10 Things You (Probably) Don’t Know About The Rookery

The Rookery. Photograph courtesy of the Artefaqs stock photo archive.

The Rookery. Photograph courtesy of the Artefaqs stock photo archive.

You say you play a pretty mean game of Chicago architecture trivia? We’ll assume you’re a real hoot at cocktail parties. But do you REALLY know all the fun facts about the iconic Loop masterpiece The Rookery? We shall see.

Give yourself one point if you know all of the following Rookery facts. A score of 5 or lower requires you to attend weekly Wednesday lectures at the Chicago Architecture Foundation for a month. A perfect 10 score means you’re either a legitimate architecture nerd or a descendant of Daniel Burnham.

 1  When it opened in 1885, the 11-story building was considered a skyscraper. It was the tallest building in the city, after all. The original cost to build The Rookery was $1.5 million.

Prairie Light Fixture

Prairie Light Fixture

 2  There are a number of inactive pulleys on the mezzanine level. They were originally used to open windows on the skylight.

Pulleys

 3  John Root strategically placed the ornate stairway rising above the mezzanine level outside the wall plane of the building. That meant it technically qualified as a fire escape. Ergo, Root didn’t have to add an ugly fire escape to the exterior walls.

Stairwell

 4  No one is sure, but the name may have originated from the birds that gathered on the site where the building would be constructed. There was, however, another possible reason it became known as The Rookery. In the aftermath of the Great Fire, a temporary city hall was erected on the same site. Some city officials were known to be underhanded and corrupt. So, there was a decent chance that citizens dealing with city hall would get rooked.

The southwest corner of The Rookery4

The southwest corner of The Rookery4

 5  People called it The Rookery from day one, but the building’s owners, the Brooks Brothers, were never fond of the moniker. They considered 22 different names, but none struck their fancy. The official name was the less-than-creative 209 S. LaSalle Street Building.

Mezzanine Glass Block Floor

Mezzanine Glass Block Floor

 6  Architect John Root really DID like the name Rookery, so even though the “R word” didn’t appear outside the building, he carved a couple of rooks on the façade over the LaSalle Street entrance to create a lasting visual statement.

Rookery rooks

Rookery rooks

 7   The 1905 lobby remodel was Frank Lloyd Wright’s first major gig, although his resume previously included some random apartment buildings.

Frank Lloyd Wright Pillar

Frank Lloyd Wright Pillar

 8  There’s a scene in “The Devil In The White City” where the 1893 Columbian Exposition is being designed by a group of noteworthy architects. It took place in Daniel Burnham’s library on the 11th floor of The Rookery.

Burnham Library

Burnham Library

 9  Burnham and Root installed their offices on the top floor of The Rookery to prove to clients that it was, in fact, safe to have an office on the 11th floor of a building.

The Rookery atrium

The Rookery atrium

 10 The firm installed amenities like a gymnasium in the office, where in the late 1880s, the staff could enjoy weekly fencing classes. Architects, it seems, were supposed to be gentlemen. Perhaps the training could also prove beneficial with contrary clients.

Bill Motchan

Author: Bill Motchan

Bill Motchan is a writer and photographer, and a former resident of the West Loop. He can be reached at bill@ChicagoArchitecture.org.

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4 Comments

  1. And if you take the Chicago Architecture Foundation tour of the Rookery, you will learn all these factoids and much, much more! Check http://www.architecture.org for the schedule.

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  2. Frank LLoyd Wright was known at this time for his Prairie Style homes which appeared first around 1900. Unity Temple in Oak Park was finished in 1906. The Rookery remodeling was his only commission in the downtown area . You can learn more about these Prairie homes in Oak Park if you take the Chicago Architecture Foundation walking tours there.

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  3. You may want to edit #8. It should read 1893, not 1883.

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  4. Thanks, Victor. Actually, I’m thinking that the meeting to plan the fair may have occurred in 1883. I will consult “Devil” and determine the answer.

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