The design competition for the Chicago Tribune Tower was one of the most celebrated international architectural competitions of the 20th century. On June 10, 1922, the Chicago Tribune announced that they entries would be welcome from anywhere in the world. The prize? $50,000. Over the coming months, they received over 260 entries. In the end, the winning entry was a formidable design proffered by John Mead Howells and Raymond Hood.
What Howells and Hood did not know was that the paper's publisher and owner, the very opinionated Colonel Robert McCormick, had some rather intriguing plans for the exterior walls of the building.
For years, McCormick had Tribune newspaper employees collect fragments of famous edifices from around the world. After the building was completed in 1925, workers began to attach these architectural fragments to these walls in order to inspire and edify visitors who might be passing by along Michigan Avenue.
It is a prodigious collection of fragments, to be sure, and it includes pieces from Independence Hall, the Berlin Wall, the complex at Angkor Wat, a column fragment of Wawel Castle, and the Taj Mahal.
The collection seems a bit more curious when one considers Colonel McCormick's own political leanings and temperament. He was a leading isolationist for many years, and he actively opposed the United States' entry into World War II. His own personal crusades were the stuff of legend in Chicago and across the country, as he fought against gangsterism, Prohibition, the League of Nations, and later, the establishment of the United Nations.
To walk along the base of the tower peering up at these various chunks of the past is to take a chaotic and curious tour of the world in several hundred meters. It's worth spending sometime here, and visitors shouldn't also miss peeking into the main lobby, which features a massive relief map of North America.
"T is for the Tribune Tower Wall" is part of an ongoing series exploring Chicago from A to Z, highlighting a unique Chicago place and theme for each letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned for more entries, and learn more about architecture and Chicago history on the blog.
Additional photo credit: Tribune Tower exterior © Adam Alexander