Tribune Tower

Tribune Tower, Chicago

Tribune Tower, Chicago

The southern end of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile is marked by two magnificent buildings, the grey limestone, Gothic Tribune Tower (1922-5) by the New York architects, John Mead Howells (1868-1959) and Raymond Mathewson Hood (1881-1934), opposite the white faience, Renaissance Wrigley Building.

The Tribune Tower was built for the publisher of the Chicago Tribune, Robert Rutherford “Colonel” McCormick (1880-1955) – a tall, authoritative, notably hard-working arch-conservative, described by an opponent as having “the greatest mind of the fourteenth century”.

His great-uncle was Cyrus Hall McCormick Snr (1809-1884), the developer of the mechanical reaper who brought its manufacture to Chicago.  His maternal grandfather was Joseph Medill (1823-1899), Mayor of Chicago and the founder of the Tribune.

The Tribune was never knowingly undersold:  it claimed to be the “World’s Greatest Newspaper”, and its radio- and television-stations each took the call-sign WGN.

McCormick turned the architectural competition to build “the most beautiful and distinctive office building in the world” into a long-running promotional campaign as part of a circulation war with William Randolph Hearst’s Herald-Examiner.

Howells & Hood’s design must have appealed to McCormick because of its essential conservatism:  it is the last of the line of Gothic skyscrapers that began with Cass Gilbert’s Woolworth Building in Manhattan.  Its composition is a triumph of perpendicular lines, surmounted by a turret based on the Butter Tower of Rouen Cathedral, 34 storeys and 463 feet high.

Images of some of the other competing designs can be seen at

McCormick encouraged his correspondents to obtain stone fragments from monuments around the world, 120 of which are now embedded in the lower storeys.

The entrance door is surmounted by a celebrated stone screen depicting Aesop’s Fables, and the architects are commemorated by a pair of rebuses, that is, heraldic puns – a howling dog and a figure of Robin Hood.

The Tribune Tower is a fine example of an honourable architectural tradition, yet it’s ironic that the more influential competition entry was second-placed:  the design by the Finn Eliel Saarinen (1873-1950) was the basis for the Gulf Building (1929) in Houston, Texas.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Windy City:  the architecture of Chicago please click here.

For details of Mike Higginbottom’s lecture Survivals & Revivals:  past views of English architecture, please click here.

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