Prior to the Great Fire, this site was known as the “reservoir lot,” housing the water works for the south side of the Loop. The structure had a large central water tank of solid masonry that survived the conflagration. This structure was converted to Chicago’s first public library. The top of the tank was made into a skylight, and bookshelves lined the round walls. City Hall also occupied this site.
In 1885, City Hall moved from here to a new site, and wealthy Boston brothers Peter and Shepherd Brooks leased a city-owned lot on the southeast corner of Adams and LaSalle Streets. With Chicagoan Owen Aldis, they formed the Central Safety Deposit Company and hired architects Burnham & Root to design a prestigious office building. The completed building – The Rookery – was revolutionary in several respects. Its architecture was unique and much more ornate than had been seen to date in commercial buildings. The Rookery successfully implemented many new and breakthrough building technologies – including metal framing, elevators, fireproofing, electrical lighting, and plate glass – that established the commercial acceptance of the modern skyscraper. At 11 stories tall, The Rookery was one of the earliest examples of metal framing with masonry walls on such a large scale. Today, it is considered the oldest standing high-rise in Chicago.
Moorish, Romanesque Commercial, Indian, Venetian, Arabian, Islamic, Byzantine: all these words have been used to describe the Rookery’s exterior motifs. Some critics said that the mix of styles lacked unity, but others felt that the repeating patterns were an interpretation of American culture, reflecting a spirit of conquest.
The Oriel Staircase
The Oriel Staircase
Architect John Root designed an iron staircase that winds down from floor 12 to 2 and projects into the light well. The intricate, repeating patterns and the spiraling nature of the steps is both overwhelming and awe-inspiring.