John Wellborn Root – Astor Street Residence

Astor_SketchConstructed in 1888, this row house on Astor Street was the primary residence of John Wellborn Root. A founder of the “Chicago School” of architecture, Root is noted in history as one of the pioneering architects of modernism. Tragically, Root died an untimely death from pneumonia, in this residence, when he was just 41 years old. At the time, he was chief architectAstor Sketch for the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and a business partner with Daniel Burnham.

Root pioneered modern steel-frame construction. He is credited with developing the floating raft system of interlaced steel and concrete. His innovation of a reinforced concrete slab allowed a building of immense weight to rest on a solid foundation, even in uncertain soil conditions. His ground-breaking design allowed for the elimination of heavy foundation stones and the opening up of below grade elevations providing for unobstructed basements.

Root_PortraitIn 1873, Daniel H. Burnham and John Wellborn Root joined forces and opened their famed architecture firm. Root served as the chief designer, while Burnham was responsible for all sales and administrative duties. To this day, the partnership is considered one of the most important in the history of modern architecture. The firm prospered rebuilding Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, and went onto design more than 300 buildings nationally. The partnership is noted for building the country’s first skyscraper, the Montauk (1882), the world’s tallest building, the Masonic Temple (1890), the first skyscraper to have plate glass windows, the Reliance (1890) and tallest load-bearing masonry building, the Monadnock (1891). Sadly, only three structures designed by the partnership still remain in Chicago, the Monadnock, the Rookery and the Reliance buildings.

Astor_Construction_ArticleThis was also the residence of John W. Root, Jr. who became a celebrated architect in his own right. Partnering with John Holabird, they designed a number of famous Art Deco buildings, including 333 North Michigan (1928), Daily News (1929), Palmolive (1929), Chicago Board of Trade (1930) and the Century of Progress World’s Fair (1933). This was also the home of Harriet Monroe who founded Poetry Magazine here in 1912.

The acclaimed firm of Vinci Hamp Architects designed the restoration. Historic illustrations detailed with Root’s original designs for this property were used. Goldberg General Contracting (GGC) custom crafted the architectural millwork to match its 19th Century design. The library, main stairway and entry hall were all restored. New treads, balusters and handrails were replicated. Additionally, new windows, moldings, trim, wainscoting and columns were crafted. Finally, all new electrical, plumbing, and heating systems were installed.

Astor_Construction-final_ArticleA new rear entry, deck and backyard were also redesigned and built. Reconstructing the main façade, GGC fabricated and installed large sandstone blocks to create a prominent main entryway, with a new reshaped sidewalk, brickwork and plantings. Painstakingly, the yellow sandstone was tooled and chiseled with a narrow banding to match the buildings original façade. The restoration earned top honors from the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Architect: Vinci | Hamp Architects Inc., Photography: Ferguson Photographic Illustration
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