It’s Chicago vs St. Louis This Weekend — In Baseball and Architecture

Our neighbors to the south.

Our neighbors to the south.

With the hubbub surrounding the controversial Wrigley Field renovation, this year, opening day for the Chicago Cubs is more exciting than usual. On Sunday night, Cubs fans will turn their attention to brand-new video boards, bleachers under construction and the face-off between Cubs pitcher Jon Lester and Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright. At The Chicago Architecture Blog, we mark the start of the baseball season with a quick look at Louis Sullivan-designed buildings in two rival towns: the Jewelers’ Building in Chicago, and the Wainwright Building in Saint Louis.

The Jewelers’ Building (19 South Wabash Avenue, Chicago, Illinois)

Shifting from dusty baseball diamonds to those of a more sparkly nature, we find in Chicago’s Jewelers Row District the Jewelers’ Building designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. Constructed between 1881 and 1882 for Chicago businessman Martin Ryerson, this five-story, red-brick building is the sole surviving example of Sullivan and Adler’s early work in the Loop. Although the building’s loft design is not unusual, its cast-iron mullions in the central bay and Sullivan’s characteristic floral ornamentation on the terra-cotta window heads and cornice distinguish it from other similar buildings.

In addition, it is believed that Sullivan’s work on the Jewelers’ Building led to his commission to design cases for a silver exhibition in 1883. Sullivan’s designs for the silver exhibition caught the eye of a Parisian critic and earned the architect his first international recognition.(The façade of the Jewelers’ Building is difficult to photograph now due to the construction at the Washington and Wabash L stop. When the platform reopens, however, riders will have a great venue from which to admire this handsome building. Special thanks go to Ervin Kelly, the front office supervisor at the Silversmith Hotel [10 South Wabash Avenue], for allowing us to photograph the Jewelers’ Building from a guest room.)

The Wainwright Building (111 North 7th Street, Saint Louis, Missouri)

All those Cards fans cheering on pitcher Adam Wainwright this weekend might also take pride in remembering another Saint Louis Wainwright. In 1891, millionaire brewer Ellis Wainwright hired Louis Sullivan to design an office building in that city’s downtown. This building would encapsulate Sullivan’s revolutionary vision for the design of tall buildings and would become a prototype for the modern skyscraper.

As steel-beam construction made taller buildings possible, architects in the late 1800’s tended toward stacking building sections on top of each other like tiered wedding cakes, as well as relying on ornate rounded arches and other elements that did not always reflect the purposes for which the buildings were intended. Sullivan, however, conceived of the simple column as the model for tall buildings.

In planning the Wainwright Building, Sullivan designed the first two floors to serve as the base of the column. These are faced in brown sandstone. The next seven floors of brick piers rising straight from the base to the cornice form the column’s shaft. At the top of the building, the capital is comprised of the frieze and cornice.

Sullivan used his signature ornamentation to achieve a unified aesthetic for the Wainwright Building. Ornate scrolls and foliage are carved in terra cotta under the windows and on the frieze and cornice.

Location: 19 South Wabash Avenue, The Loop


Location: 111 North 7th Street, Downtown Saint Louis

Author: Amy Korte

Amy Korte lives in Old Town. She is a former attorney who enjoys exploring Chicago’s neighborhoods and architecture while jogging and chauffeuring her children to their activities around town.

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