Roosevelt University in Chicago, Schaumburg and Online - Logo

The Auditorium Building

HISTORICAL CONTEXT 

Michigan LobbyRoosevelt University’s landmark Auditorium Building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler, the Auditorium Building was the nation’s first mixed-use building, combining a theater, hotel and offices under one roof, when it opened in 1889. The technologies of the time were horse drawn cars, railroads, gas lamps, and telegraphs. Telephones, wireless radio, and motion pictures were still in the developmental stage. Electric lights were somewhat exotic due to the challenges of transmitting electricity. The architectural team of Adler and Sullivan stretched the technological limits of the time by creating the Auditorium Building, the tallest, largest and heaviest building of the time, and one of the first with electric lighting, an air conditioning system, and fireproofing throughout the entire structure. With many restored spaces and an acoustically-perfect theater, the Auditorium Building has been Roosevelt University’s home since 1946.

THE IDEA

The Auditorium Building was the idea of Ferdinand Peck. Peck was a Chicago businessman and heir to a family fortune. Among other initiatives, he founded the Illinois Humane Society to protect children from abuse. Peck believed art could and should unite all people, whether they were poor, working class or wealthy. Peck envisioned a multi-use building that would include a theater of excellent quality in order to bring art, particularly opera, to Chicago and welcome all people. He wanted the building to include a hotel and office space as revenue generators to cover the theater’s inevitable operating losses – tickets were often priced too low to fund a production. Peck organized a syndicate of businessmen to finance the project, and hired the architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan to create it.

THE ARCHITECTS, ADLER AND SULLIVAN

Adler and Sullivan were sought out because of Dankmar Adler’s reputation as an expert in acoustical engineering. Adler received training as a draftsman when he was a soldier in the Civil War, and later he developed skills by apprenticing with other architects. Louis Sullivan was also known for his outstanding technical and stylistic achievements. Sullivan entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology at the age of sixteen, dropped out after one year of study, and started learning on the job as an employee of architecture firms. In 1880 Dankmar Adler hired Louis Sullivan. By 1883, he made Sullivan his full partner in the company. Together they worked on more than 170 buildings, but the Auditorium Building stands out as a brilliant example of their talents and innovations. Adler was 42 and Sullivan was 30 when they began the project in 1886. Frank Lloyd Wright was barely out of his teens when he became their apprentice draftsman. In later years, Wright acknowledged Adler and Sullivan as his great teachers and influencers, particularly taking to heart Sullivan’s belief that "form ever follows function.”

SELF-GUIDED TOUR

In October 2011, the Auditorium Building participated in the Chicago Architecture Foundation's inaugural openhousechicago weekend, which provided special access to over 120 interesting spaces across the city. For more information on the Auditorium Building, please see our self-guided tour.