Dwight H. Perkins, architect
Chicago’s Steinway Hall, formerly at 64 E. Van Buren Street, for a time housed a group of architects in its top-floor studios who envisioned a new North American architecture that would become known as the Prairie School. The building also played a significant role in the city’s cultural life from the 1890s well into the 20th century. Though not a masterpiece of design, its commission launched a significant architectural career that would leave its mark on Chicago.
Steinway Hall, designed by Dwight H. Perkins (1867-1941) and opened in 1896, was an 11-story office building housing a second-floor Recital Hall that seated 850. The building was commissioned by Steinway & Sons, serving as a showroom and local office for the New York-based piano manufacturer, and was one of many Steinway Halls around the world. The building was Perkins’ first major commission, enabling him to open his own office in 1894. He had worked for Daniel H. Burnham for five years, from 1888 to 1893; it was Burnham’s help that led to this commission.
Dwight Heald Perkins
Dwight Heald Perkins was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1867, moving to Chicago with his family at the age of 12. Growing up, he worked at the Chicago Stockyards and later for the architectural firm of Wheelock and Clay. A family friend, Mrs. Charles Hitchcock, financed his education at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in 1888, after two years of studies at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a year of teaching, he returned to Chicago in 1888, where he worked briefly for Henry Hobson Richardson prior to being employed by Daniel H. Burnham. For Burnham, Perkins supervised the construction of the John Welborn Root-designed Monadnock Building (1891-93).
Steinway Hall (red arrow), 1903 Sanborn Map, Chicago
Steinway Hall was in the center of the block of Van Buren Street between Michigan and Wabash Avenues, on the north side of the street and facing south. A short distance away, the Chicago Loop elevated tracks made their west turn from Wabash Avenue onto Van Buren, intersecting with the southbound lines. A 1903 Sanborn Map identifies Steinway Hall as “fire proof construction,” 150 feet in height, but as “12” stories rather than 11. Just to the building’s right, at Michigan and Van Buren, was the Victoria Hotel (an 1892 remodeling of an earlier building at six stories, 90 feet, non-fireproof), and to the left, a building of four stories and 61 feet high, identified in a contemporary photograph by the sign “Geo. R. Lawrence,” printer and publisher.
Steinway Hall’s façade was symmetrical, and from photographs appears to have been constructed of brick with terra cotta trim and window surrounds. On the ground floor, signs over the entrance doors and the large display windows identified the showroom of Steinway & Sons Chicago dealer Lyon Potter & Company. Second-floor display windows on each announced “Steinway Hall’ in ornate lettering. A metal canopy over the sidewalk between the two central piers also featured STEINWAY HALL in its center.
The first two stories, illustrated above, are grouped together visually by four large piers with Corinthian capitals, and a prominent cornice, broken in the center to permit a projecting bay window. Above this bay, an arched metal-grilled window opening in the third story breaks the horizontal rhythm. The central projecting bay provides three pairs of entrance doors on the ground floor under a metal canopy, while its upper portion is a large bay window divided by the stairway landing to the Recital Hall above. The arched opening above would have permitted light into the Recital Hall lobby.
Steinway Hall’s upper stories are divided into three bays, with double window openings in the center, and bay windows from the third to ninth floor to each side. The tenth story has a flat surface, with three projecting balustrades for balconies, and terra cotta moldings between windows and at the corners. A heavy cornice separates this floor from the “attic” floor above, which is crowned with a hipped roof. The building was most likely of steel-skeleton construction, which by this time had replaced both load-bearing walls and cast-iron frames.
The building’s classical design blended in well with its Italianate neighbors to either side, even with its greater height. The ground floor’s heavy piers and prominent projecting cornices give it a rather heavy look, yet the facade is opened visually by large display windows, and the tall, projecting glass bay that seems to invite patrons inside and up to the concert hall. The overall effect of the lower stories appears cumbersome and not well-balanced visually.
Upon the completion of Steinway Hall, Perkins moved his office to the 11th floor, opening the “loft,” or attic area not served by the elevators, as a drafting studio. He invited friends to share the space with him, first a friend from M.I.T., Robert C. Spencer, who also brought his friend Frank Lloyd Wright. Myron Hunt soon joined the group.
Steinway Hall, photo c. 1910. The attic story housed architects’ studios. To the building’s right is a portion of the Victoria Hotel, which would soon be replaced by the 20-story McCormick Building, 332 S. Michigan Ave. Holabird & Roche, architects. On far left is a portion of the sign identifying the Chicago Athenaeum, 1891.
Perkins would be one of the “Eighteen,” a group of architects that included Spencer, Wright, and Hunt, as well as others who would join them in Suites 1106 and 1107 on the 11th floor.
Wright recorded the event as follows: ‘I had met Robert Spencer, Myron Hunt, and Dwight Perkins. Dwight had a loft in his new Steinway Hall building-too large for him. So we formed a group-outer office in common workrooms screened apart in the loft of Steinway Hall. These young men, newcomers in architectural practice like myself, were my first associates in the so-called profession of architecture.
In these shared 11th-floor spaces, the group worked cooperatively, growing to include Webster Tomlinson, the Pond brothers, Irving and Allen, Adamo Boari, Walter Burley Griffin, Marion Mahoney Griffin, and Birch Long. Wright moved away for a time, but returned, his office remaining in the building until 1908. From outside Steinway Hall, Arthur and George Dean, Hugh Garden, Arthur Heun, Alfred Granger, Richard Schmidt and Howard Shaw would join the Eighteen.
“The name, apparently coined by Wright, suggests the number of participants who met occasionally at mealtime to discuss matters of mutual interest.” The members were inspired by the commercial buildings and philosophies of Louis Sullivan, and by the arts and crafts movement. The group channeled its creative energies through Chicago Architectural Club (originally the Chicago Architectural Sketch Club), its meetings, and its annual exhibitions. For several years the Club was “dominated by the Eighteen and the group from Steinway Hall. It became their forum of expression; its cause was their own.”
Dwight Perkins, rendering of Steinway Hall, 1894-95. The drawing was included in the Eighth Annual Exhibition of the Chicago Architectural Club, 1895.
A superb history, The Chicago Architectural Club: Prelude to the Modern, by William R. Hasbrouk (New York: The Monacelli Press, 2005), provides further documentation of the architects who inhabited the top story of Steinway Hall, as well as this area of the building itself. Though the architects renting space in the building occupied the 11th floor, there was a 12th, or attic, level as well, shown in the plans below.
The term “Prairie School” was coined by architectural historian H. Allen Brooks, and was not used by its practitioners; architect Marion Mahoney Griffin (cousin of Dwight Perkins) actually preferred “The Chicago Group.” However, the Eighteen’s collective admiration of the arts and crafts movement, and a desire to develop an indigenous North American style of architecture, led to a distinctive midwestern style that they promoted through their designs and in the annual catalogues of the Annual Exhibition of the Chicago Architectural Club.
The style employed emphatic horizontal lines, flat roofs with broad overhanging portions, solid construction, good craftsmanship, and a disciplined sense of ornament, and strove for design free of historical precedents. Perkins’ later work would exhibit Prairie School qualities that were not present in the Steinway Hall building.
Perkins, following his early association with the Eighteen, would be appointed the Chief Architect for the Chicago Board of Education in 1905 and was responsible for the design of 40 public schools in the city. Unfortunately, he was removed from this post in 1910 after the Board leveled charges of incompetence and extravagance against him; he was later exonerated. Among Perkins’ other notable works, including many residences, are the Lincoln Park Zoo Lion House and Café Brauer, the Lane Technical College Prep High School, and the Alfred Nobel School in Humboldt Park.
Two of Dwight Perkins’ school buildings reflecting prairie style principles include Lyman Trumbull Elementary School (1909) and the Shurz High School (1910). Perkins’ expression of the prairie style included either a flat roof or Hipped or gable roof with wide overhanging eaves, symmetrical forms, bands of smooth brick, and no applied ornamentation.
Carl Shurz High School, Chicago
Lyman Trumbull School, Chicago
Under the leadership of “the 18,” a group of Prairie School confreres sharing space on the upper floors of Steinway Hall, the CAC served as a catalyst for the discussion of modern or “pure” design … [a concept] well articulated by H. Allen Brooks in his book Prairie School: “All architecture is based upon an abstract geometric order. To design a building, therefore, the architect must first analyze the component parts, each of which could be expressed by one or more geometric shapes and then ‘compose’ these parts so as to establish the basic massing of the building.”
Steinway Hall was completed 25 years after the Chicago Fire, and designed just after the close of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, both of which events had led to an influx of architects to the city. Following the Eighteen, up to 50 architects over the years would have offices in the building.
Erected during what has been termed Chicago’s “Golden Age” c. 1880-1900, Steinway Hall would join other prominent buildings illustrated in the 1893 Rand McNally & Co.’s Bird’s-Eye Views and Guide to Chicago, identified in the legend below the drawing. The site that Steinway Hall would occupy on Van Buren is occupied by the New Jerusalem Temple, identified on an 1886 Sanborn Map. The buildings to either side, the Victoria Hotel and the printing business building, are illustrated.
Rand McNally, & Co.’s Bird’s-Eye Views and Guide to Chicago, 1893, looking west from Michigan Blvd (Ave)
Keys to the Drawing:
① Auditorium Extension, ② Auditorium, ③ Studebaker Building, ④ Chicago Club Building, ⑤ Victoria Hotel, ⑥ Kimball Hall, ⑦ Isabella Building, ⑧ Richardson Building, ⑨ Siegel, Cooper & Co.’s Building
Source: Chicagology, 1880-1900 The Golden Age https://chicagology.com/goldenage/thennow/
1886 Sanborn Map showing New Jerusalem Temple, replaced by Steinway Hall in 1895-96.
In the vicinity, apart from the notable buildings identified in the above illustration, was the classical Beaux-Arts Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan at Adams, designed by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston. The Eighteen, devotees of Sullivan, the arts and crafts movement, and creating a new, non-backward-looking American architecture, were not great fans of the new museum building, although as members of the Chicago Architectural Club, they would hold their yearly exhibitions there.
In 1891, on the south side of Van Buren, The Athenaeum, known as “The People’s College,” had opened; “The upper story has been elaborately fitted up with sixteen or eighteen studios for the special accommodation of artists.” Chicago by the late 19th century was rapidly becoming a major cultural center.
Left: The Athenaeum; right: the 1886 Burnham and Root building at Michigan and Van Buren that housed the Art Institute of Chicago, and after 1892 the Chicago Club. The Athenaeum is visible behind.
View of Michigan Ave. and Van Buren St. looking west, c. 1900-1908. On the corner is the Victoria Hotel, then Steinway Hall, and the 4-story building housing a printing and publishing house. The elevated train structure and control tower are at Van Buren and Wabash, and in the distance is the Fisher Building (1896).
The World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893, supervised by Daniel H. Burnham, was described by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens as “the greatest meeting of artists since the fifteenth century.” Aside from the exposition’s classicizing influences, artistic life in Chicago in the 1890s was heavily influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement, whose Chicago audience were involved in progressive cultural and social reforms.
Convinced that industrial capitalism had caused the degradation of work and the human spirit, the movement advocated a reunification of art and labor, of artist and artisan. Arts and Crafts societies, guilds, and schools spread “the craftsman ideal” and promoted hand workmanship as a moral regenerative force. Hull House, a social settlement founded by Jane Addams, became the center of the movement. It sponsored a variety of handicraft activities and shops and served as headquarters for the Chicago Arts and Crafts Society, founded in 1897.
“Chicago was brutal and aggressive, but it was also the nation’s second city and an important cultural center.” The 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition highlighted the city’s artistic activities in music, art, and drama; the Art Institute occupied its new building in the same year; the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1891; the Little Theatre movement had its beginnings in the Fine Arts Building, around the corner from Steinway Hall.
By 1871 when the Great Fire swept Chicago, the city was supporting fourteen theatres. By the turn of the century, Chicago had replaced each burnt-out playhouse with at least two new ones.
Considering the Steinway Company’s commission of the building on Van Buren, it is interesting to note that Chicago at the time was also a major center of piano manufacturing. Pictured at the intersection of Wabash and Van Buren, in a view of the elevated tracks, can be seen several piano businesses. Chicago The Great Central Market Magazine in July 1907 noted “What Chicago produces:”
If in the United States, 300,000 pianos were made last year, it is safe to assume that the Chicago piano manufacturers, those whose headquarters are in Chicago, and who place the name “Chicago” on the fall board of their pianos, produced fully 75,000 pianos. This is the product of the Chicago piano manufacturers alone. Then, within a radius of 100 miles of Chicago, we can very truthfully add to this amount another 30,000 pianos, which will bring the total piano production of the Middle West to 105,000, or over one third of the entire product of the whole country.
View north on Wabash Avenue from Van Buren, showing elevated tracks and several piano businesses. The four-story building housing “ Geo. R. Lawrence Printers Binders” on far right neighbored Steinway Hall. At top right is the Railway Exchange Building of 1904.
The creative activity in the area continued into new century. In 1905, the Columbia College of Expression, founded in 1890 as the Columbia School of Oratory, moved to Steinway Hall and occupied its entire 7th floor.
The 1905 course catalog described the building as “located in the very heart of the downtown educational center. … The rooms set apart for this College are light, airy and commodious. … They include a beautiful hall, recitation rooms, library, reception room, offices, etc., all arranged with studied care, and furnished with every modern convenience.”
“Chicago Musical Collage [sic] Building,” 1928, missing the top story. Source: https://chicagology.com/goldenage/goldenage093/
In 1925, the Chicago Musical College, founded in 1865, took over Steinway Hall as its new home. An illustration of the building dated 1928 and labeled “Chicago Musical Collage [sic] Building” shows only 10 stories; at some point the 11th-story attic may possibly have been removed. The college would remain in the building until it merged with Roosevelt University’s School of Music in 1954 and moved into the Auditorium Building.
Steinway Hall Plans: Second floor plan (Recital Hall); “Typical floor plan.” “Prominent Buildings erected by the George A. Fuller Company, General Contractors.” 189?, pl. 40.
Interior floor plans for second-floor concert hall and for a “typical floor plan” of the office levels were published. The Recital Hall, seating 850, was illustrated in The Inland Architect and News Record. The hall featured a small stage under a half-dome acoustical shell. The proscenium was flanked by pilasters that appear to be inset with mosaic panels, and mosaics also decorate the spandrels over the arched opening. Above the stage was a painted frieze with many figures. Another interior view shows four interior columns, with Corinthian capitals, supporting a balcony with painted panels and a coffered ceiling. The hall, square in plan, would have occupied the second and third stories. Jennifer Louis Gray, in a 2011 dissertation on Perkins, provides three additional views of the theater.
Recital Hall stage; Gray dissertation
Recital Hall auditorium; Gray dissertation
The building also contained a secondary lecture hall; Gray dissertation
The concert hall held a pipe organ built by the Farrand & Votey Organ Co., of Detroit, Michigan, installed during the building’s construction. The company had manufactured a colossal pipe organ for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, which has since been reinstalled at University of Michigan University Hall.
Concert hall and pipe organ; source: https://chicagology.com/goldenage/goldenage093/
In 1896, the year that the building was completed, Anna Morgan produced The Master Builder and Maeterlinck’s The Intruder at Steinway Hall. The building would later be the location of Chicago’s New Theatre during its brief life in 1906-07.
By 1900 the theater was renamed Ziegfeld Hall, probably leased to Florenz Ziegfeld, Jr., but soon was renamed the Kelly and Leon Opera House. By 1910, it was called the Whitney Opera House, leased to B.C. Whitney. Sophie Tucker and Fatty Arbuckle were among those to appear in stage shows at the Whitney. By 1915, it was called the Central Music Hall with a program of Shakespearean plays.
The Steinway Hall theater would go by a bewildering number of names over its lifetime: Ziegfeld Hall, Kelly and Leon Opera House, Whitney Opera House, Central Music Hall, Central Theatre, Minturn’s Central Theatre, Barrett’s Central Theatre, Shubert’s Central Theatre, Punch & Judy Theatre, Sonotone Theatre, Studio Theatre, Ziegfeld Theatre, and finally, Capri Cinema.
By the late 1920s, when the hall was named the Central Theatre, a second balcony had been inserted; in 1930 the space was remodeled as the Punch and Judy Theatre. The Western Architect November 1930, p. 182.
Steinway Hall was even briefly advertised as a “Temple of Magic.”
Dwight Heald Perkins would become involved in social issues of housing for the poor and his desire to increase the number of public parks and playgrounds for use by them. He was in architectural practice with John L. Hamilton by the time he left his position with the School Board in 1910; in 1911 they added William K. Fellows to the partnership. The firm was dissolved in 1927.
By 1925 Perkins was almost totally deaf, making it extremely hard to continue in his practice. This led to the dissolution of the firm of Perkins, Fellows & Hamilton in 1927. Perkins continued to sit on the Park District and Forest Preserve boards and in 1930 he became a consultant for the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition. His son Lawrence followed in his father’s footsteps as a famous architect and co-founded the firm of Perkins Wheeler & Will, which still operates today as the firm of Perkins & Will. Dwight retired to Pasadena, California and later died on November 2, 1941 in Lordsburg, New Mexico while traveling on vacation. He is buried in Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.
Dwight Perkins’ son, Lawrence Perkins, and Philip Will, Jr., founded the Perkins&Will architecture and design firm in 1935. According to his son, Dwight and his colleagues sometimes referred to themselves as “the Committee on the Universe.”
Steinway Hall was demolished in 1970. Its site is now occupied by the CNA Center Building, designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White and completed in 1972.
Michigan Avenue and Van Buren today; The McCormick Building is on the right, and behind it the red CNA Center rises from the site where Steinway Hall stood.
Images: unless otherwise noted, images are from the Ryerson and Burnham Archive, Art Institute of Chicago, accessed at https://www.artic.edu/archival-collections
Frank L. Wright and the Architects of Steinway Hall, by Stuart Cohen, Oro Editions, Spring 2021, reexamines the community of architects who would affect architectural design for the next half century. Information:
Next installment: The Punch and Judy Theatre, a 1930 remodeling of the original Steinway Hall Recital Hall
 Wright, An Autobiography, p. 131, cited in Brooks, H. Allen, “Steinway Hall, Architects and Dreams,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (1963) 22 (3): p. 171. https://doi.org/10.2307/988228
 Brooks, H. Allen, “Steinway Hall, Architects and Dreams,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (1963) 22 (3): p. 171
 In Frank Lloyd Wright, A Testament (New York, 1957), p. 34, first mentioned the name “Eighteen,” cited in Brooks, H. Allen, “Steinway Hall, Architects and Dreams,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (1963) 22 (3): p. 171.
 Brooks, H. Allen, “Steinway Hall, Architects and Dreams,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (1963) 22 (3): p. 172.
 “History Lesson: The Evolution of Chicago Public School Design,” Chicago Architecture Center. https://www.architecture.org/news/happening-caf/history-lesson-the-evolution-of-chicago-public-school-design/
 Brooks, H. Allen, The Prairie School: Frank Lloyd Wright and His Midwest Contemporaries (Toronto, 1972), pp. 39-40, cited in Bedford, Steven M., “The Chicago Architectural Club: Prelude to the Modern by Wilbert R. Hasbrouck, Stanley Tigerman,” book review.Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians Vol. 65, No. 3 Sept. 2006, pp. 453-455.
 “Artists, Education and Culture of,” Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/83.html
 “Arts and Crafts Movement,” Encyclopedia of Chicago. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/84.html
 J. Dennis Rich and Kevin L. Seligman, “The New Theatre of Chicago, 1906-1907,”
Educational Theatre Journal Vol. 26, No. 1 March 1974, p. 53 https://doi.org/10.2307/3206580
Chicago enjoys the distinction of having the greatest individual piano producers in the world. There are no piano manufacturers either in foreign lands or in the boundaries of this country, that can equal, as producers of pianos and organs, the W. W. Kimball Co., the Cable Company, and the Steger & Sons’ Piano Mfg. Co. The output of each one of these noted establishments is enormous.
Then there are other big producers in Chicago, like the Cable-Nelson Piano Co.; the Bush & Gerts Piano Co.; Geo. P. Bent; the Price & Teeple Piano Co; the Newman Bros. Co; and the Thompson Piano Co., that help to swell the Chicago production to huge figures.
See also “Piano Manufacturers in Illinois 1842-1908” at https://sweeneypiano.com/interstate/manufacturers/il_piano_manufacturers.cfm
 “1890-1927: Founding and Beginnings,” Demo, the Alumni Magazine of Columbia College of Chicago. https://blogs.colum.edu/demomagazine/2016/07/08/1890-1927-founding-and-beginnings/
“According to the 1905–1906 college catalog, founders Mary Blood and Ida Morey Riley helped design the building’s seventh floor, which Columbia occupied.”
 “The Music Conservatory,” https://web.archive.org/web/20080417220323/http://ccpa.roosevelt.edu/music/history.htm
“Dr. Florenz Ziegfeld, Sr (1841–1923), founded the college in 1867 as the Chicago Academy of Music. The institution has endured without interruption for one hundred and fifty-three years. Ziegfeld was the father of Florenz, Jr., the Broadway impresario. The Academy was credited as being the fourth conservatory in America….”
 The Inland Architect and News Record vol. 29 no.1, February 1897.https://digital-libraries.artic.edu/digital/collection/mqc/id/9998
 Gray, Jennifer Louise, Ready for Experiment: Dwight Perkins and Progressive Architectures in Chicago, 1893-1918. Ph.D. dissertation, Columbia University, 2011. Accessed at: https://academiccommons.columbia.edu/doi/10.7916/D8FF40BJ
 “Farrand & Votey Organ Co.,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farrand_%26_Votey_Organ_Company
 “Steinway Hall,” Ryerson and Burnham Archives. https://digital-libraries.artic.edu/digital/collection/mqc/id/66094