Penned the “City of Big Shoulders” by poet Carl Sandburg, if Chicago does indeed have shoulders they must be some of the city’s landmark structures built preceding the Great Chicago Fire. One of the most significant of those structures is the Auditorium Building still sitting strong and proud on northwest corner of South Michigan Ave. and Congress Parkway in downtown Chicago. Designed by American architect, Louis Sullivan, who is considered the creator of the modern skyscraper, and engineer Dankmar Adler, the Auditorium Building’s paramount influence is woven tightly into the fabric of Chicago history.

The brainstorm of Chicago businessman, Ferdinand Peck, the Auditorium Building was designed as a multi-function building included a first class, 400 room hotel, an opulent 4,200-seat theater, an office building with a 17-story tower, and commercial storefronts on the ground level. Construction was completed in 1889, and the project quickly became a momentous feat in modern architecture. Here are just some of the aspects of the Auditorium Building that have made it so extraordinary.

The Auditorium Building
50 E. Congress Parkway
Chicago, IL 60605
(312) 341-2310

Electric Lighting

In today’s world with fascinating robotics and ever evolving technology, it’s easy to take something like electric lighting for granted. But in the late 1800’s, the standard source of lighting in homes and in businesses was with gas lamps. Yet, the Auditorium Building was one of the very first wired with electric lighting, and the majestic Auditorium Theatre was the first ever to be illuminated entirely by incandescent light bulbs. The building was also one of the first to include an air conditioning system and fireproofing – something that had become much more of a concern following the Great Chicago Fire.

Size Matters

The Auditorium Building was the tallest, largest and heaviest building constructed at that time in the city of Chicago, and one of the largest buildings in the entire country. Utilizing load-bearing masonry walls, the Auditorium Building reached new heights, quite literally, and also incorporated some of the first hydraulic elevators making it possible to make it all the way up to the 17th floor of the tower with minimal physical exertion. The building was made so well in fact, that in the 1930’s when it had fallen into disuse and disrepair, it was determined that it would be “too expensive to destroy.”  Fortunate to have dodged the destruction bullet, the Auditorium Building was granted National Historic Landmark status in 1975.

Multi-functional Once Again

In the early 1940’s, the Auditorium Theatre was taken over by the City of Chicago as used by the United Service Organization (USO) as a World War II Servicemen’s center. The once lavish stage had even been converted in to a bowling alley, and before the building and theater’s roles were to change drastically once again, more than two million troops passed through.

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A Place For Everyone To Learn

After World War II had finally ended, Roosevelt University purchased the Auditorium Building in 1946. Once again since its creation, within the heady, protective walls of this structure, history was being made once again as Roosevelt University’s mission was to make higher education available to any and all students who qualify academically, and regardless of their race, gender, age, or socio-economic status, a groundbreaking stance.  Along with an additional campus in the Chicago suburbs, Roosevelt University is still thriving today in its Auditorium Building home.

Rock Stars And Movie Making

Although it might have seemed impossible to some after so many years of neglect, the Auditorium Theatre was renovated in 1967, revitalizing the space and returning it to its original splendor.  As the lights warmed the stage once again, artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Ray Charles and so many more performed there, in addition to classic musicals like Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera, and ballets dance troupes as well. Even Hollywood visited as well, as parts of the movie ‘The Untouchables’ were filmed in the Auditorium Building’s stately lobby.

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Soon after earning her BA in journalism, Melanie Falina began writing about one of the loves of her life – music. Since then, she’s covered some of the biggest names in music, in addition to writing on an array of other topics as well. She has written for Black Belt magazine, KISS: The Official Authorized Quarterly Magazine, Examiner,, Yahoo Voices, and more, and was editor for Don Lemmon’s KNOW HOW Book Three, Refuse To Fail. Melanie is also a poet with five published collections of poetry available via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and various establishments.