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Canadian Architects of the Chicago School 1880 – 1935

A striking feature of Chicago that amazes visitors and newcomers alike is the ability of taxi-cab drivers to identify city landmarks by their architect.  The Thompson Center? – why that’s Helmut Jahn.  The Loop Post Office? – it’s Mies van der Rohe.  The Pritzker Pavilion at Millennium Park – Frank Gehry!

The part of the story that few seem able to recount is how many of the architects cited are Canadian.  Frank Gehry – from time to time claiming to be Torontonian or from someplace thereabouts – is one example.  But dig a bit deeper into Chicago’s heritage…

While everyone can recite the name of at least one Frank Lloyd Wright building, few realize that the River Forest Tennis Club in River Forest was originally built as a carbon copy of the “Frank Lloyd Wright Pavilion” in Banff National Park.  The Tennis Club was moved and altered in 1910, but many basic parts of the existing building are just as they were built in Banff.  Why Banff, you ask?  In his travels to Japan, a favourite steamship of Wright’s was the Canadian Pacific “Empress of Asia”, which left from the Granville Street Terminal in Vancouver.  In those day, Canadian Pacific sold “through tickets” that accommodated passengers in their ocean liners, trains and hotels in trips around the world.  One of the easiest ways to get from Chicago to Tokyo was to take the Canadian Pacific Railway train through Moose Jaw, spend a couple days at the Banff Springs hotel, and in just a couple steps from your train stop in Vancouver, catch your steamer from the same building.  One of Wright’s protégés – Francis C. Sullivan of Ottawa – introduced him to many contacts within the Canadian Department of Public Works, including the Banff National Park Warden and Superintendant.

Likewise, many marvel at historic buildings in the Chicago Park District or along the Chicago River, or delight in presentations at the Graham Foundation.  When he was sixteen, Hugh Garden was one of three sons of a Toronto family that immigrated to Chicago. For a time, Garden worked in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park studio before partnering up with other architects to establish a prolific Chicago practice.  As Designer in Charge, he was responsible for projects like the Madelener House and the hotel addition to the former Chicago Athletic Association.  His client relationship with the Chicago Park District produced memorable works such as the Garfield Park Refectory and the Columbus Park lanterns; his last major project was the former Marshall Fields Warehouse complex along the North Branch of the Chicago River.

And meanwhile, several buildings in Chicago – the clubhouse of the Union League Club of Chicago being a good example – are credited to William LeBaron Jenney, despite the building having been built in 1925 and Jenney having died in 1907.  William LeBaron Jenney was a Chicago Architect who invented the steel cage skyscraper frame, for which Chicago became known world-over as the birthplace of the skyscraper. Few recognize that Jenney mentored and appointed a successor Architect to assume his practice – a Hamilton, Ontario native named William Bryce Mundie. A quiet and unassuming fellow, Mundie was never-the-less a professional and social pillar of Chicago. Upon his hiring in 1884, Mundie was given the assignment of being the Project Architect of the Home Life Insurance Building, a landmark building recognized as the world’s first skyscraper. Mundie became a partner in what became Jenney and Mundie Architects in 1891. Louis Sullivan credited Mundie as being the inventor of the “Skyscraper Setback Style” in a treatise describing the Manhattan Building.  Instrumental in the adoption of building code and professional regulation standards, he was appointed Supervising Architect to the Chicago Board of Education in 1898. Here, his personal mission being to bring school construction to high standards of safety, in the aftermath of the Iroquois Theater fire tragedy.  A Board Member of the Canadian Club of Chicago and of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society, he was also the First Vice President of the American Institute of Architects. He donated his services – twice – to build and rebuild the Scottish Home in North Riverside. And, of course, he was a Member of the Union League Club of Chicago, and Architect of its present clubhouse.

So, we all know the architectural landmarks of Chicago, but do you know of the Canadian landmarks here?

 

Posted in Architecture, History, Speaking Engagements.