Building 51 | Building 51 | 19th century copper-plated ornamental cast iron rookery building baluster panel featuring moorish tracery – burnham & root, architects
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19th century copper-plated ornamental cast iron rookery building baluster panel featuring moorish tracery – burnham & root, architects



Chicago Buildings

About This Item

completely intact museum-quality authentic 19th century antique american interior copper-plated cast iron angled baluster panel salvaged from the historic rookery building’s adams street staircase. the perforated double-sided baluster panel features visually distinctive characteristics heavily influenced by moorish design, in the form of interlaced and branching lines in a lacy openwork. the original copper-plated finish remains amazingly intact. the ornamental panel was designed by architect john wellborn root and executed by the hecla iron works of brooklyn, new york. construction of the rookery building took place between 1886 and 1888, and at the time, the twelve-story building was the tallest in the world. the rookery building was named for the temporary city hall that was built on the site after the great chicago fire. it was dubbed “the rookery,” referring to the birds that would roost on the exterior ledges, and for the dubious politicians who would congregate at the building. located in chicago’s loop at the corner of lasalle and adams streets, the rookery building was designed for the central safety deposit company. the architectural firm of burnham & root were selected to construct the rookery after several notable projects showed their designs to be innovative and progressive during the rush to rebuild after the great chicago fire in 1871. the firm gained recognition after designing a home for union stockyards magnate john b. sherman in 1874. after the rookery building was completed, they went on to design more office buildings in chicago such as the monadnock building, the northern half of which was completed in 1891, and the masonic temple building in 1892 (demolished in 1939). the rookery building was significant to the development of american architecture and placed chicago in the forefront of the race to build the first skyscraper. the rookery successfully implemented many new and breakthrough building technologies – including combined load-bearing masonry walls with an iron skeletal frame, “floating” foundations, elevators, fireproofing, electrical lighting, and plate glass – that established the commercial acceptance of the modern skyscraper. 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 adams street staircase was designed by root and is ornamented with moorish decoration that he loosely based on designs by owen jones from his 1856 work the grammar of ornament. the cast iron elements were executed by hecla iron works of brooklyn, new york, a firm that specialized in manufacturing ornamental iron and bronze items. the stairway was carefully dismantled, tagged, numbered and removed during the renovation and restoration of the rookery in march of 1990. following this grand-scale restoration process, the building’s owner, presented the stairway as a gift to the university museum at southern illinois university edwardsville.