The Monadnock

Anyone who knows me knows that I get my artistic inspiration from cities, and Chicago has a massive influence on me. I recently posted a photo on Facebook of a storefront in Chicago, The Optimo. The Optimo is a high-end, custom hat store.

A person who went to the same high school as I spotted the post. Jonathan is a true Chicagoan and a fellow White Sox fan! He knows the city well, so when he saw the photo of The Optimo, he knew not just the business, but the building it is located in, The Monadnock building. Jonathan shared the history of The Monadnock, and I’m sharing it with you (with the help of Wikipedia (yes, fellow teachers, I see you cringing at my use of Wikipedia)).

1910 postcard showing the southern view of the Monadnock.

The Monadnock is one of the first skyscrapers in the world! Yup, Chicago is the land of architecture! It still holds the title of the tallest load-bearing brick building ever constructed, employing the first portal system of wind bracing in America.

It is 16 stories tall and built in two stages. I’m not sure why, but the north side of the building was designed and built by the architectural group Burnham & Root in 1891. The south half of The Monadnock was designed and constructed by Holabird & Roche in 1893. The designs are not identical, with the second stage “similar in color and profile to the original, but the design is more traditionally ornate.” I have to admit that I didn’t walk around the building, so I haven’t experienced its two different sides.

“When complete, The Monadnock was the largest office building in the world, with 1,200 rooms and an occupancy of over 6,000. It was a postal district unto itself, with four full-time carriers delivering mail six times a day, six days a week. It was the first building in Chicago wired for electricity and one of the first to be fire-proofed, with hollow fire clay tiles lining the structure so that the metal frame would be protected even if the facing brick were to be destroyed.”

Photo taken in 1893 of the main steps.

Another opportunity I missed was the building interior. The main steps on the ground floor were “crafted in cast aluminum—an exotic and expensive material at the time—representing the first use of aluminum in building construction.” Other interior features include “3-foot-high wainscot of white Carrara marble, red oak trim, and feather-chipped glass that allowed outside light to filter from the offices on each side into the hallways. Floors were covered with hand-carved marble mosaic tiles. Skylit open staircases were made of bronze-plated cast iron on upper floors.”

The next time I visit Chicago, I intend to make a trip to The Monadnock, making sure to pace the entire exterior and see the casted aluminum staircase and Carrara marble! If you get there before I do, please write me about your experience!

The Optimo.

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