160

170 Champlaine Building, 68 Chicago, 23 City Hall, 46, 68, 92, 101, 102 County Building, 92, 98, 101 Cram, Ralph Adams, 121 Exhibition Building, 76 First National Bank Building, 51 fishing, 22

Mandel Brothers, 45 Marquette Building, 68, 77, 81, 199 Marshall Field Building, 92 Masonic Temple, 66 McCormick Building, 156 Merchants Building, 32, 51 Microscopy, 19 Monadnock Block, 47, 68, 71, 73, 75, 134, 154

210 Monroe Building, 134, 136

Rookery, the, 46, 54, 162

Montauk Building, 45, 51, 72, 73,

Simonds, O. C., 24, 26

127, 138, 157 New York World Building, 60 Nixon Building, 45 Old Colony, 68, 79, 82, 89 Phonograph, Edison, 7 pioneer, 6 Pontiac Building, 66 Postal Savings Building, New York, 80 Reliance Building, 78 Renwick, Carrie Elizabeth, 7, 23, 24, 35 Renwick, Charles A., 7, 8, 17, 23

Smith, Byron L., 151, 152, 153 Strong, E. A., 20 Strong, Gordon, 40, 155, 169 Sullivan, Louis H., 163 Sutherland, Frank, 52, 146, 147 Tacoma Building, 43, 51, 56, 59, 61, 63, 64, 66, 79 Temple Building, 168 Thomas, Theodore, 76 Tribune Building, 80, 89, 91, 92, 94, 95, 96, 98, 150 University Club, 44, 119, 120, 121, 163

Renwick, Hattie B., 8

Venetian Building, 119

Renwick, Margaret, 181

War, Civil, 8

Renwick, Ralph Sr., 179, 181, 189,

Whitmore, Mary Jane, 7

190, 193, 195 Richardson, H. H., 44 Roche, Martin, 29

Williams Building, 85 Yerkes, Charles T., 49


Memoirs of Edward A. Renwick


Memoirs of Edward A. Renwick