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Cover of one of four World’s Columbian Exposition pop-up books

On April 28, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison signed an act of Congress awarding Chicago the honor of hosting a world’s fair—the World’s Columbian Exposition—to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World. Architects Daniel Burnham and John Wellborn Root were charged with oversight of the design and construction, but following Root’s unexpected death in January 1891, Burnham became the sole director of works. He engaged several other architects—including Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Follen McKim, and Louis Sullivan—to design a classical revival–themed city with grand boulevards, elaborate building façades, and lush gardens. Beaux Arts design concepts—based on symmetry, balance, and grace—were employed, and the 200 new, but intentionally temporary, buildings were mostly covered in plaster of Paris and painted a chalky white, giving the fairgrounds its nickname, the “White City.”

Chicago World’s Fair 1893 by Harley Dewitt Nichols (1859–1939)

The fairgrounds stretched over nearly 700 acres in Jackson Park and officially opened to the public on May 1, 1893—125 years ago. Over the next six months, nearly fifty countries would exhibit and close to twenty-eight million people would visit. Juicy Fruit chewing gum, Cream of Wheat, Quaker Oats, Shredded Wheat, Aunt Jemima pancake mix, and the Ferris Wheel were introduced, along with the first U.S. Post Office–issued picture postcards and commemorative stamps and U.S. Mint–issued commemorative quarter and half-dollar coins. Following its blue ribbon–win as “America’s Best” at the exposition, the Pabst Brewing Company officially changed the name of its signature beer.

One visitor was poet and author Katharine Lee Bates, who would later include “Thine alabaster cities gleam” in her poem America the Beautiful. Herman Webster Mudgett (a.k.a. Dr. Henry Howard Holmes) traveled to the fair with two of his eventual victims (later described by Erik Larson in his book The Devil in the White City). And natives bragging about the fair likely contributed to the popularity of Chicago’s nickname as the “Windy City.”

Theodore Thomas

Soon after Theodore Thomas agreed to lead the new Chicago Orchestra, the exposition’s executive committee (many of whom were the same men who were helping to finance his new orchestra) offered him the job of director of music for the fair. Inspired by Burnham’s imagination and drive—not to mention that the committee was prepared to spend nearly one million dollars on music and two performance halls—Thomas accepted shortly after his new orchestra’s inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, in the Auditorium Theatre.

Thomas laid out an extensive plan for all types of concerts and issued a proclamation in the spring of 1892 setting forth many lofty goals, among them “the hearty support of American musicians, amateurs, and societies, for participation on great festival occasions of popular music, and for the interpretation of the most advanced composition, American and foreign.” He made his new orchestra the foundation of the resident ensemble, the Exposition Orchestra, augmented to over one hundred players, and he invited the most important musicians in the world to participate: Johannes Brahms, Antonín Dvořák, Joseph Joachim, Piotr Tchaikovsky, Jules Massenet, Camille Saint-Saëns, Giuseppe Verdi, Pietro Mascagni, Charles Gounod, Anton Rubinstein, and Hans Richter, among others.

Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood

Two music buildings were constructed for a combined cost of $230,000. Music Hall, designed by Charles Atwood, had two performance spaces, seating 600 and 2,000. Festival Hall, designed by Francis M. Whitehouse, had a stage that was reportedly larger than the entire Metropolitan Opera House and seated 4,000 with standing room for more than 2,000.

The inaugural ceremony on October 21, 1892, was given in Festival Hall and included 5,500 singers in the chorus, an orchestra of 200, two large military bands, and two drum corps of fifty players each. In order to for everyone to see, Thomas used a large white handkerchief to conduct, rather than a baton. The event opened with the American composer John Knowles Paine’s Columbus March and Hymn, and continued with Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz and George Whitefield Chadwick‘s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (set to a poem by Harriet Monroe).

George Whitefield Chadwick’s Ode for the Opening of the World’s Fair held at Chicago 1892 (Theodore Thomas collection)

Carl Koelling’s World’s Columbian Exposition Waltz (piano reduction, Theodore Thomas collection)

As excitement mounted for the official opening of the fair, nearly one hundred piano manufacturers began to vie for the opportunity to exhibit. Some exposition officials began to take sides with different manufacturers, and Thomas attempted to steer clear of the growing controversy. East-coast builders, most notably Steinway, felt the planners were giving unfair advantage to Midwest piano manufacturers, and, as a result withdrew their participation. It was decided that only pianos made by exhibiting companies could be used at the fair. The press had a field day, criticizing both Thomas and the exposition planners, accusing all of conspiring for personal advantage.

Ignace Paderewski

The Exposition’s inaugural concert was scheduled for May 2, 1893, and Thomas’s first choice for soloist was the famous Polish pianist Ignace Paderewski. He had performed with the Chicago Orchestra and had even offered to waive his usual $5,000 per concert fee. He would perform his Piano Concerto in A minor for the first concert and Schumann’s concerto for the second; Theodore Thomas would conduct the Exposition Orchestra (the Chicago Orchestra expanded to 114 players).

Paderewski was unofficially an exclusive Steinway artist and if he was going to perform, it had to be on a Steinway. With Burnham’s help—and unbeknownst to Thomas—workers were able to sneak Paderewski’s Steinway concert grand into Music Hall the night before the first concert.

May 2, 1893

“Those who sat beneath the potent spell [Paderewski’s] mighty genius weaves could but acknowledge his unrivaled greatness and congratulate the exposition upon having secured him for the assisting artist at the inaugural concert,” reported the Chicago Tribune, praising the “surpassing beauty and matchless artistic greatness” of his performance.

By the time the committee discovered Paderewski’s use of a Steinway, it was too late to react. Thomas was falsely accused of conspiring against the committee, and despite the musical success of the concert, again, he was roasted in the press and public debate and criticism increased.

Theodore Thomas’s Exposition ticket book

Other problems included the cavernous acoustics in the Music Hall, Chicago’s May weather was bitter cold and the halls were not heated, and ticket sales for concerts were significantly less than anticipated. Thomas had difficulty hiding his disappointment, which only added to the mounting criticism against him.

Stubs from Thomas’s ticket book

After having conducted nearly seventy concerts in little more than three months, distraught over poor attendance, and mired in controversy, Thomas resigned as musical director in early August. His ticket book for the fair confirms his attendance; the last admission stub removed is for August 11, and at noon that day in Festival Hall, he led his Exposition Orchestra in one last concert.

August 12, 1893

Of all of the musicians Thomas invited to participate in the fair, only one actually made the journey to Chicago—Antonín Dvořák. August 12—the day after Thomas’s last concert—was designated as Bohemian Day, and according to the Chicago Tribune, “Bohemia ruled the World’s Columbian Exposition yesterday. It was the special date set apart for that nationality, and its citizens invaded the White City at every entrance by the thousands.”

Nearly 8,000 people packed into the fair’s Festival Hall to hear the Exposition Orchestra under the batons of Vojtěch I. Hlaváč, professor of music at the Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and Dvořák, then the director of New York’s National Conservatory of Music in America.

August 12, 1893

The Tribune reviewer continued. “As Dvořák walked out upon the stage a storm of applause greeted him. For nearly two minutes the old composer [age fifty-one!] stood beside the music rack, baton in hand, bowing his acknowledgements. The players dropped their instruments to join in the welcome. Symphony no. 4 in G major [now known as no. 8], considered a severe test of technical writing as well as playing, was interpreted brilliantly. The Orchestra caught the spirit and magnetism of the distinguished leader. The audience sat as if spell-bound. Tremendous outbursts of applause were given.” On the second half of the program, Dvořák conducted selections from his Slavonic Dances and closed the program with his overture My Country.

For the next several weeks, the concerts given were primarily organ recitals. Concertmaster Max Bendix would lead the Exposition Orchestra in most of the remaining scheduled symphonic concerts, and the repertoire was modified to feature lighter, more popular works.

Thomas never completely recovered from the disappointment of the fair, and in his 1904 autobiography, he made no mention of the exposition whatsoever. In Memoirs of Theodore Thomas, completed in 1911 by his widow Rose Fay, she described one silver lining: during the fair, the “the daily concerts and rehearsals of the Orchestra had brought it up to the very highest point of artistic proficiency, and given it an enormous repertoire of music, so that Thomas felt he now had an almost perfect instrument for the concerts of the coming winter . . . This was a great relief to his mind.”

The Chicago Orchestra’s third season began the day after Thanksgiving on November 24 and 25, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

Portions of this article previously appeared here and here, and an abbreviated version will appear in the CSO’s May 2018 program book.

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December 14, 1904

December 14, 1904

On December 14, 1904, Orchestra Hall first opened its doors with a grand dedicatory concert, with Theodore Thomas leading the Chicago Orchestra along with the Apollo Musical and Mendelssohn clubs.

For nearly the first fourteen years of its history, the Orchestra had performed at
Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Auditorium Theatre. However, the hall was far too cavernous for an orchestra; filling 4,000 seats twice weekly was an overwhelming challenge; and there were constant scheduling conflicts with other ensembles. It was rarely a problem getting a ticket to hear the Orchestra, and as a result, season subscriptions were nearly unmarketable.

Thomas initiated a campaign for a new hall, and in 1902 the property at the site of Leroy Payne’s livery stable—on Michigan Avenue between the Pullman Building and the Railway Exchange Building*—became available. Daniel H. Burnham, John J. Glessner, and Bryan Lathrop, along with seven other trustees, initially carried the purchase price, while the Orchestral Association issued an appeal to Chicagoans to secure the $750,000 needed to build a new hall. More than 8,000 individuals contributed.

Orchestra Hall nearly finished in the late fall of 1904 (note "offices for rent" sign above a ballroom window)

Orchestra Hall nearly finished in the late fall of 1904 (note “offices for rent” sign above a ballroom window)

Ground was broken on May 1, 1904, and seven months later, Thomas led the first rehearsal in the hall on December 6. He sent a telegram to Burnham the next day: “Hall a complete success. Quality exceeds all expectations.”

At the beginning of the dedicatory concert on December 14, Thomas led the Orchestra and choruses in “Hail! Bright Abode” from Wagner’s Tannhäuser. George Everett Adams, second president of the Orchestral Association from 1894 until 1899 (and a trustee from 1894 until 1917) and one of the ten men who helped secure the Michigan Avenue property, was given the honor of delivering an inaugural address. “We have built here a noble hall of music. It is a merely material structure of brick, and stone, and steel. We have not, and we cannot, put into this building its living soul. That is a task for other hands than ours.”

Daniel Burnham's near-final elevation, May 18, 1904**

Daniel Burnham’s near-final elevation, May 18, 1904**

The program continued with the Overture to Tannhäuser, Strauss’s Death and Transfiguration, and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony—music “devoted to the serious contemplation of the soul, its struggles here, and its triumphs hereafter”—and concluded with “Hallelujah!” from Handel’s Messiah.

*The Pullman Building was completed in 1885 and demolished in 1956; the Borg-Warner Building was completed in 1958. The Railway Exchange Building, designed by D.H. Burnham & Company, was completed in 1904.

**Burnham’s elevation for the façade of Orchestra Hall included the names of five composers: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, and Brahms. However, it was decided that Brahms was too contemporary (he had only died in 1897), and he was replaced with Schubert. To maintain chronological order, the names were rearranged: Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Wagner.

Chicago Examiner, December 15, 1904

Chicago Examiner, December 15, 1904

December 14, 1904

December 14, 1904

This article also appears here.

in 1909

The Chapin & Gore Building in 1909

In 1994, in preparation for the Symphony Center expansion project, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association acquired and renovated the historic Chapin & Gore Building on East Adams Street.

Since Orchestra Hall opened in December 1904, the majority of the Association’s administrative offices had been located on multiple floors in the Hall. With the pending expansion, many of those spaces were designated to become additional patron amenities (larger lobbies, more washrooms, etc.), so the Chapin & Gore Building would be the future home to most of the administrative staff.

Gardner Spring Chapin and James Jefferson Gore

Gardner Spring Chapin and James Jefferson Gore

The complete story of liquor distillers and distributors Chapin & Gore is expertly told by blogger Jack Sullivan on his Those Pre-Pro Whiskey Men! blog. (His excellent article is here.)

Sullivan describes the building: “. . . the 1904 structure combined warehouse and office space with a street-level liquor store and bar [called the Nepeenauk]. Hired for the design were noted Chicago architects Richard Schmidt and his partner Hugh Garden. According to one commentary, the pair demonstrated through this facility, ‘the aesthetic possibilities of the utilitarian building through the use of interior functions, fine brickwork and decorative terra cotta.'”

Inside the Nepeenauk Bar (undated image courtesy of Dick Bales's The Common Stuff blog)

Inside the Nepeenauk Bar (undated image courtesy of Dick Bales’s The Common Stuff blog)

Several vintage images and drawings of the building and its architectural details can be found on the Library of Congress’s website, where the significance of the building is described as follows: “This structure represents one of the few multi-story office buildings executed by this group known as the ‘Prairie School.’ The use of both cast iron and timber columns in the building is an unusual example of skeleton framing growing out of the Chicago architecture of the late nineteenth century, while the bold formal treatment of the brick façade with its original terra cotta ornament and the interior detailing of the Chapin & Gore Bar on the west side of the ground floor were designed in the best tradition of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright.”

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A footnote: during the renovation of the building, a 1909 edition of The Chapin & Gore Manual was found. The manual provides guidance for the professional and amateur bartender, including recipes for many standard cocktails.

Chapin & Gore bar manual 1909

Harry W. Stiles, the author of the manual, contributed this to the introduction: “. . . It will be seen that most of the drinks in the book are as Mr. J. J. Gore always said of his whisky—as standard as flour—and I have no doubt they will continue to be popular as long as people drink, which, notwithstanding the energy of the reformers, may be several years. The only question regarding these standard drinks is as to the proper method of preparing them, and I think I may say without being considered very egotistical, that I have been fairly successful—at least, I am proud of the fact that Messrs. Chapin & Gore have thought well enough of my efforts to retain me in their employ for thirty-seven years. In this new issue I have added several new drinks which have become popular and have changed the formula of a number of the old ones which my experience told me might be improved. The book is not only for professional bartenders, but for the ever-increasing number of gentlemen, who, having their own den and sideboard, take some pride in showing their friends their proficiency in mixing their favorite. It has even been hinted to me that there is occasionally a lady who does not object to trying her hand at mixing a Martini. If such is the case I trust both the lady and gentleman will find the book of some use.”

The entrance to the Neep bar(ca. 1905) and the tesori

The entrance to the Nepeenauk Bar (ca. 1905, image courtesy of chicagogeek via SAIC Digital Libraries) and tesori (May 2014). Take a close look at the reflection in the door glass for past and present transportation options.

the vault

Theodore Thomas

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