Friday, June 4, 2021

How to dissect a photograph (the Great Northern Hotel, Chicago) to determine the year it was taken.

Great Northern Hotel (1891-1940), 227 S. Dearborn St. @ Jackson Blvd., Chicago. The entrance is under the large awening in the middle of the block. The Great Northern Office and Theatre Company Building is the taller of the two.

INTERESTING FACT: The left track does not have the center cable rail, as does the right track.
ABOVE: In 1882 the  Chicago City Railway opened cable lines to the south on State St. and Wabash-Cottage Grove Ave. Immediately successful, the State St. line would be extended to 63rd St. by 1887. In 1906 all cable service was converted to electric traction. Note the 'Chicago Street Paver Bricks.'
Close-up of the Great Northern Pharmacy, 239 Dearborn Street.
ABOVE: At the corner is the Great Northern Pharmacy, Note the cool 3D mortar and pestle sign hanging at the corner of the building. Above the doorway is a Coca-Cola banner/sign considered to be the first Coca-Cola ad of their slogan advertising series to the public. "Drink Coca-Cola" was the first slogan beginning in 1886. In 1904, Coca-Cola made their first slogan change after 17 years. The banner above the Great Northern Pharmacy enteranceway reads "Delicious and Refreshing" which was the one-year slogan for Coca-Cola. Then in 1905, the slogan was changed again to "Coca-Cola Revives and Sustains."

  The above photograph was taken in 1904.  

Architect Daniel Burnham designed the original 14-story building that was completed in 1891 and was originally called the "Chicago Hotel," but Proprietors/Owners, Hulbert & Eden, changed the name to the "Great Northern."  In 1895, he drew up plans for a 16-story addition that offered a 1,226-seat theater, 300 offices, and 300 additional hotel rooms. A new galleried, double-height hotel lobby was added, featuring a colorful stained glass ceiling and, situated above the reception desk, the elaborate casework for an Aeolian automatic pipe Orchestra, installed in 1896. Although the instrument was advertised as an Aeolian Pipe Orchestra, it was built by the Farrand & Votey Organ Company from Detroit and could be played by either a mechanical Aeolian roll player or by hand.

The hotel was extremely popular during the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and was also just around the corner from The Fair Store and Woolworth’s Department Store. There was a Thompson Cafeteria nearby at 337 S. Dearborn Street.

After Root’s death in 1891, Daniel Burnham built the adjoining Great Northern Office and the Theatre Building at 20 W. Jackson Boulevard. The two buildings together formed a connected half-block structure and enclosed the largest interior court in Chicago.

The hotel was also opposite the Government Building. In 1910, the hotel advertised as having a "Café, Grill, and Lunch Room at Popular Prices." At that time the hotel had eight dining rooms. The hotel was ultimately demolished in 1940. The Great Northern Office and Theatre Building were demolished, in 1961, for the Dirksen Federal Building.
Great Northern Hotel Sanborn Fire insurance Map, 1906

The Aeolian Pipe Organ at the Great Northern Hotel, Chicago, c.1897

The following story from the Chicago Chronicle in October 1897 must have endeared the Aeolian Pipe Organ to the hotel guests forever and a day!

"A few nights ago, when the big Aeolian at the Great Northern began its usual evening program, it didn’t seem to work just right. The Aeolian was doing its level best to play the wedding march from Lohengrin but made an awful mess of it.

The first strain, which everyone remembers goes “Rum-tum-te-tum,” was followed by “Meouw-wow-ow.” All the crowd looked up at the organ and tried to locate the spot where the unusual accompaniment came from. The next strain of the march was followed by a screeching yowl that was heard clear up to the “G” floor. People at dinner dropped their knives and forks and looked nervously at each other and then at the doors and windows. Just as the third yell came out of the Aeolian, Proprietor Eden was seen on the second floor, stealthily moving toward the instrument with a ladder in his hand. Mr. Eden crept up close to the Aeolian and listened for a moment. Then he put his ladder against the right side and slowly made his way to the top.

When he got up he reached over and put his hand down inside of the E flat pipe. There were no results at first. Then he stood on tiptoe and shoved his arm to the shoulder down the mouth of the pipe. There followed a terrible yowling and scratching, but the Colonel pulled, and with a noise like the departure of a tight cork from the neck of a beer bottle, he pulled the hotel cat out of the pipe and carried it down to the baggage room, where it belongs."

The daily concerts given on the hotel organ were very popular and every afternoon the staff endured hundreds of people crowding into the lobby to listen to the organ. Light music and popular pieces were favored; the works of the "great masters" being rarely if ever, heard. In fact, a popular piece was being played on the organ one day in 1897 when the concert turned into a son et lumière (sound and light) show:

As the great pipe organ in the Great Northern Hotel was pealing forth "There's a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," the opening number in the daily concert, a sheet of flame shot forth from the instrument followed by volumes of smoke, which grew more dense every minute, and in a few minutes the instrument, valued at $15,000, was a charred wreck, while the surrounding decorations were damaged to the extent of several thousand dollars.

Another feature of the hotel was the "Silver Dollar Bar," so named because its proprietor William S. Eden, who had been a barber at the Palmer House when he persuaded them to inlay silver dollars in barbershop floor. Eden also persuaded the management of the Great Northern Hotel to inlay silver dollars on a bar floor. The bar became "one of the most exclusive spots" in the hotel.

Great Northern Hotel Lobby
Great Northern Hotel Cafe
Great Northern Hotel Typical Guest Room

Chicago Tribune, December 29, 1895

Chicago has not fared well In the way of new buildings when previous years are taken into comparison. A vast amount of building was done in the period before the World’s Fair and each year s record still suffers by comparison with that. The cost of buildings in 1895 has been satisfactory as compared with last year, while the tight number of buildings and the amount of frontage involved have shown a decrease. Among the more prominent buildings of the year are the Fisher, the Great Northern Hotel Theater and office, the Studebaker, Lewis Institute, and the Davies.

On a piece of property l00x100 feet in size, extending from Jackson to Quincy street, and 100 feet east of the present Great Northern Hotel, the theater, office building, and addition to the hotel will be built. On the Jackson street side will be the office, on the Quincy street portion the continuation of the hotel, with the theater in between. The office building will extend back forty-five feet. It will be sixteen stories high and will contain 300 offices. A connection will be established with the present hotel. The entrance to the office will be at the extreme eastern end of the property and will be twenty feet wide. The Quincy street frontage, containing the hotel addition, will be a continuation of the floors as they are at present. The annex will be sixteen stories high—two stories higher than the main building. The rooms will be large and well finished. New cafes and banquet halls will be erected. with the idea of making the hotel a European and American one combined instead of simply a European one. as it is at present.

The addition will contain 300 rooms and the elevators will be changed about so as to reach the whole building. Entrance to the theater, finished in white Mexican onyx, will be on both Jackson and Quincy streets. The interior of the theater will have a seating capacity of 2,000 and will have three balconies and a large stage. Retiring rooms for women are planned for the right side of the interior and smoking rooms for men on the left, with a foyer between. The stage will face towards the main hotel. D. H. Burnham & Co. were the architects for the improvement. The building will be entirely fireproof. The drops on the stage will be on steel rollers in frames, and all the scenery will be of asbestos. One million dollars is estimated as the cost.

Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 

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