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Chicago's Auditorium Building: Opera or Anarchism

Joseph M. Siry
Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians
Vol. 57, No. 2 (Jun., 1998), pp. 128-159
DOI: 10.2307/991376
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/991376
Page Count: 32
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Chicago's Auditorium Building: Opera or Anarchism
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Abstract

Adler and Sullivan's Auditorium Building in Chicago (1886-1890) is here analyzed in the context of Chicago's social history of the 1880s. Specifically, the building is seen as a capitalistic response to socialist and anarchist movements of the period. The Auditorium's principal patron, Ferdinand W. Peck, created a theater that was to give access to cultural and civic events for the city's workers, to draw them away from both politicized and nonpoliticized "low" urban entertainments. Adler and Sullivan's theater was to serve a mass audience, unlike opera houses of the period, which held multiple tiers of boxes for privileged patrons. This tradition was represented by the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City (1881-1883). Turning away from works like the Paris Opéra, Peck and his architects perhaps sought to emulate ideas of other European theaters of the period, such as Bayreuth's Festspielhaus (1872-1876). Sullivan's interior had an ornamental and iconographic program that was innovative relative to traditional opera houses. His design of the building's exterior was in a Romanesque style that recalled ancient Roman monuments. It is here compared with other Chicago buildings of its era that represented high capital's reaction to workers' culture, such as Burnham and Root's First Regiment Armory (1889-1891), Peck's own house (1887), and the Chicago Athenaeum (1890-1891). The Auditorium's story invites a view of the Chicago School that emphasizes the role of patrons' ideological agenda rather than modern structural expression.

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