Edward Ayer was another one of several lumberman who built in the Gold Coast.  In his case he made a great deal of money selling railroad ties and other materials to the ever expanding RR industry.  He had significant land holdings in Arizona and Mexico, and was an amateur anthropologist with a focused interest in the exploration and colonization of the Western Hemisphere.  Through a lifelong investment of both time and money Ayer amassed an enormous book collection of historical literature and information and in 1911 he donated 14,000 volumes, many of them very rare, to the Newberry Library along with an endowment for additional purchases.

For the design of his Gold Coast residence on the northeast corner of Banks and State Streets Ayer selected the firm of Burnham and Root as his architect.  (A brief history of Burnham and Root is contained in Blog 2)  Whether they were friends initially or became such during the construction of the house, the three remained friends, with the Ayer and the Burnham families occasionally vacationing together.

The house has been characterized as Richardsonian Romanesque.  This description by Donald Hoffman is wonderfully succinct.  “Root addressed the house south, pinning its salient with a large turret and carrying the mass gradually down to the east.  He kept strict control of the sills and frequent window openings in order to conserve the sober texture of the rubble wall in split granite boulders, and when the chimneys and dormers threatened confusion, he imposed a strongly textured roof in red tiles.”

The house was demolished in 1965 and replaced with a parking structure.


Franklin MacVeagh was one of many attorneys who made his wealth in a different field, this time as a wholesale grocer.  A graduate of Yale University and Columbia Law School, he became the director of the Commercial National Bank of Chicago for 29 years in addition to managing his own business. In 1909 he became Secretary of the Treasury, serving until 1913.  He was also involved in the creation of the Buffalo nickel.

MacVeagh’s choice as the architect for his new house was Henry Hobson Richardson.  It is not known how the connection was made but as a businessman in Chicago it is probable that he knew both of Richardson’s other local clients, Marshall Field and John Glessner.

Ricahrdson’s talent and reputation were in proportion to his waist size.  Upon his introduction to Richardson a Dutch architect once exclaimed, “How you are like your buildings!”  In 1872 Richardson won a design competition for Trinity Church on Copley Plaza in Boston and starting with the construction of that building he began to reshape the architectural world away from Victorian Gothic, eventually lending his name (albeit posthumously) to an architectural style known as Richardsonian Romanesque.  His influence was felt nationwide in major cities and small towns across the United States.

Two men who worked for Richardson during his most productive period were Charles McKim and Stanford White.  They later went on to form McKim, Mead & White, an enormously successful architectural firm in New York.  After the death of John Root, Charles McKim and Richard Hunt were significant influences in the decision to adopt Beaux Arts classicism as the dominant style for the 1892 Columbian Exposition.  Ironically this decision led to the eventual replacement of Richardsonian Romanesque by Neo-Classicism as the Style du jour.

All three buildings designed by Richardson for Chicago were incomplete at the time of his unfortunate death in 1886 at the age of 47.  They were completed by the successor firm of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge.  The MacVeagh residence was a tall granite structure with a tile roof, presumably the same materials used on the Glessner House on 18th & Prairie Avenue.  A three story loggia faced the lake between two towers.

Of the three buildings designed by Richardson for Chicago, this was probably the least successful.  The architectural critic Henry Russell-Hitchcock said, “…the balancing of one round tower with another which is octagonal is…arbitrary…and the proportions of the whole are indeterminate, neither clearly horizontal nor clearly vertical.  The rock faced walls are much less rich in effect than those of the Glessner House….There is further confusion of effect here, due to the juxtaposition on the same façade of matter-of-fact domestic windows and monumental arched openings.”

There are conflicting dates for when the building was demolished, 1914 or 1922, but none the less it was demolished.


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