Submitted by Autumn L. Mather, Head of Reader Services, The Art Institute of Chicago
The exhibition Reconstructing Adler and Sullivan’s Stock Exchange Trading Room is on view weekdays from 10:30 until 5:00 through Friday, March 6, in the reading room of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ryerson & Burnham Libraries. The Trading Room was the centerpiece of the Chicago Stock Exchange building, one of the most distinctive commercial structures built by the architectural firm of Dankmar Adler and Louis H. Sullivan. The exhibit explores that space’s journey through changes in appearance and function as well as place. Drawing on the rich resources in the Ryerson and Burnham Archives and two private collections, the exhibit features architectural fragments from the Trading Room and adjacent spaces alongside press accounts, photographs, building plans, and correspondence to tell the story of the design, construction, remodeling, demolition, salvage operations, and eventual reconstruction of the space.
In 1893 wealthy Chicago businessman Ferdinand W. Peck commissioned Adler and Sullivan to design a metal-framed, 13-story speculative office building to be located at the southwest corner of LaSalle and Washington streets. Work began that summer and was completed in spring 1894. The Trading Room was added to the design in order to encourage office tenancy by brokerage firms and related professions. The Chicago Stock Exchange, from which the building took its name, soon signed on to a 15-year, rent-free lease.
The Trading Room served its original function for just 14 years. When the original lease expired in 1908 the Stock Exchange moved, and Foreman Brothers Banking Company leased the space, hiring the architectural firm Frost & Granger to remodel the interior for a working bank by installing tellers’ cages, customer counters, and chandeliers. Foreman Brothers remained in the space until the bank failed in the 1929 stock market collapse. Subsequent tenants subdivided the space and installed a suspended ceiling over Sullivan’s elaborately stenciled design. The owners of the building declared it “economically unviable” in 1971 and, despite pressure from Chicago’s preservation community, members of the public, and prominent journalists, the City Council declined to intervene and demolition was scheduled.
The Art Institute of Chicago agreed to house a complete reconstruction of the Trading Room in its original state, which was complicated by the many renovations of the room and the urgency of completing salvage work prior to the building’s demolition. Despite time constraints and significant physical risk, the salvage crew went to great lengths to extract building materials from the Trading Room that could facilitate accurate reconstruction. Some of these artifacts—including windows, fragments of an artificial marble called scagliola, art glass skylight panels, wall sconces, and marble fragments—are displayed in the exhibition.
As salvage work took place, Vinci-Kenny Architects was hired to complete the reconstruction in the new East wing of the museum. They placed the room in its original orientation, allowing the skylights and east-facing windows to illuminate the space. Construction began in 1976, and the roughly 5,000-square-foot Trading Room was almost entirely recreated in just eleven months. The room opened to the public on April 8, 1977. The Trading Room is open for museum visitors to explore in the Rubloff Building, and the exterior entrance arch to the Stock Exchange Building can be seen just outside the Rubloff Building, on the southwest corner of Monroe and Congress streets.
The story of the reconstruction of the space and the Trading Room’s rich history is illustrated with unique items from the collections of the Ryerson & Burnham Archives, a regionally-focused collection of primary-source materials on art, architecture, and design. The Ryerson & Burnham Archives hold the largest extant collection of documents—including architectural and design drawings—of Louis Henri Sullivan (1956-1924). The archive of architectural photographer Richard Nickel, who visually documented Sullivan’s oeuvre, salvaged hundreds of architectural fragments from buildings undergoing demolition, and was a key figure in Chicago’s emerging historic preservation movement, also is available in the Ryerson & Burnham Archives. More recently, the Archives acquired the John Vinci Papers, which include documents on Vinci-Kenny’s reconstruction of the Trading Room. All of these materials are available to the public without prior appointment during reading room hours (1:00 until 5:00 Monday through Friday, with materials pulled from the stacks until 4:00 on those days).