photographic study of michael reese hospital and its "gardenesque" exterior ornament

the non-extant michael reese hospital was erected in south side chicago, on the site where the city's first hospital was constructed in 1880. the newly completed building was dedicated with appropriate ceremonies on june 16th, 1907, having been built at a cost of nearly one million dollars. it was considered the most modern and best equipped medical facilities in chicago at that time.

the structure itself was six stories in height, constructed of solid masonry, terra cotta, steel and tile, and contained the most advanced "system of heating, lighting and ventilation" during that time. the interior originally accommodated 240 beds, and included sixty private rooms. there were three operating rooms, along with special provisions for isolating patients in the surgical, medical gynecological, and maternity departments.

the hospital was designed by the architectural firm of schmidt, garden, and martin. although known primarily for their commercial and industrial designs, the firm also designed several residential buildings, over 300 hospitals, and public structures. richard ernest schmidt studied architecture at the massachusetts institute of technology and worked for a number of architects (including adolph cudell and charles sumner frost) before starting his own practice in 1887. eight years later, architect and toronto-native hugh gorden garden joined him as chief of design. garden moved to chicago in the late-1880's, apprenticing with several architectural firms, including flanders & zimmerman, henry ives cobb, and shepley, rutan & coolidge. he then became a freelance renderer, which brought him jobs for the likes of howard van doren shaw, louis sullivan, and frank lloyd wright.

in 1906, the schmidt-garden partnership was formalized under the name of richard e. schmidt, garden & martin (the third partner being edgar d. martin, who later joined the firm of pond & pond). schmidt brought business acumen and social connections to the partnership, while garden brought the imagination, inventiveness, and sensitivity of a creative designer and versatile draftsman. martin was an extremely skilled structural engineer who was able to solve technical problems associated with large industrial buildings, including the notable montgomery ward & company catalog building, which was one of the first structures to be built using reinforced concrete. garden helped evolve the firm's progressive approach to design, much as his contemporaries, sullivan and wright had.

the majority of the ornament rescued from the building during its untimely destruction was garden-designed terra cotta, executed by the northwestern terra cotta company. the speckled finish on the terra cotta closely resembles the finish applied to the building's face brick. the salvage was extensive. in addition to extracting ornamental terra cotta, sections of indiana or bedford limestone (e.g., cornerstone, name plaque, etc.), plaster, room number plaques, cast iron balusters, and entrance door panels were rescued from the rubble. with very limited access to the demolition site, any and all ornament from the building's exterior was removed as broken fragments. i found it important to collect design elements used on the facade during the search and recovery process, to compile a visual record of the universe of ornament used for this commission. the sullivanesque ornament was especially significant, charting garden's association with sullivan while working for his firm prior to partnering with richard ernest schmidt.

the two image galleries show this story. the first is dedicated to photos of the hospital's exterior before it was demolished. the second gallery portrays several fragments pulled from the rubble during the building's demolition. sadly, an extensive visual record of the hospital's demolition was forever lost when the computer and external drives holding that information crashed. i'm haunted by that crucial piece of the puzzle to this day.

the only image that i managed to extract from a badly damaged hard drive. hundreds of additional images taken of the demolition while saving ornament are forever lost.

site of michael reese hospital, winter, 2017.


the hospital's exterior (images taken in 2009):



artifacts recovered from the rubble (courtesy of the bldg. 51 museum collection):

Leave a Reply

Sorry, you must be logged in to post a comment.

From the blog