We take most of our old buildings for granted. Today the Auditorium is known as the home of Roosevelt University. But when it was dedicated on this date in 1889, the Auditorium was the largest building in the country. And the President of the United States came to Chicago to perform the ceremony.
In 1886 arts patron Ferdinand Peck organized a syndicate of like-minded rich men to give Chicago a grand opera hall. Since opera usually operated in the red, the idea was to locate the hall in a larger commercial building. That way, profits from the building would balance out the money lost by the opera.
The firm of Adler & Sullivan was hired to construct the Auditorium. They planned a ten-story masonry building on Congress Street, stretching from Michigan to Wabash, with a tower at the west end. In the center was the 4200-seat opera hall. The rest of the building would include stores, offices, and a hotel.
Many technical problems had to be solved. Construction stretched on over three years. In the summer of 1888 the Republican National Convention met in the half-finished building, with Benjamin Harrison nominated for president. He promised to come back and dedicate the completed Auditorium if he were elected.
Now the day had come. Harrison had won and had returned, as promised. He was in a jolly mood as he greeted Ferdinand Peck and the local dignitaries. "It's the right sort of day for the opening of Chicago's--I should say America's--greatest building!" the president exclaimed.
The vice president was also on hand. So were cabinet members, senators and reps, the governors of several states, and other notables. Crowds spilled through the streets, watching the mighty pass. Those who didn't have tickets for the dedication could take vicarious pleasure--with the opening of the Auditorium, Chicago was truly a world-class city.
Everything lived up to expectations. The interior was beautiful. The electric lighting--a recent innovation--was awesome. The acoustics in the huge opera hall were perfect. When diva Adelina Patti closed the program singing "Home Sweet Home," most of the sophisticated audience broke into unexpected tears.
The Auditorium never did become a financial bonanza. Several times it came close to being demolished. But now it's Roosevelt, and the opera hall is a popular venue for all kinds of entertainment.