Early Chicago Skyscrapers

Photo by Jay T.

Early Chicago Skyscrapers is part of the Tentative list of United States of America in order to qualify for inclusion in the World Heritage List.

The Early Chicago Skyscrapers are a collection of some of the earliest modern skyscrapers in the world, constructed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A number of architects, including Louis Sullivan and John Wellborn Root, were commissioned to rebuild central Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, and they utilized new techniques and a style that became known as the Chicago School of Architecture. Their skyscrapers pioneered innovations in foundations, iron and steel structural framing, large plate-glass windows, elevators, and electric lights, which allowed for the safe and practical construction of taller buildings, and presaged the growth of vertical downtowns in the 20th century.

Map of Early Chicago Skyscrapers

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The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.

Community Reviews

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Ilya Burlak

USA - 31-May-22 -

Early Chicago Skyscrapers (T) by Ilya Burlak

In May of 2022, I took an hour-plus out of my business-trip itinerary in Chicago to visit the buildings in this serial property. In a notable fail of the expedition, I did not read Kyle's review below prior to the walk. I assumed that all of these buildings allowed some form of easy public access to explore the interiors - and would actually have something to offer in that respect. But only a few of them do. And because I was moving northward from the southernmost of the buildings, the first five that I stopped by did not exhibit anything of value in their interiors (or could not really be entered). So, I mostly gave up and did not even attempt to enter Marquette or Rookery, which Kyle marked as the most impressive. I did step into Monadnock - only mildly interesting, certainly not anything exceptional.

From the exterior, Rookery, Fisher, and Sullivan Center (aka Schlesinger & Mayer Building, aka Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Store) exhibit the most outstanding features. Conversely, if you stand far enough from the Auditorium Building on Congress Plaza to take in its façade together with the neighboring Fine Arts Building, you may find yourself justifiably perplexed why the former - and not the richer-in-features latter - is part of the inscription (the answer likely lies in the Auditorium Theater being part of the eponymous building - but as Kyle noted, you can only see it if you attend a performance there).

I cannot envision this collection of early skyscrapers ever becoming a World Heritage site in its current form. Any student of architecture will recognize that these buildings represent the turning point in modern construction due to the innovative methods developed in time for their advent. Does that rise to OUV? Probably not. Visually, as a group, these buildings are not surpassing even within the context of just central Chicago, which, in my humble opinion, is the most architecturally impressive big city in the US.

Read more from Ilya Burlak here.

Kyle Magnuson

California - United States of America - 15-Mar-18 -

Early Chicago Skyscrapers (T) by Kyle Magnuson

All nine sites of this serial nomination can be covered in a 30 minute walk, in fact several of these iconic early skyscrapers are adjacent to each other. I visited each without too much difficulty, however there are different levels of satisfaction. For example, some structures have little value remaining within as the interior has either been changed, significantly altered, or completed gutted. For visitors, there are 2 wonders included in this nomination that perhaps justify inscription together, regardless of the other sites. 

1) Rookery Building (1888) This structure is the gem of the ensemble and is note-worthy for both its exterior and magnificent interior lobby. The later was redesigned by a rising star at the time, Frank Lloyd Wright, who in 1905 was in his late 30's. The interior really is stunning. In addition, there is a Frank Lloyd Trust office and store in the lobby with handy FLW architecture maps of the Chicago Metropolitan area.

2) Marquette Building (1895) This is a must-see component of the Early Chicago Skyscrapers nomination. The front entrance is adorned with scenes of Chicago History. The History of Chicago and the Great Lakes region are even more richly adorned in the lobby, which is open to the public. Visitors are rewarded after exiting the lobby going straight past the National Historic Landmark sign to an informative display about the Chicago School or Architecture. Interesting panels about the History of the Marquette Building and this period of construction is displayed, providing excellent context to the overall scope of the nomination.

3) Monadnock Building (1891) You might not be rewarded with the same grandeur upon entering, but the Monadnock building is rewarding for its atmosphere and authenticity. Walking into the building, I felt like I crossed a threshold into Chicago at the turn of the 20th century. Old-fashioned hat shops, shoe shops (manufactured on site), and other businesses harness back to era of 'old' Chicago. Like the Marquette Building, you can walk straight through the building, crossing a block without braving the potentially inclement weather.

4) Auditorium Building (1889) I only got a hint of this architectural wonder. Unless you purchase a ticket to a performance, you will be hard-pressed to fully enjoy or appreciate this component of the nomination. A young apprentice (Frank Lloyd Wright) played an import role in shaping the beautiful interior of the theatre. While I explored the exterior, I'll make sure upon my next visit to book a musical or theatrical performance well in advance.

The remaining five sites are note-worthy for their well-preserved exterior. However, for the most part their interiors are unremarkable and in the case of the Fisher Building restricted to tenants. I certainly enjoyed seeking out the buildings and observing the architectural elements that define the period, but a few minutes each will be sufficient.

- Second Leiter Building  
- Old Colony Building
- Fisher Building
- Carson Pirie Scott & Co. Department Store
- Ludington Building

Read more from Kyle Magnuson here.

Full Name
Early Chicago Skyscrapers
United States of America
Human activity - Urban planning
2017 Revision

Includes former TWHS Rookery Building, Auditorium Building, Second Leiter, Marquette and Carson Pirie, Scott and Company Store (1990-1996)

2017 Added to Tentative List

The site has 9 locations

Early Chicago Skyscrapers: The Rookery (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Auditorium Building (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Monadnock Building (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Ludington Building (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Marquette Building (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Old Colony Building (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Schlesinger & Mayer (Carson, Pirie Scott) Department Store (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Second Leiter Building (T)
Early Chicago Skyscrapers: Fisher Building (T)
WHS 1997-2022